BRIDES OF HORROR – Scream Queens of the 1960s! 🎃 Part 1

This special The Last Drive in Halloween Feature will conclude with Part 4 and it’s primary focus exclusively on the great Barbara Steele!

‘through the complex changes in society surrounding traditional female roles using the ambivalence of the horror genre’ – Claudia Bunce

The 1960s were plagued by controversy and convulsed with violence. Horror cinema with the exception of Hammer Studio and European filmmakers colorful pageantry of Gothic tales, and the colorful dreamlike poetry of Mario Bava, transitioned mostly from classical themes. In the 1950s, B-horror movie narratives were concerned with outside hostile forces, alien invasions, fear of nuclear war, but the new decade began to explore more interior horror that originated in the home and within ourselves. And many of these movies stand out as women-centric protagonists…

“Widely interpreted as a pivotal moment in the horror genre. Suggestive that monstrosity must be defined as inherent to the bourgeois family structure rather than an arcane social aberration: the crimes of Norman Bates can be read as the consequence of the sexually active mother, not unlike Marian Crane. The film is profoundly subversive.” – source unknown

After Riccardo Freda abandoned Black Sunday, the project went to cinematographer Mario Bava and became his directorial debut. The film was the start of the director’s momentous contribution to the genre with his masterful grasp of mise en scené composition, allegorical visual symbolism imagery, and the bold use of expressionist color, vivid tones and spectrum of light. Bava directed Kill, Baby Kill! 1966 featuring a ghostly little blonde girl (actually a boy actor) with a white ball that is the creepy harbinger of a series of violent deaths.

Mario Bava unleashed on us his very dark hearted black & white Black Sunday in 1960 with jolting scenes of death and a new horror goddess, the provocative, wide eyed- Barbara Steele. During the decade of the 60s, Steele’s ascendance within the genre was part of a broader trend in horror cinema that echoed the real world. Her strong presence and instinct to captivate our gaze, stood head to head with male horror stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing during that period of horror cinema. Barbara Steele inhabited the haunted screen with such a formidable primacy, there’s no disputing she is the ultimate scream queen.

The Italian movie industry of the 1960s saw a wave of of Italian gothic chillers. Bava’s Blood and Black Lace 1964 is best remembered as the first ‘Giallo’ a particularly savage trademark of murder mysteries.

Riccardo Freda directed The Horrible Dr. Hichcock 1962 and The Ghost 1963, Margheriti’s beautifully orchestrated, eerily atmospheric ghost story Castle of Blood and Ciano’s Nightmare Castle 1965. All starring Barbara Steele.

Roger Corman established himself as a successful director. Of course maverick film maker Corman showered us with some of the best campy low budget sc-fi / horror films of the 1950s, and in the 60s we were reintroduced to the splendid Poe adaptations in a series of vivid films of glorious terror and dread, with Daniel Haller’s gorgeous hallucinogenic art direction. These films are a series of Gothic masterpieces, – House of Usher 1960, Pit and the Pendulum 1961 and Masque of the Red Death 1964, featuring Hazel Court, another icon of 60s horror, who would command the screen with her fiery sensuality, flexing her bloodlust to offer herself up as Satan’s bride in Red Death.

Corman established himself as a successful director his landscapes as Rodrick Usher says are as a ‘feverish and deranged mind’ with his colorful more substantial yet still low-budget homages to Poe’s series of horror tales. With screenplays by Richard Matheson and cinematography by Floyd Crosby. Reaching it’s artistic peak with Masque of the Red Death. Many of the women in his Poe series, features a more incendiary female character. The horror genre especially from the 60s forward would prove to have more provocative roles for women, since the femme fatale reigned during the time of film noir.

Instead of the restrained earlier decades, the 60s held up a mirror to the decades social turbulence and reflected back to us, with subversive storytelling, it’s edgy gore and taboo breaking narratives that fed a whole new audience who were hungry for more realistic and challenging scenarios. A new vanguard of filmmakers shattered traditional boundaries that restrained the on-screen violence and sexuality.

Women’s roles in classical horror films of the 1930s & 40s (to my memory for now), with the exception of Elsa Lanchester as the Bride, and Gloria Holden as Countess Marya Zaleska in Dracula’s Daughter, initiated most of the leading ladies and supporting actresses, as easily fainting from fright, who screamed with hollow innocence, projecting reductive nuances of helplessness.

Still, there were established directors such as Alfred Hitchcock who caught wind of the changes, inspired by Clouzot’s le Diabolique 1955 and impressed by William Castle’s popular run of low-budget horror formula (albeit with it’s use of gimmickry).

Psycho 1960 would be set in safe and secure American suburbia instead of the imposing castles of Europe. The clean-cut serial killer would eclipse the caped swarthy vampire as the screen’s new boogeyman. Yet Marion’s ascendancy is as much a major element of the narrative as Norman Bates’ psychopathy!

Hitchcock offered us the bold cautionary, The Birds, a film Fellini referred to as “an apocalyptic poem” featuring a beautiful woman perceived as a she-devil that ushered in the natural world’s revolt.

FROM BARBARA CREED THE MONSTROUS FEMININE:

“Melanie Daniels in The Birds is a single woman in her thirties drifting – who must go through a trial by fire which she suffers, is humiliated and lectured to lower her defenses. She is an outsider who is being shown how social behavior becomes physically agonizing.”

The stark black & white Psycho 1960 based on real life serial killer, Ed Gein, pushed the boundaries of the Production Code with it’s shocking scenes of murder and inflected frames of Janet Leigh’s bra and slip. Leigh’s 30 minute on-screen persona of the immoral Marion Crane was a diverging representation of the traditional leading lady.

The decade also signaled a multitude of black & white psychological thrillers. Hammer split off some of it’s focus on the gory period pieces- translations of the Frankenstein, Dracula and Mummy, and jumped on the Psycho bandwagon with films like Scream of Fear 1961, Maniac 1963, Nightmare 1964, Hysteria 1965, Die! Die! My Darling! 1965 starring Tallulah Bankhead as the menacing Mrs. Trafoil, not a Medieval crone but a modern day unleashed psychopath. And, The Nanny 1965 with Bette Davis, coming off of her pair of shockers by director Robert Aldrich, plays a sinister governess terrorizing young William Dix.

After Baby Jane, the industry was rife with menacing Hollywood starlets. I’ll be writing about the shattering the myth of Hag Cinema, down the road. Robert Aldrich set in motion a trend of psychological horror films after he paired Bette Davis and Joan Crawford together in what is considered campy, outrageous at times, sickening – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962. It was a watershed moment for the genre.

Crawford and Davis in particular in Aldrich’s films made the bold and courageous decision to act under harsh white lights, in grotesque make up and willing to immerse herself into a character -eccentric, cringingly childish and utterly sadistic.

After Baby Jane, Aldrich followed up with Davis, de Havilland and Agnes Moorehead in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964. Crawford worked with William Castle on Strait-Jacket 1964, and Geraldine Page played a greedy murderess in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? Co-starring Ruth Gordon. Shelley Winters appeared as the maniacal villainess in the fable like Who Slew Auntie Roo? 1969 and Winters, Debbie Reynolds and Moorehead in 1971 topped it off with Harrington’s What’s the Matter with Helen? A personal favorite of mine.

The second wave of the feminist movement and the emergence and impact began with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, giving 50s suburban housewives a different vision of domestic enslavement and began to disassemble the myth of that decade’s family values. The quaint and complacent sentiment of post WW2 comfortability became subverted by empowered women who broke free and found new independence reigniting the Monstrous Feminine giving permission to women as represented more freely in film, with more prominent parts, especially fostered in… the horror genre.

The 60s subverted the expectations surrounding the traditional housewife roles. Witches could be well bred housewives like Janet Blair in Burn Witch Burn 1962 or a malevolent ingénue, Sharon Tate in Eye of the Devil 1966.

