Playground of Dark Dreams: The Nightmare World of Dante Tomaselli

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

“I’m on fire to transcribe my nightmares through cinema and music. After creating four films and four instrumental albums, I’m pregnant with The Doll, my next horror picture and it’s clawing at my insides. The upcoming horror shocker concerns a haunting at a family owned wax museum in Salem. Co-writer Michael Gingold and I recently completed the screenplay and had a couple of false start-ups, like all my films have had – but I’m very close now to securing the proper funding. As a cult filmmaker, I don’t go to Hollywood for my financing. I live in a world where independent films are funded through private investors. It’s an unstable realm for sure and I plan to get to the point where I can fund my own films as well as other independent filmmaker’s works. As with all my projects, I’m purchasing and acquiring some of the special fx and props before actual official pre-production. Right now I’m working with a sculptor, Jason Bakutis, on the the doll itself…An antique porcelain doll. Jason created the eerie ancient tribal mask that Jimmy, the lead character wore in my last film, Torture Chamber. My projects may take years to mount but I’ve learned that if my intentions are pure and I visualize the film and soundtrack enough the universe has no choice but to open the gate. It’s just a matter of alignment. Every one of my films has been a struggle to create and if I would have given up then there would be no DESECRATION, no HORROR, no SATAN’S PLAYGROUND or TORTURE CHAMBER. I see THE DOLL looming when my eyes are open…or shut. The film is always projected like slides in my inner eye. Not to mention, the sounds…I tend to plan my actual soundtracks before filming. I did it on every one of my films. The sound…first. Which I guess makes sense since I have sound-color synesthesia. When I was younger and the very loud school alarm would go off – I’d see little grey spirals, like mini tornadoes, every time. The sound induced the patterns, the visuals. One time I saw what looked like three giant dragonflies hovering over the side of my house. There was bombing going on in the neighborhood and the explosive sound produced these strange blobs of color. I thought they were real flying giant-sized insects and I remembering running in terror. The sound of rain…I don’t need to see rain, just hear it…and it’s involuntary…I see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of light.” —Dante Tomaselli

I first stumbled onto Dante Tomaselli’s work when I purchased a VHS copy of Desecration from one of the oldest video rental houses in Madison Wisconsin, known for their extensive collection in Indie, obscure and art house films. I was struck by the artwork on the cover and the story seemed fascinating to me since I’m a classic horror film nut who will always remain faithful to the sacred classical horror genre style from Mid 80’s all the way back to the Silent Era.

One of the many things that strikes me about Dante Tomaselli’s work– is the Nightmarish Beauty that feels vintage. The Hallucinatory, Religio/Horror style is how he manages to create a perfect sense of place in his film’s surroundings, that is not only otherworldly in ordinary spaces but also possess a throw back to earliest horror films without being derivative.

There is a reminiscent atmosphere of older films as if he’s found a conduit to the good old days and his own appreciation for the classical style of horror film-making in his own work and succeeds in adapting it with an original flare on screen. The effective and evocative sound design is also something that creates another layer to Tomaselli’s films. Even the sets are meticulous, Tomaselli has a grasp of how to set the scene that hints at another time period. This is also what makes Tomaselli’s films more frightening than most contemporary horrors. Satan’s Playground truly has the authentic feel of a late 70s early 80s classic horror film, I mean he used a wood paneled station-wagon in Satan’s Playground, it doesn’t get better than that! not to mention his eye for casting special actors that fit his characters perfectly. The same goes for all of his other three feature films, Desecration, Horror and Torture Chamber.

In particular I have come to adore Irma St. Paule who sadly passed away in 2007. Irma has presence. She added something special to Desecration 1999 as Grandma Matilda and as the wicked Mrs. Leeds she was superbly macabre in Satan’s Playground 2006.

Dante Tomaselli has tapped into his primal dark spot, his id and found a way to connect the dots to the outer world. Upon re-watching all four of his feature films, I became reacquainted with some of the elements that drew me to his work in the first place. Tomaselli within all four works has created one continuous nightmare realm. A Möbius Trip of time and space. A string of interconnected events, interchangeable, with their own symbology and iconography. One connected journey with thematic threads that weave a familiar tapestry– painting the entire picture as a unified message, and an alternate realm that is woven together with pieces from the same puzzle. Hallucinatory, non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic, visceral, east coast Americana Gothic, a 70s vibe with raw simplicity, transcendental & primal horrors. There is a definitive pattern, a cyclical nihilist fate where none of the characters manage to survive their journey, their ordeal. There are no real protagonists, just puppets in a modern Greek tragedy.

Sound in Dante Tomaselli’s masterful works are extremely key to the aura of his work. He painstakingly sculpts each soundscapes that breathe, lo-fi undertows, waves and tones that shade the atmosphere along with his dynamic color palate. The use of color and lighting is also reminiscent of great horror films of the 1970s & 80s, I might add.

Tomaselli also prolongs his character’s sense of ‘outsider-ship’ The Outsider theme is also continuous throughout his work, in particular the gangs of children, forgotten and disaffected children, angry, having suffered at the hands of abuse and torture, they band together with their collective angst, as in Horror and Torture Chamber. While society is trying to cure them, or figure them out, or repress their identities, or force salvation on them –they are caught up in their private hell again and again.

And there is a perfect sense of place that Dante Tomaselli establishes in all his films…

As in the old abandoned house filmed in the Pine Barrens featured in Satan’s Playground, the simple woods, a place of the natural world becomes an almost unreal hellish domain. A rustic limbo-land. And what I’ve come to realize, but I must give first credit to my partner Wendy who watched this chilling film with me together once again, this haunted Halloween month is that Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule) and her demented kinfolk don’t even really live in that broken down abandoned place.

She gets the sense that the house really is empty, it’s uninhabited for real. She figured that they only appear when someone comes knocking at the door. Then the hellish realm opens up and they materialize, like phantoms, like demons. And you know what! –I believe she’s right.

Because getting to know Dante Tomaselli’s work, means realizing that there are dimensions, levels of hell here on Earth. The creepy Leeds clan are just like the elusive Jersey Devil himself, swooping in and out of the picture to take people out of this life! Even as poor Sean Bruno falls into the hole in the ground (much like Bobby in Desecration-again revisiting common themes) it’s like he is being sucked out of life and down into the bowels of hell, or falling into ‘nowhere’. And one of the most striking observations for me was Tomaselli’s use of Trees… trees representing the ‘natural world’. which Dante and I will discuss further into this post. There are trees uses as figures, as the embodiment of an elemental force in each of his four films.

From Matthew Edwards essay The New Throwback: The FIlms of Dante Tomaselli “…watching Poltergeist, how many people would feel comfortable keeping a doll of a clown in their room? In both Desecration and Horror, Tomaselli likewise uses familiar objects, or childhood toys, as a means of driving conflicting emotions.”

