Before ‘Basic Instinct,’ Paul Verhoeven Explored Sexuality and the Femme Fatale in ‘The Fourth Man’ [Horrors Elsewhere]

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Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not always be universal, but one thing is for sure a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

While his most lambasted films are celebrated in retrospect, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven endured ridicule for a large chunk of his time in Hollywood. RoboCop and Total Recall emerged unscathed and have since become icons in the American pop culture stratosphere, yet his remaining English-language movies — Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Starship Troopers, and Hollow Man — all enjoyed their fair share of controversy or raillery. However, Paul Verhoeven was never a stranger to bad reviews; he left the Netherlands in 1985 because he could no longer get funding after his 1980 film Spetters was met with public outcry. Had it not been for the overwhelmingly negative response, though, Verhoeven might not have gone on to make one of the best movies of his career.

The auteur, who feels he was only appreciated by the Netherlands when it was beneficial to their image, turned reprimand into inspiration when making 1983’s The Fourth Man. Verhoeven and screenwriter Gerard Soeteman found their next project in Gerard Reve’s novella De vierde man, a story originally commissioned for Boekenweek but later rejected due to its subject matter. What was deemed too inappropriate for others was perfectly suitable for a director fascinated with religion, sex, and violence.

The Fourth Man begins with disturbed author Gerard Revé (Jeroen Krabbé) leaving Amsterdam to give a lecture to a literary society in Flushing. There he becomes entangled with the treasurer Christine Halsslag (Renée Soutendijk), a wealthy widow and cosmetologist. Their one-night stand eventually turns into a longer affair after Gerard is aroused by Christine’s other paramour, Herman (Thom Hoffman).