20 Great Psychosexual Movies: There is a fine line between an erotic film and a psychosexual film, that often gets blurred. The sexuality, the nudity in an erotic thriller or drama is usually in isolation. It may or may not be a part of the holistic fiber of the film. While the moments of truth, the plot triggers, and the essence of a psychosexual film, lie in the sexual reality of the characters. The wavering effect of sexual appreciation is intensely cerebral in a psychosexual movie rather than a body experience, and an actual sex scene or nudity is not even a mandate. It’s casual, and sometimes, completely missing. But, the Freudian narratives of sexual identity define a psychosexual movie.
Sex and its consequences are viewed through a critical lens more than eroticism here. Directors like Kim Ki-duk, Brian De Palma, Paul Verhoeven, etc. are masters of the game and its mind-bending framework. For me, films like Basic Instinct, Body Double, Eyes Wide Shut, etc. are more erotic than psychological. Or perhaps, they are just an ‘attempt’ more than the actual result. So, you might not find such titles on my list.
Here are my favorite Psychosexual movies, that I would genuinely recommend to anyone who is ready to see beyond the antiseptic, very clinical, mostly pretentious portrayal of sexual liberation on-screen. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
20. Revanche (2008)
Director: Götz Spielmann
Revanche is a superb existential, German-language Austrian thriller. Director Götz Spielmann avoids cheap sentimentality and draws you in with an art that is life-affirming. Revanche means revenge, as well as, a second chance. Spielmann plays with this dichotomy like a fire, which engulfs the audience.
Petty criminal Alex (Johannes Krisch), works in a brothel where he falls in love with the Ukrainian prostitute Tamara (Irina Potapenko). In order to escape this life, Alex plans to rob the bank in his estranged father’s village. However, the robbery doesn’t go as planned and those remaining are left to pick up the pieces.
For the role of Tamara, many young Russian actresses were auditioned, in Moscow, Kiev, and Bucharest. Then finally, actress Irina Potapenko was found in Berlin. Since she plays a prostitute, to prepare for the role, she moved into a brothel in Vienna for a few days, observing clients and getting to know the life.
Designed as a thriller, Revanche’s pacing is deliberate. The film spends almost 10-mins of its time watching Alex cut wood! But, this slow burn, hypersexual, yet the low-key film is rewarding, to say the least. The casual sex, nudity, and psychological entrapment make it a very uncomfortable watch.
Spielmann is one of the most important contemporary Austrian film directors. His command over stillness is exemplary, and this quality made Revanche, a story and not theory enhanced by images. Frustratingly, this stillness, this nothingness gives the film force and urgency.
Watch it on The Criterion Channel
Related to Best Psychosexual Movies – Revenge : A Roaring Rampage of Retribution
19. The Page Turner (2006)
Director: Denis Dercourt
The French are monarchs of muted, enlightened, and polished psychological thrillers. They’ve always been a great admirer of Hitchcock, which is lucent in The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Pages). It is a slow-burning thrill that emulates Hitchcock’s rule about letting the audience know more than the characters to induce dazzling suspense.
As a child, Mélanie shows great promise as a pianist. As she auditions for a music scholarship, one of the judges, Ariane (Catherine Frot), causes a disruption that throws off the girl’s playing. Mélanie locks her piano and does not play again. As a grown woman, Mélanie (Déborah François), sets in motion a long-awaited and elaborate plan for revenge, beginning with obtaining a position as Ariane’s assistant.
Mélanie is the enigma, as well as the disruption of the film. Director Denis Dercour began his career as a musician, and he choreographed The Page Turner, like an orchestra, with many false crescendos, ultimately leading to the roof-shattering note. Its colossal strength lies in what it conceals. We know from the offset that the film would end with the catharsis of vengeance, but nobody knows how much Mélanie has planned, or if Ariane would be able to figure things out. Dercour’s perfect composition never lets you get the ending ahead of time.
