This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 90s look back on the thrillers from that era with a certain fuzzy nostalgia. The stakes were high, the fashions inexplicable, and more often than not, the story would involve a psycho (who appeared trustworthy) infiltrating the inner world of a well-to-do couple. Yuppies in Peril movies have been defined as ‘sex between bad people who live in good houses’, and what’s the point of defending your castle from intruders unless it’s a luxurious New York loft or a mansion in Connecticut?
These glossy thrillers may occasionally follow the winning formula a little too closely (a villain’s death doesn’t always have to be caused by crashing through a glass coffee table) but they are very entertaining. Going from the ridiculous to the sublime, here are 45 favourite Yuppies In Peril movies for a rainy day.
45. Hush (1998)
Set on a rambling country estate, this stars Jessica Lange as Martha, the mother-in-law from hell, with Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) her unwitting nemesis. Martha cherishes the ‘close’ relationship she has with her son Jackson (kissing him on the lips, hosing him down when he gets muddy, that sort of thing) and no woman can be allowed to take her place.
However nefarious Martha may be, her plans depend on Helen and her dopey husband (Johnathon Schaech) being quite stupid. For instance, if your control freak mother-in-law is pressuring you to produce grandchildren, maybe use a form of contraception that can’t be tampered with?
With a mama’s boy, Lange’s crazy-eyed, aging Southern belle and Paltrow losing her temper while giving birth (“I AM pushing, you bitch!”), it’s a melodramatic yet hilarious movie.
44. Exception To The Rule (1997)
Eric McCormack and Kim Cattrall must be eternally grateful for hitting the big time with their respective TV shows; before Will And Grace/Sex And The City they were working on movies like this. Having said that, Cattrall is clearly having fun, and she can also go from naked to wearing a dress, tights and shoes in one nanosecond; that’s talent.
Tim (McCormack) is married to Sean Young, but cheats with Carla (Cattrall) while on a business trip. As always, he finds that one night of pleasure is SO not worth the hassle afterwards (being blackmailed for diamonds, having a murderous femme fatale terrorise your pregnant wife etc). This movie is dreadful, and by dreadful, I mean brilliant.
43. Wicked (1998)
This completely loopy film is about a girl who fancies her dad. Not her stepdad or foster dad or estranged never-met-til-now biological father, but her dad. So, yeah… it’s a big pile of nope with a side of ew.
Ellie (Julia Stiles) is daddy’s favourite, and soon after he brings her a nice grown-up present of make-up, her mom meets with an ‘accident’. Ellie takes over the role of wife and mother, while her dad makes half-hearted attempts to extricate himself from the relationship (gosh, isn’t incest awkward?).
Suffice to say, anyone who tries to come between them will meet with trouble; by the end of the movie her sister Inger (Vanessa Zima) has also turned murderous (shortly after trying out cosmetics). So… the moral appears to be that girls become evil when they put on makeup for the first time (told you it was strange).
42. Bad Day On The Block (1997)
Lyle Wilder (Charlie Sheen) is a heroic firefighter known for saving cute babies from blazing houses. But reminding us that nutters come in all shapes and sizes, he has also terrorised his family for years, which is why he’s now all alone. In authentically sociopathic style, he won’t accept responsibility for this, instead blaming his neighbours for influencing his wife.
He starts by being mean to the kids, but when his violent tendencies blow up out of control, the police are sceptical about the reports from their kooky mother (Mare Winningham); Lyle is such a respected and upstanding citizen, why would anyone believe that he harasses the family next door?
Despite our heroine’s misgivings about keeping weapons in the home, the final message is that far from being a common cause of deadly accidents, guns are great and will solve all your problems. Thanks, NRA.
41. Poison Ivy (1992)
This movie could quite easily have been named ‘Creepy father pervs on daughter’s friends and commits statutory rape’ but I guess that was too long.
Accompanied by the perfect yuppies in peril theme tune (vaguely threatening, with a sexy saxophone over the top) Drew Barrymore is Ivy, the kind of cool, confident teen that all the other girls wish they could be. She befriends Sylvie (Sara Gilbert), a nerd who hates her parents.
