21 Movies About Weird, Kinky Or Compulsive Sex

21 Movies About Weird, Kinky Or Compulsive Sex

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Perhaps the most surprising thing about Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” (both parts are now on VOD: here’s our review of Part 1 and Part 2) is Shia LaBeouf’s accent that it’s a film that is totally, unashamedly, unavoidably about sex. While coitus, rumpy, intercourse, balling, humping, beast-with-two-back-making does feature in some shape or form with extreme frequency in cinema, it only rarely forms the central, wait for it, thrust of the story, likely partly because distributors (especially in the U.S.) are often accused of a streak of puritanism when it comes to sex, particularly when compared to the their much more carefree attitude toward violence, and partly because even today mainstream audiences can be put off by even a whiff of the smutty-old-man-in-a-dirty-coat connotation. Which means that furthermore, films like “Nymphomaniac” that delve into the darker recesses of human sexuality—power play, taboo fantasies and fetishes, BDSM, sex addiction, etc.—are even fewer.

We dabbled in this arena not so long ago, choosing to, um “celebrate” the grotesque and unforgettable image of Cameron Diaz grinding into a car windshield in “The Counselor,” by running down 15 Weird Sex Scenes, having already run down the Best and Worst Sex Scenes. But it got us to thinking about films that took the bold stance of “Nymphomaniac” further, that built their whole narrative around shocking, discomfiting or fetishistic sex. So while avoiding tamer stuff that we’ve covered before, like in our Losing Your Virginity Movies feature, and also while trying to steer largely clear of the erotic thriller subgenre that deserves a feature all to itself someday (sorry “Basic Instinct” fans) we zipped open the eyeholes on our gimp masks and handcuffed ourselves to the DVD player, to bring you 21 films that, from comedies to dramas to uncategorizable arthouse explorations, walk on the wilder, weirder, and often more worrisome side of sex.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” (1975)
Almost certainly the most “extreme” film on this list, Pasolini‘s “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” is easy to hate for its intricate, extensive, apparently uncomplicated depiction of relentless sexual depravity and cruelty, and no-one can be blamed for turning it off halfway through. But this—the last film Pasolini completed before his murder and one which ever since its 1975 release has been frequently condemned, cut and outright banned—has much more to it than pointless nastiness. An adaptation of a book by the man who gave his name to sadism was never going to get made into a ride at Disneyland, and the Marquis de Sade‘s book “The 120 Days of Sodom” is literally a meticulous list of taboo acts of sex and violence, with an extremely thin framing device that’s abandoned halfway through: but Pasolini creates from it a film that’s less about sex than it is about power and its exercise. It’s not even really about fascism—the quartet of abusers could belong to almost any time or place and have no agenda beyond their own pleasure—and nor is it an examination of psychology: rather, “Salò” is about the way in which power becomes an end in itself, and one that we all desire: and its message is thus all the more horrifying in its universality. We still don’t blame you if you want to watch something else instead, though. [B+]

Crash” (1996)
“Like a porno movie made by a computer… in a mistaken algorithm” is how Roger Ebert memorably described David Cronenberg’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s novel about auto crash paraphiliacs. And he meant that in a good way—”Crash” may be one of the most all-time perfect marriages of the aesthetic and thematic approach of a particular director with the philosophy and mood of his source material. Starring, for the third time on this list, that kinkster James Spader, along with Holly Hunter, Deborah Unger, Rosanna Arquette and Elias Koteas, the film is really remarkable, though for the cerebral sterility of its execution as, once again, body-horror expert Cronenberg manages to engage the brain and turn the stomach while bypassing the heart entirely. It’s a truly fascinating, brilliant film, deeply upsetting and prescient in what it suggests about our relationship with technology and how it might be in the process of breaking down our ability to connect with one another as humans. Of course, at the time it sparked outrage and a few bans (though also won the Special Jury Prize in Cannes), for its unadorned portrayal of the particular fetish of being sexually aroused by car crashes (and we have to believe in particular the scene in which Spader fucks Arquette’s leg wound), and yet it is an extraordinarily bloodless affair, cool and metallic to the touch; we can only wonder how splashily sensationalist it might have become in hands less surgical than Cronenberg’s. Thankfully, this is the version we got, and as provocative, grown-up fare, it’s close to essential. [A]

Exit to Eden” (1994)
Most of the time, writing about movies is a great honor and a privilege, but there are rare occasions on which we feel like martyrs. The bullet we took for you this time out stars Dan Aykroyd, Rosie O’Donnell, Dana Delaney and Paul Mercurio in a story that, beggaring belief, is based on an Anne Rampling (aka Anne Rice) novel. But while director Garry Marshall and the producers clearly were intrigued by the idea of a film set on an island where people go to explore their domination/submission fantasies, in their wisdom they also decided that what the fetish romance storyline of the novel needed, was a HI-LARIOUS early-90s plot involving a diamond smuggling pair of villains who are chased onto the island by a pair of wacky cops, the female one of whom is less thin than all the other women on the island! In fact, unbelievable though it may be, O’Donnell is actually the one who comes out of this horribly misjudged sad trombone of a film with the most dignity intact; Aykroyd is non-existent as her partner, Mercurio awkward and stockily beefed up from his svelte “Strictly Ballroom” days and Delaney just horribly, horribly miscast as the dominatrix “Mistress” who rides around on a horse wearing a succession of filmy togas. And spare a thought for poor, unbelievably beautiful Iman, who, on this evidence, should have restricted her acting career to the odd Tia Maria commercial. We watched this pile of crap so you don’t have to—you don’t have to thank us, just Never Forget. [F]

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Sleeping Beauty” (2011)
Author Julia Leigh (who wrote the novel “The Hunter” on which the 2011 Willem Dafoe movie was based) was perhaps a victim of overhype for her directorial debut: snagging a slot in the main competition in Cannes and with advance buzz promising something suffused with a daring and unusual eroticism, the cool, detached pictorialism of the final film may have seemed a disappointment to some. Our review was more positive, however, and it’s one we stand by: while the character of Lucy (Emily Browning) may remain underdeveloped and the story ends on too enigmatic a note for its own good, there’s a great deal to admire here. Less the feminist parable it was billed as and more, to us, an examination of the incremental decisions that can lead a biddable person deep, deep down the rabbit hole before they’ve even realized it, the film actually portrays very little sex, but is absolutely about sexualized ideas of power and control. Lucy takes a job as a “silver service” private, lingerie-clad waitress, which leads to a lucrative sideline in allowing herself to be drugged into a comatose state while men (uniformly older, rich guys) are allowed to do what they will with her sleeping body, short of actual penetration. Featuring a frequently naked performance from Browning (who does go some way to imbuing Lucy with a personality, albeit a self-centered, rather calculating one), and tightly composed, marble-smooth cinematography, it’s a peculiar, chilly film that asks more questions than it answers, but the questions themselves are intriguing and worth the patience they demand. [B]

Secretary” (2002)
“Who says that love needs to be soft and gentle?” Based on Mary Gaitskill’s “Bad Behavior,” “Secretary” seems positively vanilla compared to many of the other films on this list; at the very least, it’s the tamest one starring James Spader. For all its kinks, this film follows the basic romantic formula of two people who have to overcome obstacles to be together. But rather than the standard rom-com equation involving misunderstandings, poorly conceived bets or culture clashes, this Steven Shainberg film centers on the alignment of a young woman and her employer’s respective kinks. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Lee Holloway likes to be punished and humiliated by her boss, Mr. E. Edward Grey (Spader), and he likes being in control, as he escalates from circling her typos in red to spanking her bare skin. Though their interactions begin as largely sexual, Gyllenhaal’s broken, brittle secretary finds emotional solace in the relationship and wonders why they can’t be like this all the time. It’s notable for the idea that its grand romantic gesture involves pee, as well as for being such an impressively feminist film, while its main character chooses to be so submissive. “Secretary” may be familiar territory for Spader after starring in “Crash” and “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” but Gyllenhaal feels entirely fresh in one of her first major roles. Not coincidentally, this is the last time we’ve found Spader attractive, but we’ve had a crush on Gyllenhaal ever since. [B+]

Immoral Tales” (1974)
The line between explicit arthouse fare and softcore smut has ever been a tricky one to draw, and it’s one that Polish director Walerian Borowyck definitely crossed later in his career, directing, among other films, the fifth installment of the “Emmanuelle” series, which was even released in a hardcore version too. But “Immoral Tales” was only his third full-length feature and his first major success, and amongst its wildly uneven four stories, contains some quite spectacular imagery, albeit all in service of an immensely libidinous agenda. The quartet of unrelated segments starts off with the weakest, a tedious story of a boy seducing his young cousin into giving him a blow job on the beach in time to the rhythm of the tides or some old guff: its super-pretentious dialogue is almost unbearable in subtitle, and pretty much unlistenable dubbed. The second story is of a pious young girl locked in her room as punishment for a transgression whose religious fervor commingles with sexual arousal courtesy of a very large cucumber. The third strand is the best, featuring Paloma Picasso as Countess Bathory, the real-life Hungarian aristocrat rumored to have bathed in the blood of virgins, while the last details the incestuo-blasphemous shenanigans of Lucrezia Borgia. The film’s curiosity value as the subject of various bans is really the main reason to suffer through its intensely ’70s art/porn aesthetic now, though if anyone’s doing a thesis on the evolution of pubic hair fashions through the ages, the amount of bush on display here makes it pretty much unmissable. [C-]

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Comments

El Hanso

Interesting selection of some very interesting films. And while the general theme combining these films for this list seems a bit … wibbly-wobbly to me, it's always nice to give shout-outs to "The Devils," "Crash," or "Fat Girl" (which is a straight A for me)

Todd

I'll throw a vote in for "Taxidermia". It's pretty far out there in presenting the entirety of post-WWII Hungarian history through the prism of various sexual problems.

Peter

Lady Chatterley anybody?

mrs.issley

Brandon is straight – instead of calling Shame 'homophobic' you should start wondering what can be the peek of sex addiction for a straight person. Another good article ruined by ridiculous claims.

newyorker

my 10 favorite movies with weird, kinky or compulsive sex are
1-Showgirls
2-Bound
3-Wild Things
4-Spring Breakers
5-Havoc
6-Teeth
7-Kids
8-The Dreamers
9-Blue Summer
10-Blue Is The Warmest Color

Andrew Peirce

Kissed should be on this list as well.

baum

lacks Enter The Void

BEF

Missing the 4th Man (Verhoeven)…
it arouses then castrates!

nweastcoaster

Re Catherine Breillat, Romance and Anatomy of Hell would have been far worthier entries than Fat Girl if we're talking weird kinky and compulsive, not to mention entertaining.

Kate

I'm kind of surprised A Dangerous Method isn't on here. While it's not very explicit, it's undoubtedly "about" non-normative sexuality, how it influences psychology, how psychology influences sexuality, how social mores influence both.

I really like that some people call that film the Rosetta stone of Cronenberg's oeuvre.

Major Kalas

…"The Wayward Cloud" (by Ming-liang Tsai) is missing – and I agree with Kate about "A Dangerous Method"…

Lars Ole

Eyes Wide Shut: B
Fat Girl: B-
The Piano Teacher: B-
Salo: B+
The Last Tango in Paris: B+

You handle out A and A minus grades to new films all the time, but not to daring controversial and hotly debated, still daring classics from Kubrick, Haneke and Pasolini? This is very confusing for me.

jski

shortbus should be on this list

jt_hos

What about Polanski's Bitter Moon?

I.P Freely

As you have alluded to, I think that your selection of "Salo" is out of context in terms of "kink" when the sex itself (actually mild under an explicit hardcore definition) is merely a footnote to Pasolini's larger sociopolitical concerns of anonymous human flesh as industrial waste product and disposable commodity under the matrix of the whole entirety of Judeo-Christian history, and it's airless and glacial statement about humanity's ultimate aphrodisiac, it's own ravenous ego about it's supposedly noble and superior nature, and therefore it's endlessly apocalyptic and self-destructive will to power.

Where's Just Jaeckin's 1975 adaptation of the infamous 1954 Pauline Reage novel "The Story of O"? Doesn't that fit into your category a little more neatly?

Barnacle

How can anyone take this list seriously if you failed to include "In the Realm of the Senses"?

Francis Berisie

good movies

just me

imho, The Night Porter has to be in this list right after Crash

Kitty

Anyone seen Blind Beast?

Alex Tsitsos

I would charactirize these films as Stertsisist I have made an imdb list much relevant.

tahir

good

ELT

Deadgirl would've fit well here.

Jeff

What about Blue Velvet?

Per

@Barnacle In The Realm of the Sense is there. Maybe try read before commenting.

Jeremy Walker

Strangely emotionally wounded that Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL isn’t included here. Will never forget the glove on the taxi’s back window, waiting for Angie Dickinson as she leaves the museum…Sometimes its about what is barely suggested as opposed to being confronted by sexual imagery

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