Gruesome, sexually explicit 'Basic Instinct' tones it down for an R rating

February 12, 1992|By Robert W. Welkos | Robert W. Welkos,Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- ''Basic Instinct," the thriller about a bisexual woman who becomes a serial murder suspect, has been given an R rating after director Paul Verhoeven agreed to make minor trims in scenes depicting a gruesome ice-pick attack and lengthy lovemaking between stars Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone.

The Motion Picture Association of America's Classification and Rating Administration made its decision after much soul-searching and viewing the film, or portions of it, seven times.

Although the exact length of the trims is not known, sources told the Los Angeles Times they probably total less than a minute and that the movie remains extremely sexual and violent. TriStar Pictures intends to release "Basic Instinct" March 20 in 1,000 to 1,200 theaters.

"This is a movie about a female character who kills people at the moment of orgasm," said one source close to the film who asked not to be identified. "That's a very tough concept."

Because of the steamy sex and graphic violence, the ratings board indicated it was considering an NC-17 rating, in which no one under 17 would be admitted. That would not have been acceptable to any major studio because such a rating would significantly reduce the box office. Carolco Pictures, which produced the film, and Verhoeven were contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to TriStar, its distributor. An R-rated film requires a parent or adult guardian to accompany those younger than 17 into the theater.

In what could only be considered bad timing, the film went before the ratings board at the very time when Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles was publicly calling on Hollywood studios to voluntarily adopt an updated Hays Code, which for decades restricted the use of violence, sex, profanity and nudity in films. The controversy still refuses to die.

"Cardinal Mahony was saying that Hollywood was polluting the world," one source close to the film said. "The last thing the ratings board wanted to see was this movie. They just didn't want to deal with it."

The film, from a $3 million screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, also has been buffeted by other controversies in advance of its showing.

Gay rights groups have expressed outrage over the movie's violent portrayals of lesbians and claim it reinforces negative images of gays. When the film was shooting in San Francisco last April, gay groups took to the streets and tried to disrupt filming. There are rumors at TriStar that activists plan to put up billboards disclosing the film's ending when it comes out.

"Basic Instinct" is a police thriller about a San Francisco detective's (Douglas) investigation into the murder of a local club owner and rock promoter. The prime suspect is a rich bisexual writer (Stone), whose most recent mystery novel includes a crime that closely resembles the club owner's murder. The two become involved while the detective investigates both the crime and the woman's bisexual past.

Some who have seen an early cut of the film say that it includes two graphic ice-pick murders.

In the film's long opening scene, a woman stabs a man to death during an explicit sex scene. In a later scene, another character is stabbed in the throat by an ice-pick-wielding assailant. Both scenes, say those who saw the film before Verhoeven's trims, are extremely bloody.

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