Drew Barrymore went on to play another teen temptress in The Amy Fisher Story (1993) and does a convincing job here; Ivy is by far the most likeable and charismatic character in the movie, and she charms Sylvie’s drippy (and rude) family. She especially charms Sylvie’s father. Only Sylvie’s mother is in her way… did I mention the floor-to-ceiling windows, with billowing chiffon curtains?
40. The Substitute (1993) (TV Movie)
It’s slightly cheating to include made-for-TV movies (the natural home of the yuppie in peril) but The Substitute is notable because it isn’t a direct rip-off of an existing blockbuster (which is a shame, because vicious teachers would be an awesome sub-genre).
Gayle (Amanda Donohoe) has already killed one husband-and-mistress combo, and now that she’s reinvented herself in a new town, ‘Laura’ might have to do a bit more killing to keep her secrets safe. If only she could stop seducing her pupils. And their fathers. As the tagline says, “She loves her students… to death” and this is perhaps why she feels the need to get rid of the teacher she’s covering for (despite all her faults, she’s admirably dedicated to her job). Look out for Mark Wahlberg in his movie debut, and a classic sequence of newspaper microfiche research.
39. Masquerade (1988)
Set in the Hamptons, this stars Meg Tilly as Olivia, a rich orphan living with her sleazy stepfather. When she meets Tim (Rob Lowe) the hot new guy in town, he takes a shine to her straight away, telling her that money means nothing to him. But can she trust him? Or would she be better off with her childhood friend Mike (Doug Savant), who is now a cop and makes no secret of the fact he despises Tim? Kim Cattrall also makes an appearance as the married woman whose dalliances with Tim may or may not have ended when he first met Olivia.
38. (A Woman) Scorned (1994)
Businessman Truman REALLY wants to make partner at his firm – so much, that he offers up his wife to sweeten the deal. But after Patricia (Shannon Tweed) has reluctantly prostituted herself, the promotion goes to another man; Truman commits suicide, and Patricia vows revenge.
Truman’s rival Alex Weston is oblivious to the waves his promotion caused – and thinks nothing of the beautiful blonde his wife Marina has hired as a tutor for their son. You guessed it, Patricia is now ‘Amanda’ and she’s living in the family guesthouse, becoming bosom buddies with Mrs Weston, and giving a teenage boy an education he won’t forget. As payback, it’s a tad porn-worthy (seduce everybody, that’ll show them!) but people fall down the stairs in a variety of amusing ways, and the storyline is grubby but wildly entertaining.
37. Mother’s Boys (1994)
I’m not saying movies are sexist, but when a woman leaves children behind to ‘find herself’ she’s a veritable she-devil; when a man jeopardizes his entire family for a fling, he’s the hero. Huh?
Several years after she leaves her family, Jude (Jamie Lee Curtis) returns, hoping to reunite with her ex-husband Robert. He’s moved on, but can Jude still influence her boys? Curtis’s charisma makes it hard to dislike Jude; even when she fakes an attack from Robert’s girlfriend Callie, you wonder why Callie just sits there and watches, stupidly.
Despite its cheesy first impressions (and characters who forget that unplugged phones can be used to dial 911 simply by plugging them back in) it’s actually a pretty well-constructed movie, interestingly shot and with some nice jump scares. Look out for Curtis being on the receiving end of a stalker in cop movie Blue Steel (1989).
36. The Rich Man’s Wife (1996)
Josie (Halle Berry) is reluctantly left alone in a holiday cabin when her career-obsessed husband Tony returns to work. She whines to local bad boy Cole (Peter Green) about her marital predicament, which boils down to ‘I can’t leave my rich husband because then I won’t have any money’. Too polite to say ‘You could always try getting a job’, he suggests killing Tony to avoid losing out via that airtight pre-nup. Of course, Josie refuses, but getting rid of Cole (who makes a fantastic villain) may not be that easy.
Clive Owen’s appearance as Josie’s ex-lover feels somewhat awkward, but there are some excellent sequences such as a hair-raising cross-highway chase scene. And where would the yuppie in peril genre be without the immortal line “But… I never told you his name”?
35. The Stepfather (1987)
A likeably trashy movie which perhaps had more cultural significance than we first thought; the rising divorce rate in the 1970s and 80s created a whole new set of issues for storytellers to deal with, as families navigated the blending of step-parents and siblings.
