THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969)
“TEACH HER TO TAKE CARE OF ME LIKE YOU DO” — Luis talking to his mother ‘Madame Fourneau‘
Before there were shows like Criminal Minds, CSI or Dexter where I learned about dis-articulation, the graphic motif used in the human marionette themed Season 8 episode 10 of Criminal Minds ‘The Lesson’ directed by Matthew Gray Gubler (Meow!) not only for me, the most adorable, desirable nice guy, and brilliant quirky actor but outstanding director as well. Just watch Mosely Lane or the afore mentioned episode starring the equally brilliant….Brad Dourif as Adam Rain the Marionette Master who creates living puppets to re-enact a childhood trauma. I never heard of ‘Enucleation’- or removing the eyes with a highly sharpened melon baller until Criminal Minds.
This is all the stuff that gives me… yes me!!!!, MonsterGirl the heebies, the pip, and the whim whams and perpetually horrific nightmares for days, months even. BUT!
Before there was such contemporary graphic violence pouring forth from the television screen, or feature scare films deemed ‘torture porn’... that it could almost wear your psyche down to its raw unsheathed fibers… there was a beautiful elegant, and mind-bending kind of psychological horror.
With The House That Screamed, the fear and anguish mixed with the exquisitely restrained performances by the ensemble of actors is more powerful than movies like Wolf Creek and Hostel which merely brings you excruciatingly close to realism and as violent as a trip to the slaughterhouse.
There ARE certain films that remain a haunting experience… but in a way that serves as an emotional release not a shock to your sympathetic nervous system.
One film, in particular, will always be one of my favorite classical horror films of all time. The House that Screamed (1969) directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador starring IMHO one of the finest actresses Lilli Palmer is rife with so many social taboos yet still maintains its elegance. Filled with images of Sado-Masochism -the archetypal Devouring Motherhood, the effects of repression, and young nubile beauties’ whose libidos are firing off sparks all over the boarding school. The untenable gap between adults and children, a brutal secret society of Sapphic sadists, an Oedipal complex brought to an eventual disturbing climax fit for modern screening.
Lilli Palmer’s (Body and Soul 1947, Mädchen in Uniform (1958), and The Boys from Brazil 1978) are about Madame Fourneau, the headmistress of an all-female school for ‘troubled’ or ‘unwanted girls’.
Lilli Palmer as teacher Maria Rohmer in Mädchen in Uniform, had a heady lesbian theme running through its narrative which here is reprised in a Spanish horror film that reaches back to Grand Guignol.
The rigid and stale institutionalized environment of The House that Screamed molds ‘good girls’. This repressive sexual confinement, it bursts wide open into a sensationalist breeding ground for the lesbian as predator trope. The repressed older woman is taken in by the beautiful innocence of a wild girl who defies her rules, pushing back against Palmer’s obvious infatuation, she makes Palmer’s character suffer as a voyeur as she awakens out of the nubile young adolescent into her sexual primacy as a seductive maiden. Palmer’s pain is exquisite.
Her son Luis is played by the eternally cherubic looking if not eerily handsome John Moulder-Brown. (known for his stint in a few 70s psycho-sexual thrillers like Deep End 1970 & Forbidden Love Game 1975 directed by another underrated Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia.
The House that Screamed is epiphanic of the thing that dreams and beautiful nightmares are made of… not these latest hellish journeys through graphic violations of the mind, body and soul, obliterating, annihilating any patch of humanity left to detect, without a purpose, a meaning nor cathartic release…
If I see one more woman’s mouth slashed from ear to ear like Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt’s character in The Man Who Laughs (1928) A story filled with poignant heartache with layers of gut reaction not a story with a sense of regurgitation. But I digress…
This film is an elegant horrifying waltz, textural, voyeuristic Spanish thriller, and timeless late 60s horror film… an absolute masterwork of art. From the acting, cinematography, Neo-Gothic art & set direction, the incredible use of lighting, music, and sound design (each frame exists with its own individual cue that marks the scenes with a spine-chilling ambiance, a chorus of whimperings & glossolalia) and the fabulous period wardrobe designed by Víctor María Cortezo.
The film begins with Teresa (Cristina Galbó What Have You Done To Solange? 1972) being dropped off at a remote, finishing school for said “problem” girls run by the severely domineering Madame Fourneau (Lilli Palmer), whose impish son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown) is held captive himself, by his mother’s doting maternal iron hand. (Moulder’s outre boyish expression is creepy in and of itself.) Yet it bares out the ironic theme of pure evil laying in wait behind the mask of purity. Luis is left to scour the perimeters of the school, voyeuristically gazing through small peepholes observing and befriending certain girls, like a rat who scurries behind the walls, he manages to arrange clandestine rendezvous with certain of the nymphs he chooses, while watching them during their weekly shower ritual–nightgown on–nudity is NOT an option unless you beg the wrath from the headmistress! (It throws her into a hypnotic-homophobic/homoerotic fugue).
There are several disappearances assumed to be a case of the girls being runaways as they are known for their sexual liaisons with delivery men, but there is something much more sinister lurking at ‘Le Residencia’- The Finishing School the alternate title to The House that Screamed 1969.
The rigid yet pulsing tempo of the pace that is leading us to the horrifying conclusion, the haunting exquisiteness of the score by Waldo de los Ríos, its beautiful simplicity which leaves me humming for days… the visual perspective that allows us to participate in the claustrophobic, repressive quality of tristesse about the school. The eroticism is so very self-contained. It’s this type of eroticism that I find more compelling than any literal sexual exploitation and B nudie flick unless the point is ‘exploitation’ (which I’m a complete fan of )and beauty is not the operative function. The psycho-sexual elements and the horror story are not overstated, they are trembling below the surface waiting to hyperventilate from all the tension. This is one gorgeous horror film that never gets old for me.
Guillermo Del Toro who is probably the only auteur I think could attempt a re-make having used a similar eye with Pan’s Labyrinth 2006 and The Devil’s Backbone 2001 which had that sensibility that allows the horror to appear beautiful. As of late, I’ve become a fan of Eloy de la Iglesia and his style of storytelling. I’ve given these kinds of films the more powerful title of “Fable horror” The stunning and quiet sensuality brings you just to the edge but does not indulge your fight or flight response.
If you haven’t seen The House That Screamed and are curious about a film that led the 60s out with an elegant scream, and if you’re a fan of Lilli Palmer then take a stab at this one. Oops sorry for the ironic cliche there. I think you’ll be able to watch it without one hand over your face and no threat of night terrors either… If you want nightmares, just watch Criminal Minds while eating a large bowl of pasta at 10 pm then go straight to bed… I promise it’ll be far worse than anything you’ll experience from Serrador’s incredible The House That Screamed!
It’s been Sunday Nite Surreal… Have a light-hearted Sunday Nite from your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl