The rebooted Total Recall has a lot to recommend it over its predecessor: a lead actor who can actually act (Colin Farrell), two action queens at the top of their game (Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel), and stunning, state-of-the-art effects. But for all its slick craftmanship, the remake lacks the unabashed sleaze and imaginative trashiness that made director Paul Verhoeven's original a pop classic. As the director of B-movie masterpieces like Basic Instinct, RoboCop, Showgirls and Starship Troopers, Verhoeven isn't a household name and isn't likely to be one anytime soon, but he's behind some of the most unforgettable scenes in modern movies. After all, nobody does prurient spectacle like Paul Verhoeven. Let's take a look back at his ten craziest scenes:
1. Rock Me Sexy Jesus
The Dutch director began his career in his native Netherlands where he made six well-regarded arthouse films, including the Oscar-nominated Turkish Delight (1973), before heading to Hollywood. Some critics bemoan Verhoeven as a would-be European auteur tarnished by vulgar American appetites, but the filmmaker's lurid obsessions are clearly visible in his pre-Hollywood output. The Fourth Man (1983), now a cult classic, was clearly a predecessor to Basic Instinct, with a bisexual novelist (Jeroen Krabbé) investigating a series of murders committed by a black widow. Throughout the film, the novelist is visited by erotic religious visions, among them this scene of Jesus tied to a most unusual bondage post.
2. Hostile Takeover
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Verhoeven earned a quick reputation as a sci-fi schlockmeister with RoboCop (1987). Critics and audiences weren't sure if they were supposed to revel in or condemn the film's hyperviolence—probably both—an ambiguity that's become a hallmark of the Dutch director's work. But one thing's for sure: RoboCop literalizes the abstract violence of the corporate world, bluntly and excessively. In this scene, an arrogant executive (Miguel Ferrer) shows off an early prototype of the Detroit PD's newest rookie, but a "glitch" occurs.
3. "Your Move, Creep!"
Verhoeven has always been supremely unapologetic about the violence in his films. He says, "We all should realize that we live in an extremely violent universe.... If you look at the sky with the Hubble telescope, you will see galaxies hitting each other. Just think of the amount of life that every moment is being destroyed. It is basically our destiny to be destroyed." For someone so fatalistic about the inevitability of violence, though, he can be awfully funny about it at the same time. The attempted rape scene in RoboCop is profoundly upsetting, not least of all because the assaulters' scissors add an extra layer of savagery to their crime. When our "hero" arrives for the rescue, however, the result is sickening, yet hilarious in a way that makes you feel terrible for laughing.
4. In Space, No One Can Hear Your Head Swell Up to Three Times Its Size
Total Recall (1990) is the Dutch director's most commercially successful film, and a treasure trove of visual Verhoevenisms. After 22 years and a computer revolution, the film's special effects now register as pure camp. (Back then, Verhoeven's SFX team won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.) But the film's ambitious images are still undeniably compelling for their effortless evocation of body horror. The asphyxiation scene on Mars that ends the film is the best example of Total Recall's total recoil from how our bodies betray us.
5. When Arnie Met Chucky (Sr.)
The body horror in Total Recall serves a political message: the colonist-miners on Mars grew mutations as a result of Earth's exploitation of them. But Verhoeven makes some pretty exploitative choices himself with this movie, especially when showcasing the deformations of the Martian mutants. When Arnold Schwarzenegger finally meets Kuato (Marshall Bell), the Martian resistance leader who can restore his erased memories, we're told via Arnold, "Kuato's a mutant, so don't get upset when you see him." Strange words from a movie with a tri-boobed prostitute. (Bonus body horror scene: Herr Governator picks his nose.)
6. Skeleton Dance
Total Recall has about a zillion chases (and the reboot about two zillion), but the best of them all has Arnold Schwarzenegger running from bad guys through a crowded subway station, at one point crashing into three-dimensionality. Too bad his acting never did the same.
7. Sharon Stone Shows Her Vagina
After the smashing successes of RoboCop and Total Recall, Verhoeven had carte blanche in Hollywod. Eager to escape typecasting as a sci-fi director, he returned to his sexual button-pushing roots with Basic Instinct (1992), a competent but unremarkable erotic thriller made instantly iconic through, well, Verhoeven's baser instincts. In the film's most famous scene, Stone's bisexual novelist character is questioned by a group of policemen about a murder that occurred exactly as she described a killing in her book. She enters the interrogation room suggestively saying "I've nothing to hide," and responds to the detectives' questions with flirtatious aggression. It's a career-making scene, filled with inverted power dynamics, barely repressed anger-lust, and one very famous hoo-ha.
8. Less Is More
Verhoeven's fall came hard and fast with Showgirls (1995), a film so wretched it set new standards for how bad a movie can be. While the NC-17-rated film wasn't a complete box office failure, the movie's abysmal reviews eradicated Verhoeven's creative freedom in the studio system, effectively pigeonholing him forever as a sci-fi action director. The film is an update of All About Eve set in the world of Las Vegas sleaze halls, with a newly arrived, fresh-faced dancer (Elizabeth Berkley) doing her best to become the town's most important stripper. We could easily compile a "10 Most Ridiculous Moments in Showgirls" listicle, but there's only one clip tame enough for the young innocents of YouTube that still shows how fatally this movie overdosed on sex steroids.
9. Breaking News
Verhoeven's last Hollywood hurrah came in the form of Starship Troopers (1997), an alien actioner about young soldiers doing battle against giant insects. Like RoboCop, SST tried to have it both ways by being an ultraviolent war film and a parody of one. And as with all of the Dutch director's films, the first few minutes of SST has an impatient, "push-you-off-the-deep-end" quality. The movie opens with a propagandistic call-to-arms featuring a cherubic child soldier, then quickly cuts to a live news feed from the battleground. From there, well, things become a bit disjointed. (Scene ends at 2:27.)
10. Brain Drain
It's a good thing that Verhoeven's tendency toward muddled satire never gets in the way of spectacle, because Starship Trooper's only redeeming quality might be its director's pulpy fevered dreams. Verhoeven offers one of his most delightfully terrifying scenes toward the end of SST, when the film's two protagonists are captured by the enemy.
After Starship Troopers, the 74-year-old Dutch director made another sci-fi flick, the Kevin Bacon vehicle Hollow Man, about which he said, "After Hollow Man, I felt as empty as the movie was." After a 30-year absence, Verhoevem returned to the Netherlands and made the controversial but well-received Black Book (2006), a World War II romance about not-that-bad Nazis and definitely bad Resistance fighters. Meanwhile, the director's career has been slowly consumed like a Starship Trooper's innards on the bug planet: a different director made Basic Instinct 2, and a RoboCop remake will follow the Total Recall reboot. (No word so far on a Showgirls sequel.) Though his reputation is hardly stellar these days, Verhoeven's retirement would mean a huge loss for the movies, and for camp-lovers everywhere. So it's a good thing he seems pretty keen on pissing off even more people by making another blasphemous movie about the life of Jesus Christ. Your move, creep!
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