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Film / Basic Instinct

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Basic Instinct is a 1992 American erotic thriller/neo-noir film, directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas, starring Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Jeanne Tripplehorn and George Dzundza, and also featuring Stephen Tobolowsky, Wayne Knight, and James Rebhorn.

The film centers around San Francisco police detective Nick Curran (Douglas), who is put in charge of the investigation of the brutal murder of a wealthy former rock star. Beautiful, seductive and wealthy novelist Catherine Tramell (Stone) could be involved; over the course of the investigation, Curran becomes involved in a torrid and intense relationship with the mysterious woman — who turns out to be very dangerous.

The Fourth Man, one of the films Verhoeven made in his native Netherlands, has similar content and tone to Basic Instinct, which Verhoeven considers a Spiritual Successor to the earlier work. It was followed by a sequel, Basic Instinct 2, released fourteen years later, that was panned by critics and spectacularly bombed at the box office. Sumerian published a Basic Instinct sequel series about murder at an exhibition of art centered around Catherine Tramell.

Its Signature Scene also spawned its own trope, the "Basic Instinct" Legs-Crossing Parody.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: This wasn't the first time Michael Douglas played a San Francisco cop.
  • The Alibi: Catherine publishes a novel which features a woman who stabs a retired rockstar to death with an ice pick while having sex with him. When Catherine's boyfriend (the retired rockstar Johnny Boz) is murdered in exactly the same way, Catherine is naturally the prime suspect. The detectives argue that no one could be stupid enough to write a novel featuring someone getting murdered and then actually murder someone using the same method, as it would be a dead giveaway - unless the point is to intentionally throw suspicion off themselves by pointing out how stupid it would be of them to do such a thing.
  • All Men Are Perverts: What gets Nick into so much trouble. Every single man can't stop thinking about sex, specifically sex with Catherine. This said, a lot of the women don't seem to be much better, since apparently Even the Girls Want Her.
  • All There in the Manual: According to the original screenplay, the character of Gus (George Dzundza) was supposed to be sixty-four. In the film, he's about twenty years younger.
  • Almost Kiss: When Catherine taunts Nick of his past as "shooter" and how his wife killed herself, she gets extremely close to him.
  • Anti-Hero: The backstory of the film's protagonist, Nick, includes driving his wife to suicide and killing innocent people due to drinking and drug use while on the job. As well, he's verbally abusive to Beth, forces himself on her, and makes a rather homophobic comment to Roxy, "man to man".
  • Asshole Victim: Catherine is a monster, yes, but some of her victims are far from innocent. Nick, assuming he becomes a victim, shot two tourists while high on cocaine and got away with it because Beth covered for him while he slept with her (and Beth also may have murdered her husband as well, even if there is a serious possibility that it was another (failed) attempt by Catherine to get revenge on Beth: killing Beth's husband and leaving some clues to frame Beth), and Roxy killed several young boys after seducing them.
  • Babies Ever After: Discussed and Averted. In the end, Nick is casually lying in bed with Catherine talking about plans for the future which involves having sex, having children and living happily ever after. Catherine despises children so Nick appeases her by promising her a future of just sleeping together and living happily ever after.
    Catherine: What do we do now?
    Nick: Fuck like minks, raise rugrats and live happily ever after.
    Catherine: I hate rugrats.
    Nick: Fuck like minks, forget the rugrats, and live happily ever after.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Catherine succeeds in falsely leading the police and Nick, the Anti-Hero, into believing Beth was the killer - and Nick killed her, too. Catherine? She successfully escapes the law and proceeds to have sex with Nick. The last shot hints that she is either about to kill him or intended to kill him but calls it off because she likes having sex with him.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In the end, Catherine leans over and reaches for something under her bed as she gives Nick a look. However, she changes her mind goes back to sleeping with him. However, the camera pans down to show that she was indeed planning on killing him, making this a Double Subversion.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Catherine Tramell uses her much-vaunted beauty to manipulate, destroy, and kill anyone she wants without any consequences.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • Good girl Beth (whose name is coincidentally, or perhaps deliberately, similar to Betty) and Catherine.
    • Nick (the Betty) and Roxy (the Veronica) over Catherine (the Archie).
  • Betty and Veronica Switch: Subverted. While Catherine is hardly innocent, it's entirely possible that Beth is a killer too.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Nick and Catherine share one in the club after much teasing and Unresolved Sexual Tension.