Stephanie is the 16-year-old who’s suspicious of her mother’s new husband Jerry (Terry O’Quinn); her mother sees it as natural teen rebellion, and her psychiatrist tries to help her to accept her new stepfather. However, he is curious enough about Jerry to do a little investigating, which he soon wishes he hadn’t
Terry O’Quinn is clearly having a ball as the maniacal stepfather and this movie has some genuinely heart-pounding moments as well as the touches of black comedy which make it a camp classic. Followed by two sequels and a remake.
34. The Crush (1993)
The movie for which Alicia Silverstone famously ‘divorced’ her parents in order to avoid child labor law restrictions; she is Adrian, a teen who takes fashion tips from Lolita and won’t take no for an answer when she’s set her sights on an older man. The character’s name was changed from Darian when writer/director Alan Shapiro was sued by the family of the real-life Darian. He had once stayed in their guest house, and subsequently went around telling everyone the movie was based on real events.
Although at first Nick (Cary Elwes) finds Adrian helpful (indeed, she rewrites one of his stories, earning him a rave) he soon realises it’s not the best idea to encourage your landlord’s teen daughter. Despite her tender years, Adrian is not to be messed with…
33. Shattered (1991)
Tom Berenger wakes from a coma with amnesia, his wife (Greta Scacchi) takes him home and seems caring, so why does he feel as if something is… off? Unsure if he can really trust his wife, he decides to do some digging into his past, with the help of Bob Hoskins (who features as the light relief, an animal-loving private detective).
Shattered is one of those movies which is fairly enjoyable to watch (in a hokey, erotic thriller kind of way) but as soon as it’s finished it will dawn on you that the climax of the plot was utterly ridiculous in too many ways to count. And that’s all I can say without giving away too much…
32. Fear (1996)
Teenage Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) has a weakness for bad boys with good manners (don’t we all?) and David (Mark Wahlberg) appears to tick all the boxes. Nicole’s protective father Steve (William Petersen) won’t be the first man to dislike his daughter’s boyfriend, but in this case dad really does know best; David first demonstrates the anatomy of an abusive relationship (move over, Christian Grey) and then flips out completely.
Freud would have a field day with the battle for Nicole’s heart; while David taunts Steven by vandalizing his car and telling him “Now I’ve popped both your cherries!” the final battle consists of the patriarch defending his family turf from the young upstart. I don’t know why Director James Foley didn’t just give them antlers and be done with it.
31. Never Talk To Strangers (1995)
Rebecca De Mornay is Dr. Sarah Taylor, a psychologist whose work brings her alongside some unsavoury criminal types. Unfortunately her home life is now also plagued by unpleasantness; death threats, strange gifts and of course the inevitable danger posed to her pet cat. It may or may not be coincidence that this campaign of harassment began just as she embarked on an affair with Tony Ramirez (a delightfully pony-tailed Antonio Banderas). Juggling numerous sweaty sex sessions with her new boyfriend in between fending off an over-keen neighbor, our heroine has her work cut out to discover the identity of her stalker.
30. Frantic (1988)
Yuppies’ problems aren’t limited to their homes; Richard (Harrison Ford) is a doctor visiting Paris with his wife Sondra. Shortly after realising she picked up the wrong suitcase at the airport, she vanishes from their hotel room. Richard is frustrated by the lack of co-operation from the authorities so rather than waste time arguing about his sanity or his wife’s fidelity, he sets off to find her himself. He’s assisted by a mysterious young Parisian, Michelle (the always captivating Emmanuelle Seigner), but how is she linked with the bad guys?
Disappearing wives are a common movie theme, but the likes of The Vanishing (1988) and Breakdown (1997) miss out on being true YIP movies for emphasising horror, rather than fancy hotels; the highlight of this engaging Roman Polanski film is the very 1980s nightclub.
29. Final Analysis (1992)
Richard Gere is Dr. Isaac Barr, a psychiatrist who is treating Diana (a young Uma Thurman) but crosses an ethical line when he starts seeing her sexy sister Heather (Kim Basinger). Heather has a violent gangster husband (Eric Roberts) and a disorder called ‘pathological intoxication’ which means that even a tiny amount of alcohol renders her helpless against her baser instincts. Intrigued?
It makes for a fun, convoluted jaunt; like every good YIP hero, Richard Gere’s character makes some bad decisions (and is far from virtuous) but is just smart enough to get a sinking feeling that all is not what it seems with the two sisters.
