TBT: Fatal Attraction (1987)

As we enter the month of October I’d like to remind everyone that I am not the most passionate of horror film fans so if you’re looking to this month of TBTs for some revisitations of classic horror, you might be disappointed. I may throw in a surprise somewhere, though, so who knows. Plus, well. No. Never mind. I have nothing else to add. This concludes a pretty pointless intro for

Today’s food for thought: Fatal Attraction.

Stalking viewers since: September 18, 1987

[Netflix]

Betray Cruella de Vil and you pay a certain price, I’m afraid. Michael Douglas learns this the hard way in Adrian Lyne’s cold-blooded romantic thriller.

Of course, Glenn Close isn’t hoarding puppies for their fur this time, she’s after something arguably worse. A man’s sanity and domestic bliss. Her Alex Forrest could do with liberal doses of both in this heart-poundingly sexy yet ultimately disturbing tale of a one-night stand gone terribly wrong.

Fatal Attraction isn’t exactly revelatory filmmaking, in fact it could be passed off as another of those romantic dramas Douglas found himself typecast in during the late ’80s and into the ’90s (Disclosure, Basic Instinct, A Perfect Murder all striving to satiate a particular obsession, all variations on the theme of fidelity and sexuality). Despite its familiarity Lyne’s film benefits from the excellent work from its cast, Close in particular. She epitomizes the Stage 5 Clinger, making Vince Vaughn’s concerns over the feisty little redhead he met at the wedding (that he was supposed to crash) seem quaint and childlike.

Douglas plays Dan Gallagher, a respected New York lawyer and loving husband to Beth (Anne Archer) and father to Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen). One weekend Beth takes Ellen to the countryside for a getaway and to take a look at a house they are considering moving to. Over the same weekend Dan comes across Alex at a party and ends up having an affair. When he stays with her a second unplanned night, Dan becomes adamant that the relationship is not to extend beyond these two nights, insisting he is content with his family. Alex questions his intentions, suggesting with a hint of madness already lurking in her eyes that he can’t be completely content if he allowed himself to do something like this.

Over the ensuing days Alex begins pursuing Dan, showing up unexpectedly at his office and even at his Manhattan apartment, posing as a potential buyer. Feeling scorned, she becomes motivated enough to stalk the family at their new country home, where the mere sight of the Gallagher’s collective happiness — observed from just outside the living room window — makes Alex physically sick to her stomach. The standoff between the two of course extends beyond this, but for anyone who has yet to see the film these details are better ignored for now.

Fatal Attraction perpetuates a sense of dread around every corner, and that’s largely due to Close’s mesmerizing work as the psychotic Alex. Her frizzy blonde hair suggests much about her fraying mentality. When the two first meet she tells Dan about her job as an editor for a publishing company. She’s no vagrant, appearing at first cultured, lucid, stable. Little about her screams unhinged, except maybe the fiercely intense way she makes love. Elevator sex tends to say a lot about a person, and it’s clear Alex gets off on this kind of reckless abandon. But Lyne stylizes the scene so that it comes across initially as merely the second part of an impassioned two-night stand. In retrospect, it’s a pivotal moment and Dan should have recognized it.

But isn’t that part of the fun in watching these films? Not simply the clandestinity of the affair but the fact we get to see specifically how the betrayed are being betrayed? That may sound callous but it’s one of the simple, gnawing truths of Fatal Attraction. Dan didn’t just cheat on his wife, he cheated twice, once in a dirty elevator. Credit Douglas for remaining a fairly likable guy even after his actions threaten to tear his family apart. It’s a bit of a cliché writing him as a successful lawyer (lawyers clearly aren’t infallible, but his chosen career so sharply veers from his unscrupulousness it’s a bit ridiculous). He has made a career-threatening mistake but partially redeems himself. Credit that to screenwriter James Dearden who developed his short film into this full-length feature.

The film is loaded with intensity, sizzling with sex appeal and identifies one of Glenn Close’s most powerful and unhinged performances. Fatal Attraction doesn’t do much to stand apart from similar entries into the scorned lover subgenre, but suffice it to say this is one of the best. A hell of a thrill ride.

Recommendation: Fans of Glenn Close need apply, she puts in a great performance as an entirely unhinged woman whose initial appearance as a career-driven woman could not belie her true character any further. It’s a great character and one to thoroughly loathe when we finally realize the significance of Dan’s mistake of betraying his loving wife is nothing compared to the mistake he makes trying to ignore his scorned lover. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

TBTrivia: According to Glenn Close, people still come up to her to tell her “thanks, you saved my marriage!”

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18 thoughts on “TBT: Fatal Attraction (1987)

  1. I read a fascinating article about this in Empire magazine recently. Close was not a fan of the ending (she was supposed to commit suicide) but audiences wanted her to die! What does that tell you! Brilliant stuff Tom.

    • Yeah I read that too, the alternative ending sounds just as crazy as the way this actually works out. Idk which one is really better, but maybe I do agree with Close a little that suicide is more in keeping with her crazy behavior.

  2. One of my favorite genres is the lover that turns psycho after he/she gets rejected after hooking up. My love for it is why I can sometimes look past the flaws of things like The Perfect Guy and Swimfan. Not so much The Boy Next Door lol. The key? These films always need the villain to be convincing, like Close was here. Almost everything revolves around them, so I need to know they are unstable. Don’t care why, but whoever plays the antagonist needs to be convincing.

    I like Fatal Attraction, but always grit my teeth whenever people consider this the granddaddy of all jilted lover movies. Nope, that to me will always be Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me in 1972. I actually think Walter does a better job than Close did here, and I like Eastwood as a lead a tad better than Douglas here. Nice piece though, man.

    • I would love to check out more of Clint’s earlier stuff, I’m afraid I’ve only stumbled upon his later stuff and haven’t ventured back in time enough. I’ll earmark Misty for sure though, thanks for that!

      You’ve got a great point about the strength of the villain. Close is totally convincing here and totally batshit insane — a great performance. These movies aren’t anything without a truly compelling force to go up against. This is probably my favorite Glenn Close performance to be honest. it’s just so nuts

  3. Haha! Your pointless intro is still better than any of my reviews, Tom. 😉 I love this movie!!! What a crazy psycho bitch. I love a good crazy psycho bitch! I think I just secretly wish I could be a crazy psycho bitch too…. 🙂

    • She’s a totally crazy psycho bitch. One of the best. I wish I could date a crazy psycho bitch. Maybe even Alex Forrest. As a few of these scenes testify, it’s probably worth it to be with her just for the first couple of evenings. Then after that, move to another state. Or country, even better.

    • I hadn’t seen it until just this week, I wouldn’t feel guilty 🙂 It’s a really good little thriller, if you’re into either of these actors I’d say this will be well worth it.

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