  • Big Prick, Big Problems: The late Johnny Boz was visibly well-endowed, but it didn't prevent him from being stabbed to death during sex.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: Catherine is in a Psychotic Love Triangle with her female lover - and murderer - Roxy, but she is also deeply attracted to the more conventional, strait laced protagonist Nick Curran, although her decision is between killing him (which Roxy seems to want) or corrupting him to kill someone for her, or both, and Nick himself is actually the protagonist, which means that he's mostly fighting Catherine's impulse to kill him courtesy of Roxy. The ending ultimately has her "choose" him after Roxy's death - and Catherine is not interested in monogamy anyway - but it remains ambiguous how long it's going to last. Will she kill him straight after they have sex? Has he briefly convinced her not to?
  • Black Widow: Catherine. Every one of her love interests ends up dead, whether by her own hand or through her manipulation of the situation. Possibly Beth, regarding her own husband, even if another possibility is that Catherine killed him, trying to frame Beth (and failing), as a first attempt to attain revenge over Beth.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The brunette Beth mentions she dyed her hair blonde back in college and she was a redhead once too during a discussion with Nick about her connection with Catherine. Catherine herself is blonde.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The movie ends with Nick and Catherine kissing, apparently happily on the bed. Then Catherine goes for her ice pick. She changes her mind, but it's left very ambiguous if this will last.
  • Brick Joke: "Fuck like minks, raise children and live happily ever after."
  • Bury Your Gays: Roxy dies trying to kill Nick with her car and keep Catherine to herself. Beth may also be a victim to this trope considering her brief experimental fling with Catherine back in college. While the bisexual villainess Catherine survives.
  • Butch Lesbian: Unlike most examples of this trope, Roxy is long-haired and attractive, but she epitomizes it with her unpleasant and menacing demeanor.
  • Car Fu:
    • Roxy first tries to kill Nick by running him over, and then again by playing chicken. She loses.
    • The impromptu car chase that Catherine and Nick engage in shortly after they meet that nearly gets them both killed.
  • Casualty in the Ring: The fate of one of Catherine's fiancés, a middleweight boxer who was killed during a prizefight.
  • Chained to a Bed: Catherine Tramell is fond of tying her lovers up to the bedposts with a silk scarf, and sometimes uses it to kill them more easily.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus:
    • The extended cut reveals that the killer continues to have sex with Boz, riding him even as she stabs him with the ice pick.
    • Catherine casually changes her clothes in front of the police detectives sent to escort her to the station for questioning in a show of contempt.
    • A naked Nick has a hostile discussion with Roxy just after having had sex with Catherine as casually as if he were fully clothed.
  • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: In this case, it's because of Catherine trying to break down Nick's willpower by tempting him with cigarettes and alcohol, which he's not supposed to be doing since he's on probation.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Roxy in regards to Catherine, threatening to kill Nick if he doesn't leave Catherine alone, then attempting to do so. And either Catherine or Beth is to the other, depending on whose version of events regarding their college fling is true.
    Roxy: If you don't leave her alone, I'll kill you.
  • Contrived Coincidence: A lot, considering it revolves around a murder.
    • Beth arriving at the crime scene right after Gus is murdered.
  • Criminally Attractive: Most of the drama comes from Nick's attraction to Femme Fatale Catherine.
  • Date Rape: The first scene of Nick and Beth in her apartment. Feeling sexually frustrated from dealing with Catherine's interrogation, Nick acts it out on Beth by aggressively coming on to her. She seems to enjoy it at first, but by the end, he forces himself onto her and she's clearly struggling against him, and at one point flat-out tells him "no". After they're done, she calls him out on the fact that he wasn't making love to her, and angrily tells him to leave.
    Beth: You weren't making love.
  • Dark Is Evil: Roxy, who always wears dark clothes and has hate towards Nick.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nick and Catherine.
  • Death Glare: Roxy gives plenty to Nick as he becomes obsessed with her girlfriend Catherine.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Catherine again. She manages to make it seem as though Beth is this too.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: During the interrogation scene, Catherine uncrosses her legs and flashes the police officers interrogating her, revealing she's going commando. The cops are left embarrassed and flustered.
  • Downer Ending: Gus dies. Beth is framed by Catherine and is then killed by the man she loved. And the film's ending implies that Catherine plans to kill Nick.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Catherine. And Nick, when he's following her. Roxy too, when she is trying to kill Nick.
  • Driven to Suicide: Because of his killing spree while high on cocaine, Nick's first wife killed herself.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Nick does this when he seemingly loses his job.
  • Drunk Driver: Gus gets behind the wheel while he's hammered, even though his partner Nick offers to drive him home. He manages not to get himself killed.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Beth tells Nick she loves him just before she dies from her gunshot wound by him.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Nick is called "Shooter" by a lot of people. It refers to a previous incident in which he accidentally shot and killed a bunch of tourists, which he is still haunted by.
  • Enfant Terrible: Catherine is heavily implied to have murdered her parents, as described in yet another of her books about a boy who kills his parents in a manner similar to the death of her parents.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: The main thing that distinguishes Catherine's beauty from Beth's Hollywood Homely is that Catherine is blonde (and everybody wants her).
  • Evil Wears Black: Roxy is usually seen in dark-colored clothes.
  • Experimented in College: Beth dismisses her fling with Catherine as this.
  • Expy: Catherine is believed to have been inspired by Alex Forrest.
  • Eye Scream: Johnny Boz gets impaled in the face and left eyeball while being stabbed to death with the ice pick during sex.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: The film "ends" with Nick and Catherine kissing passionately on the bed. Fade out. Then fade back in: the camera pans down, revealing an icepick on the floor and leading the audience to believe Catherine was the killer all along.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • During the opening sex scene, retired rock star Johnny Boz is brutally stabbed to death with an ice pick during sex.
    • Nick and Beth's sex scene, when he forces himself on her as she tells him "No!", heading into date rape territory.
    • Nick's bare backside, as he forces himself on Beth.
  • Fanservice: Most of the film's scenes are steamy sex scenes featuring an unclothed Sharon Stone or Michael Douglas.
    • The opening sex scene between retired rock star Johnny Boz and his girlfriend, just before she stabs him to death.
    • The first half of Nick and Beth's sex scene is this before he date rapes her.
    • Catherine slowly stripping her clothes off until she's completely naked inside her house as Nick watches.
    • Catherine and Roxy kissing, groping each other, and dancing together in the club as Nick watches.
    • Nick and Catherine's kiss and sex scenes after the club.
  • Females Are More Innocent: Inverted. All of the female characters in the film are either sociopathic, homicidal, manipulative, obsessed, or some combinations of the above.
  • Femme Fatale: Catherine is one of the most iconic examples in modern filmmaking. No surprise, seeing as how the entire film is a '90s update on the Film Noir genre. She seduces both men and women to attain her goals, tempts Nick with her emotional vulnerability after Roxy's death, and committed all the murders.
  • Fetishized Abuser: Nick is this to Beth, verbally abusing her, forcing himself on her and eventually shooting her when he believes her to be the killer.
  • Foreshadowing: After talking with Beth, Nick comments to Gus, "She killed him." Misunderstanding, Gus declares: "Beth? Now you've got Beth killing people?" Nick corrects him, saying that he was referring to Catherine, but soon enough, evidence surfaces implying that Beth is indeed involved in the slew of murders that have occurred, even if, of course, it was Catherine who was framing Beth.
    • Downplayed as it's actually lampshaded In-Universe, but still, in the end, Beth is dead on when predicting what a murderous writer would say in her defense.
  • Four Is Death: When Detective Gus gets into the elevator to meet Beth, he ends up getting stabbed on the 4th Floor.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Before the climax of the movie, Nick drops in at Catherine's house and picks up a page of the manuscript of Catherine's last book that she's currently printing. He glances at it very briefly, without reading it. If you freeze-frame, you can read the page. It's a perfect description of the killing that is going to happen in the next scene.
    • Take a good look at the woman's body in the opening sequence and at Catherine's body during her sex scenes with Nick. Certain physical characteristics will confirm that she's the killer.
    • Take a good look at the two ice picks used to kill people at the beginning of the film and toward the end. You'll notice that one of them is different.
  • Gayngst: Nick lampshades this during an argument with Gus on why Beth would want to kill someone.
    Nick: Don't you get it? If Beth killed Johnny Boz to frame Catherine, she wouldn't want anybody to know what happened in Berkeley!