28. Sliver (1993)
A less-minxy-than-usual Sharon Stone plays Carly, a book editor who moves into a nice new apartment (shortly after it’s been vacated by a woman who looks like her, and was murdered by the local serial killer). Carly has her hands full with all the guys coming on to her – but who might be dangerous? Cute little Zeke (William Baldwin)? Pushy writer Jack (Tom Berenger)?
Like an eroticised Rear Window, Carly’s romance with Zeke reveals that he REALLY likes watching people. In their homes. With hidden surveillance cameras, which he can do because oh, didn’t he mention it? He owns the whole building.
Try to contain your guffaws when Zeke asks her if she thinks their age gap is a problem. She has all of five years on him, so I guess we should be glad she wasn’t cast as his mother.
27. Bad Influence (1990)
Michael (James Spader) is a wimp who gets pushed around at work, is engaged because he felt pressured into it, and has no self-preservation instinct. We know this because the first time he meets Alex (Rob Lowe) he needs rescuing from a bar room bully. Grateful to Alex for coming to his defence, Michael tracks him down and the pair begin an epic bromance.
As Alex’s protégé, Michael gains confidence – learning the art of lying to women and matching his office rival in unscrupulousness. Although Alex is only bringing out Michael’s secretly horrible nature, it’s fair to say that morally speaking, he is a bad influence – but he does improve Michael’s life. Until they start a crime spree, of course…
26. Desperate Hours (1990)
A remake of the 1955 Humphrey Bogart vehicle, this is a suspenseful home invasion film loosely based on a true story.
Mickey Rourke is Michael Bosworth, a convict who escapes (with the help of his besotted defence lawyer Kelly Lynch); he picks up his partners in crime and they start looking for a hideout. The house of the unlucky Cornell family is chosen; Vietnam veteran Tim Cornell (Anthony Hopkins) and his estranged wife Nora (Mimi Rogers) now have to protect their kids from the violent gang as well as navigate their own tricky relationship. The FBI are suspicious about the way Michael escaped and are hot on his tail, but will they catch up with him in time to save the innocent family?
25. Disclosure (1994)
The most striking thing about Disclosure is how horribly dated it’s become (and not just because of computer commands like “DO IT KILL ALL….”). Back in 1994, having a lady boss was unusual enough to be a major plot point (of course, Meredith (Demi Moore) turns out to be completely mad, just like all career women in 1990s potboilers). She and Tom (Michael Douglas) work in virtual reality software, which leads to the movie’s most surreal sequence, in which Tom enters a game in search of some essential files, and Meredith’s avatar pops up like a pantomime baddie.
Women sexually harassing men makes for interesting gender politics, but at its core this is simply a fable about backstabbing colleagues. It also teaches us never to believe anyone who says a meeting has been pushed back (especially if they recently threatened to kill you); they’re trying to make you late. Duh.
24. Consenting Adults (1992)
It’s slightly disappointing to find a thriller starring Kevin Kline in which he isn’t the bad guy (he’s never better than when he’s playing ‘unhinged’) but having Kevin Spacey as the villain makes up for it, I suppose.
If only Richard had read The Gift Of Fear, he would have spotted the red flags; his new neighbor Eddy forces a close friendship straight away and fixes problems so that Richard will feel indebted to him. Then Eddy suggests he and Richard swap wives one night – no need to ask the women for permission, they probably won’t even notice if they’re half-asleep. But when a murder is committed, Richard realises he’s in way too deep (although you can’t help wondering if he deserves everything he gets for agreeing to such a horrible scheme). One thing’s for sure, he’ll have one hell of a yarn to tell at his next dinner party.
23. Deceived (1991)
When a friend claims she’s seen your husband in a local hotel when he’s supposed to be out of town, it could be a sign that a) she’s mistaken, b) your husband is having an affair, or c) he’s a murdering fraudster with multiple strands of lies woven around his double life. Hmm…
Goldie Hawn is best known for taking the dizzy blonde role in various romantic comedies, and because she’s so good at it, we sometimes forget that she’s a talented actress who can work in any genre she chooses. This is a rare foray into drama, as she plays a wife whose supposedly happy marriage may be full of secrets; John Heard is the husband under suspicion.