There are many moments of recurring iconography throughout Dante Tomaselli’s four timorous mind-blowing works of art. ‘The Devouring Mother Archetype”-Christie Sanford who is fantastic continued her demon mother entity in Desecration’s respective sequel Torture Chamber. In all four films, Sanford’s incarnation displays this rabid motherhood, not only with the symbol of a little boy trapped in a cage and the religio-horror aspect but her character Judy’s maniacal abduction of Paula’s (Ellen Sandweiss) baby, Anthony in Satan’s Playground, and then her violent Folie à deux relationship with the vicious Reverend Salo Jr. (Vincent Lamberti) and their treatment of Grace in Horror.

There is the re-appearances of the goat (a symbol of arcane Gods & supernatural significance), boils (damnation from hell) boy size cages, used in Desecration as the badly abused Bobby is imprisoned in one in his dreams, as is Jimmy in Torture Chamber. The torture rack used in Horror is brought back in Torture Chamber once again, illustrative of the themes of agony and punishment. There is a dark swirling, gaping black vortex, a circular menacing field that not only appears in Satan’s Playground out in the dark sky in the night time woods and we see it once again in Torture Chamber inside the castle structure. There are invisible bogs, holes to nowhere that Danny Lopes continues to get sucked down into, in Desecration and then again in Satan’s Playground. And of course there is Atmo Royce’s incredible artwork that Tomaselli commissioned specifically for his films, that are significant to each story. Even the puzzle that Grandma Matilda (Irma St. Paule) works on at the dining room table in Desecration has a story to tell, it also contains the grassy oubliette that Danny Lopes falls into.

Dante makes the lower-budget work to his advantage. Films with vast amounts of surplus funds wind up having no soul, yet Dante Tomaselli manages to convey what’s in his head by staying close to the art of intuitive style and not by using big money shocks. He is not restricted at all, but stays true to his vision.

I see Dante Tomaselli’s work as uniquely his own imaginary / hallucinatory vision. Dante’s collective works are like little filmic exorcisms, for childhood fears. Where the danger surrounds anyone who is young, and the adults become the monsters. Where religion becomes the monster, and where fanaticism, repression and abuse, drives people toward possession, damnation, and inevitably to Hell, or a hellish nightmare world where there is no escape nor salvation.

Yet on a very Americana landscape, with a truly east coast American Gothic narrative due to the fixation on suburban Catholicism, with Medieval emblems, Italian east coast Catholicism and the ordinary American family, the fixture of the church as in Desecration , Catholic idols and statuettes of the virgin Mary, all surrounding childhood fears, perversion of religion, fanaticism and madness. This all seems to manifested into these surreal nightmarish paroxysms on screen.

I also see amidst the imagery…agony, fixation, rage, desire, craving, cruelty, revenge, frenzy, hysteria and desolation, and outsider-ship as the proponents of the narratives, in Desecration (1999) Horror (2003), Satan’s Playground (2006) and ultimately Torture Chamber (2013).

There’s an authentic American angst about ours sins swallowing us up and spitting us out into Hell. In Dante Tomaselli’s dream world, there exhibits a charismatic starkness, which exposes us down to a raw nerve and makes us feel closer to what might be a more straightforward Hell, than the depictions from classical paintings and literature.

it will continue to brand Tomaselli a hallucinatory auteur and broaden his landscape a bit more, but does not scale back on the schadenfreude emotional shivers and psychic acrobatics that his earlier works cause the viewer to go through, definitely me for sure.

Dante Tomaselli was born October 29, 1969, in Paterson, New Jersey- is an Italian-American horror screenwriter, director, and electronic score composer. He studied filmmaking at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and then transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts, receiving a B.F.A. degree in Advertising there. His first film was a 23 minute short, called Desecration which was screened at a variety of horror and mainstream film festivals.

Later on, Dante Tomaselli expanded his screenplay Desecration into a feature length film and in 1999, the film premiered to a SRO audience at the prestigious Fantafestival in Rome, Italy.

The release of Desecration (1999) on DVD by Image Entertainment was praised by reviewers for its unique vision for a independent horror production.

“I’m just this guy from New Jersey who has odd visions. I do have an obsession with replicating childhood nightmares, fears, anxieties. With my films, I’m trying to construct some kind of nightmare where we experience the protagonist’s damnation.”

It’s no wonder that he’s “just this guy from New Jersey with odd visions” and a life long supernatural / horror aficionado considering himself as a ‘supernaturalist, NOT a ‘satanist’, who also happens to be the cousin of film director Alfred Sole the director who brought us the edgy , cult Catholic themed horror favorite , Alice Sweet Alice (1976) which I loved the atmosphere of dread and that iconic clear mask of the killer, the yellow raincoat… The entire vibe is memorable.

Dante’s 2nd feature film, is Horror (2003) began it’s initial filming in January 2001 in Warwick upstate New York, which was Tomaselli’s first commercial success, and has maintained a wide release on DVD.  Tomaselli also has a keen eye for casting the right people for her work. In an interesting & quite nostalgic maneuver the film cast celebrity mentalist/magician, Kreskin who maintained notoriety as ‘Amazing’ in the 1970s! Dante Tomaselli’s Horror was released on DVD in the United States and Canada by Elite Entertainment.

Tomaselli then made Satan’s Playground (2005), It stars 70’s and early-80’s cult-horror icons Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead), and Edwin Neal (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The film is set, and was filmed in, New Jersey’s infamous Pine Barrens Forest that truly has its own eerie mythology in real life.

In his fourth installment Dante Tomaselli released  Torture Chamber (2013) yet another of his nightmarish journeys exploring the imaginations of Hell and damnation. Torture Chamber had its World Premier at Sitges 2012 Festival in Spain.

Dante Tomaselli’s work is being featured in an excellent edited volume released by the outstanding publishing company McFarland — FILM OUT OF BOUNDS. There’s a chapter (pg. 112-125) titled: The New Throwback: The Films of Dante Tomaselli.

Twisted Visions: Interviews with Cult Horror Filmmakers by Matthew Edwards

From IMDb – About Dante Tomaselli’s musical compositions link below to his music company.

Dante’s Halloween Haunted Attraction

The director/composer’s first audio CD of electronic horror music, ”Scream in the Dark” (2014) was released by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio January 14, 2014. Its follow-up, ”The Doll” (2014) described as “a ghoulish experiment in fear,” was released on CD and Digital download by Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio April 15, 2014. Tomaselli’s third dark ambient album, “Nightmare” was distributed by the same label January 13, 2015. TuneCore released his fourth and most successful dark electronic album, “Witches” March 24, 2017. Rue Morgue Magazine awarded Witches five skulls, “A meticulously crafted work…Tomaselli takes us on his most lurid sonic journey to date.” Rock! Shock! Pop! added, “Pulsing John Carpenter-esque keyboard work…Dante Tomaselli releases his fourth album of spooky soundtrack inspired instrumental music.” Videoscope Magazine’s music critic, Tim Ferrante stated, “All of Witches’ 13 tracks are praiseworthy…Each cut ignites theater-of-the-mind wonderment, fear and the spiritual world by deeply boring into the psyche…Tomaselli has produced a fiendish and furtive album for fans of ‘mood music’ of a different kind.” Dante Tomaselli’s Witches was nominated for Rue Morgue magazine 2017 album of the year.

