A highly personal and idiosyncratic list.
1. Nearly all of the original Planet of the Apes. This is a classic “world upside down” scenario, animalistic humans hunted and abused by sentient apes. Charlton Heston is mortally offended by this not terribly subtle allegory of race politics, but who needs subtext when he and his beautiful, scantily-clad and mute companion Nova spend most of the movie being chased, bound, cages and otherwise mistreated.
2. Star Trek’s idea of sexy is usually along the lines of green-skinned women bellydancing, which is classic Orientalist kitsch for a science fiction idiom. One notable exception came in Star Trek – First Contact. The Borg Queen, resplendent in skin-tight latex and body piercings, had captured Mr. Data, the android who yearns to be human. Instead of torturing him, she removes his artificial skin piece by piece and grafts on patches of living skin removed from humans. When she blows on it gently, it gives him his first true experience of physical pleasure. When he tries to escape, a tiny slash on his new living skin gives him his first true experience of physical pain.
3. Amanda Donohoe’s performance in Ken Russel’s The Lair of the White Worm, based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s a recurrent trait of Gothic fiction that the antagonists are so much more dynamic and appealing than the protagonists, and it’s hard not to root for Donohoe’s sexy performance as a snake-worshipping priestess, cruising around the English countryside, seducing and murdering boy scouts and police officers before putting on the body jewelry, strap-on dildo and blue body paint to deflower/sacrifice the virginal blonde love interest. Add in raped nuns, catfighting airline stewardesses and a very original use for bagpipes.
4. The work of Canadian film director (and personal fave) David Cronenberg is full of skewed forms of sexuality. I could cite scenes from Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Rabid, Shivers or other films, but the finest example is Crash. An ennui-ridden couple drifts into a subculture of car crash fetishists, people who have had their bodies transformed by technology and invent new forms of sexuality to go with it. I would not be at all surprised to know that something like this exists out there somewhere, if not something even more alien to conventional ideas of sexuality.
5. Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels. Liu has the thankless (and underpaid) role of Hollywood’s top Asian star, so she gets cast in the Dragon Lady roles, which at least has a bit more flavor than the Madame Butterfly archetype. While her co-stars Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore dress up like corporate drag kings, Liu draws attention to herself as a leather-clad, riding-crop wielding corporate efficiency expert that has an auditorium full of programmers eating out of hand. Her turn as Chinese gangster/dominatrix Pearl in Payback is also worth checking out.
6. An oldie but a goodie. Captain Blood came after Hollywood’s pre-Hays Code era of sophistication and sexuality, but even in the mid-30s there were edgy scenes that squeezed past the censors. Somebody figured out there was box office gold in filming Errol Flynn with his shirt off, and in this classic swashbuckler, he gets auctioned off as a half-naked slave to Olivia de Havilland.
7. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If The Ten Commandments contains the only orgy you’ll ever see in a G-rated movie, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is the only homoerotic snuff film to get a major theatrical release. Gibson’s cinematic career is full of torture scenes, manfully suffering through the ordeal only to set the world right through bloody retribution.
8. Lucy Lawless as Madame Vandersexxx in Eurotrip. If you remember Lawless from her six seasons as Xena: Warrior Princess, the world’s favorite homeless bisexual reformed mass murderer, then you’ll love her all-too brief scene as a pro dominatrix. Her polymorphously perverse sexuality, impish humor, fearlessness and commanding presence shine through. It’s also a good object lesson in how not to pick a safeword.
9. Maggie Cheung first caught my eye when she played the “Thief Catcher,” a shot-gun toting, motorcycle-riding bounty hunter in The Heroic Trio, alongside Michelle Yeoh and Anita Mui. In the French film Irma Vep, she plays herself, a Chinese actress recruited to play the lead in a remake of the French silent-era serial Les Vampires. Her part requires her to wear a black rubber catsuit, and the film shows a lot of the problems with wearing such garments, such as their fragility and the fact they need polishing to get that photogenic sheen. There’s a strangely beautiful sequence in which Cheung, wearing the latex (which squeaks loudly every time she moves), sneaks around a hotel late at night, creeping into people’s rooms and stealing their jewelry, only to throw her gains away. It’s been suggested that kleptomania is a distinctly female kind of fetishism. If that is true, this sequence is the first kleptomaniac fetish film.
Bonus: When I was very young, perhaps nine or ten, I watched a very cheap, very dull adventure show called “Mystery Island.” I recently discovered it was part of a kids show called “The Skatebirds”. The “Mystery Island” segment featured a trio of scientists and a redressed version of the robot from “Lost in Space”, on the run from a mad scientist, his henchmen and his cave full of WWII surplus equipment.
The scene I most remember featured a group of aliens who had, for no reason I can recall, captured the woman of the group and were transforming her into one of them. This show had cheap special effects, even for 1977, so this consisted of her standing still in a beam of blue light. Every so often, the camera would cut back to her and a little more makeup would have been applied.
I don’t know why, but I found this utterly riveting, as as arousing as a pre-adolescent male could find anything arousing. I think this was the first conscious awareness of my masochism, the thought of being held helplessly and Having Things Done to Me.