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According to IMDb, you started your career as a screenwriter of sci-fi movies such as Dreamscape (Joseph Ruben, 1984) and Star Trek V – The Final Frontier (William Shatner, 1989). Why did you start writing erotic thrillers?

It’s a genre I’ve always liked and thrillers don’t cost a fortune to make. That’s why they’re attractive to filmmakers and studios. At the start of my career I was working on big budget projects, then I transitioned into smaller films. There are advantages to the thriller, or erotic thriller, because they don’t rely on special effects or epic storytelling. They tend to be contained and work best when they’re scaring the hell out of us on a personal level. When they’re done well, they’re a lot of fun to watch — and to write.

If we consider that you worked during the golden age of the erotic thriller genre (the 90s and the early 2000s), it is not wrong to say that you started writing erotic thrillers “late” (the first you wrote is Obsessed [2009]). Were you fond of this kind of genre in the 90s? Which were your favorite ones?

The Grifters (1990) and The Last Seduction (1994) come to mind.

In terms of my influences, I’ve always been a fan of Classic Film Noir. Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) is probably my favorite. Also Out of the Past (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), Detour (1945), Lady From Shanghai (1947) and many more.

Another film I love that influenced me a lot is Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat (1981) which I guess you’d call a Neo-Noir because it was made in 1980. Body Heat found a way to make something old feel new again.

Body Heat: an erotic thriller made in 1980.

In my early career, I worked on several thrillers, in some cases without credit. I wrote or rewrote The Stepfather (1987), The Good Son (1993) and Penthouse North (2013), all of which were directed by Joseph Ruben who has an aptitude for these kind of films. Joe was actually going to direct Shattered (2022) but couldn’t because of Covid concerns. Over the years he and I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what makes these films tick.

The erotic thriller as a genre almost never contemplates the purity of a scheme but is based on a logic of hybridisation. How do the thrillers you have made differ in terms of proximity to the erotic thriller genre?

Some erotic thrillers are simply about a sexual relationship that goes horribly wrong and turns deadly. Fatal Attraction (1987) is the best example of this. What’s great about Fatal Attraction is that it hits us where we live. It’s about people we can identify with. There’s no crime for profit going on. It’s simply about the accelerating obsession of a rejected woman who, as Glenn Close’s character states, “will not be ignored.” We side with Michael Douglas whose family is threatened but we also feel sympathy and understanding for Close who feels (justifiably) that she has been used and cast aside.

Obsessed is a story in this vein. Fatale (2020) and more recently, Shattered, are about sex used as a weapon for murder and profit.


shatteredSex as a wepon: Fatale and Shattered.

One of your latest screenplays, Fatale, makes clear right from the title its debt to Fatal Attraction, from which it takes the famous sex scene on the kitchen sink. At the same time, the cop in the film played by Hilary Swank is called Quinlan, a clear reference to Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1959). It is commonly believed that noir is a progenitor of the erotic thriller. Do you think the same is true for your films?

You’re the first person to recognize the reference to Hank Quinlan, the corrupt cop played by Orson Welles in Touch of Evil. I like to throw in these little references now and then to see if my fellow film nerds are paying attention.

touch of evil quinlan

fatale erotic thrillerThe cop played by Hilary Swank is called Quinlan, a clear reference to Touch of Evil.

Film Noir is definitely the progenitor of the erotic thriller. Noir itself was an outgrowth of the pulp literature of the 1930’s and 40’s by authors like James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich and the writers of Black Mask, a pulp magazine that featured brutal crimes, deadly dames and hard-boiled detectives.

One of my favorite films, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, is based on a Cain novel and contains all the classic elements. A femme fatale manipulates a guy to commit murder for profit. In some stories the roles are reversed and it’s a guy manipulating a woman but the outcomes are the same — disaster or death for both.

erotic thriller double indemnityFilm Noir is the progenitor of the erotic thriller.

Erotic thrillers are also indebted to the Giallo films and European thrillers of the 1970s which raised the bar for violence and sexuality.

Some erotic thrillers you wrote feature actors of color. We think that this is interesting, since most erotic thrillers of the 90s were often aimed at a white audience. What are the challenges you faced in writing erotic thrillers following the 90s classics but centered around black characters?