Desecration (1999)

“You Will Burn in Hell!”

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. With cinematography by Brendan Flynt, film editing by Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Michelle Lang, Production design by Michele La Rocca.

Stars Irma St. Paule ( 12 Monkeys 1995, Trees Lounge 1996, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her 2000) as Grandma Matilda, Christie Sanford (Horror 2003, Satan’s Playground 2006, Winter of Frozen Dreams 2009, Torture Chamber 2013) as Sister Madeline / Mary Rullo, Danny Lopes as Bobby Rullo, Salvatore Paul Piro (Joe’s Apartment 1996, Sleepers 1996, Night Falls on Manhattan 1996, The Sopranos (199), Find Me Guilty 2006, Satan’s Playground 2006) as Mr. Rullo, Vincent Lamberti as Brother Nicolas, Maureen Tomaselli as Sister Rosemary, Gene Burke as Father O’Leary, Ruth Ray as Reverend Mother, Helen Palladino as Mrs. Cannizzaro the psychic, Nora Maher as Sister Rita, Mary Fassino as Sister Veronica.

Desecration is an eerie psychological chiller about a young 16 year old boy named Bobby Rullo played by Danny Lopes. It also stars Tomaselli regular Christie Sandford as Sister Madeline/ Mary Rullo (Bobby’s mother) Sandford brings a certain ‘arresting presence’ to both characters.

The setting for Desecration is appropriately placed at St. Anthony’s Catholic Boarding School-St. Anthony is the Patron Saint of the Lost. And Desecration is the story of one lost boy’s journey through Hell! The film winds around a non-linear movement and flashbacks with soundscapes that are striking.

Bobby Rullo (Danny Lopes) is an outsider, a loner. He is emotionally scarred by his mother’s sudden death. Christie Sanford, simultaneously plays Sister Madeline and Bobby’s mother Mary. The two women it could be said are one in the same, both are Bobby’s tormentors.

16 year old Bobby Rullo suffers from a repressive and outright abusive Catholic childhood. He seems lost within the emotional turbulence since the unexpected death of his mother when he was five. 11 years later, at his Catholic boarding  school, while playing with a radio controlled plane, it collides with Sister Madeline causing blunt force trauma to her head and killing her instantly on the grounds of the school. It is deemed an accident, but Bobby is failing school and he is told to pack his bags and go home. Bobby quietly utters- “Some people are blessed and others are just cursed.”

It is only after he inadvertently causes the death of the nun, that it unleashes a series of brutal and supernatural chain of events. As a premonition, at the opening of Desecration, during mass, sister Madeline can not get her candle to light, she runs out of the room seemingly afraid and ashamed, as the other nuns stare at her. There is an expression of shock and of dread on her face as she is not meant to be blessed, but as Bobby says, some people ‘are just cursed.’

Bobby begins his journey through Hell, where he sees visions of the dead nun and his dead mother. Bobby’s descent summons demons, and evokes powerful childhood nightmares and primal fears.

Desecration acts as a set piece for our childhood fears, and the overpowering influence of abuse, fanaticism and repression, which wreak havoc on our innocence. Desecration is in effect a film you experience from the inside out. You’re not supposed to make sense of it. There is no sense to one’s madness or one’s descent into a nether regions of Hell while the gates open wider. The dead sister Madeline who becomes more grotesque with time as she is book-ended by demon clowns who stand at the ‘gates’. She taunts Bobby with visions of her lurking about the grounds.

Bobby is also mistreated by Brother Nicolas (Vincent Lamberti who is quite intimidatingly sinister in this role and as Reverend Salo Jr. in Horror 2003 with his well chiseled fiendish grin) who manhandles him and slips him a Valium to relax, a queer thing to do as an elder figure of the church. Bobby asks him, “Can priests take Valium?” With a menacing tone he tells Bobby, “priests can do many things…” 

Bobby becomes groggy, he begins to hallucinate, as he looks at the painting of a nun, it morphs into a blurry face like sister Madeline who appears to the Reverend Mother out on the grounds, faceless, then the painting of the nun becomes an unearthly skull. The use of Atmo Royce’s paintings is perfection, as a pinion to the surrealism of the film.

Bobby begins to hear the voice of a priest, “No description can be adequately revealed to the gravity of God’s vengeance against the wicked…” The sins of the mother, not the father  are exacted on the children. The transformation of the nun painting becomes a skull as its final transformation, turns itself into a clown’s face.

Bobby wanders the halls in a daze, he gazes through the window of the classroom door and sees brother Nicolas’ eyes burn demonic as he turns to look at Bobby. Finally as he makes his way back to his room, lights a candle and says his prayers, he falls asleep and vines and dirt begin to envelop the room. The earth and the natural world are trying to swallow him up. He dreams of sister Madeline in her most frightening incarnation standing at the entrance of a gate, in between a set of demon clowns. Sister Madeline is now trapped in Hell and Hell is coming for Bobby. He is marked for damnation by the evils of the world.

Bobby has only one person he can trust and that is his dauntlessly pious Grandma Matilda who is wonderful in the role. Matilda’s devotion to her Catholic faith drives her forward to try and protect Bobby from his mother, her own daughter Mary who is haunting and terrorizing him from the grave. Grandma Matilda is part of the supernatural events that were triggered by his killing sister Madeline. Madeline is grotesque in death, but Bobby’s mother was an abusive monster in life, and how he processes the abuse he endured as a little boy is dreaming of her having locked him in a cage. Bobby’s father mentions how he’d come home and find his hands and feet tied to the playpen.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Grandma Matilda is putting together a strange puzzle that is an odd painting of trees in the woods, almost a primitive style artwork. There’s is one piece left to fill in and suddenly it becomes Bobby’s face as he is about to sink into a hole, another premonition of things to come. Grandma Matilda also discovers her daughters spirit in the house, “She’s a here (with an Italian accent, though Irma St. Paule is from the Ukraine, she does a wonderful job as an old world Italian Catholic) She’s a here!!!”

There is also a great sequence where Matilda wants to consult the psychic she plays Bingo with to help try and find Bobby who is missing. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “I see a very deep hole” Matilda-“the hole in the puzzle” “Yes it is a puzzle” Matilda also asks if his mother Mary has him, Mrs. Cannizzaro is fearful of the energy she is picking up on, the psychic is afraid to proceed. Mrs. Cannizzaro tells Matilda “Your daughter is using him to escape” “Escape from what?” “From Hell!”

