Wild Things (1998) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white 

I suppose director John McNaughton did warn me early in the film that this was going to be garbage. A sailing teacher and his best student drag a boat onto the dock with all sheets still flying (funny how there is wind on the water but not on the dock) and the teacher tells the student to lower the mainsail. The student immediately lowers the jib. I didn't take the hint, and watched it anyway. Guidance counselor Matt Dillon is accused by two students, Denise Richards and Neve Campbell, of rape.

Before the accusation, we see Richards try to seduce Dillon at his home after washing his car. We see her leave quickly, obviously a scorned woman. She is playing strictly for the audience here, as nobody remotely involved in the subsequent investigation is anywhere around. He turns out to be innocent -- no, wait a minute, he has been doing her, but they are in cahoots, no, wait a minute, there is a double-cross, then another, then another ad nauseam. The director proved early on that we could not trust a single thing he showed us. As a matter of fact, there were so many plot holes that they had to fill them in during the closing credits with additional footage.

Give me a break. We see him push a drunken Campbell down into a decaying boat, then bludgeon something in the boat that screams just like Campbell with a champagne bottle. After several blows, a red liquid spurts out of the boat. We then see Richards and Bacon wrap a bloody, bruised Campbell, skin fishbelly white, in a plastic tarp, and carry her off to the swamp to be buried. So he killed her, right? Of course not. She has never been better.

There were some plusses. The locations and art direction were lush, and the cinematography was excellent. Richards, and Theresa Russell as her mother, both showed breasts, but Campbell, who was supposed to be sort of a bi Goth trailer trash chick, wore more clothes than Mother Superior at Sunday Mass.

I rated it a grudging C-, mostly on the strength of the art direction, and the DP work.


Denise Richards and Theresa Russell showed their breasts. Richards did so with her face showing in a threesome with Campbell and Dillon. (There is additional nudity in the unrated version. See details below.)

Kevin Bacon showed the Full Monty in a shower scene.

Scoopy's comments in yellow


Tuna and I disagree so rarely that you guys probably get bored with us echoing each other. Normally, even when we disagree, we are not so very far apart. On Quills, for example, our disagreement was between "great movie, should have been nominated for an Oscar" (Tuna) and "really good movie with a great cast and one of my favorite directors, but with some weaknesses that kept me from considering it a masterpiece, even though I thought Rush was fantastic" (Scoopy) Not that much of a difference.

I can only think of two movies where we disagree strongly. Interestingly, it is precisely the same disagreement in both cases, but in reverse. In both cases, it is an exploitation film where one of us thinks it is so pleasurable that it goes way beyond its genre to become a legitimate mainstream film, while the other couldn't find much to like at all. The two pictures are Turkish Delight and Wild Things. 

Tuna loves Turkish Delight in all of its many facets, and I found the satire sophomoric, the characters unbelievable, and just hated the jumping around in flower beds, praising only the daring of the sex scenes. I love the sex scenes in that film, and thus rate it high on the exploitation scale, but I wouldn't last five minutes watching Turkish Delight if it had no explicit nudity. 

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1, plus a full screen version

  • full-length director commentary

  • deleted scenes (funny scenes with Bill Murray, not essential to the plot)

DVD info from Amazon for the "unrated" version

  • no features, just a widescreen anamorphic version of the film

I love Wild Things.

I would rather watch it than any other exploitation film, and I would watch it again and again even with the nude scenes cut out completely! Taking it out of the exploitation genre and comparing it to other entertainment pictures, I would rather watch it than other examples of pulp cinema vulgarity like Basic Instinct. In addition to Denise's raw sexuality, I love the sleazy music, the twisted plot, the photography, and Bill Murray. In fact, to commit some heresy, if I had to choose between them, I'd watch this instead of The Big Sleep. In fact, I'm going to watch it again when I finish writing this. Obviously, if you cut the nudity out of Wild Things, Tuna wouldn't watch it at all. That's the same way I feel about Turkish Delight.

I don't know if I can explain why these differences occur even to guys with such similar tastes. They just do. People are different. C'est la vie. 

