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12 Of Cinema’s Most Terrifying Sex Scenes

Alfred Hitchcock once delivered a disturbing bit of directorial advice: “Film your love scenes like murders, and your murders like love scenes.” Or something like that… the details are a bit vague. Whether Hitch made that exact declaration or not, the concept is still disturbing – and says a lot about artists, storytellers and audiences’ relationship to sex in general. As open-minded and progressive as we often pretend to be as a culture, I suspect that, deep down, Americans are still pretty scared of sex – and even of ourselves as sexual beings. Of course, wherever fear lurks, eventually someone will step in to capitalize on it… and no creative medium captures the collective imagination more completely than the movies. In that light, I’ve selected some significant cinematic examples of physical love taken to its most horrific extremes.

Not all of these scenes come from horror films, but they are all unquestionably the stuff of nightmares… and probably caused many hours of intense therapy among sensitive viewers. Please note that I’m trying to avoid scenes depicting overt rape, as that represents a very different kind of monster (in other words, no Evil Dead tree-porking or rape-revenge scenarios like I Spit on Your Grave). The intercourse in most of these scenes is more or less consensual… or at least within the context of the story. In horror, it’s sometimes hard to define these things.

It probably goes without saying, but I should point out that there’s a few naughty bits on display here, so this post is not entirely work-safe.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar: The Last Pickup

This 1977 drama, based on a novel (and a true story), is the least horror-themed film on this list, but the final minutes are among the scariest I’ve ever witnessed. Diane Keaton’s deeply troubled schoolteacher tries to chase away her personal demons through drugs and a series of rough one-night stands, but when she picks up a disturbed man (Tom Berenger) on New Year’s Eve, she gets far more than she bargained for. Stephen King listed the film’s last scene in his horror thesis Danse Macabre as one of the scariest ever committed to film, and I can see why. It comes out of left field and completely flips the story in the most sudden and nightmarish way possible… and then we fade to black.

Blue Velvet: Frank’s Frightening Fetish

If a director could be singled out for dissecting more of his own mental hangups on film than any other artist, David Lynch would get my vote. There are probably more interpretations of his surreal images than frames of film that comprise them, but I think I’ve mapped at least one tiny fragment of the man’s worldview: he seems simultaneously terrified and attracted to sex. It’s in nearly all of his art in some form or another, but no more obviously than this scene from his 1986 cult classic, in which Dennis Hopper as psychopathic Frank Booth indulges a bizarre sexual fetish with the masochistic Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), which involves huffing nitrous oxide and a kind of “reverse birth” role-play. No matter how creepy that sounds, Hopper’s performance makes it a hundred times more disturbing.

Basket Case: Belial’s Betrayal

Frank Henenlotter’s insanely sleazy debut feature boasts dozens of memorably whacked-out moments… but the most horrific of these begins as a surreal dream sequence featuring young Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) running stark naked through the NYC streets to pay a nocturnal visit to his girlfriend Susan (Terri Susan Smith) for a little sleepy-eyed nookie. What we soon realize – as does Susan, to her absolute horror – is that Duane is not actually present; it’s his lumpish, telepathic former conjoined twin Belial who’s humping the poor girl to death (I mean that literally; we even get to see the sticky aftermath). Only the seedy grindhouse atmosphere and low-rent makeup effects will protect viewers from losing their sanity after what they’ve just witnessed onscreen.

The Howling: Bill Gets His Furry Freak On

I’ve seen this 1981 werewolf classic a dozen times, and it just gets more entertaining with each viewing. But when I first saw it as a young pup, I didn’t pick up on Joe Dante’s biting satire and genre savvy – not because I didn’t get it, but because I was too busy pissing myself in terror. One of the scenes that freaked me out the most was the savage mating of Bill (Christopher Stone) and Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks), which begins as a fireside grope-fest and shifts quickly into a fit of drooling, hair-sprouting and (natch) howling as the pair transform into beasts – literally “bumping uglies.” In my early adolescence, the idea of sex was both fascinating and terrifying enough, not to mention the notion of sprouting hair in unexpected places, and this image made it very tangible. Sure, it looks a bit silly today, but 33 years ago… damn.

Angel Heart: Steamy, With a Chance of Showers

The dreamy aura of doom that hangs over Alan Parker’s supernatural noir is so tangible you can almost touch it, so you’d think that a sudden burst of unexplained surrealism would not be so shocking. But back in 1987, this sticky-hot blend of eroticism and gallons of gore was just too much for MPAA censors to handle, and a large portion of it was cut from the theatrical print. The intense and explicit bed-wrestling between Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) and Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet) would have pushed the boundaries enough without the blood-flood, but most viewers today are so jaded they wouldn’t bat an eye. Still, there’s something undeniably hot about this scene… and that may be the most disturbing thing about it.

