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The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema

Linda Ruth Williams


A bold and original study, this is the first book to examine in detail a new genre which evolved since the 1980s in tandem with shifts in the culture of sexuality and the rise of video - the erotic thriller. The book traces the erotic thriller's exploitation of pornography and noir, discusses mainstream stars (such as Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone) alongside genre-branded direct-to-video stars, charts the work of key producers and directors, and reads home-viewing as a distinct form of spectatorial pleasure. It maps the history of 'suspense in suspenders' films, analysing hundreds of movies from blockbusters such as Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and In the Cut to straight-to-video film titles such as Carnal Crimes, Sins of Desire and Night Eyes.

The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema reads genre as laying bare the poetics of the cinematic marketplace. The erotic thriller plays out the sexual fantasies of contemporary America, which are marketed globally. Williams's witty and illuminating readings not only tell the story of this sensational genre, but contribute to the analysis of mainstream screen sex - and its censorship - at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Key Features

  • The first study of an important new film genre.
  • Of interest to general film-goers and fans of the genre, the book also fills a major gap in the academic market.
  • Includes interviews with important industry personnel such as Paul Verhoeven, William Friedkin, Brian De Palma, Gregory Dark, Katt Shea and Jag Mundhra.


1. Introduction
2. Femmes Fatales, Fall Guys and Paranoid Women: Sexual and Narrative Blueprints
3. 'Meisters of Porno-Noir': Key Players in the Cinematic Erotic Thriller
4. Softcore on the Sofa
5. The Bad and the Beautiful: Key Players in the Direct-to-Video Erotic Thriller
6. Uncovered and Undercover: Issues in the Direct-to-Video Thriller
Conclusion: The Erotic Thriller's Hybrid Children

About the Author

Linda Ruth Williams is Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of Southampton.


The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema makes groundbreaking contributions to the study of popular film genres and to the study of pornography... Williams has demonstrated that the erotic thriller's sex-is-dangerous ehtos had ramifications beyond the frame for industry figures seduced by a risky but lucrative genre and for a culture coping with AIDS and riven by gender wars and porn debates. In the process, she has graced us with an elegant, exhaustive study of a Byzantine "genre certainly not 'just for the boys'"
In this comprehensive survey of one of contemporary cinema’s most popular genres, Linda Ruth Williams describes Hollywood’s coupling of softcore pornography with the narratives of film noir, arguing that an analysis of these hybrid fantasies of the rich and uninhibited can provide us with a history of the desires, excitements and paranoias of the last two decades. From Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction to Naked Obsession and Victim of Desire, Williams provides a roadmap to the exploitation cinema of the video age that is as lively as the movies it describes.
- Richard Maltby, Flinders University, Australia
She intersperses her wryly provocative analyses of 'suspense in suspenders' or 'cops and copulation' pictures with to-the-point interviews.
'She intersperses her wryly provocative analyses of 'suspense in suspenders' or 'cops and copulation' pictures with to-the-point interviews.' - Sight and Sound Book of the Month
Williams has graced us with a witty, discerning, elegant, exhaustive study of a byzantine and meaningful genre that is, as she declares in closing, "not'just for the boys'". Much as the release of Fatal Attraction became a cultural event in 1987, the publication of this remarkable book should become an academic event in the fields of cultural studies, film studies and porn studies.