In a mash-up for the ages, Paul Verhoeven has fully commandeered this month’s Frida After Dark programming!
Verhoeven’s first director credit in five years, Benedetta is set to premiere at Cannes 2021 and contend for the prestigious Palme d’Or. Co-written by the Dutch filmmaker, Benedetta is an adaptation of the novel Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, a title which succinctly reflects its premise.
Despite this being a medieval historical drama, it’s worth taking a look back on Verhoeven’s filmography and most well-known flicks. Most of which are… most definitely not that. This FAD we take a dive into the action-packed, titillating flicks featuring femme fatales, fun sci-fi and satire, explosion, boobs, and guns.
An idea conceived by writer Edward Neumeier on the set of Blade Runner and against the backdrop of Reagan’s America, RoboCop is the other side of the 80s sci-fi futuristic coin.
In the dystopian “near future” Detroit is on the brink of financial and social collapse when the city’s police force is taken over by mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products for funding. They begin to create automated law enforcement officers for a streamlined and higher-caliber crime-fighting process. Police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who was murdered by a gang, is revived by OCP and made an agentless cyborg for their trigger-happy, tough-on-crime campaign.
Originally showed in theaters with an “R” rating, the director’s cut of RoboCop is even more bombastic than what audiences first saw in 1987. People are shot to the point of turning into a pulp, toxic waste turns a man into a melting pile of flesh… in other words, it’s definitely worthy of the rating, what with these classic staples of body horror and all.
Verhoeven has a very head-on cameo in a scene which takes place in a night club, where he dances like he’s crazed and looks directly into the camera. Maybe he took a hit from the literal cocaine factory featured in the movie? Regardless, thanks to the ability to pause and new high-def restorations we’re able to see him in all his unhinged glory.
By the way, has the delivery of the line “Bitches leave” haunted you as much as it has me? Well, it turns out it was a bit of an on-set inside joke. Verhoeven supposedly didn’t know that “bitches” was a pejorative, referring to the actresses/characters as such throughout filming: far from being insulted, the actors had a blast with it, taking the word and running with it. Sometimes, mistakes really do bring us the best gifts, don’t they?
Basic Instinct (1992)
The defining erotic thriller of the 90s, the interrogation and leg-crossing scene of Basic Instinct seems to live in the head of popular culture rent-free.
That scene. The one that comes to mind instantly when you say the words “Basic Instinct” to anyone who was alive and saw the film when it hit theaters in 1992. Even in 2021, Googling “Basic Instinct” prompts tons of autofill options offer: “leg cross” or “crotch shot”. Its reputation precedes the actual plot of the film for those of us watching it decades later for the first time. Many youngins find themselves watching and thinking just after upskirt shot flashes across the scene: “that’s it?”
The film opens on a man getting violently stabbed to death by the woman he was having sex with. It even became the blueprint for a horrendous murder and dismemberment of a young man in both its execution and cinematography. Yet, searching for “Basic Instinct opening” to search for the opening sequence, it also yields the suggestion: “Basic Instinct opening legs”.
But of course, as Sharon Stone herself said, “It’s about more than just a peek up my skirt, people.” Basic Instinct is an incredible neo-noir, lauded to some as “Hitchockian”. Though it certainly has more nudity, red blood, and consenual sex than Hitchcock would ever get to put in a film, and everyone pretty much knows who the murderer is from the get-go, lines truly begin to blur as the real main character of Catherine Tramell keeps pulling the strings and seducing people left and right.
A pretty dark and conniving character, Stone’s portrayal of Tremell was a cathartic release of female rage, from childhood abuse to prevalent misogyny and patronizing men in the film industry. That’s a much more interesting angle to view the film from this time around.
Oh, and that upskirt shot was done without Stone’s prior consent, as she was lied to about the intention of the shot and why she needed to be panty-less. As if she could ever run low, it was some more fodder for her performance at least.
Total Recall (1990)
Schwarzenegger? Properly emoting in a role? Acting?
Yep, in the only film he’s ever played a convincing every-man, Schwarzenegger turns out to be a secret agent spy. Leave it to Verhoeven to bring out the best in Arnold: action hero greatness, comedic chops, and an endearing protagonist role.
Classic sci-fi is looking more and more like real life these days, and Total Recall is no exception. In 2084, Mars is colonized by the American government and has its very own senator, and people have artificial vacations instead of physically travelling because only the elite can afford such excursions. Self-driving cars deliver pizza right to your door. Now that we have the United States Space Force and private corporate billionaires shooting cars into space just because they can, we’re just one step closer to bringing nightmarish doom beyond our planet and off to the next!
