Lawrence O'Toole
January 29, 1993 AT 05:00 AM EST

Sex has always been complicated, but only until recently has it become synonymous with danger. On screen, getting laid is almost a sure way to get laid out. In the five years since Fatal Attraction sired a new genre-the dating-death movie-the metaphors for AIDS have kept a breakneck pace with the disease.

Look what happens to Allie (Bridget Fonda) in Single White Female, released this week on video. Having kicked out her boyfriend, Allie gets a new roommate, Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who begins to look like Allie and take on all outward aspects of her personality before embarking on a psychosexual rampage. The movie is all about being invaded by something foreign, unwholesome, and finally, deadly. In Basic Instinct and Love Crimes, love and lust lead only to death or abuse; the thrill of a romance is all thrill. A sneak preview at future video releases — The Crying Game, Waterland, Damage, Body of Evidence — reveals that the trend in sex is fear and loathing.

The recent spate of dating-death movies has been about as subtle as Michael Douglas’ dimple. There is hot sex and murder by ice pick in Basic Instinct; Sean Young wondering if she’s carrying a torch for a sadist in Love Crimes; Rachel Ward’s witch’s spells in Black Magic; the high of near-asphyxiation during orgasm in Naked Obsession. Crimes, black, and obsession — these are the words selling sex and love on marquees and video shelves.

There’s hardly any reference to, or inference about, lovemaking in Single White Female that isn’t demeaning, ugly, or contaminated. Thelma & Louise, another dating-death epic, associates sex with big, big trouble, and sex eventually proves to be the heroines’ literal downfall. To find gauzy, pastel, skin-on-satin sex, viewers must go directly to direct-to-video ”couples” tapes.

Yet, for an audience living with the threat and reality of death-by-sex, dating-death movies are cathartic — even more so on video. They act out our anxieties in the well-lighted privacy of our own homes, where we feel safer and more in control than in a dark theater. Usually the protagonist will defeat his or her assailant. And that’s the fantasy the dating-death movies provide. They’re escapist entertainment in a world under sexual siege.

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