22. The Game (1997)
Michael Douglas stars as Nicholas Van Orton, a heartless investment banker; he’s estranged from his loved ones and lives a friend-free, routine life based on his career. But his kooky younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn) has a birthday gift for him: a voucher for a ‘fun’ experience.
Nicholas finds the application process strange, and begins to wonder if everything is above board with this company offering ‘Consumer Recreation Services’. When life gets weirder, he doesn’t have anyone to turn to, except ‘random’ waitress Christine (Deborah Kara Unger).
Like a cross between The Fugitive and Eyes Wide Shut (critic Christopher Tookey described it as “a roller-coaster designed by Franz Kafka”) The Game is chaotic, confusing and dreamlike, and will have you breathing a sigh of relief that your family doesn’t even go in for surprise birthday parties.
21. The Temp (1993)
Peter (Timothy Hutton) needs a new secretary; enter Lara Flynn Boyle as Kris. (She’s a working woman! With a man’s name! What could possibly go wrong?) At first everything’s cool; Kris gives Peter ideas and publicly gives him credit for them. The trouble begins when she starts getting more recognition for her achievements (it’s hard to take Peter’s side, given that his problem is Kris being legitimately hard-working and talented).
Peter’s also had some psychiatric problems; namely PARANOIA. So, you know, nobody will take him seriously when he thinks someone is out to get him… Meanwhile, people who stand between Kris and her dream job often suffer from untimely deaths. (Even if it’s difficult to see how she could have engineered them without the actual power of witchcraft.) Faye Dunaway’s flamboyant appearance as the boss is the cherry on top of this delightfully preposterous movie.
20. Dream Lover (1993)
Thrillers often serve as cautionary tales; ‘never marry someone you barely know’ is a fairly basic one. Unfortunately Ray (James Spader) didn’t get the memo; he’s mesmerised by the bold, seductive Lena (Mädchen Amick) and they quickly set up home and have a family together.
But little things begin to pop up, like getting recognised by strangers who know her by a different name. Finally Ray visits her hometown and finds her ex (who steals the scene with a timely reminder of how unsexy yuppies are in comparison to gruff mechanics). Apparently Lena is the kind of girl who sheds past identities like unwanted outfits, but what’s her endgame?
I can do without the surreal fairground dream sequences, but Amick’s dynamic performance (reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck in her saucy bad girl roles) make this worth a watch.
19. Hider In The House (1989)
Gary Busey plays Tom, a troubled chap who escaped abusive parents by setting their house on fire and has only just been released from the care of his doctor. Spotting an empty house, he rather cleverly sections off one end of the attic to create a hidey-hole for himself (vaguely echoing the 1974 TV movie Bad Ronald). He also sets up the intercom so he can eavesdrop when a family moves in. So far, so creepy, right?
In fact, it’s a strangely moving portrayal of a disturbed man who longs for love. I even wished for a happy ending; perhaps Tom could live in a mental hospital and have visits from the family he’s so fond of? But he does tend to kill anyone who threatens his happiness, so despite the admirable depth of characterisation throughout the film, we must still follow the rules for a violent showdown.
18. Pacific Heights (1990)
Michael Keaton is the ‘tenant from hell’ for Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine, who are the young upwardly mobile couple delighted with the huge house they’ve just bought in San Francisco’s Pacific heights. Note: this is not a good movie to watch if you’re currently looking at the housing market in London, unless you want to feel deeply depressed.
After agreeing to rent one of the downstairs apartments, Carter Hayes (Keaton) moves in, changes the locks and refuses to pay rent. The police agree with the old “squatter’s rights” rule and our heroes are helpless to oust him. But perhaps Melanie Griffith’s little girl persona has been concealing a shrewd brain, and revenge is possible…
17. Jagged Edge (1985)
One of the many courtroom dramas featuring a lawyer who falls for the client they’re defending, this has a charmingly retro set of clues – remember when you could trace who’d written a note by the quirks of individual typewriters? Glenn Close stars as the improbably named lawyer Teddy Barnes, defending Jack Forrester (Jeff Bridges) after his wife is found stabbed with a hunting knife. Was he really knocked unconscious prior to the attack or did he do it? A polygraph test suggests he’s telling the truth – but lie detectors don’t work on psychopaths, do they?