Bobby is run through a maze of physical persecutions and emotions. During biology class he sees the dead nun, drive up in a hearse and beckon to him to get in. Bobby hates confinement, he complains that there are no locks on his bedroom door at the school. We see a flashback or dream/nightmare sequences that he was kept in a large cage in his bedroom as a little boy. The room is filled out with creepy toys, clowns and an even creepier giant Humpty Dumpty doll and balloons and a hovering mother who reeks of inherent sadism and evil, as she is holding balloons and a bottle of formula while he is trapped in the cage crying.

It is a disturbing image as we see Bobby at 16 years old, lying in the fetal position in the cage, his mother splashing the baby formula all over him and cackling. When Bobby tells his Grandma that he had the worst dream about his mother again, and wants to know why there aren’t any photographs of her around the house. It is Bobby’s father who doesn’t want any pictures of his wife in the house! We hear Bobby’s father (Salvatore Paul Piro, who is fantastic as Bobby’s ill-tempered father) talk about his wife having had a breakdown after he was born and that “She was sick!”

While running in the woods, surrounded by trees, (trees which I’ve come to learn are very significant as a trope in all of Tomaselli’s films) he meets up with his friend Sean who suddenly falls into a hole. Bobby can hear unholy growling coming from the abyss. Or is it Bobby himself who has fallen in the hole?

There are moments of the right amount of gore, when sister Rita is looking through sister Madeline’s art portfolio, she sees the dead eyed nun outside the window, then the statue of the Virgin Mary falls off the shelf. Suddenly, sister Rita is attacked by a pair of shears, and she is literally stabbed to death, by these ordinary scissors that are animated by an unseen force, her wrists and limbs slashed and her throat stabbed. Perhaps this horrifying moment is as evocative as a moment from Lucio Fulci, yet Dante Tomaselli never cannibalizes other directors work, the mood is quite original and very much his vision. An abject sequence of fright that is startling, with each frame of Desecration a photo-play in classical horror. There is such a raw absence of adornment with Brendan Flynt’s cinematography which is alternatively balanced with the surrealism of the nightmarish sequences.

Desecration is not only Bobby’s journey through Hell, it encompasses everyone in his orbit. His grandma Matilda told him, “you were an angel Bobby” but is this enough to save him from being damned?

Horror (2003)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli, with music by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Timothy Naylor, film editing Marcus Bonilla, Art direction by Maze Georges, production design by Jill Alexander, costume design by Nives Spaleta. And some amazing special effects, make up and evil pumpkin head puppetry by Monsters, Madmen and Mayhem Make-up Creations.

Horror stars Kreskin as Reverend Salo, Lizzy Mahon as Grace Salo, Danny Lopes (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Luck, Vincent Lamberti (Desecration 1999) as Reverend Salo Jr., Christie Sanford (Desecration 1999, Satan’s Playground 2006, Torture Chamber 2013) as Mrs. Salo, Jessica Pagan as Marisa, Raine Brown as Amanda, Kevin Kenny as Kevin, Chris Farabaugh as Fred, and Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp 1983) as the Art Therapist.

Horror (2003), utilizes some of the same imagery as Desecration, in fact Danny Lopes plays one of the characters, a troubled delinquent teenage drug user named Luck.

Horror, is a visually striking masterpiece of well–horror, about a group of runaway teens who escape from a drug rehab facility. Luck (Danny Lopes) shoots and kills the guard and takes his gun and a huge bag of candy and magic mushrooms which the van of teenagers proceed to partake in on their way to the Salo farm. In another nightmarish odyssey the teens encounter demonic forces at the rural family farmhouse owned by two sadists who imprison their daughter Grace, inject her with drugs to keep her compliant. Reverend Salo Jr is a phony preacher and faith healer and possibly the pair are murderers who run an odd religious cult.

Like so many of the scenes in Horror, there is another powerful sequence where Grace is looking out her bedroom window at her father holding one of his fire and brimstone sermons in the snow, during the cold white light of day, while people with crutches and boils are gathered round in a circle. Her father looks up and points at her, and that singular moment sends shivers up my spine. Lamberti is absolutely menacing as Revernd Salo Jr. And while the scene takes place in broad daylight, there is a feeling of claustrophobic terror and dread because Grace is truly trapped.

There is a hint that they might have even abducted Grace (she finds a strange scrapbook of pictures, one with a little girls legs sticking out of a bag, I think that’s the impression I got), who are these people, are they the Salo’s victims and are these photos trophies?)

And are they keeping Grace drugged so that she will not remember her past before she was abducted. The opening scene illustrates a form of abduction, as she is knocked out and brought back into the house. I also consider the fact that her Grandfather who was a mentalist and could hypnotize people, bending their will to his might have played a part in her captivity. Did Reverend Salo Sr. brainwash her into believing that they were family? Grace seems to have a psychic connection to her Grandfather, but is that because he has imposed his will on her consciousness.

There are flashback sequences of the Amazing Kreskin performing his mentalist act, the presence of this nostalgic celebrity adds another vintage sensation that we’re watching an authentic older horror film from the 1970s decade.

From the starling opening of Horror, Grace is stringing Christmas lights up on the front of the quaint little house, when she is accidentally shocked by a live wire and burns her hand, and as she comes down the ladder, she is struck by a dark figure who puts her in a body bag, throws her over his shoulder and dumps her on a bed like a rag doll, while her mother (Christie Sanford) laughs with a streak of cruelty. Her abductor we come to learn is the Reverend Salo Jr. her own father. The scene is chilling and brutal in it’s old fashioned simplicity. Again, Dante Tomaselli manages to bring me back to that eerie & uncanny sensation you get when watching a good 70s horror flick.

My first impression of this sadistic couple and Salo Sr (Kreskin) was the name that instantly made me think of the nightmarish fascist torture film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) directed by Pasolini. I asked Dante if my association was correct and this is what Dante told me-I was looking for a name that conjured depravity and Salo matched the vibration of the characters” (Reverend Salo – (Kreskin) and Reverend Salo Jr. – Vincent Lamberti)

After the opening where the pale and melancholy Grace (Lizzy Mahon) is attacked by her father and back inside the house and injected with a hypodermic to keep her submissive because she is acting up again (meaning –being independent of their will only by leaving the house and decorating for Christmas), eventually the teenagers who have escaped cross paths with Grace and the terrifying circumstances at the farmhouse intersect.

There is the presence of a black goat who is fixated on Grace, coming into the house and gazing at her. There is also a goat headed hooded figure in the woods that attacks one of the teenagers, yet another chilling scene.

The two disturbing narratives begin to integrate into one converging nightmare. The teens had escaped with the promise that Reverend Salo Jr would lead them and its the beginning of a new life, while handing out magic mushrooms in their shopping bag of goodies and a pamphlet from the Reverend with words that say- the End is near, Famine and the Anti-Christ.

While the teens are tripping out on hallucinatory drugs, we are getting images of the abuse Grace has been subjected to, and the collection of cult followers who are ravaged by boils and become almost zombie like. In fact, the teens, Luck Amanda, Marissa, Fred and Chris succumb to their own nightmare out in the woods, surrounded by violent visions, drug induced or supernatural forces at work both are simultaneously true.

