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Wild Things (1998)
Image: Colombia Pictures

Film

25 Years of Wild Things, the Sleaziest Hollywood Movie of the 1990s 

They can turn you on or turn on you.

Threesomes, teacher/student sex, twists, and teacher/student sex: 1998’s Wild Things had it all.

Wild Things was a certain breed of neo-noir thriller that was prevalent in the 1980s and ’90s but much less so today: One equally committed to audacious sexuality and many, many plot twists. 

The biggest difference, though, was that Wild Things was much sleazier. And not only because of the scene in which two “teenage girls” fight, then it suddenly turns into a lesbian sex scene. 

The entire plot of the movie is about making hay out of rape, teacher/student sex, extortion, shady lawyers, and bodies being tossed off boats into pristine blue waters. 

This is some real Florida stuff, in other words. 

Written by obscure screenwriter Stephen Peters and directed by veteran John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), Wild Things is plagued throughout by the need to toss in a jarring, movie-altering twist about every 15 minutes. 

Image: Colombia Pictures

Matt Dillon stars as Sam Lombardo, a South Florida high school guidance counselor who lives unusually large for a man of his profession. He’s accused of raping two students at his school (Denise Richards and Neve Campbell) — one rich, and one poor — although the entire thing turns out to be a conspiracy among the three of them to force a defamation settlement from Richards’ wealthy mom (Theresa Russell), also a former lover of Sam’s. This is revealed, naturally, in a threesome scene. 

The whole thing is being investigated by a pair of cops (Kevin Bacon and Daphne Rubin-Vega), and a Saul Goodman-like lawyer (Bill Murray) also figures in the events. Although it turns out, from the various twists, that different people than you thought are in cahoots with each other. 

Do the twists make sense? I guess they do, and the film does include several post-credit scenes in order to lay out what “really” happened.

Wild Things (1998)
Image: Colombia Pictures

The film has a, shall we see, pre-#MeToo understanding of rape and sexual misconduct. When a teacher is accused of rape by one of his students, it’s actually treated as a question of whether he’ll be suspended from his job. It is mitigated, at least a little bit, when we remember that “teenager” Denise Richards was 27 years old when this movie was released, while Neve Campbell was 25.

Not that it isn’t all a bit ludicrous. There’s one scene where Richards is shown on the phone wearing only a bra when the scene in no way requires her to be wearing only a bra. 

The movie, at least, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is full of humorous one-liners, like “my daughter does not get raped in Blue Bay” and “are you retarded, or just brain-dead from whiffing fumes out there in the swamp?”

Wild Things (1998)
Image: Colombia Pictures

It’s also been stated that the famous scene in which Bacon shows full-frontal nudity in the shower was supposed to reveal that he and Dillon were not only co-conspirators but also lovers; producers are said to have blocked that particular twist. Because in the cinema of the ’90s, teacher/student sex wasn’t so taboo, but adult homosexuality certainly was.  

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. One of The people in his head

    October 23, 2023 at 12:55 am

    L😂l So its not a “sleazy” movie because the story takes place in Florida, or because it’s a non ending failed plot twist. OR that it promotes lying about rape. OR! Because it fantasizes inappropriate relationships between overly developed sex crazy teens & Predatory old men. Nope!

    Its sleazy because two guys didn’t bone each other… Hahahahaha!!! I should’ve known this was written by a backwards thinking Feminist when I saw “#metoo” L🤣L.

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