In 1994, the erotic thriller boom was in its death throes. The boom of erotic thrillers started in 1986 with the surprise success of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, an exercise of Lynchian eroticism and murder that was a dry run for Twin Peaks. The genre was further bolstered by 1987’s Fatal Attraction, and would reach its peak in 1992 with Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct.
Where 1992 was one high profile hit after another – it also had Single White Female and Poison Ivy – 1993 was one high profile flop after another. 1993 had Body of Evidence, Boxing Helena, The Crush, Indecent Proposal, The Temp and Sliver. All high profile, all meteoric failures, all in one year. The most surprising of these failures was Indecent Proposal, directed by Adrian Lyne who was had directed Fatal Attraction.
When Color of Night came out in 1994, audiences were suffering from erotic thriller exhaustion. It was further hindered by loud reports that it had been censored by the MPAA for Bruce Willis’ penis and hardcore sexuality. When it opened, critics trashed it for being utterly ridiculous, though they said the censored sex scenes were well constructed. It should come as no surprise that people didn’t want to go see a neutered film that also got extremely terrible reviews. Those who did see it were treated to an awful film that was utterly ridiculous.
But, maybe that’s the point. Color of Night is the Sleepaway Camp of the erotic thriller genre, which was the Homicidal of the 80s teen slasher genre. Yes, Color of Night has its roots in a William Castle film, yet the major twist isn’t the twist that’s hiding in full sight.
Dr. Bill Capa (Bruce Willis) is the world’s worst psychiatrist. As the movie opens, he is openly critiquing his patient, who responds by jumping through Bruce Willis’ penthouse window. Not that the window was open, but we’re talking through the window as if this lady is an action star. She plummets to her death, leaving Dr. Capa stunned into depression.
Bill finds solace by joining his friend, Dr. Bob Moore (Scott F’ing Bakula), in Los Angeles. There, he joins Dr. Moore’s group therapy which is made up of a random group of neurotics. There’s an Obsessive Compulsive, a Nymphomaniac AND Kleptomaniac, a suicide risk, a sado-masochistic pyro, and a nervous transgendered Richie, who is a boy who wants to become a woman. What these people have to do with each other, and why they’re in the same group, I haven’t a clue.
Soon after going on a shirtless run with Bill, Bob is murdered by…somebody. The big mystery of the movie is Whodunit? Naturally, the inclination is to go with the transgendered Richie, who has more than a passing resemblance to Homicidal‘s Warren. And, soon after his best friend is murdered, Bob finds solace in a hot sexual affair with a girl named Rose who rear ends his…car.
Bill plays private detective to figure out who the murderer is while being harassed by Hector Martinez, the most Hispanic of Hispanic homicide detectives this side of Dexter. He digs up Richie’s brother, Dale, and Richie’s old now-dead child psychiatrist. He finds out about the sexual abuse of the pyro. He finds out about the nature of the OCD dude. The suicide risk doesn’t get a back story until the end, and the nymphomaniac never really does.
Meanwhile, Bill is having a lot of sex with Rose. I mean, a LOT of sex. We’re talking wiener in the pool sex. We’re talking shower sex. We’re talking remote-control truck in the bathtub sex. No, that last one is not a euphemism…that actually happens. The reason the erotic thriller died is because they thought driving a truck on a naked body in the bathtub was steamy and erotic.
The little twist that everybody could see coming 10 miles away is that Richie is Rose, and Richie has been having sex with everybody in the group. The big twist, however, is that Richie isn’t actually the killer. No, it’s Richie/Rose’s brother Dale. You see, Rose and Dale once had a little brother, Richie, who was sexually abused as a kid before he committed suicide. So distraught, Dale abused Rose into being Richie. Now that Richie wants to be a woman again, Dale is killing all of Rose and Bonnie’s lovers to protect the secret.
If the ridiculous plot twist didn’t let you know, this movie is a singular trash failure that goes out of its way to be kind of politically correct. It’s not the transgendered person who is the killer, but the person’s brother. It would be like Homicidal‘s Warren’s mother killing everybody, or Sleepaway Camp‘s Angela’s aunt. The major problem is that the director’s cut of this movie is 2 hour and 20 minutes long! We’re in Showgirls length. Director Richard Rush doesn’t have enough interesting things happening to last 2:20, and the pacing gets to be plodding. By the time that we’re watching the nymphomaniac lipstick lesbians watch their neighbors having sex (there is no lesbian sex), the movie has lost almost all of its steam.
It holds up as a minor comedy, but there isn’t enough to maintain. Still, Color of Night is a hilarious failure, if you like watching things fail. It’s just too long and tacky for a proper hatewatch.