House Of Psychotic Women….
I think I’ve been going a little too easy on you of late gentle reader, we’ve been dealing with material that’s far too tame, family friendly and respectable throughout the accursed PG-13 blockbuster season. I think it just might be time to drag this blog down kicking and screaming into the gutter once again, a fiendish stumble through the atrocity strewn avenues and blood-choked cellars of exploitation and horror cinema, a gruelling ordeal which has been partially inspired by a change of editorship over at Sound On Sight. After I got chatting to the new incumbent she strongly recommended that I read this completely fantastic book of film criticism and appreciation House Of Psychotic Women, it’s based on the alternate title of cult classic House Of Doom AKA Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll by author, film programmer and cinema junky Kier La-Janisse whom projects us trough a twin track of her own psychologically scarred upbringing, her violent and delinquent adolescence and early adulthood, and how her life has been saved and refracted back through the solace and comfort of the movies. As you may guess it’s a very personal tale with fairly grim details of her adoption and subsequent psychological issues with abandonment, her adoptive mothers alcoholism, her flailing mental conditions and procession of violent boyfriends. Exposure to these factors during her upbringing has possibly instructing La-Janisse’s own neurotic wounds and fired her flirtation with narcotics and early dabblings with a criminal lifestyle, a memoir cum film exultation which unfolds to the backdrop of a wintry Wisconsin Canada of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It’s fucking amazing and one of the best film texts I’ve devoured in years.
Paying lip service to the obvious and overtly studied – Hitchcock movies (Marnie & Rebecca) and Polanski pictures (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby) – the study also roams through texts as diverse as Black Narcissus and Carrie, from Black Swan to The Piano Teacher, before becoming enmeshed in thick cult movie thickets with early barely released giallo like All The Colours of The Dark and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, with nightmare oddities like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death and Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, before plunging into the really challenging material such as Martyrs and Manhôru no naka no ningyo send witnesses shrieking to a nunnery in coven devoted sacrifice. Anyone who cites Possession as one of the greatest films ever made and can write so appealingly and defensively of the notoriously twisted Kim-Ki-Duk (seriously, this guy is out there with Gasper Noe at the outermost pinnacles of screen taboo and controversy with his movies) is quite frankly marriage material in my book, and I find the whole concept and institution of marriage laughably medieval. It’s also brilliantly insightful to get a woman’s perspective on such alleged misogynistic tropes as the rape/revenge movie, slasher movies, or in more general terms female representation and agency in the cinema, as anyone has conducted any cursory reading around film feminist theory or psychoanalytical film studies will have whole new avenues of reaction and interpretation opening to them like Sharon Stone’s legs in Basic Instinct. Kier more or less makes the case that presenting these horrific elements of human behaviour shine a light on society ills and provide a valid solace of relief for individuals (I don’t want to use the word ‘survivor’ or sufferer’ as it sounds demeaning and patronising) such as herself, before demolishing that age-old movie adage – presenting something terrible, something uncomfortable or distressing in a movie is not the fucking same as endorsing or celebrating such behaviour. It’s cinema as catharsis, a celluloid psychologist couch.
The writing is intellectually dexterous and brilliantly observed, it doesn’t perch on that arch academic prose which can make consumption of complex ideas so difficult, in fact I couldn’t snare a single utterance of diagetic hegemony or patriarchal post-structuralism in the whole book. She’s also not as narcissistic or self-indulgent as the books premise suggests, the memoir and the movie material intertwines quite organically with Kier’s life story in a singularly unromantic and unflinching detail, although if you find the notion of an author weaving in her distressing experience of witnessing her mothers rape with a discussion of the 1981 paranormal abuse movie The Entity then you might find this a little shall we say, challenging. She’s also unafraid to obliterate established critical orthodoxy, giving short thrift to the notorious likes of I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House On The Left in favour of (to her mind) truly transgressive and valid work – Ferrera’s Ms. 45 or Defenceless: A Blood Symphony. Quite frankly the book has fired up my waning passion for the medium throughout the increasingly mediocre and homogeneric summer period, especially it’s most excellent glossary of films which represent the frenzied subject matter. With over 200 entries it’s an incredible collection of movies, most importantly it contains alternate titles of texts in different release markets and languages which is critical to tracking some of these rarities down, although just a cursory scan of some of the giallo and exploitation themed material reveals that many of the films are not widely available. This means more obstacles for us similarly minded acolytes and a potential authorisation to go to extreme measure to source and hunt down of this movies, and that makes me harder than a diamond dildo. So since we haven’t compiled a list post for aeons here’s an impotently brief collection of some of the films I’ve butchered over the past few weeks, mixed in there are a few pictures which I haven’t seen yet which sound atrociously alluring, as you may have guessed much of this will be extremely NSFW and consider yourself defiantly warned if you have a weak cinematic constitution;
Possession (1981) – I’ve mentioned this before as one of this rare beasts, a film which Id heard about for years but never seen due to screening issues, now released in glorious Blu- Ray and restored to the directors original vision after philistine producers cut to appeal to a larger market. One of the finest accomplishments of the book is to champion director Andrzej Zulawski largely overlooked oeuvre, he does strike me as criminally unappreciated figure whom if I was being lazy I’d equate as a Polish Lars Von Trier, with a thick veneer of madness, psychosis and insanity running through his uncompromising work. I’ve now set myself the task of watching The Third Part Of The Night (‘set in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II a young man, Michal (Leszek Teleszynski), escapes the massacre of his family, and his subsequent guilt and experiences are shown through multi-layered symbolism and apocalyptic imagery’) and somehow getting a copy of Devil in my shivering paws, I’d sell my soul to consume a genuinely terrifying film given the quality of the output these days……
Three W0men (1975)- I’ve seen this once and I kinda selected this to prove that the writing isn’t all concerned with the horrific and violent, it’s more the psychological and mysterious themes and modules which reverberate throughout the book. In one of those serendipitous accidents I’d been actively seeking out a copy of Altman’s movie from 1975, I saw it once on a late night ITV or Channel 4 viewing (I forgot which) but it hasn’t been released on DVD in the UK. I remember a particularly dream-like, unreal quality to the film, and for some reason it’s been picked up for discussion on a number of podcasts and movie sites I frequent, so I figured it was time for a revisit.