“The housewife witches of Burn, Witch, Burn and Season of the Witch use witchcraft to escape the confines of the domestic sphere and subvert their husbands’ patriarchal power. Then there is the cult leader witch of Eye of the Devil who uses her femininity to intimidate traditional societal gender roles” – Claudia Bunce

Significant films like Robert Wises’ The Haunting 1963, was suggestive of lesbianism and repressed sexuality, stars two very significant central female characters, Julie Harris and Claire Bloom who give intensely complex and reflexive performances. Bloom as the stylish and extraordinarily self-composed Theo is a truly independent woman who lives life on her own terms. There isn’t anyone who wouldn’t shiver while at the mercy of the malevolent forces of Hill House. Director Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (The French title Les Yeux sans Visage) 1960 has perhaps one of the most graphic scenes of horror, a gruesome fairytale with it’s medical experimentation with facial transplantation and a lead actress, Edith Scob with her macabre blank mask who floats around the halls like a lost princess swallowed up inside a night terror. The film also stars a stoic Alida Valli, a strong ally to the twisted plastic surgeon in search of a new face for his daughter.

Jack Clayton’s adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, became a screenplay by William Archibald, The Innocents 1961’ lead actress Deborah Kerr lies wide open with her distillation of a woman tortured by her sexual paranoia. Dressed in classical clothes unlike Deneuve’s role in Repulsion, where her character Carol’s neurosis is flayed and hung out naked on display.

And most significantly, the female centric role for Mia Farrow as the allegorical heroine Rosemary Woodhouse, hunted down by a coven of upper west side devil worshipers in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Farrow’s performance is a striking denunciation of control over women’s body’s, a slow burn of paranoia and strong instinct for survival.

“but when he (Guy Woodhouse) took control of her reproductive functions, he asserted his dominance over her in the darkest way possible.

Assertion of dominance reinforced his masculinity and the traditional role that men had in relationships. Guy’s taking control assuages the fear of women gaining too much independence.” – From Jenna Labbie damsels in Distress Analyzing gender in horror movies of the 1960s and 70s

Polanski’s earlier released Repulsion 1965 strayed from Hitchcock’s black humor drizzled about in Psycho. Repulsion rather, has a sense of nightmarish realism and a protagonist, Catherine Deneuve who goes down a rabbit hole of repressive seizures.

Repulsion is an extremely disturbing contemplation on the destructive forces of loneliness, isolation and paranoia seen through the lens of a sexually repressed young women, Carol who suffers a homicidal breakdown while her sister and married lover leave her alone for a long weekend. An exit from the cheeky dark humor of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Repulsion brushes the screen with strokes of Carol’s existential misery.

Michael Powell’s groundbreaking shocker Peeping Tom is a hauntingly twisted mood piece about a serial killer Karl Bohm who films his victims in the last moments of their death to capture their fear. It features two very strong female leads, Anna Massey and Maxine Audley.

Mexican fright flicks abound with atmospheric gems like The Curse of the Crying Woman 1963, The Brainiac 1961 and The Witch’s Mirror 1962, featured strong female centric characters played by Rosita Arenas and Rita Macedo. And in Jack Hill’s oddball black comedy Spider Baby 1967 benefitted by the quirky presence of both Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner as two bizarre, homicidal sisters.

Luana Anders features significantly in the genre, highlighted in Coppola’s Dementia 13 as the independent yet ruthless Louise Halloran and as prostitute Sylvia in Robert Altman’s psycho-sexual thriller That Cold Day in the Park 1969. The film stars one of my favorite underrated actors, Sandy Dennis who gives a stunning performance as the disturbed Francis Austen, who holds Michael Burns hostage.

George Romero broke ground with the brutal realism of Night of the Living Dead 1968 which has not so indirect social relevance. 60s horror films were breaking away from Hollywood and being forged by gutsy independent filmmakers with smaller budgets, and an imaginative longing to experiment with diversity, artistic style and a divergent way to visualize and process gender roles outside traditional cultural norms.

Barbara Shelley

The Queen of Hammer

Ryan Gilbey, in her obituary in The Guardian praises Shelley’s acting in the Hammer films, considering that she had “a grounded, rational quality that instantly conferred gravitas on whatever lunatic occurrences were unfolding around her.”

The world lost Barbara Shelley in January 2021 at the age of 88. With hair like paprika Barbara Shelley was born Barbara Kowin. A glamorous gothic leading lady, considered to be the ‘Queen of Hammer’ during the studio’s golden age of Gothic horror. A classical beauty, with an air of elegance and self-assuredness, she has co-starred with other Hammer royalty Christoper Lee and Peter Cushing. Shelley was an actress with such integrity and beauty that she transcended the horror genre.

The London-based production company, founded in 1934 by William Hinds and James Carrera’s who made a string of hit Gothic horror films from the mid-1950s until the 1970s. Inspired by classic horror characters like Baron Victor Frankenstein, Count Dracula and the Mummy and appeared in 104 films and television series until 2000. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company between 1975 and 1977.

From Wiki-
{Hammer reintroduced to audiences by filming them in vivid colour for the first time. Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers, film noir and comedies, as well as, in later years, television series. During its most successful years, Hammer dominated the horror film market, enjoying worldwide distribution and considerable financial success.}

“Hammer was like a family, a very talented family… with a wonderful atmosphere on the set and a wonderful sense of humour”

“When I first started doing Hammer, all the so-called classic actors looked down on the horror film. All the other things I did, nobody remembers those. But the horror films, I’m very grateful to them because they built me a fan base, and I’m very touched that people will come and ask for my autograph. If you went to see a [Hammer] film in the cinema, the gasps were interspersed with giggles because people were giggling at themselves for being frightened, they were frightening themselves; and this is what made Hammer very special.”

With her success as a teenage model she made her minor film debut in Hammer’s motion picture Mantrap in 1952 directed by Terence Fisher and starring Paul Henreid and Lois Maxwell.

Shelley took her screen name from Italian actor Walter Chiari who saw something in the actress and suggested that she use the last name as a tribute to his favorite English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She wound up living in Rome for four years and appeared in nine Italian speaking films.

She returned to the UK in 1957, starring that year for British Lion Film in her first starring role within the horror genre as Leonora Johnson née Brandt in Cat Girl (1957), directed by Alfred Shaughnessy who set out to borrow from Jacques Tourneur’s superior, and innovative Cat People (1942.) Leonora Johnson returns to her ancestral home that is beset with the family curse, that she will be possessed by the spirit of a leopard. The film was a collaboration between American International Pictures and the British Anglo-Amalgamated.

Her first starring vehicle was Cat Girl (1957), Alfred Shaughnessy’s offbeat variation of Jacques Tourneur’s influential Cat People (1942) and A.I.P.’s first co-production with the UK’s Anglo-Amalgamated. The following year she made her first major appearance in a film for Hammer The Camp on Blood Island.

In 1958, she co-starred as a woman in peril at the hands of mad scientist Callistratus (Donald Wolfit). In Blood of the Vampire, Shelley is the picture of fainting beauty chained to the wall, a garish period piece in line with the days of Universal’s classic horrors though scattered with gory scenes satiated by fake blood and understated cleavage.

In 1880 Transylvania Dr Calistratus is brought back to life by his one eyed hunchback assistant Carl, after he’d been executed as a vampire. At the same time Dr. John Pierre (Vincent Ball) is on trial for killing one of his patients whom he tried to save with a blood transfusion. He is found guilty and sentenced to life. Barbara Shelley plays fiancee Madeleine, set on finding the truth behind the incriminating letter allegedly proving his guilt, forged by Calistratus.

He is brought to a prison for the criminally insane by the mad doctor’s hunchback Carl. John is put in a cell, a menacing place guarded by vicious dogs, where Calastratus experiments and tortures his human subjects. In order to prove John’s innocence Madeleine poses as Calastratus’ housekeeper who winds up chained to a wall and strapped to an operating table!

Shelley was against her body being exploited or appearing in any nude scenes while being menaced by Wolfit. She warded off this endeavor by producers Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman by writing the word “STOP” on her chest. She threatened to sue the studio if it even used a body double.