Once in the farmhouse the violence continues, and Grace has a vision of the painting of her Grandfather Reverend Salo Sr (the amazing Kreskin) morphing into a frightening visage, as she discovers a hidden room in the attic with church candles and an Iron Maiden! Is she hallucinating from the drugs or was this where she was subjected to a medieval style torture –we see her being stretched on a rack, screaming in pain until she passes out. The rack will be seen once again in Torture Chamber (2013). The duplicity of religious fanaticism and hidden sadism and child abuse is ever present in Horror.

Again Atmo’s artwork plays a stunning visual role in the film. The painting in Grace’s room morphs into a savage visage of Grandfather Salo The Reverend Sr. The use of paintings that metamorphose into horrible versions of their former image puts me in mind of the Pilot episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, in the first installment the wicked and murderously greedy Roddy McDowall kills his wealthy uncle (George Macready) and is then plagued by the painting that keeps changing to show his uncle climbing out of his grave and pounding at the front door of the estate, coming back in death to claim his revenge on his murderous bastard nephew. It’s one of my favorite episodes of the series.

Horror is an atmospheric & disorienting chiller, another hallucinatory journey that coils around you like a snake head devouring it’s own tail–where it begins and where it ends is like any nightmare, where reality melts into horror and is as visually frightening as nightmare one can have.

Satan’s Playground (2006)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Music by Dante Tomaselli, Bill Lacey and Kenneth Lampl. Film editing by Marcus Bonilla and Egon Kirincic, Art direction by Pete Zumba, Costume Design by Erika Goyzueta.

on the set of Satan’s Playground

Stars Felissa Rose as Donna Bruno, Salvatore Paul Piro as Frank Bruno, Danny Lopes as Sean Bruno, Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead 1981) as Paula, Irma St. Paule as Mrs. Leeds, Edwin Neal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974) as Leeds boy, Christie Sanford as Judy Leeds, Ron Milkie as Officer Peters, Robert T. Zappalorti as cop/camper, Chris Farabaugh as stoner, Raine Brown as prostitute, Garth Johnson as Red Hooded man, Jesse Hodges as Lost Teen, Maureen Tomaselli as reporter, Emily Spectre as nurse, Paul LeRoy as truck drive/worshiper, Michael Ryan as the whipping boy and a slew of worshipers.

“SATAN’S PLAYGROUND is a supernatural shocker chronicling a family’s spine-tingling odyssey in New Jersey’s legendary Pine Barrens region. En route to a wilderness camping retreat, their car inexplicably breaks down. As darkness falls, panic sets in. Then the marooned family stumbles upon an ancient and seemingly abandoned house. And it is here that they meet the bizarre Mrs. Leeds who lives there with her equally unhinged children. Offering no assistance, she warns of a violent, unseen force lurking in the forbidding countryside. Soon, the family will encounter a supernatural evil older than the woods themselves. SATAN’S PLAYGROUND…a place where deadly myth becomes gruesome reality.”– review by LDMediaCorp

Satan’s Playground has the true feel of the late 70s early 80s, exuding an Americana Gothic atmosphere with the backwoods, the netherworld of the Pine Barrens that cinematographer Tim Naylor creates with Dante Tomaselli at the helm. The sense of isolation and dread taps into all those primal fears of strange and unmerciful families that are outliers in society who kill people as part of their family routine, as ordinary as doing the chores.

This theme as always worked in films like Tobe Hooper’s dark adult fairy tale about a cannibalistic family in  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), John Hough’s repressed, isolated murderous religious fanatics portrayed to the hilt by Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo in American Gothic (1987), or even a cult favorite of mine, about a psychotic family of outliers in Spider Baby (1967)

Satan’s Playground is as dark as a Grimm’s Fairy Tale… and perhaps my favorite of Dante Tomaselli’s films.

What is so frightening is that families like The Leeds seem to be able to circumvent the law and social morays for long periods of time, as primitive as rabid animals who kill with a blood lust and not merely for survival. Added to this is the mythology of the Jersey Devil who has haunted our nightmares from the Pine Barrens for decades. He lurks and preys on random characters in the film, who are unlucky enough to be out in the woods, swooping down and slashing them to death or carrying them off to some hidden lair. The flapping of it’s wings are present in Satan’s Playground, while the hooded Satanists who are seen whipping their human sacrifice seem to be the least of the dangers in the story.

The story, chronicles another nightmare journey of a dysfunctional family who are headed through the Pine Barrens to enjoy a family camping trip. En route to the wilderness of the wooded nether regions Donna Bruno (Felissa Rose) her husband Frank who keeps falling asleep at the wheel (Salvatore Paul Piro) their autistic son Sean (Danny Lopes) Paula (Ellen Sandweiss) and her new born baby Anthony, break down when their wood paneled station wagon gets stuck in the mud.

Paula hears the flapping of wings, but it’s Sean who seems to have the hyper awareness that something isn’t quite right, he has a keener senses about his surroundings, trying to point toward the danger, with no one paying attention to him, because the other members of the family are too busy airing their frustrations. As darkness falls, panic sets in and the need to seek help sends each one out into the night.

As each one goes looking for help, they stumble upon an abandoned house, boarded up and in obvious decrepitude yet each family member knocks on the door looking to use a phone. Satan’s Playground has the feel of a macabre fairy tale of hapless victims wandering into dangerous spaces, at the mercy of an evil in its most pure form.

Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule not the kindly Grandma she once played but in the role as a most wicked witch) opens the door.

Right from the moment we enter the strange house, the layout tells us there is something off kilter. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, the set design works incredibly well. It is here that each Bruno family member, one by one meets the otherworldly crone and the bizarre Leeds family. Mrs. Leeds boasts of her 13 children some who have died young, the rest worthless or developmentally disabled. She lives with her two unhinged children, the twisted Judy (Christie Sanford) who is mute and her son (Edwin Neal) who is also a violent psychopath.

Mrs. Leeds does fortunes to make money, or so she says. She offers no assistance and stalls while each Bruno keeps asking to use her phone. Mrs. Leeds warns of the violent unseen forces lurking in the forbidding countryside, not to mention the Satan worshipers. As she offers tea that is laced with some kind of drug, each one is knocked off by Judy who uses a large mallet or meat tenderizer. to brain her victims. Judy steals little Anthony, another childhood fear –of fiends coming in the night to steal children from their safe place. In Satan’s Playground there is no safe place.

The Bruno family comes face to face with inherent evil perhaps older than the woods, where they each face their own gruesome end. Does Mrs. Leeds even really exist in this world and is her 13th child, the Jersey Devil?