Total Recall from 1990 however, is much more fun than thinking about that. An interplanetary, action-filled thriller, the film is remembered fondly for its marriage of several genres, creative and charmingly aged special effects. And, of course– being a Verhoeven movie–sexy alien women who look like normal earth women, but with an extra boob, because men are cowards and wouldn’t let Verhoeven give them four.
Interestingly enough, Verhoeven found his Mars in Mexico City, Mexico. Anyone who’s been on the subway in Distrito Federal will recognize the metro station Arnold is chased through might find it oddly familiar. Because of the metro looking “futuristic” to the director, two metro stations were used: the Universidad and Chabacano stations; even the metro cars themselves were kept, though they were painted silver. Glorieta de los Insurgentes was also used for its interesting architecture, and shots of Nevada’s Valley of Fire’s aztec sandstone mountains enhanced the intricate sets built in Estudios Churubusco, one of the oldest and largest studios in Latin America.
Luckily, you can visit Mexico AND Mars, two in one, with this entry of Verhoeven’s filmography.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Speaking of Space Force…
From the outside (and trailer), Starship Troopers appears as if everything it’s actually satirizing: a glorification of the American military, (interplanetary) colonization, and facism. Thankfully, it’s actually a hilarious criticism of the over-militarization of America and how we Americans just love messing up life for everything around us– even in the 21st century and not the 23rd.
Provoked by the invading humans, an insectoid species fights back for their planet as the Mobile Infantry space soldiers move in to claim another astral body. Meanwhile, the United Citizen Federation enforces “peace” across the galaxy, recruiting brand-new high school students for military service, which is preferable to the lack of rights allowed to civilians by the UCF. Also, to play off of those feelings for sweet, sweet revenge against those disgusting “bugs”.
And somehow, the film is still a blast! The action is as awesome as it is thoughtful, and with leads such as Denise Richards and supporting roles from legends Clancy Brown, Dean Norris, and more, it’s truly an intentional throwback to famous pro-military and pro-cop movies that still saturate media, though in not nearly as much fashion.
Could this be the most “Frida After Dark” film to ever be played for Frida After Dark? Well, it’s certainly a contender!
Showgirls takes all the gritty elements of all the FAD entires of the month thus far and turns it up so much that it breaks the dial. It’s NC-17 for all the nudity, sex, drugs, and violence. It was a massive, misguided Hollywood bomb. It’s categorized as a “Gay/Lesbian” film on Rotten Tomatoes, most likely not just for its queerbaiting characters but its unintentional, overwhelming camp. It has rightfully developed a cult following for its embarrassing dialogue, performances, plot choices, and… well, everything else mentioned prior.
No one has described the phenomenon better than the film’s own leading man Kyle MacLachlan as he looked back and recalled the experience of watching Showgirls for the first time:
“It was about to première, I hadn’t seen it yet, and I wanted to. So I went to see it and… I was absolutely gobsmacked. I said, ‘This is horrible. Horrible!’ And it’s a very slow, sinking feeling when you’re watching the movie, and the first scene comes out, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a really bad scene.’ But you say, ‘Well, that’s okay, the next one’ll be better.’ And you somehow try to convince yourself that it’s going to get better… and it just gets worse. And I was like, ‘Wow. That was crazy.’ I mean, I really didn’t see that coming. So at that point, I distanced myself from the movie. Now, of course, it has a whole other life as a sort of inadvertent… satire. No, ‘satire’ isn’t the right word. But it’s inadvertently funny. So it’s found its place. It provides entertainment, though not in the way I think it was originally intended. It was just… maybe the wrong material with the wrong director and the wrong cast.”
MacLachlan, a Verhoeven fan himself, saying it was “maybe the wrong material with the wrong director and the wrong cast” is pretty hilarious. Though ultimately he remembers it fondly, the same might not be said about what leading lady Elizabeth Berkley had to endure from the public before the movie became beloved. It’s the usual road for women in leading roles in “bad” movies, who get the harshest criticism and shamed.
Thankfully, there is a celebration of Berkley and the film as a whole: You Don’t Nomi, a documentary on Showgirls and its cult status made in 2019.
This is a screening that’s sure to be a hot one to close out the blistering summer month of July!
Join The Frida in its return to director-of-the-month series’, and relive all the wonderful ’80s and ’90s memories of watching them on the big screen! Whether purposeful schlock or accidental comedy, Verhoeven has definitely earned the honor of conquering the Frida Cinema every weeknight, all month long.
Now that you’re done reading: bitches leave!