Notes for the anal-retentive:

If you really paid attention to the plot of Wild Things (as I now have, since I have watched the freakin' thing ten times), you will notice that there are quite a few sloppy errors in this film. (1) There is a day-night continuity error when the two cops visit Susie (Neve Campbell) in her trailer. They walk into the trailer in daylight, she asks if they can talk outside instead, so they step out - into darkness! (2) If the writer was trying to hide the fact that the swamp trash girl (Neve again) had a genius IQ, why did he show her reading Celine? One of the cops even noticed, but never said another thing about it. Wouldn't this seem to be an extraordinary betrayal of her presumed character? It's as if Spicoli were carrying around "The Portable James Joyce", despite having other toilet paper available. Perhaps that was supposed to be the one clue to the alert audience member that Susie was the real mastermind (ala the dog in Body Double), or perhaps it was just an idea the writer meant to develop in some way, but couldn't. Either way, it seemed like something the cops should have found more significant. (3) Tuna pointed out the nautical terminology problems. I don't know a halyard from a poop deck, so I'll have to take his word on that one. (4) It really doesn't add up that the Bill Murray character was in on the scam with Susie. The teacher (Matt Dillon) chose that lawyer without consulting Susie. I guess you could assume that was worked out off-camera, except that if Murray was an integral part of the scheme, he would have been trying to impress his potential client, instead of acting like an eccentric schmuck. The way the story is revealed, Dillon could easily have had the first meeting with the lawyer, and said, "I'm going to look for another lawyer, dude, you're too weird", in which case the whole plot would have unraveled. Without the co-operation of the lawyer, Susie has no way to end up with the money.

There were also two mistakes in the boat/kill scene, in which the teacher sends Denise back to the car to get a blanket, so he can "kill" Neve. This scene was, in fact, the key flaw of the film.

1. How did the non-dead Neve convince Denise Richards - who was carrying her - that she was really dead? That would have been an impossible feat. Surely for the plot to work, Dillon would have had to insist on carrying the body himself, in which case he could have hid the breathing from Denise.

2. If Neve was wrapped in some plastic wrapping, how the hell did she breathe? If she wasn't dead before that, she probably would have died in that process! And if she did breathe into a plastic wrap - wouldn't that be visible to Denise? Try breathing onto a plastic tarp, and you'll see what I mean. Clearly the only logical assumption for us to make was that the body really was dead, leaving no room for another interpretation. This scene was flawed.

Oh, hell, there are probably 50 more like that, because the plot was so complicated, with various combinations of characters in cahoots in some ways, but hiding details from one another. I suppose you can find a bunch of things that "x" could not have known at the time. These elements are not integral to one's enjoyment of the film. It flows fine in the moment, and I still enjoy re-watching it, even though I have seen it so many times and know all the plot twists.

Additional notes from Scoop on the unrated version:

So I get the DVD with the unrated copy of Wild Things. I watch it for an hour, and I'm pissed off, because the only reason it seems to be unrated is that they took the deleted scenes from the earlier DVD and put them back in. Since the MPAA has never rated that cut, they could legally call it "unrated".

I was steaming mad.

Then I watched another minute or two and felt a helluva lot better.

There is some additional unseen footage, and it is a real treasure. Remember the two girls kissing in the pool? Well they are topless, and Denise Richards's boobs are on camera in the unrated version!! Ol' "Never" Campbell never did show anything, but Denise more than made up for it.

Then there were a few extra plot twists which hadn't appeared before. Some minor stuff about how the Neve Campbell character was actually the aunt of the Denise Richards character, and half sister of the Theresa Russell character, and she therefore felt herself entitled to the money of the man who was her father and had abandoned her. (Neve's father was Denise's grandfather, if you're scoring at home). Nothing much interesting.

Then came the final credits. If you have seen the movie, you know that this is where the director and writer turn over all the hole cards and show you all the missing elements of the plot. It was a very cool little idea to begin with, and it is much cooler in the unrated version, because we get to see Matt Dillon and Denise Richards having some steamy sex to fake the "rape" that would become the focal point of the plot. It had to seem to a medical examiner that she might actually have been raped, or the D.A. would not have taken the case to trial, but Matt couldn't climax because that certainly in the physical evidence would have resulted in a conviction, so Dillon simply gave her a good pounding. This scene also resulted in a bit more nudity from Denise. Awesome!

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Maltin 3/4, Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 1.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their dollars ... grossed $29 million in the USA on a $20 million budget. That was disappointing, since they rolled it out to 2200 screens.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Tuna rates the film a C-. I disagree. I think it is a strong B-. I think it is possibly the best exploitation movie ever made, and I even prefer it to better known pure entertainment films. The reason I say B- rather than C+ is because it got recommendations from mainstream reviewers like Janet Maslin, Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin, Owen Glieberman, and many more.

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