Torture Chamber (2013)

Written and directed by Dante Tomaselli. Music by Dante Tomaselli, Kenneth Lampl and Allison Piccioni. Cinematography by Tim Naylor, Art design by Ian Salter, Costume design by Lisa Faibish

Torture Chamber stars Vincent Pastore (‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero in The Sopranos 1999-2007) as Dr. Fiore, Christie Sanford as Mrs. Morgan, Lynn Lowry (The Crazies 1973, They Came from Within 1975) as Lisa Moreno, Ron Millkie as Dr. Thompson, Carmen LoPorto as Jimmy Morgan, Richard D. Busser as Father Mark Morgan, Ellie Pettit as Heather, Raine Brown as Hope, and Danny Lopes as Ralph.

from Out of Bounds: “… a restrictive moral, a kind of reactionary “medieval’ Christian vision du monde sneaks in. And is truly frightening.”

In Torture Chamber the story is revealed through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. Its about a metaphysical bond between a mother and her two sons.

There are Medieval emblems like Christian statues, the Iron Maiden in Horror and the Rack in both Horror and Torture Chamber.

From Horror Movies.ca Torture Chamber is about a 13-year-old boy possessed by unspeakable evil. It’s probably the first serious independent horror film in a long time that’s in the vein of The Exorcist. The demon is called Baalberith, which, if you believe in demonology, tempts its host to blasphemy and murder,” he told the site. “Jimmy Morgan is a pyromaniac, horribly disfigured from experimentation with drugs. This Catholic boy’s family is crawling with religious fanatics. His mother believes he was sent from the Devil to set the world on fire. His older brother is a priest who tries to exorcise him. When Jimmy murders his own father, he burns him to death. Because of this, the troubled boy is sent to an Institution for disturbed youths. While there, Jimmy has a Charles Manson-like hold on the other kids from the burn unit. Together, they escape and Jimmy finds an old abandoned castle for shelter. That’s where the burned kids find a secret passage way that leads to a medieval, cobwebbed torture chamber.

Jimmy is a young boy who is a burn victim, badly abused by his fanatical religion mother (Christie Sanford) who in order to drive out his evil, subjects him to exorcism by his older brother who is a priest. When Jimmy escapes from the institution with other children who are burn victims, he wreaks revenge on his persecutors who then become the persecuted. Jimmy and his companions are a band of outliers to are hell bent on torturing their victims. Lynn Lowry as Lisa Marino who experiences her nightmares in flashback is a treat to watch, I’ve been a fan of hers since I saw her performances in Romero’s The Crazies (1973), the outre bizarre Sugar Cookies (1973) co-starring cult favorite Mary Woronov and Cronenberg’s They Came From Within (1975).

Again, Dante Tomaselli’s film is non-linear, surrealist, nihilistic , hallucinatory, the soundscapes are footprints that lead you to the torture chamber. It’s a visceral and disturbing journey of a young boys retribution. A Gothic, transcendental horror as is Dante Tomaselli’s  Desecration. Dante Tomaselli collection of films create a frightening world as he purges his scorn for religious fanaticism and hypocrisy.

Atmo Royce’s brilliant paintings from Torture Chamber (2013)

My conversation with Dante Tomaselli!

Joey – “I’ve seen TREES in all your films. They are a fabric of each film throughout each piece, trees seem to be very significant to you. Do they represent “a natural force”? and ‘elemental’ forces that go with the supernatural overtones…”

Dante Tomaselli-  “Yes, I purposely place trees…woods in every single one of my films. I think trees are beautiful beings and I can stare at them endlessly. I do see these entities as sacred and elemental forces…rooted in the earth itself. Whenever I’m scouting woods locations for my films, I walk around in a trance and try to find the trees that seem to be calling out to me. The different personalities…textures…energies…Landscapes are real important to me…I like for the atmosphere to dominate. The Tree of Life twists…what gave life now takes it away. When I was growing up I would go deep into the woods and get myself lost. Where I lived in New Jersey there were endless woods in my backyard and I’d spend many hours out there alone with time just dissolving. I’d let my imagination run free and fantasize all kinds of sadistic and surreal landscapes and horror scenes. Sometimes on these excursions I feared I would disappear and never return.  The trees were my refuge and represented safety and protection but at times, mainly in the dark, the same exact trees could be supremely frightening…their faces, energy…It’s chilling…a forest transformed into a place of evil…It goes against nature. That’s why that scene of evil woods in Wizard of Oz is so effective. You know, when I saw the trees come alive in The Evil Dead in theaters in 1983 when I was 13, it really pushed a button.  And to have Ellen Sandweiss, who endured the ultimate scary trees… starring in one of my films – well…I’ve come full circle.  For sure, in my independent movies I try to portray the woods as teeming with supernatural menace. In HORROR the woods were harboring the living dead or hypnotized souls…There are Satanists lurking in the Pine Barrens of Satan’s Playground, not to mention an invisible flying demon and…deadly quicksand. Torture Chamber’s abandoned castle was surrounded by whispering woods and there’s a burning gift leading to a glowing red hole to hell in the woods of Desecration.”  

Joey- “Sound is one THE most significant enticements in your films. I’m wondering about the use of ARTWORK, not just Atmo’s incredible paintings but artwork as Symbolism. Desecration and Horror used his paintings. But there was also Irma’s puzzle in Desecration, in Torture Chamber there was the tribal MASK and even in Satan’s Playground there was the painting of the goat. I’m sure there are more hints of this, but these stand out. What is the greater gist of why these elements were so substantial in your work?”

Dante Tomaselli- “I like to paint with sound. I like glacial, pristine sounds mixed with low throbbing tones. The music is 50% of the film’s equation and even when I’m sculpting a song on an album like Scream in the Dark, where I was going for an amusement park Funhouse, dark ride vibe, I aways wanted the soundscapes to depict the vision that I experienced in my mind.  I have to see something in order to score it. If I’m dry then there’s nothing at all but if the images are flowing then I’m fanatical about facilitating or scoring the vision. You can hear me cackling like a witch, that’s my own voice with no effects…in the first section of Dark Night of the Soul. To me, that track conjures the image of a violent storm cloud looming.  It’s all about regret…guilt. Someone did something deeply wrong…and now there’s the fear of what’s coming next. 

The paintings by artist Atmo Royce were commissioned by me. The images were straight from my screenplay, my imagination. I wanted a stern nun, a blurred nun, a skull nun and a clown nun. I wanted the images to have a Tarot card-like feel. They were to represent the desecration of religion…the hypocrisy, the flip side of faith where evil is cloaked in religion. Atmo Royce, who now lives in Germany also painted the changing preacher portraits for Horror which had a similar idea. I had an entirely different artist illustrate the changing pope portraits for Torture Chamber where Vincent Pastore is hallucinating while staring at a portrait of the pope in a homeless shelter. The painting by Mark Jones, commissioned by me, actually it’s pastel…it morphs into a grinning blood soaked character while we detect profane words on the crumbling walls. In all these cases, it’s about the Devil poking through. Evil winning.”