  • Gay Romantic Phase: Beth tells Nick that she used to experiment with Catherine back in college and that it was a one time thing with another woman that she is embarrassed about. Whether or not Catherine or Beth are her stalker and still obsessed with the other is up to interpretation.
  • Gendered Insult: Nick makes some homophobic remarks towards Roxy as they talk about Catherine.
    Nick: [to Roxy] Let me ask you something, Rocky. Man-to-man. I think she's the fuck of the century.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Nick watches Catherine and Roxy kiss as he leaves the beach house and again at the club when both women are dancing and grinding seductively on one another as Nick watches.
  • Gambit Roulette: ... but who cares about the plot?
  • Giallo: The film is an erotic thriller, set with some mystery, suspense, horror, and drama all mixed together, strong color schemes, and manipulative, villainous characters.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Roxy murdered her brothers growing up because she got jealous of the attention her father gave them.
  • Going Commando: Nick peeks on Catherine changing her clothes before the interrogation, and sees her put on a short white dress with no underwear. This is followed by the famous leg-uncrossing scene.
  • Great Way to Go: The police commenting on the retired rock star Johnny Boz's death during sex with Catherine Trammell.
    Detective: There's cum stains all over the bed sheets.
    Nick: [inspecting the bed for blood and semen stains] Impressive!
    Gus: Hey, he got off before he got offed!
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Roxy, who dresses in dark leather pants or sporting her large leather jacket.
  • Heroic BSoD: This happens to Nick after Catherine puts an end to their relationship. As a result, Nick is not thinking straight enough when Gus comes to pick him up to go to the office where Catherine's roommate is supposedly at. It's not until a couple of minutes later, after Gus goes in, does he snap out of it and realize it's a trap.
  • Hidden Depths: Despite the fact that Catherine is apparently a monster who enjoys killing people for the hell of it and likes to mess with the minds of others and exploit them for her personal gain, with her freely admitting she never truly loved Johnny Boz, she freaks out over Roxy's death and changes her mind about ending her relationship with Nick because she apparently decides she doesn't want to be without him, even though she is still secretly considering killing him just for it. There's also the possibility that she was scorned by Beth Garner and murdered her husband as a result.
  • Hookers and Blow: Nick shows up at a club to find Catherine and witness her sniffing coke in a bathroom stall.
  • Honeytrap: Catherine takes men to bed, ties them up, and murders them.
  • Homage: To Vertigo. The San Francisco setting, the detective obsessed with his target, and Catherine's outfits and French twist hairstyle are very reminiscent of Kim Novak's.
  • Heir Club for Men: Played for Horror. Roxy killed her brothers because her father paid attention to them.
  • Incompatible Orientation: A police file report reveals that the lesbian Roxy used to seduce under-aged boys, just to kill them.
  • I Just Want to Be You: It's eventually revealed that Beth had an affair with Catherine back in college. Catherine states that Beth got obsessed with her to the point of trying to be like her in every way, even dying her hair blond. When Nick confronts Beth over this, she asserts that it was the other way around: Catherine was obsessed with her.
  • Indirect Serial Killer: One possible interpretation is that Catherine Tramell drives other people into becoming murderers rather than (or in addition to) being one herself. At the end of the second movie Risk Addiction, she explicitly tells the protagonist that she manipulated him into committing all the murders, and in the first movie, it is possible that Beth became a murderer under Tramell's influence.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Nick and Gus try to trip up Roxy and Catherine with this when they try to harp on the fact that both women already know that Johnny Boz was murdered without them having been told, but it fails miserably in both cases when both women point out that it's the obvious conclusion to come to, as the men have already identified themselves as homicide detectives. As well, Roxy could have easily called Catherine after the cops left her house and warned her that they were on their way.
  • Internal Affairs: The Jerkass detective seen harassing Nick and Beth during the bar scene, who has apparently been on Nick's case since the infamous shooting incident.
  • Ironic Echo: Catherine's interrogation scene, when she snarks about being "charged with smoking", as well as how dumb she would have to be to kill someone exactly as she described in her book, is revisited in Nick's, when he makes an identical snark when he lights up a cigarette, then points out how stupid he would have to be to kill the Internal Affairs detective after arguing with him in full view of a police station full of witnesses.
  • Ironic Name: Catherine means 'pure'.
  • Karma Houdini: Catherine Tramell successfully shifts the blame for the murders to Beth and gets away with her crimes.