I wouldn’t say there were challenges. Those roles could have been played by actors of any ethnicity. In the case of Obsessed, the idea was to present the story without any racial commentary and allow the audience to bring their own baggage to the situation. The fun was seeing black actors in roles that are traditionally played by whites. That’s why Idris Elba and Beyonce were attracted to the film and why audiences went to see it. In that regard it was similar to a film I wrote in the 90’s, Passenger 57 (1992), where the action hero was black at a time when that kind of character was always played by a white actor.

In this regard, we find the choice of the environments in Fatale very interesting, in which a sort of reversal of the social roles occurs: the wealthy are people of color who live in ultra-luxurious apartments overlooking the city skyline, whereas the white character (the corrupt agent Quinlan) lives in a loft in the suburbs, typical of the villains of erotic thrillers (Fatal Attraction, Unfaithful [2002]…). Could you tell us something about the choices made for the environments that characterize Fatale? How much of this is reflected in the characters?

Deon Taylor, who directed Fatale, came up with the basic premise. He had previously directed my original script The Intruder (2019) which featured a black couple in conflict with a deranged white home-owner. Deon is African- American and committed to making films with diverse casting. He also likes to upset expectations so it was important that the Michael Ealy character in Fatale be a person who appears to have power, wealth and control, only to be undermined by a white female cop who can bring his whole world down. The cop, played by Hilary Swank, wants something and sees Ealy as a means to get it. But she’s not after money. She’s trying to get back her own child which makes her more complicated than your typical femme fatale. Also the character isn’t some slinky seductress. She’s a working mom.

Both The Intruder and Shattered update the yuppie-in-peril theme, which was very popular in the 90s, making the political undertones more explicit. Is this choice a consequence of the social and political context in the US? I think of the hat Dennis Quaid’s character is wearing in The Intruder, which looks like a reference to the MAGA-hat, and the populist speech against rich people in Shattered...

Yes, this a theme I love to play around with. In America, the “haves” — the people with the power and the money — live in terror of having it all taken away by the “have nots.” That’s why home invasion films strike a nerve. They reflect bigger societal fears. The bad guys in Shattered feel completely justified in taking the protagonist’s wealth. To them it’s restitution for being born with nothing.

the intruder l'intrusoDennis Quaid’s character in The Intruder.

In the erotic thriller genre, sex is very often the underpinning that drives the intrigue. What role does it play in your stories?

In Obsessed, the characters don’t even have sex but the temptation is there, running through every scene like an undercurrent. In Fatale and Shattered sex is more upfront but it’s not thrown in for cheap exploitation.

obsessed passione fatale david lougheryIn Obsessed, the temptation of sex runs through every scene like an undercurrent.

I’ve been fortunate that the films I’ve written have mostly had decent budgets and good actors. Back in the 90’s, “erotic thrillers” tended to be low budget videos or late night Cinemax movies. Those films focused mainly on nude sex scenes and the plot, if there was one, took a backseat. Luckily, the movies I’ve written have concentrated on plot and characterization than skin. But I like to make sure the sexual tension is always there, just under the surface, whether it’s acted on or not.

Shattered features a classic femme fatale: she is blonde, bisexual and she uses sex as a weapon, like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992). How does she differ from the classic femme fatale from the 90s erotic thrillers?

In Shattered, I wanted the femme fatale to be likable and sympathetic. You learn that she’s been trained to use sex to manipulate men for profit. She’s like a wind-up doll. But even though she’s capable of great violence and sadism, she finds herself falling in love with her victim. Her true feelings derail her from her goal and ultimately lead to her downfall. In the end, she can’t handle it and goes berserk.

Nurse 3D (2013) is a very unusual erotic thriller: it is told from the point of view of the femme fatale Abby; there is no important male character in the plot; it features pornographic and horror imagery and is heavily influenced by the rape and revenge sub-genre. Its excesses can be read, at the same time, as both ideologically progressive and reactionary. Would you define it an erotic thriller? What’s your opinion about this screenplay? The tone of Nurse 3D is different from the others you wrote, sometimes it is as pulpy and funny as a Tarantino movie.

I worked on the early drafts of Nurse 3D. Lionsgate wanted to make a film inspired by a marketing campaign that had been used to promote the Saw films. The ads featured outrageously sexy nurses in tight-fitting fetish outfits.

loughery erotic thriller nurse 3d sawAds featuring sexy nurses in Saw IV and Nurse 3D.

