Features and Columns · Movies

How Misreading ‘Lolita’ Results in the 1990s Erotic Thriller Nymphet

Put on your hazmat suits everybody, this is some toxic stuff.
The Crush 1990s nymphet erotic thrillers
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on December 6th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the origins of the iconography of the nymphet in 1990s erotic thrillers.

As a genre, 1990s erotic thrillers have the moral backbone of a chocolate eclair. Which is, of course, half the fun. Skeezy, sweat-coated flicks like Body of Evidence, Sliver, and Disclosure exist to push buttons and play fast and loose with Hollywood’s (generally) puritanical attitude towards on-screen sexuality — for better or (more often than not) for worse. Enter: the 1990s erotic thriller nymphet.

“Nymphet” is one of those words whose dictionary definition immediately elicits a gag. She is, and don’t say I didn’t warn you, “a sexually precocious girl barely in her teens.” Yeesh.

One of the earliest ’90s erotic thrillers to throw an underage girl into the mix was 1992’s Poison Ivy, which sees a sexually forward teen played by Drew Barrymore inappropriately ingratiate herself into the lives of a wealthy family. This archetype of the sinisterly “seductive” high school girl out to ruin men’s lives resurfaced periodically over the course of the genre’s lifetime, including 1993’s The Crush, 1998’s Wicked, and 1998’s Wild Things.

At this point you may (very understandably) be asking yourself, “Holy shit, why was that a thing?” Part of the answer has to do with the debt 1990s erotic thrillers owe to film noir. Including this new, perverted, version of a femme fatale.

The 1990s erotic thriller nymphet also has a strong genetic connection to popular misreadings of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita (which, non-coincidentally, was adapted a second time in the ’90s). Nabokov’s text tells of a middle-aged novelist named Humbert Humbert who becomes obsessed with his landlady’s titular preteen daughter.

And as the video essay below suggests, the popular misinterpretation of Lolita as a knowing, culpable seductress has had lasting effects on popular culture.

Watch “The Nymphet Femme Fatale (As Popularized by Misreadings of Lolita)”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the origins of the nymphet trope in 1990s erotic thrillers is by Yhara Zayd. They provide insightful deep dives on young adult content from Skins to My Best Friend’s Wedding. You can check out more of their content and subscribe to their channel on YouTube here. If you like their stuff and you want to support them, you can check out their Patreon here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.