“I had one or two dissertations on horror sent to me by students, and all the discussion ever seems to be concerned with is exploitation and the licking of blood and a scene of people making love, and it’s not right. It annoys me intensely, because my career was not built on exploitation and sex. It was built on working very hard.”

In 1960, she is marvelous in a heartbreaking role of the tragic mother Anthea Zellerby who has given birth to an unfeeling monstrous alien boy who has uncanny dangerous powers along with the rest of the children of Midwich. All the mothers in Midwich have conceived during a strange blackout where they wind up giving birth to a breed of malevolent telepathic sociopaths.

Shelley’s character is earnest in the role of a woman torn between motherhood and sheer terror in director Wolf Rilla’s incredibly unsettling moody classic blend of science fiction and horror-Village of the Damned (1960) based on John Wyndham’s science fiction novel The Midwich Cucoos. The film co-stars George Sanders as Shelley’s altruistic husband Gordon, who seeks to understand the menacing children with their freaky white hair and piercing eyes and his creepy son David played by Martin Stephans. These dangerous little progeny can get inside people’s minds and make them do anything they want, as in making Shelley’s character stick her hand in a pot of boiling water. The screenplay written by Stirling Sillipant is quite a disturbing pot boiler it total.

She went on to star in John Gilling’s turn-of-the-century old dark house mystery Shadow of the Cat (1961)

Some of the outstanding pictures that put her upon the thrown as the reigning Queen of those splendid years of Gothic horror are Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966, Rasputin the Mad Monk 1966 with Christopher Lee and The Gorgon 1964 with Peter Cushing. The monstrous Gorgon portrayed by Prudence Hyman.

“She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the Technicolor queen of Hammer.
“On-screen she could be quietly evil. She goes from statuesque beauty to just animalistic wildness… She adored Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and loved working with them, that was very dear to her.”-Agent, Thomas Bowington

What truly established Barbara Shelley’s esteemed reputation as the First Lady of British horror in the mid 1960s is her collaboration with Terence Fisher. Leaving behind the more exploitative persona of the luscious heroine with inviting bosoms Shelley portrayed the sympathetic character of Carla Hoffman in Fisher’s mood piece The Gorgon. Carla is the assistant to Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing), and a tortured soul possessed by an ancient evil spirit with serpents for hair and the ability to turn whoever gazes upon her to stone, and Shelley conveys the bleakness of a woman who is held captive by her monstrous alter ego.

Before Shelley turns in a blood sucking bride of Dracula, she plays her first woman transformed into a monster in The Gorgon (1964). She told the studio “I wouldn’t need any makeup… just a green face and the headdress of real snakes.” Shelley absolutely let down when she saw what the special effects department conjured up, “They came up with these terrible sorts of rubber snakes dancing around and it just looked awful. It wasn’t frightening at all.” She had said that it was “probably the biggest regret I’ve had in any film I ever made.”

She was absolutely dejected when they chose to substitute Prudence Hyman in the part of the Gorgon, “They came up with these terrible sorts of rubber snakes dancing around, and it just looked awful. It wasn’t frightening at all.” She called it “probably the biggest regret I’ve had in any film I ever made” though she admired the look of the picture, noting that “every shot … resembles a Rembrandt painting.”

In Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966, Christopher Lee resurrects the count from Horrors of Dracula 1958. Shelley plays Helen the heroine whom we empathize with as she is trapped by her circumstances, when her stubborn husband Alan (who dismisses Helen’s panic) and his brother Charles, both refuse to leave the creepy unwelcoming Castle Dracula after stumbling onto the unattended mausoleum.

They want to stay and partake in a meal laid out for them, but Helen is justifiably spooked by it’s strange undercurrent. “Everything about this place is evil”.

Once Christopher Lee’s resurrection, Helen goes through a diverging transformation from the archetypal repressed  female to an unrestrained raptorial vampiress liberated from her proper English breeding, in high contrast to her tight upswung hair in a provincial hat, was now wide open with unwound flowing hair and unequivocal breastage. Shelley loved how distinct her character’s trajectory was in Dracula: Prince of Darkness. From inhibited, startled gentlewoman to the monstrous feminine as one of Dracula’s brides. When she appears at Karlsbad Castle, telling Suzan Farmer, “nothing’s wrong” through hungry red lips baring fangs. “Come sister, You don’t need Charles…” she tempts, with inviting arms outstretched to the innocent Suzan Farmer as Diana. Shelley’s virtuous woman who reveals to her Diana that she is now a vampire is lauded by Gilbey in The Guardian as having “traumatised and tantalised” viewers.

Shelley’s scream in Dracula is actually dubbed by fellow actress Suzan Farmer (Die Monster Die! 1965 with Boris Karloff) who appeared with her in Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Rasputin The Mad Monk.

In a terrifying scene perhaps inspiring Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, has Helen tapping on the window in the middle of the night. “Please let me in,” she pleads. “It’s cold out here. So cold. Everything’s all right now.”

She was delighted by one of her most potent scenes -as when she contends with her adversaries – monks who lie her on a table and hammer a stake through her undead heart.

Shelley told Mark Gatiss in his 2010 documentary series A History of Horror, “The scene that I’m most proud of is when she is staked that’s absolute evil when she’s struggling and then suddenly she’s staked and there is tremendous serenity. And I think that is one of my best moments on the film.”

“… and then suddenly she’s staked, and there is tremendous serenity. And I think that is one of my best moments on film.”

“Christopher Lee, who was an eloquent Gothic figure of pure evil in 1958’s first adaptation of Stoker’s vampire, had now evolved into a hissing fiend. But Shelley had this to say about the actor -“He brought dignity and veritas. It’s a difficult thing to bring to a fantasy like a vampire. And that is just Chris’ appearance and his personality. He did all that. He used to walk onto the sent and I’d say to him it’s an extraordinary performance, cause we know eather other so well and you could hypnotize me. But it was brilliant because he completely dominated the film without a word. Talk about silent movies!”

Shot at the same time was another Hammer horror, Rasputin the Mad Monk with Christopher Lee has dialogue in a more colorful, lurid role, as the mad mesmerist in contrast to his silent, blood eyed fiend. Shelley falls under the spell of Rasputin. While not willing to do a nude scene in Blood of the Vampire, she was however up to laying bare a seduction scene with Christoper Lee. “That scene was in the script when I read it. The scenes I refused to do was when they would suddenly say to me ‘Oh, you take your clothes off here’ The answer to that was always no” – From an interview with Fangoria Magazine 2010.

One of her beloved roles is her last Hammer feature in Roy Ward Baker’s adaption of writer Nigel Kneale’s (The Quatermass Experiment 1955, First Men in the Moon 1964, The Witches 1966, The Stone Tape 1972 TV movie) Quatermass and the Pit 1967.

In Quatermass and the Pit, Shelley portrays scientist Barbara Judd who along with paleontologist Doctor Roney (James Donald) and a team of scientists discover an ancient alien race whose spacecraft is found buried in the underground station at Hobbs End during an expansion of London’s Underground transport system. Shelley develops a psychic link to the aliens and is taken over by the inhabitants of the alien spacecraft.

She is subjected to images of green gooey decomposing locust like alien carcasses who in the process of being removed from the tunnels cause her brain to succumb to the electro-magnetic influence of the spacecraft, causing her to writhe in pain. She is so totally reasonable as an actress that she brings credibility to her character. Shelly had claimed that director Roy Ward Baker was her favorite of all the filmmakers she worked with.

The way he felt about her goes like this. He told Bizarre Magazine in a 1974 interview that he was ‘mad about her. “Mad in the sense of love,” he said. “We used to waltz about the set together, a great love affair. It puzzles me about her. She should be much bigger than she is, but I don’t think she really cares whether she is a star or not. She can act, God, she can act!”

In The Avengers 1961 image: Studio Canal

Barbara Shelley would eventually do guest appearances on popular television shows including British television series Doctor Who playing Sorasta in the episode “Planet Of Fire,” starring Peter Davison as the fifth incarnation of Doctor Who. She would also appear on The Saint, The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, and Route 66. Later she would play Hester Samuels in “EastEnders.”