Lets’ Scare Jessica To Death (1980) – I can’t believe I’ve never seen this, it’s a minor horror cult classic with shades of the same atmosphere of Carnival Of Souls or Picnic At Hanging Rock. It’s obviously dirt-cheap and poorly performed in places, but these failures are overshadowed by the creepy sense of a waking nightmare, terminating with unexpected climax which made me go ‘ooowww’ and tighten my shawl around my shivering shoulders. One of the recent Paranormal Activity sequels lifted various elements of the finale which is a tribute of sorts I guess……
The Piano Teacher (2001) – If you thought Haneke was tough and uncompromising in Funny Games or Amour (a film I was deeply, deeply moved and impressed with but will never fucking watch again after that tremulous LFF screening) then you ain’t screamed nothing yet, as this is one of the most unflinching and brutal explorations of feminine self-destruction I’ve ever seen. Isabelle Huppert proves without question that she is one of the greatest actresses of her generation with her portrayal of an emotionally obliterated soul, a horrifically repressed music teacher who falls into a deeply abusive and sexually violent relationship with a much younger man – at her instruction. It’s a very tough watch but worth the agony for Huppert’s steely resolve, one of the most criminally overlooked performances of the last decade.
The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1971) – This film has fascinated me for years purely due to its garish video cover and it’s grim atonement on the first list of the notorious UK Video Nasties list, alas after finally netting this slippery customer its actually a fairly terrible exploitation quilt of female revenge, incest, and sickle wielding succubi.
L’ Interior (2004) – I’ve been meaning to deliver this film to you for quite a while, I think I’ve mentioned it on here before in passing, so now my excuse to dissect a few more details. A heavily pregnant woman, alone and trapped in her remote domicile faces a terrifying assault from a figure or figures unknown, to say more would contract heavily into spoiler territory and that would abort half the placenta packed fun. I’ll just state that this is one of the cruellest and most uncompromising of the so-called new wave of brutal films of the 2000’s which is up there with Martyrs as far as I’m concerned, there will be yelling, there will be screaming, there will cursing and pleading for death – and that’s just the trailer.
Bad Guy (2001) – One of the most terrifying factors of Kim-Ki-Duk’s career is how the man who could conduct the Buddhist rhapsody of Spring,_Summer,_Fall,_Winter…_and_Spring could subsequently proceed do make some of the most transgressive and outré films of world cinema of the past decade, operating in the darkest possible recess of the human condition. I saw his latest film Moebius (which finally gets its limited UK release this month) at TiFF last year and I was so petrified I couldn’t even bring myself to craft a review, such was its unique, bludgeoning effect. OK, I’m exaggerating a little (d’ya think?) but his films are punishment of a very cruel and unusual nature, but there is evidence of pulsing purpose around a staged theatricality which immediately invites comparisons to Strindberg and Beckett, alongside a wider questioning of cinematic representations in relation to reality, our species fathomless capacity for cruelty and violence, a provoked reaction aligned with real atrocities. I’ve not seen Bad Guy bit it sounds like a real hoot, having seen both The Isle and Pieta recently its a wonder I don’t get arrested for adding all three to my rental list at the same time….
Dans Ma Peau (2002) – Back to France for director / actor Marina de Van’s debut. The film charts the slow, imperceptible spiral into madness of high-flying PR agent Esther who accidentally cuts herself on the leg during a drunken escapade, before the realisation of her bodies fragile shell leads to a frenzied fascination of what might be more than skin deep. Coincidentally I tracked this down earlier in the year and just to be lazy you could cite this as a Francais Cronenberg cut, with a slightly more mysterious and inquisitive viewpoint than David’s social anxieties. De Van followed this up with the Sophie Marceau & Monica Bellucci starring Ne Te Retourne Pas which also hosts similar concerns with the body and decay, I’ve not seen that so once again this exercise is reaping potential dividends.
Gently Before She Dies (1972) – God-damn if those Italians didn’t know how to luridly title their lurid movies? Although the US release title seems lifted from standard noir trappings Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key stars giallo queen Edwige Fenech as the promiscuous niece of Irina (Anita Strinberg), an anorexic shell who has shacked up in a crumbling, decrepit mansion with failed writer and alcoholic degenerate Oliverio (Luigi Pistilli). Soon the bodies start to stack up faster than the philandering sexual relations, with a shrieking conclusion fit for a film whose premise was partially channelled from Poe’s mewing classic The Black Cat.
The Whip & The Body (1963) – So let’s close, fittingly enough, with a frenzy of gothic housed S&M, wielded by the hands of macabre maestro Mario Bava. I’ve never seen or had even heard of this prior reading the book, maybe the thought of Christopher Lee as some sadist nobleman scarred me for life. having revisited Corman’s Poe cycle recently this looks like lacerating aperitif. There are dozens more movies this book has led me to discover or revisit, I could easily double the size of this list and still not scratch the surface, but let me refer you to De Palma’s Sisters (recently re-issued on Blu by Arrow in a lovely package), the hilarious looking Slaughter Hotel, the (WARNING GRAPHIC) nasty looking They Call Her One Eye (a Tarantino favourite, and you can see why), the ghoulishly stale Nekromantic, UK giallo influenced Madhouse and the delinquent Christiane F if you’re still a glutton for punishment.