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Before he came to Hollywood, Paul Verhoeven made the bonkers psychosexual thriller The Fourth Man

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Instead of pegging our picks to a new release, we’re running through the best movies of 1983.

The Fourth Man (1983)

A gleefully deranged and deviant fantasia of religious and carnal imagery, The Fourth Man centers on the psychosexual crisis plaguing a writer played by Jeroen Krabbé. Director Paul Verhoeven introduces Krabbé naked and fantasizing about murdering his gay lover—after opening the film with a spider cocooning flies caught in its web, which segues into visions of Christ on the cross. That mixture of perverse violence, predatory danger, and Catholic guilt defines Krabbé’s saga once he journeys to southern Holland, where he falls in with icy, androgynous blond Renée Soutendijk. Covering her breasts in bed to make her look more like a boy, Krabbé actually pines for Soutendijk’s hunky boy toy Thom Hoffman, whose sexual shortcomings Krabbé promises to fix—by attempting to seduce him in the mausoleum housing Soutendijk’s three deceased husbands.

Verhoeven and cinematographer Jan de Bont drench the twisted narrative in all manner of symbolic motifs, crafting a dreamlike atmosphere of paranoia, fear, and lust—themes the duo would revisit almost a decade later in Basic Instinct. Panicked that Soutendijk is a black widow who intends to make him her fourth victim, Krabbé navigates a landscape where there are no boundaries between reality and nightmare: Allusions to Samson and Delilah mix freely with Krabbé’s hallucinations about eyeballs popping out of their oozing sockets, a red Speedo-clad Hoffman on the cross, and Soutendijk castrating him in bed with the same scissors she uses at her salon. Krabbé’s deliriously over-the-top performance and Verhoeven’s in-your-face approach make it all a jet-black comedy. 

Availability: The Fourth Man is only available on a one-disc Anchor Bay DVD, which can be ordered through Amazon.