Shelley’s final role in horror films was in the old dark house mystery Ghost Story 1974 directed by Stephen Weeks co-starring Marianne Faithful.

Her final role on screen was in the Uncle Silas mini series in 1989. A sinister character brought to life on screen by Derrick De Marney in 1947 with Jean Simmons in the role of Caroline.

Although Shelley ultimately felt framed in within the horror genre by the late 1960s, retiring two decades later, she always embraced her devoted fanbase and left behind a a substantial legacy. “I realised that my work had been appreciated and that I had – through those horror films – acturally reached a far bigger audience than I would ever have done if I’d stuck to the theater.”

The actress was modest about her achievements but happy with her legacy, as she conveyed with typical aplomb to Marcus Hearn: “There’s a lovely saying – we’re given memories so we can have roses in winter. When I look back over my various rose gardens, I’m only sorry I didn’t enjoy them more”.

“No one told me I was beautiful. They said I was photogenic but no one said I was beautiful. If they had I would have had a lot more fun!”

In an interview with the Express newspaper in 2009, she said she was told at a convention by female fans that they loved her for her strong roles. “Which I thought was a brilliant thing to have said about one. I never thought of it in that way. The fact that I’m still getting mail from my horror fan base really touches me.”

TRIVIA

While making the 1961 TV film, A Story of David, she met Hollywood star Jeff Chandler and they began a relationship. Chandler died suddenly the following year. Shelley is later reported to have said that he had been the love of her life

So convincing was Shelley’s violently realistic struggle against the stake, she swallowed one of her stuck-on fangs.

With no spares at the ready and a tight shooting schedule, it is reported that she kept drinking salt water until she puked it up.

After the scene in Dracula: Prince of Darkness where she struggles with the monks at the end with her demise, it was so physically demanding on Shelley, that she suffered from chronic back pain.

Barbara Shelley would recall how she and Lee, prided themselves on being “un-corpseable”, and would compete to make one another laugh during takes.

Cat Girl 1957, Blood of the Vampire 1958, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED 1960 THE GORGON 1964,  DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS 1966, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK 1966, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT 1967

Continue reading “BRIDES OF HORROR – Scream Queens of the 1960s! 🎃 Part 1”

Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling

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The Criterion Blogathon is hosted by three truly prolific bloggers, and I want to thank them for allowing me to join in paying tribute to the collection of landmark, art-house & original films from around the globe! Hosted by Aaron at Criterion Blues, Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth at Silver Screenings!

When they started to hint that this blogathon was going to be BIG… none of us had any idea just how BIG!!!! BIG was!

Criterion Eerie Cinema of the 60s -‘That Haunting Feeling!

The trend of classical Gothic ghost stories in a decade of disorder…

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Carnival of Souls 1962:

Carnival of Souls

  • “When we are young we read and believe the most fantastic things. When we grow older and wiser we learn with perhaps a little regret that these things can never be. We are quite, quite wrong!” Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit

  • Is all that we see or seem… But a dream within a dream?” Edgar Allan Poe – A Dream Within a Dream

  • “I don’t belong in the world”Mary Henry-Carnival of Souls 1962

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Carnival of Souls (1962) was produced & directed by Herk Harvey who originally shot industrial & educational geographical shorts and found himself traveling all over the United States. He came across some inspiring locations when he decided to try his hand at an intellectual horror story. When he stumbled onto the abandoned Pavilion in Utah, which at one time was a grand party spot in the earlier part of the century, between the corrosive salt water air and the years of neglect, Harvey knew that he had found the right place to film his arty horror film.

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Saltair Pavilion: Historical photograph

Carnival of Souls doesn’t rely on it’s sparse dialogue to tell it’s story, for it’s the visual cues, and the spasms of unreality that become the narrator. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is a ‘liminal’ wanderer , a heroine who is in a state of transition who occupies both sides of a threshold between reality & oblivion.

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When Mary experiences bouts of her non-existence in public places, where people act as if she isn’t there, and when all noises and sounds go away and she is stuck in a silent world… she can touch a tree and the chirping of birds re-connects her to reality. This image represents the liminal space she occupies. But don’t get smart alecky with me, I know the difference between liminal and a tree limb! just a co-incidence people just a co-incidence…

After having several unfortunate mis-dealings with corrupt distribution houses like Hertz Lion on it’s initial release, and small indie companies that packaged the film as part of collection of B-Movie horror box sets in 1989. In 2000 Carnival of Souls received it’s rightful induction into the Criterion Collection when they put this beautifully artistic horror gem in their extraordinary catalog.

Herk Harvey was a devotee to Ingmar Bergman and more specifically his cinematographer Sven Nykvist (The Virgin Spring 1960, Through a Glass Darkly 1961 Persona 1966, Pretty Baby 1978, The Postman Always Rings Twice 1981, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988). Harvey tried to impart this inspiration to his camera guy Maurice Prather, in terms of how he envisioned lighting the film.

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Here’s a dismissive description of our female heroine aside from ‘misfit heroine’ which at least the character sees herself as an ‘outsider’… going through some life altering surreal journey … from Roger Ebert in 1989: “The movie stars Candace Hilligoss, one of those worried blonds like Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960)…

When women have something praying on their minds , it’s called worry, or if she takes that worry further and voices her anxiety, it’s called hysteria. If the same situation befell a man, he’d be a courageous loner trying to find his way through a challenge. No look of worry on his face. It would be called ‘determination.’

Film critic Roger Ebert also had this to say about Carnival of Souls back during it’s revival in 1989. Carnival of Souls” is a odd obscure horror film that was made on a low budget in 1962 in Lawrence Kansas., and still has an intriguing power. Like a lost episode from “Twilight Zone”, it places the supernatural right in the middle of everyday life and surrounds it with ordinary people. It ventures to the edge of camp, but never strays across the line taking itself with an eerie seriousness.”…{….} And another effective moment when she’s in a car on a deserted highway and the radio only picks up organ music.”

Harvey came up with the story but it was scripted by writer John Clifford, who fashioned his hallucinatory version of the story as a psychological fun house ride in the same mold of Rod Serling’s anthology series, Twilight Zone. I got the same vibe myself when re-viewing the film, as it reminded me of the Hitch-Hiker episode with Inger Stevens. You can see the correlation between the heroine falling into a nether space that mimics life’s mundane locations, yet something is quite off — between her reality and the connection to those places. The tone of Carnival of Souls is somber and the colors are monochromatic which allows for the emergence of the “Man” to project even more supremacy over the mood and motion because of the lack of grey areas. He stands out superbly as the film’s boogeyman. Carnival of Souls is a story that doesn’t rely on elucidating or crucial dialogue. It is driven by eerie & arresting visual cues.

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Carnival of souls is hauntingly gritty, menacing and an ethereal nightmarish journey that our ‘misfit heroine’ (source -Jarenski) -archetype Mary Henry must roam through in order to find her place in the world… it is a visual and sensory driven allegory. Mary Henry, straddles the plain between reality and unreality, life & death, belonging & alienation, an outcast who is “unfit for the mundane world.” The film works based on the premise that Mary is unusual, an outcast or outsider. Even the people surrounding her act jittery, a bit bewildered and uncomfortable by her strange manner.

Gene Moore was responsible for the score that consists of REUTER ORGAN with exposed pipes. He had access to the Reuter Organ Factory and became inspired to use it as the musical undercurrent of calliope. It also gave Harvey the idea to use this motif as Mary Henry’s profession, and place of employment. With all the organ inflections and swells it is only Mary and us, who ever hear the magnificent instrument playing, filling out all the nuanced spaces without intruding, it is subtle and multi-layered for such a powerful instrument, that works well with the macabre carnival atmosphere.

The art and set direction are literally the real locations that Harvey and Clifford felt inspired by. They would sneak the crew in to film before getting booted out. The amusement park Pavilion called the Saltair, was shot in Great Salt Lake City Utah.

