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The brutal 1989 hit took a much-loved onscreen pairing, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, and tore them to pieces

Its easy to forget just how consistently, bracingly nasty The War of the Roses is, thanks in great part to the extravagant, and festive, studio packaging it arrived in, unwrapped in cinemas 30 years ago this month. It was fast-paced, glossy, Christmassy and, deceptively, it starred one of the most beloved onscreen couples of the 80s: Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Audiences were accustomed to seeing them bicker in the hit adventures Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile but their sparring was only ever of the screwball variety, a string of lighthearted quips signposting a Billy Ocean-soundtracked happy ending on the horizon.

At the end of the decade, they reunited to show us that happily ever afters are as fantastical as treasure maps and that early romance will more likely give way to seething resentment and sadistic violence. The film was a cruel R-rated footnote to their era of PG-13 flirting and it both shocked and compelled me as a child whose family was in the thick of a divorce at the same time. I didnt see it upon release I was five at the time but as it tore its way to the small screen, it became an early object of obsession. Each rewatch was met with a certain amount of parental displeasure, an understandable concern that I would blur the lines between what happened on screen and what was happening in real life

The War of the Roses unfolds as a cautionary tale, shared by the lawyer Gavin DAmato (Danny DeVito, the reliable third wheel in Douglas and Turners previous two capers and also playing director here) with a client seeking a divorce. Urging him to consider his options, he tells the story of the Roses, a couple whose marital bliss ended in disaster. They met great. They agreed on that, he says, while were taken back to a charming meet-cute as Barbara (Turner) and Oliver (Douglas) compete at an auction in Nantucket. The film leaps forward from the auction to the bedroom to their first apartment to their first house, the couple gliding from one rite of passage to the next, ticking every box that society has taught them to tick. Barbara becomes the perfect housewife, Oliver goes from associate to senior partner at his law firm and they have two cute kids, one boy and one girl.

Everything was working for the Roses, Gavin says. Let me restate that. The Roses were working for everything.

Because in Michael J Leesons exuberantly cynical script, based on the book by Warren Adler, hard work only gets you so far. The Roses were doing everything they thought they needed to do to be happy but it wasnt enough. Those cute kids grow up to be overweight and insolent. That grandiose house ends up feeling empty and alienating. Their relationship goes from fun and frisky to stale and stuffy. The cracks that start to show are initially relatable the annoying way your partner laughs, the rambling way they tell a story, the endless fucking snoring and the escalation is believably restrained. For a while. But the potholes they encounter culminate in more of a sinkhole, those niggling issues no longer fixable with just a brave face.

Barbara asks for a divorce. Oliver says no. Barbara wants the house. So does Oliver. Both stand their ground, refusing to abandon their much-loved home, and the competitive edge that brought them together on that rainy Nantucket day soon becomes the same thing that starts tearing them apart. Its the cruel irony of so many breakups and the film revels in this. As their beautiful house becomes a war zone, the ornament they playfully fought over years ago is brought back to be used as a cruel reminder of what they once had. Its the last straw that forces them into their final physical duel, which leads to their deaths.

Photograph: taken from picture library

In this years wonderful, Oscar-tipped drama Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach similarly shows how divorce can bring out the worst in a couple, especially in one virtuosic show-stopping argument, but he also shows how humanity can still be maintained and, in a gut-wrenching final scene, how tenderness remains. In The War of the Roses, theres no such relief. As the crumpled-up couple lie dying on a broken chandelier, one thats crashed to the ground, Oliver reaches to touch Barbara, music swelling, but she pushes him off, a final, brutal rejection that remains one of the coldest endings I can remember in studio cinema.

Critics at the time were unsure what to make of it, unsure exactly how to enjoy watching a sprightly holiday comedy involving two big stars inflicting verbal and physical abuse on each other. In a mostly positive review, Roger Ebert nonetheless remarked: There are times when its ferocity threatens to break through the boundaries of comedy to become so unremitting we find we cannot laugh, while Janet Maslin praised its outstanding nastiness but worried that the ending took things too far.

