The new version of Total Recall – a PG-13 version that apparently dials down the outrageousness in an effort to be more plausible – sends us Mania folks yearning for the days of the original film. Ah yes, when R ratings didn’t scare the tits off the executives and a filmmaker like Paul Verhoeven could be set loose on an unsuspecting public without mercy. Verhoeven stands as a unique figure in the annals of cinema: combining popular appeal, gratuitous button-pushing, and a staggering lack of taste into one beautiful guilty pleasure. He lived for expensive cheap shocks, which often devolved into the insulting, but just as often achieved a masterful campiness that no other filmmaker could duplicate. As we mourn the passing of one of his greatest efforts into the realm of homogenized remake-dom, we look back at some of his most outrageous moments: the ones that made us gasp in disbelief before giggling up our sleeves.
RoboCop earned its outrageousness by mixing a broad comic-book concept with some very adult violence (and a heaping fistful of social satire). It felt like a kids’ movie… except for the castrated rapist, mutilated cop and levels of gunplay matching your average Third World political coup. But the topper arrives towards the end, when criminal scumbag Emil Antonowsky (Paul McCrane) has a close encounter with a vat of toxic goo. He emerges as a melting freak show, staggering across the urban wasteland and creeping out friend and foe alike. That in and of itself would be enough to make this list, but the ante goes up even further when Emil gets hit by a car… and pops like a zit all over the windshield.
Nothing epitomized the original Total Recall like this brief-but-unforgettable moment when we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore. The oppressed mutants of Mars have turned to all manner of seedy occupation to survive. One finds an advantage to standing out – stating emphatically that two is never enough – and the results are such a cheesy hoot that fans demanded its placement in the new film, family-friendly rating be damned.
Verhoeven followed-up his triple-barreled sexism with a marvelous bit of sleight-of-hand, as Arnold Schwarzenegger seeks out the elusive leader of the Martian resistance. Turns out, no one can find him because he has no real body: he’s a deformed Siamese twin lurking under his “brother’s” coat. He pops out like a blowtorched jack-in-the-box to reveal vital plot exposition, a tricky filmmaking decision since the audience is too busy squirming like live bait to listen.
After rebounding from the Showgirls disaster with Starship Troopers, Verhoeven tried his hand at updating The Invisible Man. Kevin Bacon starred as an archetypical mad scientist whose experiments render him unseen to the naked eye. We emphasize the term “naked,” because – in addition to trying to murder his colleagues and bashing the heads of small dogs against the wall – he takes sophomoric advantage of every woman he meets. After all, when you’re invisible, there’s no consequences, and while Verhoeven couches that idea in the high-falutin’ philosophical terms that created it, it’s really just an excuse to ogle the pretty girls in the shower. In one fell swoop, his sci-fi thriller becomes a frathouse sex comedy. Stay classy Paul.
You may think I’m speaking figuratively here. I’m not. One of Verhoeven’s rare “serious” efforts recounts the tale of a Jewish singer (Carice van Houten) who seduces an SS officer in order to aid the Dutch resistance. Forced to keep her true loyalties secret, she endures accusations of collaboration and attendant acts of degradation… topped by a giant vat of human waste dumped on her head. The director is a lot of things; subtle isn’t one of them.
You may notice a pattern in this list: Verhoeven is not a big fan of women. Nowhere did this loom larger than in 1992, when he strapped a wide angle lens to Sharon Stone’s thighs and let ‘er rip. The film became a sensation, Stone became a star, and the shot became fodder for generations of late-night comics. All that for one brief image of something your average eight-year-old can now call up on the Internet. The times have definitely changed.
Oh, and the rest of the movie is still a sleazy piece of crap.
Nothing can possibly prepare your for the endless array of crotch shots, nipple shots, lap dances and cat fights that comprise this “movie.” Now widely regarded as a camp classic, it more accurately resembles a bungled piece of Cinemax soft-core. Verhoeven and his colleagues seemed to believe that, if one set of tits is sexy, then forty thousand sets are therefore exponentially sexier. So we drown in the glut of overexposed nudity while the barrel-scraping soap opera of a plot slowly grinds our bones to dust. We could pick any of three dozen sequences to top this list… but that would mean having to watch the film again. So you pick which one deserves it. May God have mercy on your soul.