It’s moody, sneaky, slow, intense, and sexual. And, for a thriller, it has only one brief moment of violence. The Page Turner is an immensely satisfying watch, to say the least.
Watch it on Kanopy
Related to Psychosexual Movies – Hitchcock and His Emotional Minefield
18. Shame (2011)
Director: Steve McQueen
Even though his resume is rather concise (four feature films), director Steve McQueen’s legacy is monumental. Whether he picks up historical moments, like Hunger (2008), and 12 Years A Slave (2013), or an action flick like Widows (2018), or a more personal, inward, submerging experiences like Shame, Steve’s precision, and emotional possession penetrates deeper.
Shame, follows a successful and handsome New Yorker, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), who seems to live an ordinary life, but he hides a terrible secret behind his mask of normalcy: Brandon is a sex addict. His constant need for gratification numbs him to just about everything else. But, when Sissy (Carey Mulligan), Brandon’s needy sister, unexpectedly blows into town, crashes at his apartment, and invades his privacy, Brandon is finally forced to confront his addiction head-on.
Fassbender’s astonishing, ferocious force meets Mulligan’s glaring brilliance. Fassbender was the one & only choice for the role since Steve had worked with him in Hunger earlier, but how Carey Mulligan got the part, is a rather cheeky story. She got the script from someone and loved it. And when she was in London, she heard McQueen was meeting actresses for the same script. She practically begged him for an audition. During their discussion, she told him that she is planning to get a seagull tattoo to always remind her of Nina, a character she played in Anton Chekhov’s play, The Seagull. And, McQueen told her if she gets the tattoo, she will get the role. So she did.
Shame is captivating and intensely intimate with an extremely realistic depiction of sexual addiction. The psychosexual stance it takes, will make you more emotional than aroused. The film embraces its emptiness without judging it, and that’s a cinematic jolt. Watch it if you don’t need your films to have major twists, turns, or complications.
Related to Psychosexual Movies – Every Steve McQueen Film Ranked
17. Thirst (2009)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Director Park Chan-wook first conceived Thirst, ten years before its release. He wrote two scenes of the film and then got busy skyrocketing his career to universal acclaim, including Oldboy (2003), Lady Vengeance (2005), I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006), and many many more. He didn’t know how to approach it. Then, he stumbled upon the novel Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola and got inspired enough to finish the script. So, the source material for Thirst was over 130 years old!
Sang-hyun, is a Christian priest who, in order to help find a cure, volunteers to be infected with a virus that’s devastating Africa. He’s left with an intense craving for blood and sex. As a hospital visitor, he can quench his thirst for blood, and an intense affair with unhappily married Tae-ju provides him with a sexual outlet. As their relationship develops, Sang-hyun is left struggling to hang on to his old morality.
Thirst was the first Korean film to have male full-frontal nudity, and that too by an A-list star. It garnered much buzz (read controversy) around the film. It is one of the most erotically charged vampire films, actively trying to achieve surrealism through its visuals.
Park, drew many inspirations from his experiences of living in Korea in the 80s. The extreme violent reactions to their student demonstrations, and suppression he had faced back then, he explored all that in Thirst, and in all his films.
For a relentlessly bleak film, Thirst is one of the most rollicking, enjoyable cinematic experiences.
Related to Great Psychosexual Movies – Thirst : Fairy tale of Love and Bloodlust
16. Dressed to Kill (1980)
Director: Brian De Palma
When Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), a prostitute, sees a mysterious woman brutally slay homemaker Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson), she finds herself trapped in a dangerous situation. While the police think Liz is the murderer, the real killer wants to silence the crime’s only witness. Only Kate’s son, Peter (Keith Gordon), believes Liz. Peter and Liz team up to find the real culprit, who has an unexpected means of hiding her identity and an even more surprising motivation to kill.
Often called “the first great American movie of the ’80s”, Dressed to Kill, is not without controversies. Feminist organizations blamed the film for distorting the image of all sexual minorities. Nonetheless, the film is peculiarly moral and deliberately provocative!