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With the exception of Candace Hilligoss who trained in New York City as a method actor under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg, and character actor Sidney Berger as the lascivious neighbor John Lindon, the rest of the cast is virtually unknown non actors. Herk Harvey had requested that they scout for an accomplished New York Actress, and they found Hilligoss! Although Harvey refused to give Hilligoss any cues or background motivation for her character. She, like the other players had no rehearsals nor were they allowed or given any re-takes.

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Herk Harvey himself plays the ever-present ‘the Man’ as he is credited, who is the sinister presence that stalks Mary throughout the film. He creates an unsettling presence like the lurking archetype of ‘Death.’

Both Herk Harvy and John Clifford evaluated the final film saying that it had the art-house feel that they were shooting for, in their words  “The visual style with an Ingmar Bergman look & the mood of a Jean Cocteau film.” with a supernatural theme.

The film could also be viewed slightly in the realm of a Neo-Realist work, ‘Post WWII, Italy working under the constraints of a war torn nation, they were filmed in real locations with non-professional actors.’ -Gary J. & Susan Svehla

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Carnival of Souls attains a gritty naturalism, with the non created sets or the use of recognizable actors, except for Candace Hilligoss who wasn’t even given any direction about her character’s motivation! ironic for a method actor who trained under the master Lee Strasberg… Hilligoss’ state of un-ease was authentic…

The make up for what I’m calling the ‘Dead Ensemble‘ came about because of the budgetary restrictions. Using egg whites, yes egg whites, what happened as a happy accident was a chilling & effective look of rotting flesh, and the pale gray glow of death. The egg whites created the pasty grey and flaky tone due to the use of B&W film stock.

To get permission to film the car plunging into the Kaw River in Kansas, the film crew had to agree to pick-up the tab for any repairs to the bridge. In fact the police attempted to arrest Harvey for attempted murder til Harvey showed it to be a simulation for their film and not a real accident.

Filming the entire movie in a month much of the footage was executed with guerrilla -like shooting tactics because they would have to get in and out of the settings, grab the few shots on that location due to not having permits to be there or to close the streets for filming! Most of the audio was post-dubbed, so it was an impossible task to get the syncing just right.

Sadly, With all the financial problems and the lack of recognition that the film failed to get initially turned both Herk Harvey and John Clifford off from making another picture.

The film opens on a street of a Midwestern heartland town where three young women in a car are being challenged to a drag race by a gang of young hoodlums. When the driver agrees, the girls begin to tear up the road and head over the very narrow bridge. All three including Mary Henry (Hiligoss) plunge off the bridge into the murky waters below. As the car falls beneath the clouded river, the film’s credit’s ripple over the surface of the water, creating an eerie prelude to the story.

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drag race begins

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This image strikes me as a portrait of Americana- a photo that Shelby Lee Adams might have taken. The menfolk almost looming like apathetic vultures over the car wrecked in the river below

out of the water onto the landing

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another similar view -the men looking down on Mary Henry -objectification & a silent pronouncement from the patriarchy!

The sole survivor, Mary emerges from the cold river, drenched like a drowned and rotting water lily, smeared and splattered in mud. While the rescue party arrives on the scene, local townspeople are there, and the police work on raising up the submerged car, Mary walks out of the water staggering onto the jettee. Mary is asked about the other two women in the car but she tells them that she doesn’t remember anything. Mary just walks away from the scene of the accident.

As if the entire ordeal was just a dream you wake from to find that it isn’t real, it hasn’t happened, Mary walks away and returns to her job at the organ factory. She tells her boss that she has decided to make a change in her life. She has taken a position as a church organist in another city in Utah. When her co-workers gossip about Mary’s decision they remark in a bit of foretelling dialogue, giving away some dreary foreshadowing of things to come for Mary , “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.”

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“Mary it takes more than intellect to be a musician… put your soul into it.”

Mary leaves town, she drives past the scene of the accident. She begins to experience a sense of panic, of trepidation washing over her , but she makes it across the bridge safely. It’s nighttime, shes driving by herself and she sees the abandoned pavilion which instantly sparks her interest. But when she reverts her gaze back to the road she sees directly in front of her a vision of the pale faced stranger who’s sinister presence startles her, and for a moment she veers off the road. Managing to gain back control of the car she makes it onto the road and continues driving til she gets to the gas station.

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The only music Mary can get on the car radio is organ music…

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Once there, she is haunted by either strange hallucinations or actual supernatural contact of a sinister man (Herk Harvey) with a macabre pale dead face in a off the rack suit and then a tuxedo.
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The monochromatic frames work to intensify the look of the ‘Man’ who literally appears to be part of the seducing void & darkness moving around Mary.
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Mary meets her new landlady at the boarding house where she’s taken a room, near the church where she’ll be the organist.
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The minister tells her that the congregation would be interested in meeting their new organist but she coldly replies to him. If they say I’m a fine organist that should be enough”
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“We have an organist capable of stirring the soul” sure but consider the fact that she’s a ‘lost’ soul herself!

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She makes it to her new rooming house, getting ready for bed she catches another glimpse of the ‘Man’ outside her bedroom window. In the morning , she goes to her new job at the church. The minister (Art Ellison) tells her that he’d like the congregation to meet her as she’s the new organist and part of the community now. Yet, odd bewildered Mary isn’t interested in this ceremonious display, he imparts a fatherly cliché to her “You can’t live in isolation from the human race.”

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the ‘Man’ appears at the church looking strangely at the stain glass panel, what is he thinking? it’s an interesting juxtaposition of the image of a pious figure being gazed at by the figure of ‘death’

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Mary feels cut off from the world and is believed to be crazy by the people she encounters. She also becomes drawn to a decaying old amusement park where the ‘Man’ who visits her hallucinations, escorts her into a waltz of the dead in the empty ballroom. Meantime, the police are back at the scene of the accident pulling up the wreckage of the car from the river. Mary is pursued by the sleazy roomer at the boarding house, John Linden who’s got plans on getting Mary in the sack!

From CRITERION The Liner notes by Bruce Kawin–there are fun references to other movie titles like “Call it Orpheus meets An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge–organ

there are similarities.. After the accident she plays the church organ without any religious conviction and has a date without desire, She is accused of having no soul.
She feels cut off and doesn’t know why and to find out the reason is to be destroyed : To synchronize with and , quite literally meet her fate.

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saltair window

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Mary can see Saltair Pavilion from her bedroom window

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The film is filled with signals and omens that forewarn that something has shifted in Mary’s life either through her dreams or her new reality. John Clifford’s script seems inspired by the old expressionist fantasy dramas and Harvey’s direction allows the atmosphere to embrace a weird style, that could easily have been a silent film. Carnival of Souls depends much on visual cues, and a quirky narrative filled with curiosity, honesty and repressed primal fear.

Once Mary walks away from the commotion of the accident she drives to a local garage for assistance. She sees the ‘Man’ and flees on foot. (This is very reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode called The Hitchhiker starring Inger Stevens being stalked by what looks like a hobo, but just might be death himself trying to take her back with him.)

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Inger Stevens is Nan Adams in The Hitch-Hiker episode of Rod Serling’s brilliant anthology sci-fi/fantasy show The Twilight Zone The Hitch-Hiker aired on Jan. 22 1960.

On Mary’s day off she goes shopping, and in the midst of a retail transaction she becomes disconnected from her surroundings. First people refuse to acknowledge her as if she’s not there. (great idea for a film effect right M Night Shyamalan? yeah as I was saying) Then Mary begins to lose her sense of hearing. Nothing seems to make noise, there isn’t a sound to be heard.

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While shopping in the department store, the people around Mary act as if she isn’t there. As if she were a ghost… 

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why can't I hear anything
“why can’t I hear anything?”

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Mary becomes hysterical when she thinks the older gentleman at the water fountain is the ‘Man’ Dr Samuel’s tells her she’s hysterical and that she should control herself…

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She flees to the tranquility of the city park and leaves the urban stresses behind her, and suddenly her senses start coming back to her. Once she lays her hands on a tree trunk the natural world let’s her in again. She can hear bird’s chirping and becomes connected to reality again. But this is only shortly lived as it lasts briefly before, she thinks she sees the ‘Man’ standing by the a water fountain. Mary becomes hysterical. Dr. Samuel’s comes to her aide, tells her she’s hysterical and to control herself. He takes her to his office across the street.