Rosemary’s Baby: “This is really happening!”

Shocking and controversial for 1968, this notorious sequence from Roman Polanski’s classic is pretty PG-13 by today’s standards, but that doesn’t make it any less haunting. The scene finds young Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in an apparently drugged, half-conscious state, during which her douchey, self-absorbed husband Guy (John Cassavetes) seems to be drunkenly forcing himself on her. That brutish act would be upsetting enough, but as it turns out, Guy may not be the real perpetrator. We catch brief, distorted glimpses of a hairy, demonic beast through Rosemary’s point-of-view, as she is seemingly offered to the thing in a shadowy occult ritual. In the scene’s most chilling moment, she experiences a sudden flash of clarity as she realizes that she’s not dreaming. Up to this point, Rosemary has been depicted as a chaste, childlike girl, which makes this supernatural violation far more unsettling.

Shivers: Parasitic Pool Party

Along with David Lynch, I’d also include David Cronenberg as one of very few filmmakers who splatter their fears all over the screen… and the viewer. At the start of his career, Cronenberg tackled the concept of “body horror” – which, of course, includes fear of our reproductive system and all its parts. I could pick half a dozen films that fit the bill, but his first feature Shivers (a.k.a. They Came From Within) tackles the subject without a filter, holding back nothing in its depiction of a phallic parasite that turns its hosts into ravenous sexual predators. The film climaxes in the swimming pool of a futuristic apartment complex, in which nearly all the residents – from very young children to the elderly – paw and grope each other in an all-out orgy that’s not the least bit sexy.

Teeth: The Jaws of Justice

Ouch. Seriously, guys, don’t be rapin’. If you’ve even considered taking a woman against her will, you should be forced to watch Teeth on an endless loop, with no bathroom breaks. You’ve probably heard this premise – virginal teenager Dawn (Jess Weixler) discovers she possesses a very literal vagina dentata, which severs the offending member (or digits, in one case) of any man who tries to violate her against her will. Lots of would-be molesters get theirs in hideously graphic ways, but my personal leg-crossing fave would have to be the literal revenge sex of the film’s climax, after which the offending wiener is gobbled by a dog. Again, ouch.

Deadgirl: Just Another Hole?

So, is it rape if the victim is dead? How about if she’s undead? In this disturbing but oddly touching horror drama, I’d say the answer is yes… and even more upsetting than the sexual exploitation of the nameless zombie girl (whose contagious condition is never explained) by a group of troubled high school boys is the way it reveals the living characters’ darkest natures. We’re encouraged to choose sides in favor of the mostly sympathetic protagonist Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez), but his willingness to exploit the situation makes him suspect – especially when he convinces his crush’s dickish boyfriend to have a go with the deadgirl… with predictably nasty results.

Cabin Fever: Wrong Time of the Month

Eli Roth’s feature debut plays its central premise of flesh-eating bacteria mostly for laughs… with a few horrific exceptions. One of the film’s most unnerving revelations comes when Paul (Rider Strong) tries to sneak a little finger-banging action with his crush Karen (Jordan Ladd), who in a previous scene is shown drinking contaminated water. Our boy slides into home, so to speak, but soon finds the situation a bit… well, stickier than he expected. For me, the film’s most genuinely horrifying moment comes shortly after, when Karen’s friends give in to their paranoia and abandon her to her grisly fate.

Friday the 13th Part 2: The Sex-Kebab

Yeah, I know they stole this murder scene (and a handful of others) from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, but let’s face it: Friday the 13th and its sequels are far more ingrained in American pop culture than Bava’s works, so I’m going with this one. It’s still effective, despite the absence of the MPAA-snipped wide shot showing Jason’s spear penetrating Jeff (Bill Randolph) – mostly thanks to the close-up of Sandra’s (Marta Kober) horrified face and the bloody spear-point striking the floor with a heavy, wet thunk. The fact that the murder is preceded by a fairly tender love scene between a loving couple makes it a bit more jarring than its Italian counterpart.

Trouble Every Day: She Could Just Eat You Up

This cult item from French director Claire Denis features a truly horrifying set-piece: eerie, animalistic beauty Coré (Beatrice Dalle) plays a woman suffering from an unexplained medical disorder which compels her to literally devour her lovers; in the film’s most disturbing and graphic scene, she wordlessly convinces a young burglar to break into her boarded-up room, presumably with the promise of sex, then promptly chows down on his tender young flesh, gnawing away with wild-eyed glee… while he’s still very much alive. The entire grisly scene plays out in real time, contrasting the boy’s dying screams with Dalle’s lip-smacking delight.

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