It was rare in 1989 and arguably rarer now to see a film of this scale have the courage of its convictions, maintaining its dour worldview right up until the bitter and bloody end. Dark studio comedies tend to end with light in fear of scaring off the wider crowd needed to justify a hefty budget, but global audiences embraced The War of the Roses in all its filthy glory. It was a box office smash, making $160m worldwide (with inflation, that number doubles). And whats most revealing about its success is that it outgrossed both Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile, a happy ending for a film so keen to avoid one.

But for all its critical and commercial wins at the time, it has not had the afterlife one might expect. In the years since, its cultural impact has been surprisingly slight and despite talk of adapting Adlers rather mediocre follow-up novel, The Children of the Roses, its the rare 80s hit not to receive a sequel, remake or reboot a blessing, Id argue. Its DNA can be felt, though, mostly in Gillian Flynns cynical marital thriller Gone Girl and its faithful big-screen adaptation, with the author herself naming Adlers source novel as one of her favourites. Whats fascinating, on my umpteenth rewatch this year, is just how cruel it still is, 30 years on, at a time when its much harder to shock. Its less the behaviour of the couple and more how it found its way into a film of this scale and gloss, uncensored, played for laughs.

As a child, I think I found something cathartic in its garish excess. It gave me the chance to laugh at a situation that was humourless in real life. As an adult, Im far removed from that experience, of witnessing my parents divorce, but closer to my own romantic history and theres something similarly fulfilling about witnessing the fall of the Roses. They act in ways that I would never but their relentless spite, right up until the finale, is oddly satisfying, a dogged commitment to not forgiving, forgetting or pretending that wounds have healed.

Its an untamed assault, a frantic, shameless race to, as Oliver puts it, the deepest layer of prehistoric frog shit at the bottom of a New Jersey scum swamp and, ultimately, a horribly convincing argument against matrimony. I remain unmarried.

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The genre made famous by Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct has been repackaged and resold to a black audience, but as latest entry When the Bough Breaks hits theaters, has the rebrand made it any less misogynistic?

What was once a ubiquitous, highly profitable genre for the movie industry the tawdry erotic thriller has faded from the mainstream consciousness in the past 20 years and is almost solely the purview of the so-called urban market. Hollywood simply doesnt make many of these mid-budget potboilers, where an exposed nipple qualifies as a major plot point and women are treated like insatiable nymphomaniacs that gullible men simply cant resist unless they star black people. The erotic thriller that was once all about white suburban angst now taps into the upper middle class black nightmare of infidelity side-chick-splotation, thot (that hoe over there) horror or black erotic thriller (BET), whatever you want to call it.

Invariably, a happy black couple in a posh neighborhood with generic white-collar jobs typically reserved for white sitcom characters (architect, publicist, financial analyst) drink wine from the Olivia Pope collection, but their world is turned upside-down when a disturbed individual attempts to break up their marriage. When said lunatic is rebuffed, they turn violent. Unlike Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct, the woman tends to be the main protagonist and the man is shunted to the side or killed for his trouble. I love these movies in spite of themselves. Theyre totally unaware theyre bad, are practically identical and make excellent use of my favorite actor, Morris Chestnut. So, in honor of the release of When the Bough Breaks (a dull retread of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), Ive revisited the major works of the genre and after this thorough examination, I am confident I will never cheat on my wife and if I do, I know I will probably be cracked in the skull with a shovel by Taraji P Henson.

Obsessed (2009)

The one that started it all. Produced by black movie mogul Will Packer and written by David Loughery, who also wrote Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Obsessed sets the template for the genre with a story about a successful black couple (Beyonc and Idris Elba) who are terrorized by insane white lady Ali Larter, who wants nothing more than to have sex with Idris Elba, which is pretty relatable for most viewers, Id imagine. Shes a temp at the office where Elbas character works and falls in love with him instantly. That love leads her to drugging and raping him, because its that kind of movie and you just have to go with it. The end of the film features Beyonc kicking the crap out of Ali Larter, which is a perfect starter course before listening to Lemonade.

One of the major tenets of the genre that Obsessed establishes is that the husband or boyfriend character is usually a total doofus. Either he allows himself to be seduced or has neglected his lover so much that she has to step outside the boundaries of their relationship to be sexually satisfied.