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Mary- “It was more than just not being able to hear anything, or make contact with anyone. It was as though, as though for a time I didn’t exist. As though I had no place in the world. No part of the life around me.” Dr. Samuels-“And then you saw this, this man?” He tells her that perhaps the Man represents a ‘guilt’ feeling. She tells him that it’s ridiculous. Mary  “Well I know one thing. If my imagination is playing tricks on me, I’m gonna put a stop to it!” He tells her she’s strong willed. She tells him that she’s survived if that’s what he means. He tells her that the Pavilion holds some kind of meaning to her. She’s going out there alone and prove that it’s just her imagination.

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She tells him she has no interest in being with other people. She also figures that her unease is somehow connected to the abandoned Carnival/Pavilion. So fixated on it is she, that she feels compelled to return there and try to exorcise these recent terrors. While visiting it during daylight she interprets it as a harmless place. But… she is unaware of the ‘Man’ lying beneath the surface of the water… waiting for her.

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cast the devil out

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Mary is cast under the spell of the lurking dead and the strange draw to the abandoned & desolate Saltair

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Profane

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“Profane… sacrilege What are you playing in this church. Have you no respect Do you feel no reverence? Well I feel sorry for you… and your lack of soul. This organ the music of this church these things have meaning and significance to us. I assumed they did to you. (to Mary it was just a job) But without this awareness I’m afraid you cannot be our organist. In conscious I must ask you to resign”
fired

At Church Mary is compelled to play the organ like a feverish madwoman, beyond the control of her hands, she hits the keys and creates dark progressions. Her music becomes malevolent on the pipe organ (Much like Siohban McKenna’s Emmy in Daughter of Darkness 1948) As Mary strokes the keys inflamed, overcome and aroused by the inexplicable desire, she sees images of the ‘Man’ and the others, the dead ensemble rising from the water, then waltzing at the Pavilion, moving in a quick pace, toward her. The jump cuts are very effective, as if they create the illusion of the dead ones hurling themselves at her. The minister interrupts Mary’s day-mare he cries ‘Sacrilege’ and he dismisses her from her post at the church.

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CRITERION liner notes: All the music with the exception of the jukebox is the organ.

“The organ is the music of Mary’s mind and of the world in which she finds herself. the world as a gain the way things are. It may be that she imagines her story in her own terms. With a soundtrack as cold as she is said to be, or that she ‘really’ lives for awhile in a world where the dead intrude. The underscoring and the underwater undead make it likely that what we see and hear is her windscreen. But the horror film can have it both ways.”

“An alternate world and an imagined one. Aside from the music the most artistically daring element of this film-one that defies a central convention of the horror genre -is its flight from romanticism , it’s concentration not on a foaming monster or on the hammering bosom of a Hammer heroine, but on a cold fish. If she is a magnet for the Gothic , there is nothing exciting or sexy about it. The thrills of this carnival are cold ones…. bits of death.”

The ‘Man’ continues to pursue Mary, she sees him everywhere, even while she’s playing the organ. The minister shows Mary around town and she asks him to accompany her to the Pavilion. Strange too, Mary can see it from her bedroom window.

When she returns to the rooming house Mary has to rebuff the seedy lecherous John Linden (Sidney Berger) who keeps trying to insinuate himself into Mary’s apartment. She also sees the ‘Man’ again.

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Mary is fixated on the Pavilion in the way Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) is fixated on Hill House. The Pavilion has become a catalyst, a place of connection to Mary who til now has been literally disconnected from the living world. The old rusted machinery of the ballroom, and the rusted collapsing spiral staircase reveal the old is enticing both women who don’t belong in this world that is new and young and vibrant. Both Eleanor and Mary Henry exist in a dust filled space of detachment and estrangement.

Mary accepts a date with her sleazy predatory neighbor Lindon, but refuses to drink, dance or be held close. They go back to her room, she sees John’s face become the ‘Man’s’ reflection in the mirror. The next morning she checks out of the rooming house, determined to leave this town behind. She is detained by car trouble. Dropping off the car at the gas station even proves to be an ominous affair.

at the garage

at the garage under the lift

at the garage on the lift

at the garage the man

Having been fired, wanting to leave town, the car is the garage, she goes to the bus depot, but can’t buy a ticket because no one hears or sees her. She tries to get onto the bus, the dead ensemble are inside laughing approaching her She tries to get on the train, they close the gate on her. she runs, there is a motorcycle cop, but he pulls away, as does the taxi cab that doesn’t see her…she runs the organ and the heels of her shoes, in a frenzy, her inner monologue why can’t they hear me, why can’t I hear anything.

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Trying to buy a bus ticket people walk right over her, the teller doesn’t acknowledge her. She is invisible to the world.
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She tries to get onto the train. they close the gait in her face. She is not there…
She screams "why can't anybody hear me!!!
Mary screams… “Why can’t anybody hear me!!!”

She attempts to buy a bus ticket, and becomes separated from the world again, so she attempts to just get on the bus. Jumping through the open door of the idling bus, she is confronted by the passengers, the dead ensemble.

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She meets with Doctor Samuels again in his office. He sits and listens with his back to her, she tells him “I don’t belong in the world” As the psychiatrist turns to answer her, it is revealed to be the ‘Man’ sitting in the chair. Mary screams… and wakes up in the garage. For a moment Mary is allowed to acknowledge the experience as a dream.

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Mary to Doctor Samuel’s chair back -“You’ve got to tell me what to do!”

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Mary drives away from town, directly to the Pavilion. The outside lights are illuminating the dead ensemble dancing. Mary sees herself as one of them. She’s dancing with the ‘Man’, caught in his embrace. The quick cuts create a frenetic dizzying night torment. The dead ensemble begin to chase Mary onto the sand by the beach. Then the scene changes to the austere sky and bleached out white of daylight.

There she is haunted by strange visions involving the pasty-faced wraith who continues to be a menacing force. Mary  is disconnected from the natural world, and the people around her experience her as odd perhaps even crazy. Even the most ordinary and mundane places like church, retail shops, parks, train stations and doctor’s offices are not safe as the pale-faced wraith that shadows her seems to be everywhere.

It is this feeling of isolation & being alienated by the world that draws Mary to the eerie abandoned Pavilion. At the Pavilion she is escorted by the ‘Man’ to come join the dance with the ‘pale-faced pushing up daisy’s gang’ in the empty ballroom.

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the end

The quick cuts of the ‘Man’ are appropriately horrifying because of the lack of grey tones, he appears with the ghastly pasty white face in dark contrast to his evening wear and the dark corners in which he appears to be occupying.

The power in the Pavilion comes on and the festive lights come up in the ballroom -the dead ensemble in their evening attire are waltzing. She see herself as one of them, she is dancing with the ‘Man’- she screams and runs but they chase her down to the beach. Now it’s daytime, the cold light of day at the Pavilion-slipping in and out of a dream, reality, darkness & light or belonging of terror.

We see the police, the minister of the church and the locals are investigating Mary’s disappearance. Mary’s car is still at the Pavilion. There are many sets of footprints leading down toward the beach and then… they end abruptly.

Is she trapped between the world of the dead or the world of the living? Mary Henry avoids death throughout the film as she is stalked and seduced by the pale-faced ‘Man’ with the mocking gaze and the ‘Lifeless Mob’, the ‘Dead Ensemble’ but it might just be a tryst she’ll have to show up for eventually…

Just to recap- The opening prelude shows us Mary rising from the cold waters of the river, her hair splattered with mud, she staggers onto the river bank passing the rescue party. She moves awkwardly as she emerges. It is perhaps the most powerful scene in Carnival of Souls, as Mary Henry indifferent toward ‘rescue’ or ‘deliverance.’ The extraneous attempt are mocked by the reality that Mary doesn’t seek salvation, and soon will embark on a nightmare journey trying to find her way out of purgatory. She is lured to the deserted Pavilion, trying to exorcise the nightmarish wraiths that stalk her even in the stark light of day.