Joey- “Did you realize before hand or was it a natural progression to interweave identical symbols throughout each film. There are threads that connect all 4 films. There are sequences that re-haunt the next installment like one continuous dream. I will mention those in my piece, but I was curious if it evolved as each film opened up to you, or if this was something that was very purposeful before you even sat down to sketch out the framework of the films after Desecration?”

Dante Tomaselli- “I consciously set out to create an encompassing world of doom that is interchangeable from film to film; I see it as all one tapestry. I draw swirling mazes and I’m trying to construct a nightmare in which we experience the protagonist’s damnation. My films are never a celebration of violence. They’re really more about the sensitivity to violence. The confusion of being alive.”

SELECT REVIEWS OF DANTE TOMASELLI’S WORK

BLOODY DISGUSTING REVIEW OF TORTURE CHAMBER: DANTE TOMASELLI’S ‘TORTURE CHAMBER’ TAPS INTO ANCIENT FEARS

BLOODY DISGUSTING:DANTE TOMASELLI’S TORTURE CHAMBER REACHES THE SHORE LINE by Evan Dickson

FANGORIA REVIEW OF TORTURE CHAMBER BY CHRIS ALEXANDER

HORRORFUEL REVIEW of DESECRATION-BLU-RAY

Review of Torture Chamber by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava

Review of Torture Chamber -Justin R. Lafleur, Icons of Fright and

Desecration by Dvdverdict.co, plus Chris Alexander of Fangoria

Review of Satan’s Playground -Variety Magazine & Horror by John

Fallon of JoBlo.com

Review of Horror by Scott Wienberg, eFilmCritic.com and

Review of Desecration by Sean Abley at Chiller

Reviews of Desecration by Steve Puchalski, Sci-Fi Magazine &

Chas Balun, Deep Red Magazine

Review of Horror by Dennis Harvey, Variety Magazine &

Rob Galluzzo, Blumhouse.com

Review of Satan’s Playground by Jeremiah Kipp of Slant Mag

Review of Satan’s Playground by BeyondHollywood.com

from KINO LORBER REVIEW DESECRATION (SPECIAL EDITION ) RELEASE ON BLU-RAY

“A Code Red Release – One of the most original horror films in recent years, Desecration is an eerily dazzling and genuinely frightening psychological chiller about a beyond the grave relationship between a teenage boy and his long dead mother. Bobby, a 16-year-old loner, has been emotionally damaged by his mother’s early death and a repressive Catholic upbringing. The boy accidentally causes a nun’s death, triggering a chain of supernatural events and violent mayhem that leads Bobby into Hell to confront his mother. Powerful childhood demons are exorcised and unleashed as the gates of Hell open in this gripping, hallucinatory film. First-time feature film writer/director Dante Tomaselli has created an incredibly atmospheric and terrorizing film that he has described as “being in the psychedelic fun house.” With its mist-shrouded ambience, photography and trance-like soundtrack, the film, almost subliminally, creates an unsettling mood that crawls beneath the skin. A sensational young talent, Tomaselli has taken the horror genre in a new and exciting direction.”

IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT-DESECRATION

ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT FOR SATAN’S PLAYGROUND

The remake of cousin Alfred Sole’s beloved 70s horror masterpiece ALICE SWEET ALICE remains in development for now Dante is more focused on his upcoming feature  THE DOLL which is about a violent haunting at a family owned wax museum.

“I am planning an Alice, Sweet Alice re-imagining with my cousin (Alfred Sole). I am so completely focused on my next film, THE DOLL – which has a low budget ($500, 000)”

Hae Ree Choi is the illustrator on each of Dante Tomaselli’s albums!

SCREAM IN THE DARK (2014) Elite Entertainment

THE DOLL (2014) Elite Entertainment

NIGHTMARE (2015) Elite Entertainment

FANGORIA “NIGHTMARE SOUNDS” article by Tyler Doupé

WITCHES (2017) TuneCore

PERSONAL QUOTES

I am not a Satanist. I am a Supernaturalist!
I know my films reflect the fear of the end of the world or the end of my world.
I’d see multicolored streaks in the atmosphere. And I didn’t do drugs. Sometimes I could see sounds. They were different colors. I could taste color and touch sound.
I love performers from horror classics; I can’t help myself. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been given the opportunity to work with actors from landmark horror films. The trend needs to continue with me…and the possibilities are endless. Jamie Lee Curtis, can you hear me?
It’s ambient filmmaking…told through a series of dreams, flashbacks and hallucinations. I was going for something completely out-there…not censoring myself…allowing my imagination to run wild.
I think I pulled the images from the dark pit of my childhood, my nightmares. Growing up, I had so many nightmares and was always wondering if what was happening was actually true. Or was it a dream? I didn’t use drugs. I know…that’s a shock. If anything, I was repressed and probably needed drugs to open me up. Everything I kept bottled up in the day would explode out of me at night. All of the negative debris of the day…it would all come popping up, so strongly in my nightmares.
I guess it has something to do with how I grew up, my background being Italian American and having two very religious grandmothers. But, really…I just think organized religion is a very scary thing. It gives me a feeling of paranoia. One group against another, thinking the other one is wrong and they are better, holier. Religion causes wars. It has a dark force that can’t be denied. Also, as you know, my cousin, Alfred Sole, directed “Alice, Sweet Alice,” the infamous Catholic slasher. I saw it at a very early age and it is forever embedded in my psyche.
In 1975, I was 5. In 83, I was 13. So, I got to see all these great horror movies, the golden age of true horror, while I was a little kid growing up. It was an incredible time to be a horror fanatic. I was like the boy in Romero’s Creepshow. My mother actually took me to see these 70’s, early 80’s movies because she knew how much I loved them. She enjoyed horror films too, actually. I’d cut out Ads from the newspaper, for movies like…It Lives Again, Prophecy, Phantasm, Invasion of The Body Snatchers and just…stare at them. I was in love with all of this stuff from early on.
I starting writing it right around the end of 1999, when there was all that end-of-the-world talk going on. I wanted to harness that feeling…that we all could be predestined for a horrible, violent death. The idea that the threat of violence can strike at any moment.