No Good Deed (2014)

Idris Elbas back, making him the current king of the thot horror film. This time hes the maniac, terrorizing Taraji P Henson. Hes a convicted felon with a crashed car. Shes a bored housewife titillated by the idea of a strange man in her home. When she foolishly lets him come in from the rain to call a tow truck, he takes her hostage for reasons she wont understand until the third act twist: Hensons husband has been cheating with Elbas former fiancee and when he comes to Hensons house, its for revenge. The moral of the story here is that if you are an upwardly mobile black couple, you either want to cheat on your spouse or you already have. Regardless, you are going to have to pay for your crime, possibly through a gruesome death at the hands of a very attractive person.

Addicted (2014)

Based on the romance novel by Zane (not Billy Zane or Zane Lowe or Zayn Malik just Zane), Addicted is another slight variation on the typical tropes of the genre. This time, the sexually obsessed maniac is the protagonist. Sharon Leal plays Zoe, a successful business owner with a husband and two children. Shes got the perfect life … or does she? You see, she loves sex. In fact, she loves it so much that after two acrobatic romps with her also very successful husband (Boris Kodjoe) in the first scene of the film, she wants to go again, but, as you might expect, hed prefer to go to sleep. Her insatiable desire leads her to a series of affairs which turn messy when the two secret lovers become aware of each other.

While the appeal of this genre is usually based in titillation and sexual wish fulfillment, Addicted subverts that, while also reveling in it. Zoe is a sex addict because she was molested as a child, so as much fun as the viewer might have watching attractive people engaging in softcore sex scenes, Addicted becomes a message movie about a very real problem in the third act. An exploitation film that pivots to actual pain at the end is like eating ice cream and finding the percentage of the global homeless population written on the bottom of the bowl.

The Perfect Guy (2015)

Surprisingly, this is the first appearance of African American cinemas hardest working actor, the legendary Morris Chestnut. If theres a movie about black folks, chances are strong that Morris Chestnut will show up: The Best Man, The Inkwell, Boyz in the Hood, Think Like a Man, Not Easily Broken, Like Mike. Hes truly black Americas Josh Duhamel or James Marsden. Sure, hes not on the level of Idris Elba or Denzel Washington (who would never submit to starring in one of these movies, by the way) but name me one film that isnt better from going Full Chestnut? Thats right, you cant. How is it that there are numerous black superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and yet none of them are played by Morris Chestnut? Why is Morris Chestnut not in the Fast and Furious series? Can I get #JusticeForMorrisChestnut trending on Twitter?

Anyway, in The Perfect Guy, Chestnut is the ineffectual boyfriend of Sanaa Lathan. He doesnt want to commit, so she dumps him and shacks up with an edgy guy she meets at work, played by Michael Ealy. He ends up being an insane stalker, she tries to dump him and go back to her ex, but the dudes a stalker and doesnt take the hint. Ealys character kills Chestnut, and none of this would have happened if hed just agreed to start a family, a lesson he learns in our next film.

When the Bough Breaks (2016)

Lets all pretend for a moment that When the Bough Breaks stars Morris Chestnuts character from The Perfect Guy, reincarnated as pretty such the same dude, but with a chance to do it right this time. The new, improved Morris Chestnut has finally grown up, because now he wants a baby with his wife, Regina Hall. But they physically cant have a kid, so they have to get a surrogate. Wouldnt you know it, but the surrogate is a sex-crazed monster played by Jaz Sinclair from the movie Paper Towns. When the Bough Breaks cements the thot horror genre as about on the level with the Lifetime Original Movie, but instead of taking place in an east coast suburb full of white people, it features rich black people in the city.

So what does the future hold for the thot horror genre hold? The cast of Empire needs something to do between seasons. I dont mean Taraji P Henson or Terrence Howard. I mean the kid who plays Hakeem. Why isnt he in one of these? Hed be great at terrorizing a couple yuppies and threatening to steal their baby. Where is Shonda Rhimes in all of this? She should be cranking out evil side pieces once or twice a year. Its time that African Americans get their very own Basic Instinct a completely unhinged erotic thriller that breaks through into the mainstream. The Oscars might still be so white, but HBO at 3am should be full of Morris Chestnut rebuking the advances of his nanny until the end of time.

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