  • Lie Detector: During Catherine's interrogation at the station, she offers to take a polygraph test, which seems to confirm that she's innocent. Nick counters that she simply manipulated the results, because he knows people who have done it before—not mentioning that he's talking about himself.
  • Light Is Not Good: The thoroughly evil Catherine consistently wears white, beige, or cream-colored clothing, along with being blonde.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: As Nick falls for Catherine, he tries more and more to prove her innocence in the various unsolved. Only putting himself and others in more danger and allowing her to succeed.
  • Love Triangle: Both of the Betty and Veronica variety:
    • Beth is the kindly, organized, allegedly less attractive brunette. Nick is wanted by both of them. Catherine is the sociopathic, violent, murderous Veronica who also slept with Beth back in the day.
    • Also, Nick is the Betty once again in between Catherine and Roxy, the Butch Lesbian and Psycho Lesbian.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The male genitalia of the late Johnny Boz can be seen as the police inspect his dead body.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Nick admits he masturbates to deal with his frustrations of not seeing Beth.
    Nick: My sex life's actually pretty shitty since I stopped seeing you. (Holds up left hand) Started developing calluses.
  • Meaningful Name: A "trammell" is a Scottish death shroud, but this is unintentional as the character was named for baseball player Alan Trammell.
  • Mirror Scare: After Nick has had sex with Catherine, he walks over to the bathroom and splashes some water on his face. When he looks up, the mirror reveals that Catherine's jealous girlfriend Roxy is standing behind him.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The opening sex scene goes from erotic to terrifying as rock star Johnny Boz is stabbed to death in bed with the killer's ice pick.
    • Nick and Beth's sex scene goes from erotic and consensual to date rape as Nick continues forcing himself on her.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Catherine is a crime novelist. And a particularly manipulative and genre-savvy one at that; by the end of the film it's revealed that she set up almost every event to emulate her own book.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Catherine accomplishes this by manipulating Nick into shooting Beth.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Nick, after shooting Beth and she dies.
  • New Old Flame: The history with Nick and his therapist Beth. They used to date years to the film's events. After his "incident" with shooting people while high and driving his wife to suicide, they reconnect as he goes to her under court ordered therapy.
  • No Bisexuals: A case with Beth, who enjoys dating and sleeping with men but is revealed to have slept with murder suspect Catherine back in college. Nick is not pleased as this jeopardizes everything. Beth admits she experimented in college with Catherine and that it was a one time thing and that it hasn't changed her. Beth doesn't consider herself bisexual. However, at least according to Beth, Catherine became obsessed with her. Nick also thinks that Beth is still into girls and taunts her with this while holding her at gunpoint.
    Beth: What was I supposed to say? "Hey, guys, I'm not gay, but I did fuck your suspect"?
  • Noodle Incident: The death of Catherine's fiance Manny Vasquez. Despite the fact that it happened in the boxing ring, in full view of hundreds of spectators, it's implied she had something to do with this too.
    • Nick shooting people while under the influence of cocaine, earning himself the embarrassing nickname "Shooter" and driving his wife to commit suicide prior to the film is this.
    • Beth considers her one-time experimental fling with a woman back in college is this, as she's embarrassed about it if others found out.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Nick's attitude towards Beth after he forced himself onto her.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: When Nick asks Beth how she knows so much about Catherine still unaware of their previous relationship, Beth claims that she knows the type because she's a psychologist. Nick points out that as a practicing psychologist (Catherine majored in it in college but presumably did not pursue it further), Beth is probably even better at manipulating people.
    • After her interrogation scene, Catherine tells Nick that they've both beaten lie detector tests and they're both innocent.
  • Oh, Crap!: Nick's reaction when Catherine gets out her silk scarf and ties him to the bed during sex. Something she used to do with her victims just before killing them. Turns out, it was just for sex this time.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted when Nick shoots Beth. She's hit in the shoulder but bleeds out within minutes.
  • Off the Wagon: After three months of sobriety, Nick goes back to drinking and smoking after much taunting from Catherine Trammell and his coworkers.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: As the cops prepare to take Catherine to the station for questioning, she is asked several times if she wants an attorney present. She brushes off the suggestion, saying she doesn't need one. Earlier, she refuses to come to the station with them, knowing that she doesn't have to unless she's under arrest. It's clear that she's guilty as sin, she's just flaunting her ability to get away with it.