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The film fell into obscurity for a while because of a bad deal struck with the corrupt Hertz-Lion Company to distribute the film in small theaters , who either didn’t understand or didn’t care to embrace Harvey/Clifford’s vision for the film. So Hertz Lion packaged it as a B-Movie venues exclusively, and playing at drive ins in the Southeastern U.S, not allowing it’s intended urban city Indie arty audience to see it. The Company also kept the profits then went out of business in 1964. Leaving Harvey and Clifford unpaid, the film lab who struck the release print unpaid as well. Carnival of Souls was edited for release to be used as double billing. The film was butchered by Hertz Lion, sacrificing mood and the script’s intelligibility for the sake of a shorter print, which would be easier to distribute.

Now you may suppose that the film’s continuity was sacrificed by this, yet Carnival of Souls does not seem to suffer from lack of atmosphere, unique camera work or said continuity, the film still deserves the art-house label as Herk Harvey and John Clifford originally intended.

Even after  ‘it languished in obscurity’ due to the dubious distribution strategy by the corrupt Hertz Lion Company and despite all the cuts and edits from the original film, Carnival of Souls has gained a tremendous cult following,

It’s one of my favorite classical horror films of the 60s! With many of us discovering this horror gem on late nite television with it’s spooky programming like Chiller Theater, Creature Feature and Night Fright on WOR Channel 9 in New York… all of which I was nourished on as a really young horror fan in the 60s & 70s.

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Candace Hilligoss was frustrated with Herk Harvey because he gave her NO motivation for her character, little to no explanation for Mary’s actions. Coming from the method school of acting, this created a conflict with her role, yet the blank stare and the disconnection to the narrative inadvertently or unconsciously created the no- affect heroine that propelled Mary even further into a netherworld caught between reality and unreality. Sound and silence. Visibility and imperceptibility. Mary Henry walks through the film perplexed and alienated.

Hilligoss would appear in one more horror picture from the 60s Corpse of the Living Dead (1964) a gruesome horror whodunit with a heavy dose of cynicism and sadism, Del Tenney style.

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Carnival of Souls has a visual narrative that is somewhat like a dark poem, or a funeral dance.

I’ve read an interesting essay that touches on a corollary between Carnival of Souls and Robert Wise’s 1963 ghost story The Haunting based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House. From Hidden Horror the chapter on Carnival of Souls by Prof. Shelly Jarenski- They make a few interesting comparisons. Such as the prelude… “… And we who walk here… walk alone.” in my malleable childhood mind, both the prelude and the coda stayed with me like a creepy lullaby or maudlin soliloquy. Jarenski says “The film’s core themes are encapsulated in that line uttered by the misfit heroine Eleanor Lance.”

Jarenski also mentions that ‘Eleanor seemed happiest becoming a ghost, belonging to the house.’

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the haunting

Words like ‘we’ or ‘walking’ does create an ominous ambiguity. That Eleanor will either join the collection of lost souls in Hill House or be doomed to walk alone for all eternity in ‘isolation and despair.’

Jarenski asserts that Carnival of Souls can be understood as a corollary to the more ceremonious and celebrated The Haunting because “It portrays what being part of the community of the dead, while simultaneously feeling utterly alone, looks like.”

Source From: More Things Than are Dreamt of- they point out the idea that The Haunting is much more than just a ghost story. As Shirley Jackson wrote in her novel, “During the whole underside of her life, ever since her first memory Eleanor had been waiting for something…”

Because of the key player Eleanor Lance not being a professional para-psychologist or a willing believer, what surfaces during the story’s reveal is that we are witnesses not just to a haunting, but a lonely woman, a disillusioned spinster, most likely a virgin who is yearning for release.

Mary Henry is also an isolated outcast, drawn to something possibly nefarious, but it’s something better than being a nothing, or being invisible around regular people… “I have no desire for the close company of other people.”

Mary Henry goes through portends and psychic spells that tamper with her senses, spells that are jarring and utterly frightening. The idea of abject ‘horror’ as with The Haunting (1963) or Daughter of Darkness (1948) doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural force behind the fear that is awakened. The apprehension of evil, the supernatural or the fine line between life and death are made a disturbing odyssey as we aren’t sure what is happening to Mary or us. The disturbing tone as Jarensky puts it, is ‘atmospheric oddness.’ The oddness that is familiar in Robert Wise’s The Haunting as Hill House’s angles were all ‘odd’ leaving one to feel that there is one big distortion as a whole. Mary Henry has been shifted off the mortal plain, journeying through a dizzying quagmire of nocturnal terrors or daytime sensory ordeals and alienation from the world.

Eleanor Lance

I’ve made my own connection with another stunning picture that deals with the fine line between death and life, reality and unreality. I’m talking about Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder (1990) where the hero also takes a grotesque and frighteningly nightmarish journey from life… through death…

So is it a ‘death journey’, a collective hallucination, or is Mary Henry going mad?

From the booklet notes of CRITERION by Bruce Kawin

“In Carnival of Souls (1962) one place is allowed to be blatantly creepy: The Amusement park where ghosts rest under the water and rise to dance. The rest of the world appears both normal and somehow wrong and part of what is wrong about it -and within stand encompassing it- it the liminal protagonist , Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) For she has gone wrong , and in the world with her. It may be her subjective world, as in the Cocteau and Bergman films that producer -director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford admired, but it is ours as long as we are in the theater, and it look too much like the real world outside the theater for comfort.

Mary Henry could also be said to be the archetypal “alienated heroine’, ‘the misplaced heroine’ or as Jarenski calls it ‘the misfit heroine’ who also feels like she lives on the fringes of society, with no place she truly belongs.

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Now this is where Mary Henry and her queer mannerism, church organ playing that becomes almost diabolically fevered, and the peculiar magnetism to either attract men or repel them still puts me in mind of director Lance Comfort’s Daughter of Darkness (1948) concerning the odd Irish lass Emily ‘Emmy’ Beaudine (Siohban MacKenna) Emmy too, was the church organist, who aroused every man in the county with a supernatural allure, yet she repelled dogs, horses and the womenfolk. And, when a man did want to go further she would scratch their eyes out or murder them in a fevered rage. Emmy is a wild thing, driven out of town for being one of the devil’s own. When Emmy played the organ, she became entranced not unlike Mary Henry, often she would lose herself in long drawn out musical conflagration to darkness. But was it supernatural or a monstrous feminine morality play about women’s primacy.

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Both women, provocative and strange possess a power to attract and repel, with Emmy’s boxer and Mary’s neighbor Linden. Mary plays the organ with a “pragmatic irreverence.” When the minister admonishes her, calling it ‘sacrilege’ she leaves her town “I am never coming back!

The parishioners talk behind her back, “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.

But even as Mary is seen as renegade, wicked or immoral she still doesn’t seem comfortable in her own skin, not as much as the people on the periphery of her world are. Those who inhabit the tenuous wall between life & death.

When Mary states that she feels separate from other people, we are dropped into a scene where the outside world that invades and surrounds her, loses all it’s sound. It is a marker to how she is cut off from the world.

Julia Kristeva the scholar who expanded brilliantly on Freud’s postulations on the sub-conscious & fear in his The Uncanny describes something that is pervasive through Carnival of Souls. The film takes the mundane, the familiar and these familiar points of reference, department stores, city parks, train stations and brightly sunlit beaches, suddenly become ‘out of place’ This is what happens to Mary Henry as she bares witness to the manifestation of the uncanny. She experiences a ‘profound psychological disturbance’ that is virtually impossible to describe.

As Jarensky says, “everything seems familiar to her, and yet she feels an inexplicable sense of separateness.”

With each time the sinister and other-worldly ‘Man’ shows himself to Mary, the film begins to spiral into a nightmarish hazy Kaleidoscope of eerie unreality. It not only seems like an assault on Mary, it makes us really uncomfortable as well, causing us anxiety.