As a young man, director Brian De Palma’s mother asked him to follow his father with recording equipment, to try and catch him with another woman. That incident inspired this movie. It contains several direct references to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho.
As the main star, Michael Caine was only required to be on set for his scenes, but he insisted on being there even when his character was not in the shot so that his co-stars won’t have to use a stand-in.
Sometimes, Dressed to Kill, feels like it operates just on the idea of a thriller, but it’s so much fun and the calculative collection of mystery, kinky sex, and the slash fest, just makes up for everything it lacks. You surely don’t want to miss this annoyingly entertaining psychosexual thriller.
Watch it on HBO Max
15. The Duke of Burgundy (2014)
Director: Peter Strickland
The Duke of Burgundy’s intense, horrifying sexual politics and the thick psychological drama running in its vein made it really hard to not include it.
The film follows Evelyn, who is studying lepidopterology (study of butterflies & moth) and is in a relationship with her instructor, Cynthia. Every day, Cynthia treats Evelyn in a humiliating manner, which then leads to a series of sexual acts.
The Duke of Burgundy, unfolds like a half-remembered dream. It is a passionately kinky film, and its real kink is evident only in retrospect. It’s a movie about intense, dark, twisted sexual desires with no nudity, no profanity, no hypersexual advances, just an orgasmic moaning for few seconds. Refreshingly, there are no men in the movie at all.
Director Peter Strickland has built his career surrounded by psychoanalyzing human existence, with the superlative Berberian Sound Studio (2012), and the absolutely exquisite, In Fabric (2018). He is an actor’s director, and really compassionate and empathetic towards his actors. His process is to make it as hard as possible on paper, and as easy on set. So, the actual script of The Duke of Burgundy is far more explicit than what we see on-screen. Peter made sure his actors never ever had a moment of awkwardness on set.
If you watch it with an open mind, and abundant patience, The Duke of Burgundy’s atmospheric, absorbing and enchanting gravity will draw you in until it’s too late!
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14. Sleep Tight (2011)
Director: Jaume Balagueró
Director Jaume Balagueró, is a master of genre filmmaking. He knows all ins and outs of psychological thrillers. He is one of the most celebrated Spanish directors working today, cementing his position as a genre filmmaker with the [Rec] series.
Sleep Tight (Mientras duermes), is about an apartment concierge Cesar (the powerhouse, Luis Tosar), who is a miserable, sexually frustrated man who believes he was born without the ability to be happy. His self-appointed task is to make life hell for everyone around him, a mission in which he has great success.
Sleep Tight is almost entirely shot in a huge building. It’s sick, twisted, nightmarish, wildly malevolent, and creepily watchable. It was the first time that Balagueró, was working on a film which was not written by him. The protagonist here is a villain, the audience lives with him, we are the fly on the wall for all his evil, menacing plans. There is an exciting and disturbing morality play, in which the audience is a necessary participant.
And, Luis Tosar’s towering performance will make it hard for you to brush off its after-effects, even for the most hardened horror-heads. When he is good, he is really good, but when he is bad, he is even better!
The final act, and the climax of the film is so unbelievably dark, and fear is generated by placing chaos in a normally controlled environment. It verges on black comedy. And, since our protagonist is the perpetrator, (*spoiler alert*) we don’t get the otherwise expected happy ending. It’s a happy ending for Cesar though, he gets what he wanted. There was an alternative climax shot, where Cesar commits suicide, but it was never edited because Balagueró, didn’t want an expected ending.
Sleep Tight, is an old-school, classic thriller without overlooking the psychological, and sexual dimensions of the characters.
Related to Great Psychosexual Movies – Sleep Tight  Review: Sick. Twisted. Nightmarish.
13. Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965)
Director: Joseph Cates
Underappreciated, under-seen, under-discussed, Who Killed Teddy Bear? is an intriguingly perverse psychosexual film. An uneven, yet irresistible cool psychedelic thriller, which was slammed upon its release but gained massive cult status over decades, especially amongst cinephiles.