  • Out with a Bang: The movie opens with a woman murdering her partner during sex. With an ice pick. Ouch.
  • Phallic Weapon: The also-infamous ice pick. The fact that it's used during sex emphasizes this.
  • Preserve Your Gays: Unlike the other LGBT+ characters in the film ( Roxy, Beth), bisexual villainess Catherine Trammell is the only one alive and well at the end of the film.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Roxy.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Catherine successfully convinces Nick that Beth is this trope. Ironically, Catherine herself is noted in the film to fit this trope to some extent since she uses her knowledge of psychology to manipulate others, although she never became a practicing therapist or studied it at the graduate level.
  • Remarried to the Mistress: A non-marital type. Nick was having an affair with his therapist Beth throughout his first marriage and continued to date her after his wife committed suicide.
  • Retargeted Lust: Having been thoroughly taunted and titillated by Catherine, Nick later forces himself on Beth. There's a similar scene in the sequel with Dr. Michael Glass (Catherine's psychologist) and his girlfriend.
    Beth: You weren't making love to me.
    Nick: Who was I making love with?
  • Searching the Stalls: Nick looks for Catherine in the club bathrooms. He finds her in a stall snorting cocaine with Roxy and another man.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Catherine Trammell killed her parents and wrote a book based on the incident.
  • Sex Equals Death: The killer's modus operandi.
  • Sex Goddess: After sleeping with Catherine, Nick describes her as "the fuck of the century".
  • Sex in a Shared Room: Catherine likes having her lesbian lover Roxy watch her have sex with other men and encourages Roxy to watch her while she and Nick are having sex.
  • Sexual Karma: Subverted. When Nick has sex with Beth as it comes off as being date-rape. When Nick sleeps with the villainess Catherine however, it's portrayed as passionate and sensual albeit deadly.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Beth comes into Nick's apartment, the opening theme song from The Jeffersons can be heard on the television and as she is leaving after a verbal altercation.
    • When a phone call wakes up a drunken Nick, the movie Hellraiser is on the television in his apartment.
    • Several to Vertigo - see Homage above.
  • Sibling Murder: It's revealed that Roxy got jealous of her brothers getting all the attention growing up, so she killed them with her father's razor.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Roxy's jealousy of her brothers getting the love and attention from their father drove her to kill them.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Nick asks for a cigarette after forcing himself on Beth, angering her. He also lights up after having sex with Catherine.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The theme song of The Jeffersons plays from the television in the apartment during Nick and Beth's fight.
  • The Sociopath: Catherine Tramell is a rare example of a female sociopath in popular culture. A charismatic, seductive, narcissistic author, Femme Fatale, pathological liar and Serial Killer, she manipulates and causes the deaths of nearly everyone in the story, including many of her lovers and her own parents, largely for her own personal gain, amusement and to inspire her novels with no real remorse whatsoever. She is even described as such by multiple characters in the films.
  • Stealth Parody: In his book The Devil's Guide to Hollywood, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas states essentially that he conceived and wrote this film in 13 days as a cynical exercise in creating the Lowest Common Denominator screenplay possible. So he could get back his record of being the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood. And he succeeded.
  • Theme Serial Killer: A woman kills a retired rock 'n roll star during sex, in the exact same way that a rich novelist named Catherine Tramell described in one of her books. When the police suspect her, she points out how stupid she would be if she were to write it down in her book first. Eventually, they find the culprit: police psychologist Beth, an old flame of Nick, who was obsessed with Catherine. Then the last shot reveals Catherine as the real killer, making this an inversion.
  • Threesome Subtext: Catherine and Roxy snorting cocaine and grinding on another man in the bathroom stalls together.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: Hazel Dobkins, a friend of Catherine Trammell's, killed her husband and children and got away with it. She even claims she never even knew why she'd done it.
  • Title Drop: The film's original title appears as one of the titles of Catherine's romance murder novels.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Nick goes after Catherine despite all the obvious hints that she's dangerous. She even flat-out tells him that she is writing a story about an Anti-Hero detective who falls for the wrong woman, and that the woman kills the detective. Nick's partner Gus calls him out on it in-story. Nick is either about to be killed in the last scene or survives in the end is because Catherine had a last-minute change of heart about killing him. If you count the sequel as part of the same story, she killed him.
