Theresa Russell in Black Widow (1987)

Russell's Widow Maker

Back in the late 80s when I first watched "Black Widow" it seemed so good, an erotic thriller with a sexy woman seducing and killing men. Heck I was a teenager and to be honest the eroticism, Theresa Russell getting naked and a pool sex scene was a big attraction. But 5 years later came "Basic Instinct" which not only ramped up the eroticism but also delivered a superior storyline. And that means "Black Widow" now seems like a tame forerunner, which when watched for the storyline is not only conventional but contrived with twists which end up very obvious.

Federal investigator Alexandra 'Alex' Barnes (Debra Winger - Terms of Endearment) becomes suspicious by the similarities in the deaths of two wealthy men, but everyone thinks she is reading too much into it despite being convinced they are connected. She is not wrong because both men died at the hands of Catharine Petersen (Theresa Russell - Earth vs. the Spider), an attractive woman who seduces and marries wealthy men and once they change their wills to name her as sole beneficiary she kills them with poison. Given the chance to investigate her findings further Alex ends up in Hawaii and getting very close to Catharine who is aware that someone is investigating her.

Debra Winger in Black Widow (1987)

So as already mentioned "Black Widow" when watched now feels like a forerunner to "Basic Instinct" which delivered an erotic thriller but kept things relatively safe and conventional rather than risking notoriety. And as such it has to be said that the storyline whilst entertaining is also surprisingly ordinary as we watch Alex magically work out who the Black Widow's next victim is going to be and then starts following her. You can presume that by the end of the movie that the good guys win, the bad guy loses and no matter what it might try and dupe you with it will never be any different. Basically behind all the eroticism "Black Widow" is a traditional Hollywood thriller, an updated film noir with a femme fatale and rather than a rain coat wearing detective after her we have a woman.

But as I said when I first watched "Black Widow" as a teenager the attraction was that it was an erotic thriller with nudity, sex scenes and a suggestive eroticism between Alex and Catharine. Watching it now it is in truth all quite tame with other movies doing a far better job of making things steamy, even the pool sex scene ends up a bit of a damp squib. But what is annoying is that because "Black Widow" is conventional it backs off from taking risks which it could have done when it comes to the friendship which forms between Alex and Catharine in Hawaii. Not only could it have ramped up the eroticism rather than just suggesting it but it could have lead to a much better, non conventional ending.

Despite having its failings "Black Widow" does have enjoyable performances with Debra Winger and Theresa Russell both making their characters entertaining. In fact I would say that Winger and Russell save the movie because their characters do some very out of character things but because Winger and Russell commit you allow these moments of out of character stupidity wash over you.

What this all boils down to is that "Black Widow" once seemed a really erotic thriller where as now it seems quite weak and tame. It is conventional and convoluted as well as weaker than the erotic thrillers which were to follow but thanks to Debra Winger and Theresa Russell is still watchable.