A busboy at a disco with sexual problems related to events in his childhood becomes obsessed with a DJ at the club. A police detective with a dark, similar past (his wife was raped and murdered), leads him to become personally involved in the case.
Who Killed Teddy Bear? trespasses prohibited territories like sex crimes, voyeurism, incest, p0rnography, lesbianism, masturbation, child abuse, and transvestism at a time when they were simply unheard of. With chill party vibes of ’60’s New York, the film operates on a sense of sexual terror, obsession, and psychological maladjustment. It’s a rare feature.
This trailblazing film sets multiple revolutionary precedents. For example, the obscene phone call route was taken years before Klute (1971), & Black Christmas (1974). The subtle yet brawny lesbian undercurrent and even the slash-fest was way before The Toolbox Murders (1978), Halloween (1978), and more.
The most exacting observation that I’ve come across about the film was made by the blogger StinkyLulu, who calls it, “a clear bridge between Psycho (1960), and Taxi Driver (1976).”
Who Killed Teddy Bear? is a Lost classic.
Watch it on Tubi
12. La Piscine (1969)
Director: Jacques Deray
From pioneers to the unprocessed, French filmmakers have molded film-making around the world. And yet, we don’t talk about director Jacques Deray enough, probably because he is a genre director, and Europeans don’t take genre films seriously. His contribution cannot be overlooked, nonetheless.
A much-in-love (or are they?) couple goes for a summer vacation to a villa with a swimming pool. When Marianne’s (Romy Schneider) boyfriend, Jean-Paul (Alain Delon), allows her former lover (Maurice Ronet) to drown in that swimming pool, the couple must answer questions from an inspector.
Often blamed for hedonism upon its original release, The Swimming Pool (La Piscine), has a cliched plot, but it is shrewdly executed with dark undercurrents of sexual jealousy and obsession. At the time when French films were either dubbed or had subtitles for the rest of the world, the film prefigured the bi-lingual approach. The film was shot simultaneously in French & English.
It was restored and re-released in theaters during the summer of 2021, becoming a surprise hit. Scheduled to run at the Film Forum in New York for two weeks, it ended up running for 18. The Tilda Swinton 2015 starrer, A Bigger Splash, was loosely based on Swimming Pool.
Romy Schneider and Alain Delon’s crackling chemistry is the most valid reason to watch the film. And the fact that they were an off-screen couple too till 1963, just added to the charm.
With Swimming Pool, director Jacques Deray presented a stunningly designed thriller, where we are in the know and only waiting for the preordained conclusion. It’s a sunstroked and sex-soaked psychosexual thriller you shouldn’t miss.
Watch it on Criterion Channel
11. Body Heat (1981)
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Body Heat, is a masterpiece, no questions asked! The erotic lethargy turns gradually into fear and then horror in this gripping and superbly controlled psychological thriller. Heavily inspired (almost a remake) of the avant-garde, Double Indemnity (1944), Body Heat, actually transcends the original in many expositions.
Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), seduces lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) and begins a passionate affair. She convinces him to kill her wealthy Florida businessman husband (Richard Crenna). With the help of one of his criminal clients, Teddy Lewis (Mickey Rourke), Ned hatches a scheme to kill Matty’s husband so that they can run away together with his money. But complications build upon double-crosses, launching the hapless lawyer into a situation far more treacherous than he imagined.
It was a debut feature of the breathtaking Kathleen Turner. For the unversed, she played Chandler Bing’s ‘father’ in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. The opacity and the confident, frank sexuality of her character made Matty, and subsequently Kathleen, so iconic.
William Hurt is also phenomenal in the film. Both of them feed off each other’s radiance like hungry hunters every time they are in the same frame. Hurt and Turner wanted the crew to feel comfortable filming their love scenes, so they lined up the crew and introduced themselves to each crew member. When they did this, both stars were naked.