My script was more Hitchcockian and a little more like The Bride Wore Black [La Mariée était en noir, François Truffaut, 1968] in the sense that it was essentially a sexy revenge thriller. It had a lot of dark humor and outrageous moments. It’s interesting that you mention Quentin Tarantino whose Kill Bill films were inspired by the plot of The Bride Wore Black — a woman’s husband is killed on their wedding day and she sets out to destroy the people responsible. Nurse was always intended to be lurid and in your face with a lot of blood, sex and nudity but it was also tongue in cheek. I wrote a few drafts and left the project. The script was refashioned by other hands, particularly the director Doug Aarniokoski. Believe it or not, I kind of liked the end result.

In the last twenty years, the erotic thriller genre seemed to have disappeared. In your opinion, what is its progressive marginalisation due to? And what about its recent comeback? Do you think the success of television shows, miniseries with an increasingly explicit sexual content (Euphoria [2019-present], Bridgerton [2020-present]…), and streaming platforms are facilitating the return of a kind of film that was successful in theatres but, even more, as a home vision?

Like I said earlier, thrillers are fairly inexpensive to make so it’s not surprising that a lot of first time directors make them. But their popularity ebbs and flows. Right now we’re experiencing an erotic thriller recession. Because there’s so much explicit sex in films, TV and on streaming platforms these days, audiences are more interested in straight-out horror or suspense films that don’t necessarily rely on sexual situations.

Still on the subject of the comeback of the genre, did you see the erotic thrillers released in the last 2 years (The Undoing [2020], Out of the Blue [Neil LaBute, 2022], The Voyeurs [Michael Mohan, 2021], Deep Water [Adrian Lyne, 2022])? Did you like them? We would like to know what you think about them.

I liked The Undoing although I don’t remember it being particularly erotic. And wasn’t it a multi-part series? The other films you mention I haven’t seen but I’ll probably get around to it.

Hbo’s miniseries The Undoing.

Deep Water interests me because it was originally intended for theatrical release. I know the reviews were not good but it was a surprise that a big budget film with attractive leads directed by Adrian Lyne would get pulled. Whether that was because the film wasn’t particularly good or the studio didn’t think it would make money, I can’t say. It was probably a combination of the two.

Do you think we will still see big budgets and big stars devoting themselves to erotic thrillers created for the cinema? Or do you think these are films intended exclusively for streaming platforms? The case of Deep Water, an erotic thriller costing 49 million dollars released on Hulu, does not give much hope in this regard…

There’s also competition from the Lifetime network which specializes in female-driven suspense films that often have sexual themes but aren’t particularly sexy. They’ve made hundreds of these — maybe thousands — and they run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You could describe them erotic thrillers with a PG rating.

I don’t know what the future holds for mainstream erotic thrillers. Right now I’m writing a script for Netflix that has a sexual hook but focuses more on characters and big twists. But even so, it’s still about a sexual liaison that leads to trouble.

Do you think there are still a substantial number of viewers interested in seeing an erotic thriller? Do you think of a particular kind of audience that can enjoy your stories? During the writing process, do you think of your erotic thrillers in terms of a genre-literate audience?

I think people will always have an interest in these films. But I’m not certain they still want to see them in a theatrical setting. I think they prefer to watch them privately from the comfort of their couches. Also, the majority of the audience is now genre-literate so it gets harder and harder to come up with anything that will surprise them.

What do you think of the little respect the professional critics and the public had and still have towards the erotic thriller genre? Almost all of the erotic thrillers released in the last years have a very low rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The most common criticism is, “I’ve seen it before.” And that’s hard to argue with. It’s really difficult to come up with stories for thrillers that feel original. But when I’m writing, I remind myself that there’s always a new audience coming along, many of whom will be seeing these stories for the first time. Of course, that’s not a protection from valid criticism.

Today critics talk about how much the politics if Fatal Attraction “is icky” (Allison P. Davis on Vulture). In your opinion, are films like Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal (1993), and Basic Instinct really “unacceptable” today?

Erotic thrillers are designed to make audiences squirm in their seats for 90 minutes and go home having had a cathartic thrill. The best movies are always transgressive and show us things we’re not prepared for where we have to ask ourselves, “What would I do in this situation?” Or simply, “Thank god this isn’t happening to me!”

Movies are a voyeuristic experience. Erotic thrillers intensify this.

The original allure of erotic thrillers was the expectation that we might get to see extreme violence or sex on screen — and sometimes we did. But that’s no longer the attraction. We have to discover a new way to approach the erotic thriller and if you find out what that is, please let me know.