The 1990s are not known for their horror movies (except the Scream series and a few notable exceptions). It’s always been noted that (during this time) the MPAA was cracking down on the amount of blood and gore it allowed on the screen. It also helped that series like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th were limping to a conclusion.
However, when one door shuts…another opens.
The subgenre that the 1990s are best known for is the erotic thriller. Erotic thrillers are part horror film and part soft core pornography. Their plots hinge on the sexuality being part of the horror we are watching.
While one of the most famous example of erotic thrillers is 1987’s Fatal Attraction, the genre picked up admirably a few years later. 1992’s Basic Instinct and cult hit Poison Ivy ushered in a new age. Films such as Sliver, Jade, Color of Night, and even Raising Cain attracted big names to the projects (as well as voyeurs to the theaters). While not particularly scary, they were the perfect answer to the fear running through the country as HIV spread. Actresses like Shannon Tweed, Jennifer Tilly, and Sharon Stone became household names and fantasies to many young men during this rise.
Mainstream horror also changed. In 1992, Dracula premiered on the big screen. This classic tale told was completely lost on the teenage me as the screen distracted me with naked women and concepts my mind was too young to imagine at the time. In fact, vampires were more about the carnal pleasures than the emotional ones found in today’s Twilight and True Blood series. This film ushered in a much less campy version of vampires that Hollywood had grown accustomed to portraying.
However, in 1995, this subgenre started to fade away. It all started with a cult horror film Embrace of the Vampire starring Alyssa Milano. Milano was the child star of Who’s the Boss? and (as the series would up) was scared about the uncertainty of her future. She responded by auditioning for any role that fit her (including very risqué roles like Embrace of the Vampire). The country, and specifically Alyssa’s 12 year old brother, began regularly using this new thing called the internet. He quickly found many pictures of his famous sister nude.
Shocked and dismayed, their mother Lin confronted her daughter. According to one quote, Milano did not regret that she did the films. “I’m not going to say that I was manipulated into doing things that I didn’t want to do,” she said in 1995. “I did it because it was a woman director and I felt protected. And I learned a lot as far as knowing where the camera is and what coverage they need so that it’s not all explicit.” The issue she had was not with the images themselves, but it was with the sites and people that were using them for profit (Remember…the internet was different back then.). Many of the sites had even photo shopped a picture of a then under age Alyssa onto a body of another woman engaged in some very hardcore depictions. Alyssa filed multiple suits and won.
A few other actresses followed lead, and many of the lawsuits didn’t come until the late 1990s. But, in 1996, a horror film called Scream put the final nails into the subgenre during the uproar. Scream attracted many big names from television, and the original script called for Neve Campbell to show her breasts near the beginning of the film. She refused. The success of Scream propelled its stars into household names, a slew of copy cat films, and a pool of talent stemming from television. Many of these films had the usual clichéd set of friends (including the more promiscuous friend) but lacked the nudity associated (and for good reason): Horror usually reflects fears of our culture. The erotic thriller came about because sex could kill. The late 1990s stripped its “children” of their overt sexualization and dealt more with kids facing the real world without parental supervision.
You can still find many erotic thrillers today. Films like Nurse 3D, Teeth, Lucky Bastard, and It Follows still sprinkle the landscape. It just hasn’t been as prominent. During the early part of the 90s, erotic thrillers were everywhere (much like found footage films of today).