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Fatal Attraction Remains the Ultimate Cautionary Terror Tale

Love the one you’re with… or expect boiled rabbit for dinner.

By Benjamin Bullard
Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) wears a white suit and holds a cigarette in Fatal Attraction (1987).

With Valentine’s Day barely in our rearview mirror, Cupid’s quiver is still stocked with arrows and love is in the air — so what could be more amorous than watching a blood-soaked Michael Douglas come to rue the night he ever fell for a casual acquaintance from work?

Fatal Attraction (streaming here on Peacock!) is just such an adult kind of love-tainted horror movie, and not for any NC-17 content or ponderous, too-sophisticated philosophical meanderings about romantic loyalty. It’s written well, it’s paced effectively, its camera goes to all sorts of interesting places, and — most importantly of all — it’s as creepy and unsettling as a Valentine sent from hell.

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How Glenn Close walks the knife's edge between love and terror in Fatal Attraction

Deftly helmed by Jacob’s Ladder director Adrian Lyne — no stranger to mixing the seductive and the sinister as the director of films like 9 1/2 Weeks, Indecent Proposal, Jeremy Irons’ 1997 version of Lolita, and Unfaithful Fatal Attraction draws most of its terrifying power from its thoughtful and thoroughly mature screenplay (from A Kiss Before Dying director and scribe James Dearden), its patient approach to deploying big-moment scares, and tour de force performances from its three main stars: Michael Douglas, Anne Archer, and (especially) Glenn Close.

Close’s engrossing portrayal of Alex Forrest, a suave single urbanite who by degrees descends ever deeper into full-on jilted-lover’s madness, has become the stuff of horror-movie legend in the decades since Fatal Attraction first traumatized audiences in 1987. “Bunny boiler” (pro tip: don’t ever actually call anyone this!) has become derogatory shorthand to describe a lover who lashes out in vengeance, while pop culture continues to shout out some of the film’s most iconic moments in everything from Carl Reiner’s Fatal Instinct sendup comedy to innuendo-laced hilarity on Saturday Night Live.

Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) wears a suit in Fatal Attraction (1987).

But beyond Close’s nuanced performance, which ranges all the way from discreet romantic playfulness to rabbit-slaying levels of unhinged, what makes Fatal Attraction such a cautionary shocker of a slash-and-burn love story is its fearless candor in forcing its characters to face up to the treacherous game they’re playing. This isn’t a movie where violence just happens for the sake of scaring you senseless; nope, there’s a real and relatable undercurrent of plausibility to Fatal Attraction’s brand of steamy, slow-boil terror (bunny-boiling pun intended).

As New York lawyer Daniel Gallagher, Douglas makes a big mistake by cheating with Alex on his wife, and, to extend the transgression, his broader life of success with an enviably happy family. As a guy who clearly loves his family but let his disloyal libido get out of hand, Daniel can’t wriggle his way out of some serious face-to-face talks, both with Alex and with wife Beth (Archer) about the broader consequences of his infidelity.

Ellen Gallagher (Ellen Hamilton Latzen) and Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) ride a roller coaster together in Fatal Attraction (1987).

Before her mental break is fully complete, Alex especially asks him some pretty pointed questions about what he thought he’d be getting out of their short-lived affair, starkly realistic barbs that cut straight to the heart of the weaker parts of human nature that Daniel — an up-and-coming yuppie who seems to have it all — would rather suppress until he’s safely swept Alex completely out of the picture.

It’s that twofold dose of discomfort — Daniel’s guilty conscience combined with Alex’s assertive, take-it-by-force methods for holding him accountable — that really sells the movie’s bloody horror shocks, once they begin to stack up. By the time Alex gives Daniel's car a faceful of acid, abducts his daughter, and, famously, bunny-naps her cuddly rabbit to make a memorably grisly statement about the fragility of domestic peace, audiences have walked with Alex every step of the way down into the bowels of all-out lunacy. Sure, we might not exactly vibe with her killer tactics for self-expression… but thanks to the movie’s able way of framing things from her perspective, hey — we at least know how she ended up there.

Fatal Attraction is now streaming on Peacock here.

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