Originally, the film had more graphic and extensive sex scene footage, but this was shown only in an early premiere. Eventually, the filmmakers felt that less was more.
Body Heat has more character congestion, a more layered structure, and more consciousness of an intricate dream than any other psychosexual thriller on this list.
Watch it on Kanopy
10. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Dir. David Lynch
A lot has been said about this frustrating masterpiece, but not enough about how sexy Mulholland Drive, is! It’s not erotic, it’s just sexy. David Lynch is the architect of gnomic in cinema, and with this film, he once again proves that order is a mirage, everything is arbitrary.
It tells the story of an aspiring actress named Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), newly arrived in Los Angeles, who meets and befriends an amnesiac woman (Laura Harring), who is recovering from a car accident. The story follows several other vignettes and characters, including a Hollywood film director (Justin Theroux).
Mulholland Drive contains some of the most horrific, uncomfortable, unwatchable, and hypnotic visuals on celluloid and yet, it’s a surrealist masterpiece. Naomi Watts’ performance proves that Oscars are not the standard for good acting, she is exceptional in it (and, I’m not even a fan!). Interestingly enough, one day Naomi was driving along Mulholland Drive and imagined herself turning the wheel and going over the edge to her death. After spending 10 years in the business, with her career going nowhere, and most casting directors overlooking her, she was depressed beyond measure. And this was, just before she met Lynch and landed the role.
By the time she finished shooting the film, she was out of health insurance and was thrown out of her apartment because she couldn’t pay the rent. She was about to leave acting and LA, when her good friend, Nicole Kidman, convinced her to stay till the release of the film. Talk about meant to be!
Mulholland Drive is a sublimely specific film, and needless to say, it’s not for everyone.
Related to Great Psychosexual Movies – Why Lesley From Birdman Could Be Betty From Mulholland Drive?
9. The Skin I Live In (2011)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
With The Skin I Live In, director Pedro Almodóvar, appreciates one’s own sexuality. It bears strong similarities to the French film, Eyes Without A Face (1960), including plastic surgery, disfigurement, and face transplantation. According to Almodóvar, he wanted to make “a horror story without screams or frights”, and boy, did he succeed!
Ever since his beloved wife was horribly burned in an auto accident, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a skilled plastic surgeon, has tried to develop a new skin that could save the lives of burn victims. Finally, after 12 years, Ledgard has created a skin that guards the body but is still sensitive to touch. With the aid of his faithful housekeeper (Marisa Paredes), Ledgard, tests his creation on Vera (Elena Anaya), who is held prisoner in the doctor’s mansion.
The Skin I Live In, is actually the second time that Elena Anaya has worked with Almodóvar. When Anaya had just moved to Madrid, almost a decade ago, Almodóvar offered her a tiny part in Talk to Her (2002). Interestingly, Almodóvar offered her that part after watching her in a supporting role in Julio Medem’s Sex and Lucia (2001), and he offered her the lead role in The Skin I Live In, after watching her in the lead role in another Julio Medem’s 2010 film, Room in Rome!
The sexual liberarion here doesn’t lie in nudity or sex scenes. In fact, Anaya’s character is in a complete bodysuit from beginning to end, but the flesh in fantasy, sexual identity, and lush visuals are erotically charged.
With Antonio Banderas playing Frankensteinian, Almodóvar reaches out to unexplored territory of sci-fi/horror and emerges largely triumphant.
Watch it on VirginTV
8. The Housemaid (1960)
(Dir. Kim Ki-young)
If chaos can be scripted, rehearsed, shot, and edited, it would have been called The Housemaid (Hanyo). The world woke up to this masterpiece decades later. But, better late than never.
Piano composer Dong-sik (Kim Jin-kyu), and his pregnant wife (Jeung-nyeo Ju), need extra help around the house, so they hire a housemaid (Eun-shim Lee), whose precociousness soon gives way to troubling behavior. Tensions between her and Dong-sik lead to an affair, and while the pregnancy ends in a miscarriage, it also results in the maid becoming obsessed with killing the entire family, starting with their older son. Soon their comfortable home becomes a physical and psychological battleground.
