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Horror Becomes Her - Boxing Helena (1993)

Horror and films directed by women are both big blind spots for me, so I am taking this deep dive into some of the more outre films I have come across in my movie watching.


I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of a movie that caused such a fuss that has been so profoundly forgotten by the public at large. Apparently both Madonna and Kim Basinger were attached to play the titular role that eventually went to Sherilyn Fenn of Twin Peaks fame. Basinger went into bankruptcy when she was sued for breach of contract. The concept sounds interesting enough. Dr. Nick Cavanaugh (Julian Sands), a surgeon with the mother of all Oedipus complexes is obsessed with the beautiful Helena, a narcissistic opportunist who very clearly states how little she wants to do with him after their brief romantic fling. When she gets into a horrible accident that damages her legs irreparably, Nick takes her into his care against his will instead of taking her to a hospital. What ensues is a torrid relationship of mostly hate and self-loathing that starts to involve into something complicated.

I could see how this movie might be appealing in the wave of erotic thrillers that seemed to be ubiquitious in 80’s and early 90’s cinema (Body Heat, 9 ½ Weeks, Basic Instinct, etc.) It even has the cheesy sex scenes set to forgettable R&B that plagued these kinds of scenes during this time period. (I can never take seriously such scenes seriously when The Room did what seemed like an interminable number of them). The movie’s armchair Freudian psychology isn’t as deep or provocative as it aspires to be. Characters can be despicable yet understandable, but we don’t know much about Helena beyond Nick’s obsession with her and her seeming control over men. We know a lot more about Nick, but even that is fairly surface level, since literally his whole character can be defined by two images: his young, highly sexualized mental image of his mother and the Venus de Milo. Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey is my favorite character in Twin Peaks and Julian Sands has turned in some great performances, but I wasn’t particularly inspired by them in this film. It’s a shame because with a more deft touch and much better dialogue, this could have been a much better movie.

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