Just a year before Sharon Stone became synonymous with the erotic thriller as neo-femme fatale Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct (1992), she played 26-year-old virgin Angie Anderson in Scissors (1991). The film, written and directed by best-selling suspense novelist Frank De Felitta, is an exaggerated examination of female repression. Angie suffers from a childhood trauma that has made her terrified of men. It puts her in a perpetual childlike state, marked by her preoccupation with repairing and collecting creepy antique dolls. She sees her psychologist, Dr. Stephan Carter (Ronny Cox), consistently but makes little progress. And when she is assaulted and almost raped in an elevator by a red-bearded maniac, her fear of men escalates. After the incident, she tries to put her trust in her neighbor, the daytime actor Alex Morgan (Steve Railsback). However, their relationship is curtailed by Alex’s leering wheelchair-bound twin brother, Cole (also played by Railsback), as well as Angie’s compounded anxieties about sex.
Stylistically, Scissors is certainly a movie of its time as it blends the conventions of mystery with camp. The early 1990s influences of David Lynch and Tim Burton abound, particularly when Angie finds herself trapped in a mysterious apartment turned funhouse – decorated with warped geometric shapes, punctuated with carnivalesque music. The dreamlike space recalls Cooper’s reveries in Twin Peaks. And Angie’s longing for her cat as she desperately tries to hold onto reality in that space anticipates Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as Selena Kyle in Batman Returns (1992). Like these 1990s directors, De Felitta remixes the canon of horror cinema, alluding to Alfred Hitchcock. Cole, as a scary peeping-Tom, recalls Jefferies of Rear Window (1954). Yet unlike these other directors, who masterfully balance their films’ surrealist take on horror with careful off-color humor, De Felitta is, at times, unintentionally humorous when he means to be serious. Moreover, the film’s violence and nudity are more sensational than necessary.
For a woman who seems to avoid the company of men, Angie is certainly surrounded by them. What remains most unrealistic about the film is the fact that she has no female friends and little interaction with women at all. As a result, every relationship she has in the film is possibly salacious; the audience anticipates that any moment a man might grope her, stalk her, coerce her or assault her. With this exaggeration of ‘predator and prey’ motif, the film takes on qualities of exploitation film and might best be thought of as a variation on the rape-revenge subgenre. Furthermore, Scissors goes through the recognizable rape-revenge three-act structure– first a woman is assaulted, then she is rehabilitated and finally enacts revenge – but not linearly. Angie’s revenge is roundabout and much more psychological than physical. Therefore, her retribution doesn’t quite elicit the satisfying feeling that is a hallmark of the subgenre. Nevertheless, Stone’s hysterics are memorable, especially in light of the broader evolution of her career which also includes a standout role as Ginger McKenna in Casino (1995). And had Scissors enjoyed a wider DVD distribution, it might have been a midnight movie cult classic.