Director Kim Ki-young’s films diligently invade the present with the past, eventually puncturing the future. The Housemaid enunciates the Korean codes of modernity. A woman, longing for a social upgrade, is almost a monster to the middle-class family, a monster born out of the subjugation of feminine sexuality and class divide. Because of Kim’s theater background, his cinematic expressions often find theatrical residue. So, as a rule, he never puts characters in the center of the frame but prefers to put them to one side, à la a play.
The subversive competency of The Housemaid, and the self-destructive climax, heralds a rather despairing vision of the modern that progresses backward or, at best, stands still.
Watch it on The Criterion Channel
Related to Great Psychosexual Movies – The 35 Best South Korean Movies of the 21st Century
7. Belle de Jour (1967)
Director: Luis Buñuel
Now, this one is legit! This is my personal favorite on the list. Belle de Jour was decades ahead of its time, and it still is. It’s raw, brutal, sexual, sadistic, yet tender.
A beautiful young housewife, Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve), cannot reconcile her masochistic fantasies with her everyday life alongside dutiful husband Pierre (Jean Sorel). When her lovestruck friend Henri (Michel Piccoli), mentions a secretive high-class brothel run by Madame Anais (Genevieve Page), Séverine, begins to work there during the day under the name – Belle de Jour. But when one of her clients (Pierre Clémenti) grows possessive, she must try to go back to her normal life.
Belle de Jour is, probably, the most mysterious film in the world. First of all, after its initial release, the film wasn’t seen again for many years, courtesy – rights issues with the producers. This created a mystique for the next generation. Then, the film’s screenplay blurred the line between real & fantasy, which created a lot of debate and discussion. Of course, director Luis Buñuel never clarified them. One scene, in particular, has had people obsessing over it for decades. An Asian client entered the brothel with a mysterious box containing an unknown object. When he opens the box to the prostitutes, Séverine, is the only one who agrees to an encounter while the others turn away in horror. Till date, no one knows what’s inside that box.
Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese are a few of the many die-hard fans of the film. In fact, Scrocesse tried to give it a wide release in the 90s through Miramax Zoë, which led to its DVD release in the 2000s.
The film is completely devoid of music (not even a background score), yet finds its rhythm and strong lyricism in each frame.
Watch it on The Criterion Channel
6. 3-Iron (2004)
(Dir. Kim Ki-duk)
This unusual Korean psychological drama is one of the oddest films I’ve ever seen in my life. Not bizarre, just odd. He first swam in international waters with Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003), but for me, director Kim Ki-duk’s most effecting and most profound film remains 3-Iron.
Tae-suk (Jae-hee), is a lonely drifter who spends his nights in one empty vacation home after another. However, Tae-suk is not your usual squatter, as the courteous young man always makes sure to show his absent hosts his gratitude by doing small household tasks or making simple improvements before moving on. One day, Tae-suk mistakes a quiet home for an empty one and stumbles across an abused housewife (Seung-Yun Lee) in urgent need of his intervention.
Kim ki-Duk, wrote the screenplay of the movie in one month, the movie was filmed in 16 days and the edit was done in 10 days. The genesis of the film was a flier – an advertisement – covering Kim’s door’s keyhole, and he had to remove it to unlock the door. This got him to analyze that it could be a way for a thief to figure out which house has remained vacant for a long time. But, as he started developing the idea, he wanted to explore the idea of haunting, and a ghostlike presence in some ways, an exercise in invisibility.
Kim, designed invisibility with silence. 3-Iron is an almost-muted film, which totally works in its favor. The script had dialogues throughout, but during production, and in the edit, he just kept a few words in the film.
3-Iron is a marvelous full-bodied tale, with no nudity, yet its sexual politics is extremely erotic.
5. The Piano Teacher (2001)
Director: Michael Haneke
You weren’t expecting a film list on anything psychological without a Michael Haneke film, were you? The Piano Teacher, is an unpleasant viewing in the most beautiful sense of the word.