It’s a much-recycled formula but the two leads bring their considerable star power to a twisty tale which will keep you guessing to the last scene. Or possibly even longer, as the distorted angle of the killer’s face in the big reveal confuses new audiences to this day.
16. Unlawful Entry (1992)
Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe are a couple living in affluent Los Angeles when they suffer some misfortunes. First, they have a scary encounter with an intruder. One of the cops investigating takes a special interest in the case – maybe their luck is changing? Nope, it’s Ray Liotta, and he’s about to give obsessive best friends a bad name.
He rapidly progresses from being ‘helpful’ to stalking and attempted wife-stealing, but what can anyone do when his LAPD superiors have no interest in hearing about his misdemeanors? A catfight is inevitable (yes, I know ‘catfight’ usually refers to a fight between women, but I will be using it with its original definition until everyone else catches on).
15. Basic Instinct (1992)
To call Basic Instinct Hitchcockian is an understatement; it’s fair to say that this is the movie Hitch would have loved to make, if he’d only been working in an era with fewer pesky censorship rules. Sharon Stone oozes charisma and appears to be Grace Kelly’s long lost evil twin.
Catherine Trammell is an atypical YIP villain because she’s portrayed as an immediate threat rather than hiding behind a ‘sweet and harmless’ act. Michael Douglas (who else?) is Nick, the detective looking into the murder of Catherine’s rock star boyfriend and finding that she has written a novel which strangely parallels the crime. Is she innocent? Or a compulsive liar who can double-bluff her way out of anything?
Nick isn’t the only detective fascinated by dangerous women; the theme was echoed in 1993’s Body Of Evidence and given a sapphic twist in Black Widow (1983).
14. The River Wild (1994)
Gail (Meryl Streep) is a white water rafting expert, so her idea of a relaxing holiday is to take her family down a particularly tricky river. She hopes spending time together will help to resolve the issues she and husband Tom are having. Unfortunately their domestic bliss is shattered when they befriend some other rafters heading down the river; Wade (Kevin Bacon) and Terry (John C. Reilly) seem harmless at first, but they are revealed to be gun-toting scallywags on the run.
They need Gail because she’s the only one with the experience to navigate the treacherous waters (cue spectacular scenery) and they can use her son Roarke (Joseph Mazello) as emotional blackmail. Although it’s Streep’s movie, the real story is how emasculated hubby David Strathairn learns to assert himself and take care of the family.
13. A Perfect Murder (1998)
An updated and more complex version of Grace Kelly’s 1954 film Dial M For Murder, this features Gwyneth Paltrow as Emily. She’s married to Steven (Michael Douglas, our patron saint of yuppies in peril) but has a bit on the side, in the shape of David (A pre-LOTR Viggo Mortensen).
Steven discovers his wife’s infidelity and is painfully aware that if she leaves, she’ll be taking her hefty trust fund with her, so he devises a plan to blackmail David into bumping her off. Michael Douglas is so committed to the role that you almost want him to get away with it, although I have to question any homicidal scheme which depends entirely on a woman getting out of a hot bubble bath to answer the phone.
12. Guilty As Sin (1993)
Rebecca De Mornay plays Jennifer, an attorney who ambitiously decides to take on the case of David (Don Johnson), a swaggering charmer accused of murdering his wife. She likes a challenge, but soon regrets involving herself with a guy who comes across as more unbalanced every day, and confirming his sociopathic status, is convinced he’ll never go down for any crime. The question is, can she in good conscience defend someone that she’s pretty sure is guilty? Or will she have to ‘help’ the jury reach the correct conclusion – even if it means damaging her own career and possibly putting her life at risk?
If you fancy more of the same, 2007’s Fracture features Anthony Hopkins as a similarly arrogant killer who bullies young assistant D.A. Ryan Gosling in court.
11. Arlington Road (1999)
A dark and dastardly movie, this one. Michael (Jeff Bridges) is raising a young son alone after losing his FBI agent wife. He teaches a university class about terrorism, so it’s fair to say that he has heightened awareness about the subject. So is he being paranoid or merely vigilant when he becomes suspicious of his oh-so-friendly neighbor Oliver (Tim Robbins)? Joan Cusack is Oliver’s wife Cheryl (who pops up in some chillingly surprising places) and Hope Davis features as Michael’s girlfriend, who becomes increasingly impatient with his paranoid ramblings. Will he get anyone to believe him in time to stop a disaster?
