Wild Things arrived in the late 90s, with Neve Campbell hot property off the back of Scream and Party of Five, and Denise Richards taking on only her second feature after the success of Starship Troopers. In essence, they arrived from distinct ends of the spectrum but with real firepower and big screen pull, and Wild Things was an appealing avenue at that moment, which was proven with both the budget director John McNaughton had to play with, and a decent Box Office return.
This Limited Edition Arrow Video release offers up two 4K restorations of both the Original Theatrical version and the Unrated Edition from the original camera negatives by Sony Pictures Entertainment and it looks genuinely sharp. Cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball is a good call on this, his experience with Tony Scott through the likes of Top Gun and True Romance offer up an enjoyable equilibrium of the sun-kissed visuals but with just enough earthy grime lingering inbetween the action and sensual scenes.
For those who don’t know, Wild Things initially focuses us in on Matt Dillon’s Sam Lombardo, a popular High School teacher and student counsellor, at Florida’s Blue Bay. He’s not just revered as a teacher though, because while he’s admired by the boys for his boating skills, he also isn’t a stranger to female attention – which is unsubtly suggested early on with women of different ages flirting. But, when super rich student Kelly Van Ryan (Richards) accuses him of rape, and Campbell’s ‘other side of the tracks’ Suzie Toller also comes forward to say he’d raped her to, Lombardo’s world rightfully changes. However, yup more twists, Kevin Bacon’s Detective Ray Duquette uncovers some information, he steps in to see if everything is as it seems…
First things first, Wild Things is trashy. It also probably isn’t a film that’d get made today, with this type of budget, but the sex it sells itself on was a clear marketing ploy back in the day, and isn’t quite as central or all-encompassing as I’d remembered. Yes, this is an erotic thriller underneath but it’s also a true amalgamation of those day-time crime dramas and B-movie pulp, with fun twists and turns. Wild Things is an easy allegory, on the surface shiny, lively and bright, underneath the surrounding swamps and alligators are a metaphor for the dirty happenings where no-one is trust-worthy, and everyone has their own angle on getting what they want.
My biggest ponder with 1998’s Wild Things was ‘does it date?’ but it’s actually not too bad, and that’s mainly because of how good the visuals are, how dedicated the eclectic cast are, and they’re not strictly typecast as each actor buries themselves deep in the sleazy mire and enjoys the moment. Sure, there’s blatant sexualising but it seems to cover both men and women, with you never quite knowing (or trusting) Matt Dillon’s Lombardo – which fits his style at the time perfectly, and we get enough half nakedness from everyone, including a brief encounter with Bacon’s, er, ‘bacon’ and shots lingering on a wet Denise Richards from time-to-time.
One of the most impressive parts is actually the ensemble cast, alongside Campbell, Richards, Bacon and Dillion are the likes of Robert Wagner, Bill Murray, Theresa Russell, and Jennifer Taylor, as well as Bacon’s cop partner Gloria Perez, played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, who she gives us one of the strongest performances outside of Campbell, as she helps unravel some reality later on – giving her character a real base as an actual detective, rather than just one that works solely on a hunch.
While Stephen Peters’ script drifts into day-time-drama every now and then, it does have a small hint of Patricia Highsmith, and McNaughton’s film is a more than watchable soft-erotic thriller that actually starts and ends with strength, it just lingers in the middle for a bit too long. Musically, it’s layered with a sun-drenched, croc-crawling, Cuban-jazz-fusion score that keeps it fully in the trashy arena. The swimming pool scene remains an intentional stamp on 90s style with Neve Campbell and Denise Richards lining teenage bedroom walls for many years, but the moment in 2022 doesn’t feel as risky and frisky as it once did, as it more or less fits the plot setup, considering where the characters are at that point in the story.
Wild Things isn’t as slick as it thinks, but it’s a bit smarter than you’ll remember, and when you’re throwing in some entertaining twists and turns deep in the murky waters of the Florida Everglades, well, there’s more than enough surprises to appreciate the ride.
There’s an original ‘Making Of’ documentary that’s great to have from 1998, and gives us a little insight to everyone, plus a selection of Bill Murray outtakes to raise a few smirks but I would have welcomed a lot more, if they exist (to be fair). There are new interviews with Denise Richards and McNaughton, and it was good to get their insight today. It’s particularly interesting to hear Richards’ talk about her inexperience at the time and what she did, and didn’t expect but there’s no doubt of her legacy with this film. McNaughton also recalls a few of the time moments, and he does sound quite pleased to this day over the opportunity to make this, and that it’s still picking up fans.
Other extras include new audio commentary by director John McNaughton and producer Steven A. Jones, further commentary by director McNaughton, cinematographer Kimball, producers Jones and Rodney Liber, editor Elena Maganini and score composer George S. Clinton, plus the trailer, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anne Billson and Sean Hogan, a double-sided fold-out poster, six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions AND a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sam Hadley.