The panic began in 1987 with Fatal Attraction: Sex was something you could literally die from — a threat more frightening than an unfed shark or a drooling alien. The Glenn Close character, lonely and demented Alex Forrest, might as well have had AIDS Metaphor stamped on her forehead as she wore down Michael Douglas’ white-bread, white-collar, nuclear-family emotional immune system.
Five years later, we have Basic Instinct, another Michael Douglas sex = death flick. Like 9 1/2 Weeks and Angel Heart, it was trimmed (deleting 42 seconds of mostly obvious, but not explicit, oral sex) to get an R rating and a heap of publicity. The subtle suggestion of oral sex makes it manageable, as if it’s somehow not really happening, whereas the explicit suggestion of it forces people to deal with the grim reality of sex in the age of AIDS. The unrated version will be on display next month in Europe (where they can apparently handle these things) and six to eight months from now on videocassette, where all this activity is suddenly spawning a bonanza.
Now multiple versions of the same movie can be merchandised to videocassette renters. Taking the idea to its limits (one hopes), Ken Russell’s banal sleazefest, Whore, was released in four editions: unrated, NC- 17, R, and another, identical R version with the title If You Can’t Say It, Just See It. Even more shameless is the latest trend, cashing in on ratings controversies by releasing multiple versions of little-known movies such as the new In the Heat of Passion, which was released in theaters as R, and Naked Obsession.
The titles pretty much tell all. In the Heat of Passion, starring the nerve- racked Sally Kirkland as an unwell shrink, is a kind of low-rent Body Heat or Double Indemnity. Nick Corri plays a hot-young-stud actor she uses to bump off her boring husband. In the new, unrated videocassette version, two scenes of oral sex are restored, and Kirkland’s breasts give the busiest performances since Geraldine Page was still with us. Naked Obsession, with William Katt as a councilman with a hidden agenda, offers much kinkier fare in its unrated edition, including a scene of near asphyxiation during orgasm. Rick Dean is a homeless Mephistopheles to Katt’s Faust, who sells his soul for a little bare skin. If this movie had a theme song, it would be ”What I Did for Lust.”
Although each of these vapid movies is now more literal, neither is any better in its unrated version. (Moreover, no one in any of these movies uses safe-sex precautions.) Rated or not, every version rates a D.