There may be a few too many plot holes and convenient coincidences to make this movie a bona fide masterpiece, but it’s suspenseful, jumpy and really quite powerful.
10. Gaslight (1944)
The YIP genre really came into its own in the era of poodle perms and spandex daywear, but the seeds were sown long ago (the psycho in sheep’s clothing has always been a common theme; Bette Davis was dealing with an usurper in All About Eve back in 1950).
But could Gaslight be the mother of the genre? Originating on stage, it became huge when Hollywoodised in 1944 with Ingrid Bergman as the wife pushed to the limits of paranoia, and is now so iconic that ‘gaslighting’ has become part of our vocabulary (Incidentally, MGM attempted to destroy all prints of the earlier British film; happily they failed.
Women being plagued by evidence that they’re going crazy has long been a goldmine for movies, from 1960’s Midnight Lace (in which Doris Day is wonderfully hysterical) to Scissors (1991), Sharon Stone’s most surreal film, to many TV movies of recent times (Committed (2011) and Dangerous Company (2015) to name but two). Guilty pleasures ahoy.
9. Malice (1993)
Alec Baldwin is Jed, who appears to be a respectable surgeon and ideal tenant for Andy (Bill Pullman) and Tracy (Nicole Kidman). But once he’s moved into their attic he turns into the tenant from hell, causing all kinds of trouble – against the backdrop of a serial rapist/killer on the loose (as Roger Ebert puts it, “this is the only movie I can recall in which an entire subplot about a serial killer is thrown in simply for atmosphere.”).
Gwyneth Paltrow makes a youthful appearance as one of the victims, but is Jed the real villain? This movie has several twists and turns and is also notable for Alec Baldwin’s “I am God” speech, which is as entertaining as any of the similar monologues from the likes of Gordon Gecko, Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump etc.
8. The Firm (1993)
Tom Cruise plays an archetypal Tom Cruise role – that of a super-smart, super-ambitious young lawyer, Mitch McDeere. He and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorne) move from New York to Memphis to join a small and apparently cosy firm of lawyers. The company might take a little too much interest in the couple’s personal business, but when they’re paying the big bucks and helping you pick out cars and houses, who cares? Mitch’s mentor (Gene Hackman) instructs him on the office rules and Mitch discovers that once you’re in this job, there’s no way out.
Adapted from the John Grisham novel (but possibly improving upon the ending) the firm itself takes on the role of the ostensibly innocent and friendly character who reveals themselves to have a dark and dangerous heart.
7. Cape Fear (1991)
Martin Scorsese’s remake of the 1962 thriller is a much revered piece of cinema; it may not be the first movie that springs to mind when considering the yuppies in peril genre, but it ticks all the boxes. Happy, photogenic all-American family? Check. A pet that could come to harm? Check. Showdown on the family’s property? A little more waterlogged than the standard mansion, but check indeed.
Robert De Niro is the convicted rapist who seeks vengeance on Sam Bowden, the lawyer who put him away for fourteen years (he might not have taken it so personally, but Sam was meant to be defending him). Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and teenage Juliette Lewis are the family now under attack from the violent criminal; De Niro is typically mesmerizing in the intense and iconic role. Look out for cameos from Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, the stars of the original movie.
6. Dead Calm (1989)
Sam Neill and 21-year-old Nicole Kidman star as a couple who are numbing the pain of losing their child with an isolated yacht holiday on the Great Barrier Reef. When they come across Hughie, a (literal) drifter, they’re sympathetic to his plight – he claims to be the sole survivor of a shipwreck following deadly food poisoning for the rest of the crew. But does his story add up? The internet is divided on the sex scene, but for my money it’s as clear as it can be (short of a neon sign) that despite Billy Zane’s indisputable hotness, Kidman’s character ‘seduces’ Hughie purely as a stalling technique as his true nature becomes evident.
Strongly reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s directorial debut Knife In The Water (1962), this was also filmed in the late 1960s by Orson Welles under the name The Deep, but sadly the movie was never completed.
5. Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)
I once asked my mom what was the scariest film she’d ever seen and she replied “Ooh, that one where he tidies all her cupboards.” It’s as good a précis as any to explain the narrative of a violent and controlling husband with OCD, and the wife who fakes her own death to escape his clutches.
Laura (Julia Roberts) is the woman who didn’t cover her tracks quite enough (flushing a wedding ring down the toilet? Really?) and soon her ex realises that she might have outsmarted him. This makes him spitting mad. Will he catch up with Laura? She’s created a whole new life in a small town (with a gorgeous house, naturally), but is haunted by memories – while also wondering if she can trust the new man in her life.
4. A Kiss Before Dying (1991)
Francois Truffaut once said that Hitchcock “films scenes of love like scenes of murder, and scenes of murder like scenes of love”, a method obviously taken to heart by director James Dearden in this adaptation of an Ira Levin novel (also made for the silver screen back in 1956).
Matt Dillon plays Jonathan Corliss, who is revealed early on to be an absolute rotter, murdering his pregnant girlfriend so he won’t blow his chances of getting his hands on her (very conservative) father’s money. Never mind, there’s always another sister to hook up with (don’t laugh; in the book he works his way through three of them).
Sean Young (sadly, the weakest link in an otherwise compelling movie) plays Ellen, the unsuspecting sole heiress to the family fortune. While she investigates her twin sister’s death, Jonathan is always one step ahead. Will she ever find out the truth?
3. Single White Female (1992)
Having a friend copy your style is annoying when you’re twelve, sinister when you’re twenty-something. Bridget Fonda plays the unfortunate Allison, who advertises for a roommate after catching her boyfriend cheating. She chooses Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the very picture of a sweet, friendly and unassuming young lady. But wait! All is not as it seems! Hedra soon gets a little too close for comfort, imitating Allie’s taste in clothes, hairstyles and… eek… boyfriends.
So successful it was followed by a sequel (Single White Female 2: The Psycho in 2005), this is quintessential YIP; an imposing New York apartment, a fluffy puppy, and a memorable “death by stiletto” scene. The most surprising elements are: a) that more people aren’t murdered for this kind of real estate, and b) that Hedra chose to imitate a woman with a ginger pudding bowl haircut. Each to her own, I guess.
2. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992)
First lady of the YIP (aka ‘from hell’) genre, Rebecca De Mornay gives an unforgettable performance as a diabolical nanny, seeking revenge for her husband’s suicide after Claire (Annabella Sciorra) reports him for molesting her (incidentally, she also played a demented baby-stealing matriarch in 2010’s Mother’s Day; her performance (somewhere between Nurse Ratchett and Mother Bates) is the best part of an otherwise nasty piece of torture porn).
There will always be some trepidation when handing your children into someone else’s care, and the early 1990s was a period of adjustment for society as working mothers became the norm. As Julianne Moore (in an early role as Claire’s friend) says, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. The movie taps into a timeless fear which crosses socio-economic borders; even celebrities aren’t immune to the risks of inviting an attractive woman into the house.
1. Fatal Attraction (1987)
The ultimate YIP movie stars the king of the genre, Michael Douglas. Never afraid to play morally questionable characters, he is perfect as Dan, the sleazy husband who thinks he can have no-strings sex with Alex (the inimitable Glenn Close). But she’s not going to be ignored.
Adrian Lyne took on directing duties when it was turned down by John Carpenter and Brian De Palma, who both feared it was too similar to the Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty For Me (1971). The magnificent performances from Douglas and Close made it an instant classic; perhaps the culture of fear around AIDS also meant the movie resonated with 1980s audiences who knew that ‘free love’ was over.
It’s hard not to sympathise with Alex, as she calls Dan on his slippery attempts to return to a normal carefree life with his wife and child; he tells her she’s “sick”, and she responds “Why? Because I won’t allow you to treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage?” The girl’s got a point.
Of course, the only way Dan can emerge as the hero of the story is if Alex is proven to be the kind of raving lunatic who would kill small animals. Bringing ‘bunny boiler’ into our lexicon, the movie sells out and makes her a monster.
Glenn Close consulted psychiatrists to establish that Alex’s arc was plausible, and was so fiercely protective of the character’s integrity that she was bitterly opposed to the changes made for the climax. Close was right; instead of the intelligent, haunting original ending we were given the now ubiquitous violent showdown with an un-killable villain.