Joe’s Blog

Sliver (1993)

October 12, 2012 7:51 am

Sliver poster

Erotic cabaret

Ah, the halcyon days of the early-to mid 90s, when the erotic thriller was king. OK, it never was ‘king’ exactly, but it’s a fact that Basic Instinct was the 4th biggest money maker of 1992, and suddenly every studio had to have a piece of the action. Preferably starring Sharon Stone, as all the other A-list actresses were a little iffy about getting their norks out.

Basic Instinct was, and probably always will be, the best erotic thriller Hollywood has ever produced. The combination of Joe Eszterhas’ script and director Paul Verhoeven was golden, taking the good stuff from Jagged Edge, and combining it with a sardonic wit and eye for cold detail that had made Verhoeven’s sci-fi flicks such massive hits. If you have issues with Basic Instinct‘s politics, you’re clearly taking it too seriously. I was always amazed at the gay community’s outrage at its portrayal of lesbians, as the film itself is so OTT camp, you’d think it would have gone down a storm, like the later Showgirls did (a film with far more gender political problems).

So the re-teaming of Mr Eszterhas and Ms Stone (by now sharing a bed, much to the surprise of Mrs Eszterhas) should have been a winner. But something went seriously wrong here, and we end up with a grubby, humourless water balloon of a film that, budget aside, isn’t far removed from the likes of Shannon Tweed epics like Indecent Behaviour or Illicit Dreams, films which at least don’t bother pretending they are not ripping off Basic Instinct.

With Sliver you get the explosive combination of a hot star, the most successful screenwriter of all time, an egomaniacal producer making his first film for a decade following his involvement in a cocaine deal and murder, a rising co-star (personally picked by Stone who then decided she hated him), whose bubble was about to burst sooner than anyone could have imagined, and a relatively hot director, fresh off a hit, but still easy to push around.

What could possibly go wrong?


For the uninitiated the plot is roughly this: Stone is Carly, a book editor, who moves into a swanky New York apartment block and immediately becomes an object of desire for creepy Billy Baldwin, and sleazy Tom Berenger. There’s another old man but he dies pretty quickly, and another woman (the rather lovely, but talent free Polly Walker) who may be a model or a prostitute. Someone has wired the whole block with cameras and mics and is watching everything. People keep dying, but who is the murderer?

That’s  it.

“You like to watch, don’t you?”

Nah, not really.

That would struggle to stretch over an hour let alone the ten minutes short of two we are subjected to here. The first half is dedicated to Carly moving in, being watched, having a party, being watched, being wooed by Billy and harassed by Tom. Martin Landau bobs up for two whole scenes as Carly’s boss, and adds nothing of any importance beyond pointing to a lamp.

This all builds towards what most people who bought a ticket for this mess wanted to see: Sharon Stone in the buff. And sad to report but Sliver‘s sex scenes are probably the least erotic ever filmed (and also for a while put me off ever listening to ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ forever). If you get the chance to see it in high-def though, you will spot Stone’s sweaty pits, and Billy’s extremely hairy bum hole.

Eventually after a couple more deaths (one of which briefly reminds you of the excesses of the Italian gialli that this so aspires to be) the killer is revealed, the audience shrugs and says “that doesn’t really make any sense” and it ends.

This may be the result of post-production tinkering. Not an unusual thing in Hollywood, but in the case of Sliver the messing about not only changed the identity of the killer but restructured he whole film. Message boards are filled with people saying that the original cut is actually worse but makes more sense. I am currently trying to track his down because I’m not sure how worse it could be.

The main issue here, of course, is changing the ending. A thriller (or at least a well-written thriller) would surely work backwards from the reveal, setting up the situations, dialogue, actions of characters, even their facial expressions, so that when an audience knows the outcome they don’t feel cheated. A good writer and director will hide all the clues in plain sight to at least give the audience a chance. In the case of Sliver almost everything that happens ends up being arbitrary as essentially the killer was decided on the flip of a coin, and new dialogue was added to explain it away. And the film still has ten minutes to go!

“How much longer does this shit go on for?”

Stone has probably never looked more gorgeous than she does here, but for the whole film she just looks bored. Billy, never the most charismatic of the Baldwins, is absolutely dreadful. With his floppy fringe, trendy t-shirt perpetually tucked into his white jeans and a crappy leather jacket he looks every part the sex offender. Tom Berenger seems to be the only one who realises this is all guff and just goes along for the ride. Berenger is an actor I feel has never had the breaks he deserves, and the film noticeably perks up when he’s onscreen.

Eszterhas’ script (based on an Ira Levin novel) is appalling, possibly the worst thing he’d written until An Alan Smithee Film. Where Basic Instinct was camply offensive, Sliver‘s dialogue is just vulgar. References to vibrators, anal sex and impotence may be commonplace between women (at least if Sex and the City is to be believed) but here they just add an unnecessarily sleazy gloss to an already tawdry film about a voyeuristic woman-killer.

If you like sleazy gloss, this may appeal. I like sleazy gloss and I found it dull, uninvolving, infuriating, a chore. It takes itself far too seriously and then comes up with an infantile denouement; along with one of the worst last lines in movie history (which Eszterhas has always denied writing).

It’s not Basic Instinct 2. In 1993, this was considered a bad thing. Now that sounds like a recommendation. It’s not.

NB. A brilliant comparison between the theatrical cut and the workprint can be found at Movie censorship


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