    • Beth getting herself shot by Nick. Despite the fact that he's clearly agitated and pointing a gun at her, she puts her hand into her pocket and refuses to remove it even as he orders her to. As it turns out, she wasn't armed, but he had no way of knowing that, and given the circumstances, reacted the way any cop would. It's either idiocy or just thinking that he loves her too much to shoot her. On top of that: going to an unknown place because of the message left by an unknown person without checking everything first doesn't really look like a smart idea (especially if she was suspecting, as she'd said she was, that Catherine was somehow manipulating things against her). Bonus dumb points for her being a professional psychologist closely working with the police.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The apartment keys Beth has to Nick's apartment become this after her death.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Catherine's novel "Child's Play" tells of a young boy who causes his parent's death in a mysterious accident and he manages to get away with it. The worst part is that it may be based on Catherine's childhood and her own parents' demise and she may have had something to do with their deaths.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted. Catherine is a sociopath, Roxy is a Psycho Lesbian, Hazel Dobkins killed her husband and children, and Beth has intercourse with a policeman who shot and killed two tourists while he was under the effects of some drugs he had taken and that she is supposed to evaluate. In fact, the number of evil females led to accusations of misogyny.
  • Unrated Edition: This was the movie that put unrated editions into the mainstream. Not only was there more violence and nudity, but it was also the director's preferred version of the film.
  • The Unreveal: Who committed each of the murders - Johnny Boz, Hazel, Roxy, Beth, Nilsen, Noah Goldstein (the college counsellor), Gus, Beth's husband - in the film? Was there only 1 killer? Why was Nilsen investigating Beth? Did Catherine truly have feelings for Roxy or Nick or was it all an act as part of her game? Does Catherine kill Nick after the last scene? The sequel implies she does. Camille Paglia correctly said in her audio commentary of the film that it ended on a big question mark.
  • The Vamp: While much of Catherine's character is open to interpretation, there's no denying how easily she manipulates everyone around her (especially by seducing them) to get what she wants.
  • Villain Has a Point: Catherine's quite rude when she refuses to go to the police station with the cops, telling them to "get the fuck out of here", but she's right—if she's not under arrest, she doesn't have to, they have no warrant, and she's under no obligations to answer questions either way.
  • Wham Line:
    • Catherine delivers one to Nick after making love and she has a confession.
    Catherine: There was this girl I met when I was in college. I slept with her once. She started following me around, taking my picture. She dyed her hair. Copied my clothes. Lisa... something— Oberman. It was awful.
    • Later, when Nick starts investigating the woman Catherine told him about and corrects him on the name.
    Nick: There was no Lisa Oberman when you were at Berkeley.
    Catherine: [angry] What are you doing, checking up on me? For what? I said Hoberman.
    Nick: [later, on the phone] Hoberman. Lisa Hoberman with an "H".
  • Wham Shot:
    • As Nick and Catherine resume making love, the camera slowly pans down to show what she was reaching for under the bed: an ice pick.
    • When Nick checks the computer system for Lisa Hoberman and Dr. Beth Gardner's picture pops up instead.
    • The blonde wig Nick finds on the floor just after killing Beth.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Nick gets this from both Gus and Beth after sleeping with the murder suspect Catherine.
  • Writing About Your Crime: Catherine is a suspect because she wrote a novel depicting a very similar crime to Boz's murder. In fact, she had killed Johnny Boz, and several before him, using the same modus operandi.
  • Wrote a Good Fake Story: Played With. Catherine tells Nick she's working on a book called Shooter, about a cop who falls in love with the wrong woman and gets murdered. Since the title is his nickname, it appears she's using their relationship for either research or to cover her trail in a string of murders. However, since Most Writers Are Writers, Catherine is actually seen working on the book throughout the movie. By the end, it's unclear if the book is inspired by the events around it, or is inspiring said events to happen.
  • You Never Did That for Me: Beth to Nick, after having rough sex and he forced himself on her.
    Beth: You've never been like that before. Why?


Video Example(s):


TV Edits of Movie Swearing

To comply with standards and practices, harsher swear words will often be removed or altered in TV versions of movies, especially on network channels. Sometimes, the results are unconvincing or downright bizarre.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (48 votes)

Example of:

Main / Bowdlerise

Media sources: