Never Talk to Strangers (1995) is a quintessential iteration of the blockbuster erotic thriller released amidst the genre’s denouement. The film stars the inimitable, icy-eyed Rebecca de Mornay as Dr. Sarah Taylor, a criminal psychologist tasked with determining the validity of serial killer Max Cheski’s claims to suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder. Cheski, played by an always watchable if miscast Harry Dean Stanton, seems to have mistaken the textbook symptomatology of Schizophrenia for that of MPD, but their conversation sets the menacing tone combined with sensual possibility that persists throughout.
Never Talk to Strangers unfolds at a pleasurably rapid clip, with titillating twists and turns woven through delightfully familiar beats, set in the New York apartments of prototypical movie-singles. Dr. Taylor, lonely after the disappearance of her fiancé, fends off the romantic gestures of her suspiciously persistent neighbor Cliff (Dennis Miller), a la Sliver; she’s picked up by the absurdly attractive if embarrassingly stereotypical bad boy Tony Ramirez (Antonio Banderas) at the local market (Sea of Love); the two begin a vaguely sado-masochistic, always torrid cat-and-mouse affair (Basic Instinct); a tense but very horny love is blossoming, until Dr. Taylor’s cat shows up dead on her doorstep (Fatal Attraction). Who is sending Dr. Taylor garbage bouquets? What’s causing her to faint in Tony’s badly tattooed arms? And where in Manhattan is there a convenient little carnival amidst artists’ lofts?
The well-choreographed culminations of de Mornay and Banderas’s simmering chemistry are the sole element of the film contemporary critics seemed to enjoy. A box office dud for which de Mornay shared executive producer credit, Strangers signaled an early landmark on the downward trajectory of erotic thrillers’ theatrical viability, suggesting that sex had become overrated for moviegoers—a state of affairs that seems to have depressingly climaxed in today’s deeply unerotic Hollywood fare.
The failure of Strangers seems to have quietly done to de Mornay’s career what In The Cut (2003)—a similar film in many ways—would do to Meg Ryan’s nearly a decade later. This despite the fact that de Mornay’s often beguiling performance potently transmits the anxiety of being surrounded by men whose interest in her is never not threatening (particularly in an early, queasily suspenseful sequence in which her deadbeat dad arrives unannounced and stalks her around her dining room). Though broadly predictable, Never Talk to Strangers is a truly enjoyable evening’s entertainment, the likes of which is very hard to come by nowadays, and a precious, if somewhat painful, reminder of de Mornay’s equally rare charisma.
Never Talk to Strangers screens on 35mm at 9:45pm tonight at Nitehawk Prospect Park, co-hosted by filmmaker Drew Tobia