Adapted from Elfriede Jelinek‘s 1983 novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a Viennese piano teacher, Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), who realizes her self-destructive fantasies in an affair with one of her pupils (Benoît Magimel). In her early forties, Erika lives at home, cooped up with her mother. Her only escape are her regular visits to p0rn cinemas and peep shows. Her sexuality is an affair of morbid voyeurism and masochistic self-mutilation. Erika and life travel separate paths, until one day, one of her students gets it into his head to seduce her.
Michael was immediately drawn to the novel after reading it for the first time in 1983. He was working in plays and TV back then. Though, he approached the author, Elfriede Jelinek, she was not very interested, and refused his offer to turn it into a screenplay. She herself was trying to turn it into a screenplay, and that screenplay was ultimately rejected. Finally, director Paulus Manker, succeeded in convincing the author to let him have the rights. And, she wanted Michael to write the script, while Paulus was to direct. But, Paulus couldn’t find a producer for the film for years, and when a producer came on-board, Paulus was out of the scene, and Michael was asked to direct. He agreed on one condition, that only and only Isabelle Huppert would play the lead role, who he considers the greatest European actor, and we couldn’t agree more.
So, what we saw in 2001, was actually written 10-12 years earlier!
If The Piano Teacher was a song, it would have been “I want your ugly, I want your disease, want your bad romance”. Not sure if Lady Gaga would agree.
Watch it on MUBI
Related to Great Psychosexual Movies – Here’s Why ‘The Piano Teacher’ is One of The Most Disturbing Films Ever Made
4. Klute (1971)
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Released on the tail end of the sexual revolution, Klute is magic that cannot be constructed. This is a film with a relentlessly persuasive script, and an artist you cannot separate the art from. It’s a rare performance by Jane Fonda, whose edgy fierceness keeps her so firmly locked into the film’s character.
This acclaimed thriller stars Jane Fonda as Bree Daniel, a New York City call girl who becomes enmeshed in an investigation into the disappearance of a business executive. Detective John Klute (Donald Sutherland), is hired to follow Daniel, and eventually begins a romance with her, but it appears that he hasn’t been the only person on her trail. When it becomes clear that Daniel is being targeted, it’s up to her and Klute to figure out who is after her before it’s too late.
Though undeniably derivative, Klute gauges the preciseness of being “liberated”. Named after Sutherland’s character, the film, still and how, belongs to Fonda. She has given one of the most real portrayal of a sex worker in the history of cinema. Fonda, hung out with call girls and pimps for a week before beginning this film, incognito. When none of the pimps offered to “represent” her, she became convinced she wasn’t desirable enough to play a prostitute and urged the director to replace her with friend Faye Dunaway.
She contributed so much to the character, and its nuances that they had to include everything in the script, because it all made so much sense. For example, in the original script, Bree’s psychiatrist was male, but Fonda felt in rehearsals that the character would never open up to a man, so she requested that the part be changed to a woman.
The insatiable voracity, sexual overtones and an authoritative directing style makes Klute, a film strictly for adults (and I don’t just mean 18+).
3. Fatal Attraction (1987)
Director: Adrian Lyne
Half of this list should be dedicated to Director Adrian Lyne, because of his relentless devotion to the genre. His command over sexual menace, and its psychological aftermath, is simply awe-inspiring. 9-½ Weeks, Indecent Proposal, Unfaithful, Foxes, I mean he has explored the genre like no other. All the moments of truth in his cinema, are constructed on sexual, erotic, and often wrong, adjudication.
Fatal Attraction is his most accessible, most successful, and most renowned work, globally. The film traces Dan Gallagher’s (Michael Douglas) life, who is a rising New York lawyer, is happily married to his wife, Beth (Anne Archer), and has a daughter. But, after a casual fling with a sultry book editor named Alex (Glenn Close), everything changes. Jilted by Dan, Alex becomes unstable, her behavior escalating from aggressive pursuit to obsessive stalking. Dan realizes that his main problem is not hiding his affair, but rather saving himself and his family.
