80s Movie Challenge Week 42: Fatal Attraction (1987)
Welcome back you glorious bunch of 80s Loving superstars!
This week Jane Roberts goes back to 1987 for another controversial pick from our list of 50 films. Before reading you may wish to lock up your kitchen utensils and small furry creatures of the Oryctolagus cuniculus persuasion.
That’s right! It’s Fatal Attraction!
Fatal Attraction hit the cultural zeitgeist of the 1980s, epitomising the era’s bombastic hair, greed culture and sordid kitchen sink drama. Nominated for 6 Oscars, it smashed the box office, becoming the highest-grossing film of the year, pulling in over £320million from a cost of £12million.
On release, I was a teenager, and while it was on my cultural radar, it was very much a film that my parents went to see, rather than anything that caught my eye. For starters, it didn’t have Rob Lowe. I recall them returning a bit shocked by it, talking in hushed tones on their return. It was all Very Grown Up.
I have no recollection of watching the film, yet there are scenes that have lodged in my mind regardless. The bunny. The bath. The knife. The bad hair. They’ve survived the 80s and moved into meme territory, as well as providing a handy euphemism for any woman deemed to be acting a little off.
Nowadays, Fatal Attraction is probably best remembered for coining THAT phrase ‘bunny boiler’. Starring Michael Douglas as a lawyer (Dan), Anne Archer as his wife (Beth) and Glenn Close in a career-defining role as the spurned woman, Alex, it peaks beneath the surface of the American dream into what goes on between the sheets, on the kitchen sink and beyond.
It starts innocuously enough. Alex and Dan begin their affair thanks to the flirtatiously placed effluent from Dan’s cream horn, before moving onto the main course. Each other.
Dan, the feckless, pant dropping, shiny-faced executive who wanted his picture book life with blond editor spice on top. Even if it was just for the weekend. From the start, he feels grubby. Slicked back hair, pulsating jaw, tighty whiteys plummeting to his ankles as he attempts to straddle both Alex and the kitchen sink. Quite an impressive feat. He stands for the aspirational male of the 80s; a great career, beautiful wife, cute child, pretty home. With a side helping of extramarital shag.
To Dan, Alex was a bit of edgy fun, a walk through the dark among the swinging pig carcasses (what was that all about?) to a torrid tumble in the elevator that cried out for a blast of Aerosmith shrieking GOING DOWN?!, before Dan sneaks out leaving a scrappy piece of Basildon Bond and a coded goodbye and thanks for the strudel, but I’ve had my fill of pudding and am now faintly vomitous.
There was an undertone of toxic masculinity about Dan. Everyone remembers Alex’s murderous stalking campaign, but do they remember that it was Dan who first grabbed Alex by the throat, threatening to kill her if she outed their affair? His fury at Alex’s alleged pregnancy? Before calmly going home to hug his wife while cooing like an infatuated pigeon into her hairspray.
The violence throughout is troubling. Yes, bunny boiling was a fairly unique trope in the stalker’s lexicon at the time, but Dan is just as handy with his fingers as Alex, using strangulation as a weapon repeatedly.
Cue monochrome Alex, playing Light Goes On, Light Goes Off. Madame Butterfly serenades lost lust in the background. Self-harm, spousal stalking, child napping, crimes against hair – she is ramping up the crazy. Bring on the chin sucking, knife-wielding, car melting antics. Alex’s door is not just unhinged, it’s blown from its frame.
A shout out to Alex’s wardrobe. Cream one-piece camisoles, white dresses; a pale palette, except for when she’s in Bad Girl Black Leather mode. Those shoulder pads are like dromedary humps. I’m amazed she fits through the door without turning sideways. And no wonders she’s pissed, wearing that silk camisole gusset too tightly would drive even a saint crazy. Friction makes the madness fester. In contrast, mumsy Beth appears in a sleeping bag for a coat at one point, despite brilliant sunshine.
Guilt-ridden Dan rediscovers his lust for his wife, getting horny as she waggles about in her snow-white Playtex bra. Mumsy looks awfully cute when the object of the affair gets difficult and leathered. Dan pulsates his lust into Beth’s ear, a literal throbbing jockstrap.
I confess, at this point in the movie I was failing to see what appealed to a 1980s audience about this film. There are some striking visual shots, but also the occasional awful worm eye view. Dan is despicable. We see way too much Douglas butt crack. Beth is a paragon, with a steel spine and a fine eye for the crosshairs. She’s also forgettable. Alex is iconic, in a way, but she reinforces the stereotyped view of a woman scorned in a role which could have been distilled down to a four-minute-long video nasty accompanied by Jennifer Rush’s Power of Love.
We come to the film’s climax, by which point I don’t care. Drown her, throttle her, knife her – Alex must be packing a resurrection stone as she keeps pinging back to vengeful life. The film is obsessed with sinks and bathtubs. Despicable Dan is not the man for a crisis, appearing to be both deaf and emotionally stunted. If I were Beth, I’d have garroted the man’s plums with his grubby little budgie smugglers at the first hint of infidelity. Her balls were ultimately way bigger than his.
Boy, was I glad when this 120 minutes ended. It felt as if Dan’s natural grubbiness had slicked me with grime. I was neither entertained nor titillated. I saw physical abuse, passive-aggressive manipulation, shirking of responsibility – a whole nutsack of adults behaving badly while bunny boils. There was little redemption. Despicable Dan couldn’t even deal with his own mess, leaving it to the betrayed wife to mop up after him, as is her defined role in his life.
Zero attraction. Sometimes, some stories are just best left to the past.
Join us next week as our extra-special guest poster, the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author and all-round groovy person Howard David Ingham takes a break from writing about body horror for their own website, Room 207 Press to share their thoughts here on John Carpenter’s 1981 paranoid alien thriller, The Thing.