Carnival of Souls has an enduring eerie charm that has sustained it’s cult status for years. Part of what works so well for this unique film is the lack of direction Hilligoss got from Herk Harvey leaving her as authentically lost as her character Mary Henry wandering through a netherworld too frightening to navigate. Low budget, filled with happy accidents that when viewed in retrospect bares the look of an art-house horror though unintentional the low grade quality creates a haunting appeal….

carnival-of-souls

Continue reading “Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling”

Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
the Naked kiss
Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
CapturFiles_3 copy
Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

Glen or Glenda
Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

The Killing of Sister George
Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

weird-noir
There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
mimi3
Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
Repulsion
Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”

Re-Ocurring Iconography-The Cinematic Mirror

A Streetcar Named Desire
Vivien Leigh as Blanch Dubois in Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire 1951
IsobelaCorona is Sara the witch-the witches mirror
Isobela Corona is Sara the witch-The Witches Mirror 1962
Repulsion- Catherine
Catherine Deneuve as the demented Carol in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion 1965
Bette Davis in Deception
Bette Davis as Christine Radcliffe in Irving Rapper’s Deception 1946
Robert Cummings in The Chase
Robert Cummings is Chuck Scott in Arthur Ripley’s The Chase 1946
citizen-kane-1941-orson-welles-
Citizen Kane-1941-Orson Welles
Corridor of Mirrors 2
Terence Young’s Corridor of Mirrors 1948 Edana Romney as Mifanwy Conway
Dead Ringer
Paul Henreid’s Dead Ringer 1964 starring Bette Davis & Bette Davis as twin sisters Margaret DeLorca / Edith Phillips
Decoy
Jack Bernhard’s film noir classic Decoy 1946 Herbert Rudley as Dr. Craig
fritz lang's M
Fritz Lang’s M (1931) starring Peter Lorre
Ida On Dangerous Ground
Ida Lupino is blind Mary Malden in Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground 1951
Jane Wyman Stage Fright
Jane Wyman is Eve Gill in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Stage Fright 1950
Jean Simmons and Dan O'Herlihey Home After Dark
Jean Simmons is Charlotte Bronn and Dan O’Herlihy as Arnold Bronn in Mervyn LeRoy’s psychological melodrama Home Before Dark 1958
jean-marais-Orpeus '50
Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (Orphée)1950 starring Jean Marais
Kiss Before The Mirror '33 James Whale
The Kiss Before the Mirror 1933 directed by James Whale Gloria Stuart and Paul Lukas
Lady in the Lake
Robert Montgomery is Phillip Marlowe in Lady in the Lake 1947
Marilyn Don't Bother to Knock-mirror
Marilyn Monroe is the disturbed babysitter Nell Forbes in Roy Ward Baker’s Don’t Bother to Knock 1952
Psycho-Janet Leigh Marion Crane
Janet Leigh plays the ill fated Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s classic horror Psycho 1960
Renoir's The Rules of the Game 39
Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game 1939
She Wolf of London
June Lockhart is Phyllis Allenby in Jean Yarbrough’s She-Wolf of London 1946
sin in the suburbs
Joe Sarno’s Sin in the Suburbs 1946
Somewhere in the night Hodiak
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Somewhere in the Night 1946 starring John Hodiak as George Taylor and Nancy Guild (rhymes with Wild) as Christy Smith
Sunset Blvd
Gloria Swanson is the sensational Norma Desmond and William Holden is Joe Gillis in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. 1950
The Big Steal
Robert Mitchum is Lt. Duke Halliday and William Bendix as Capt. Vincent Blake in Don Siegel’s The Big Steal 1949
The Dark Mirror
Olivia de Havilland & Olivia de Havilland star as Terry and Ruth Collins in Robert Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror 1946
The Lady from Shanghai
Rita Hayworth is Elsa Bannister in Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai 1947
The Queen of Spades mirror

Yvonne Mitchell is Lizaveta Ivanova in Thorold Dickinson’s The Queen of Spades 1949
Thomas Mitchell in The Dark Mirror
Thomas Mitchell is Lt Stevenson in Robert Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror 1946
what ever happened to baby jane
Bette Davis is the outrageous Baby Jane Hudson in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

Here’s looking back at ya!-Your ever lovin’ monstergirl

Postcards From Shadowland no. 9

1933 das testament der dr. mabuse
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse 1933 Fritz Lang
Ace In The Hole
Ace in The Hole – Billy Wilder
Aroused 1966
Aroused 1966 Anton Holden
Bayou 1957
Poor White Trash aka Bayou 1957-Harold Daniels
Blues in the night
Blues in the Night 1941-Anatole Litvak
Edward G Robinson-Little-Caesar with Douglas Fairbanks jr. and Glenda Farrell
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy-Edward G Robinson is Little-Caesar (1931) with Douglas Fairbanks jr. and Glenda Farrell
Experiment in Terror Ross Martin as Red Lynch
Experiment in Terror – Blake Edwards directs -Ross Martin as Red Lynch
Gene Tierney Tobacco Road 1941
Gene Tierney Tobacco Road 1941 directed by John Ford
George Pujouly  Brigitte Fossey Forbidden Games Jeux interdits 1952 René Clément
George Pujouly Brigitte Fossey Forbidden Games (Jeux interdits) 1952 directed by René Clément
Granny-The Southerner
Granny-The Southerner-Jean Renoir
Jeux Interdits
Jeux Interdits
knock on any door
Knock On Any Door 1949 Nicholas Ray
Lena Cabin in The Sky
Lena Horne-Cabin in The Sky 1943- Vincente Minnelli
Lon Chaney in He Who Gets Slapped
Lon Chaney in He Who Gets Slapped 1924 Victor Sjöström
Modern Times Charlie Chaplin
Modern Times Charlie Chaplin 1936
Never Take Sweets From A Stranger
Never Take Sweets From A Stranger 1960 Cyril Frankel
Night of The Demon-Tourneur
Curse of The Demon- 1957 Jacques Tourneur
Peter Lorre in The Man Who Knew Too Much1956
Peter Lorre in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much 1956
Rashomon
Rashomon 1950 -Akira Kurosawa
Repulsion
Roman Polanski’s Repulsion 1965 Catherine Deneuve
The Cobweb
The Cobweb-1955- Vincente Minnelli
The Last Laugh-letzte mann and emil-jannings in
The Last Laugh 1924-with emil-jannings directed by F.W Murnau
the sweet smell of success
The Sweet Smell of Success 1957-directed by Alexander Mackendrick written by Clifford Odets
Viva Zapata with Marlon-Brando and Jean Peters-
Viva Zapata 1952 with Marlon-Brando and Jean Peters-Elia Kazan directs

She’s Become Hysterical: The ‘Cassandra Complex’ in a Cinematic Moment.

SHE’S BECOME HYSTERICAL!!!!!!!!

The Cassandra Metaphor can have various invocations. Also called a ‘syndrome’, ‘complex’, ‘phenomenon’ ‘dilemma’ or ‘curse.’ This occurs when valid warnings are dismissed or ignored.

Originating from Greek Mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of Priam King of Troy. Apollo became obsessed with her beauty and so gave her the gift of prophecy. But once Cassandra rebuffed Apollo’s sexual advances, he cursed her making it impossible for anyone to believe her warnings. She could never convince anyone of her predictions.

Thus could be the origin of ‘the hysterical woman.’ Women often depicted in films as hysterical, to be dismissed, confined, calmed down, psychiatrically subdued and shut away.

The metaphor has been used in various contexts of psychology, philosophy and cinema.

“I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.”Tennessee Williams

Rosemary’s Baby 1968
Women’s Prison 1955
Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964
Airport 1970
The Snake Pit 1948
A Woman Under the Influence 1974
The Haunting 1963
The Devils 1971
House on Haunted Hill 1959
The Birds 1963
Strait-Jacket 1964
Repulsion 1965
Suddenly Last Summer 1959
Caged 1950