It is the granddaddy of Psychosexual Thrillers, definitely the most commercially successful of them all. The authenticity of the plot debars the maniac, berserk tangents that eventually popularized the genre, and THAT makes it all the more chilling.
Fatal Attraction is out and out, a Glenn Close show. She was a tragic, inexplicable mix of sexuality and rage, completely unhinged. Though, now it’s impossible to see anybody else in the role, but producers actually were against casting Glenn, since they thought “she was not sexy enough”. In fact, Debra Winger was offered the role, and (thankfully) she declined. It feels like I am living in a parallel universe, seeing that the Academy Awards chose Cher over Glenn that year, and have continuously overlooked Glenn’s other brilliant performances, seven times till date. This fact is certainly not a reality I want to live in.
Anyway, Fatal Attraction was the dark and grotesque side of the contemporary modern middle class at the time. It did to adultery what Jaws (1975) did to the ocean.
Watch it on HBOMax
2. Audition (1999)
Director: Takashi Miike
Based on the novel of the same name by Ryu Murakami, Audition (Ōdishon), is the slowest of burns. It follows Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), a widower who decides to start dating again. Aided by a film-producer friend (Jun Kunimura), Aoyama uses auditions for a fake production to function as a dating service. When Aoyama becomes intrigued by the withdrawn, gorgeous Asami (Eihi Shiina), they begin a relationship. However, he begins to realize that Asami isn’t as reserved as she appears to be, leading to gradually increased tension and a harrowing climax.
Audition, is a piercing feminist film, with overwhelming sexual politics weaving each knot catastrophically. We live in a post #MeToo era, while Audition, was shining bright with cross-sectional feminism back in 1999! It’s much more than what meets a punctured eye.
A flag-bearer of torture p0rn, Audition, was the first of many J-Horror films which made a splash outside of Japan. Directors like Tarantino and Eli Roth have been significantly inspired by the film. Takashi Miike, has had over 100 releases (films, TV, direct-to-video etc.) since his debut in 1991. A director with that kind of proficiency, and versatility would clearly know how to manipulate his audience, and Audition is a prime example of that.
This film’s biggest flaw is perhaps its biggest strength, it will leave you wondering what exactly you watched. This movie is a sensational ride of veritable dread, and it will have you curling your toes. Positively terrifying.
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1. Blue Velvet (1986)
Director: David Lynch
You saw this one coming, didn’t you? I think Blue Velvet could easily be the poster child of Psychosexual Thrillers. No other movie has been as satisfying in its sexual stance and manipulation as this one.
College student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), returns home after his father has a stroke. When he discovers a severed ear in an abandoned field, Beaumont teams up with detective’s daughter Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), to solve the mystery. They believe beautiful lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), may be connected with the case, and Beaumont finds himself becoming drawn into her dark, twisted world. And that’s where, he encounters sexually depraved psychopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).
The film actually came into existence, as early as 1973, when director David Lynch, started crystalizing three ideas (over a period of time). The first idea was only “a feeling” and the title Blue Velvet. The second idea was an image of a severed, human ear lying in a field. And, the third one was Bobby Vinton’s classic rendition of the song “Blue Velvet”, and “the mood that came with it”.
Lynch, eventually, spent two years writing, and rejecting his own drafts. And, when the final screenplay was ready, no major studio was ready to touch it, given its uber sexual and violent content. It was passed around multiple times in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Eventually, an independent studio decided to produce the film.
Upon release, Blue Velvet, received a divided critical response, with many slamming its sexual overtones, calling it unnecessary. In fact, after the test screen, the agency representing Isabella Rossellini, dropped her from their clientele!
Blue Velvet, is an spectacular vision of innocence corrosion, with a haunting, powerful erotic emphasis on instincts, and fatalism.
Watch it on Prime Video