FURTHER LINKS

https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/film-out-of-bounds/

http://www.fangoria.com/new/torture-chamber-movie-review/

http://www.beyondhollywood.com/torture-chamber-2013-movie-review/

http://www.mondo-digital.com/torturechamber.html

http://www.avmaniacs.com/blog/2014/new-reviews/troy-howarth/torture-chamber-dvd-review/

http://www.rockshockpop.com/forums/content.php?3583-Torture-Chamber

http://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2014/04/torture-chamber-review-available-on-region-1-import/

http://www.examiner.com/review/crawl-into-the-torture-chamber

http://aisleseat.com/torturechamber.htm

http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/347435-movie-review-torture-chamber/

A link to Dante’s Music & Sound Design on Youtube

 

OGDENSBURG, NJ 06/04/2010 Dante Tomaselli on the set of “Torture Chamber,” a movie he is directing, at Sterling Hill Mining Museum. MICHAEL KARAS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Thank You for sharing your thoughts with me, Happy Birthday Dante Tomaselli, I anxiously await your next wave of hallucinatory chills & your brilliant machinations come to life in vivid color!-May we find peace and transcendence through art, Love Joey

 

Postcards From Shadowland: no. 15

Anna The Rose Tattoo
Anna Magnani in Tennessee William’s The Rose Tattoo (1955) directed by Daniel Mann
Blood of a Poet 32 Cocteua
director Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of the Poet (1932) starring Enrique Rivero
Broken-Blossoms-Gish
Lillian Gish stars in Broken Blossoms in D. W. Griffith’s (1919) visual poetry
kongo1932
Kongo (1932) Lupe Velez torments Virginia Bruce in this remake of West of Zanzibar (1928)
GIULETTA MASINA in Fellini's masterpiece oneric journey Juilet of the Spirits 1965
Guiletta Masina is brilliant in Juliet of the Spirits (1965) Fellini’s masterpiece oneric journey
kuroneko
director Kaneto Shindô’s Kuroneko (1968) a beautifully disturbing ghost story
Anita Louise as Titania
Anita Louise as Titania Queen of the Faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1935
Brando and Schneider The Last Tango in Paris
Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in The Last Tango in Paris 1972
Ohmart and Franz The Wild Party
Arthur Franz, Anthony Quinn and Carol Ohmart in The Wild Party 1956
Annex - Alexander, Katharine as Alda Death Takes a Holiday)_01
Death Takes a Holiday (1934) Katherine Alexander as Alda with Fredric March as Prince Sirki/Death
curtis-strangler
Richard Fleischer directs Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler 1968
Dead of Night
Part of several segments of this classical ghost story, Alberto Cavalcanti directs Michael Redgrave in perhaps one of the most famous frightening tales in “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” Dead of Night (1945)
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck is attacked by Nymphomaniacs in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963)
Brighton Rock Dick Attenborough as Pinkie Brown with Carol Marsh
Film noir thriller Brighton Rock (1947) starring Richard Attenborough as Pinkie Brown co-stars with Carol Marsh
Clementine
John Ford’s epic western drama -My Darling Clementine 1946 starring Henry Fonda and Linda Darnell
The Maids 1933 men in drag
Charles Busch, left, and Peter Francis James in a 1993 Classic Theater Company production of “The Maids” (1933) in which the sisters were men in drag
The Living Dead Man 1926-Michel Simon Jérôme Pomino
The Living Dead Man 1926-Michel Simon as Jérôme Pomino
the-bride-wore-black
François Truffaut’s tribute to Alfred Hitchcock with The Bride Wore Black (1968) starring the incomparable Jeanne Moreau
The Sea Hawk 1924
The Sea Hawk (1924) directed by Harold Lloyd starring silent film idol Milton Sills
through a glass darkly
Harriet Andersson in Through A Glass Darkly (1961) director Ingmar Bergman
The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel's VIRIDIANA.  Credit: Janus Films.  Playing 4/24 - 4/30.
The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel’s VIRIDIANA Janus Films. 

Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!

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IT’S HERE AGAIN… THAT TINGLING ON THE BACK OF YOUR NECK BECAUSE THERE’S FOUL DEEDS AND MURDEROUS MACHINATIONS AFOOT…HOSTED BY SPEAKEASYSHADOWS & SATIN… AND SILVER SCREENINGS… THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON OF 2015!

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“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.”
Stephen King, The Shining

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
Werner Herzog

“Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: ‘Here are our monsters,’ without immediately turning the monsters into pets.”
Jacques Derrida

DRAGONWYCK  (1946)

Vincent Price -had said- “I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge…”

vincent price
Vincent Price is perhaps one of THE sexiest men in film. Eventually type cast albeit an icon of the horror film industry… enough of us are aware of his range of talent and his sophisticated manner. If I were to have met him, I would have swoon… and that’s not a lie. He possessed a unique sensuality both tragic and dynamic that just drew you in.

Price always could play ONE of the most cultivated, enigmatic and beguiling villains any time….

Dragonwyck
-Secret thoughts… That led to secret love… That led to rapture and terror!-

Gene Tierney as Miranda Wells:Nicholas – you do believe in God?”

Vincent Price as Nicholas Van Ryn: “I believe in myself, and I am answerable to myself! I will not live according to printed mottoes like the directions on a medicine bottle!”

The chemistry between Price and Tierney is authentic and captivating. When Miranda Wells feels humiliated by the gaggle of high class snobbish debutantes because she’s from the wrong end of the river, not from the Hudson but The Connecticut River bottom, and Nicholas tells her she’s better then all of them and asks her to dance. He seems so gentle and human… but he has a dark and villainous side!

CapturFiles_52 You couldn't help yourself any more than I
“You couldn’t help yourself any more than I”-Nicholas

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CapturFiles_40 what makes you think you're so much better than I am
“What makes you think you’re so much better than I am!”

DRAGONWYCK 1946 was Vincent Price’s 18th film, after having appeared in The House of the Seven Gables 1940 as Shelby Carpenter opposite Gene Tierney in Laura 1944, Leave Her to Heaven 1945, right after he appeared as the cold blooded Dr. Richard Cross in Shock 1946.

Produced by Ernst Lubitsch uncredited and overseen by one of my favs– Writer/Director Joseph L Mankiewicz. this Gothic & dark romance is based on the novel by Anya Seton… With cinematography by Arthur C. Miller (The Ox Bow Incident 1943,The Razor’s Edge 1946, Whirlpool 1949, The Prowler 1951), Art Direction by Lyle Wheeler and Russell Spencer, Set Direction by the great Thomas Little. The lighting alone is a mixture of noir chiaroscuro and offers dramatic shadings of the best classical elements of horror. The narrative speaks of familial secrets, and twisted vengefulness not unlike Lewis Allen’s spooky debut masterpiece The Uninvited  1944.

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Added to the moodiness is the eerily haunting score by Alfred Newman with Orchestral arrangements by Edward B Powell. Edited by the keen eyes of Dorothy Spencer (Stagecoach 1939, The House Across the Bay 1940, Lifeboat 1944, The Ghost and Mrs.Muir, The Snake Pit 1948.) 

Costumes by Rene Hubert and Make Up by Ben Nye. The film bares shades of Hitchcock/de Maurier’s Rebecca 1940 and Robert Stevenson’s/Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre 1943. Even a bit of de Maurier’s tautly suspenseful My Cousin Rachel 1952 directed by Henry Koster and starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. The book is a hell of a good read if you enjoy Gothic melodrama.

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price reunite after having appeared in Otto Premingers‘ memorable film noir masterpiece Laura in 1944.

Annex - Tierney, Gene (Laura)_05
Otto Preminger brings together these two fine actors in his noir masterpiece Laura 1944

Here-Gene Tierney plays Miranda Wells, Walter Huston is her devoutly christian working class father-Ephram Wells.

CapturFiles_5 reading from the bible
Walter Huston as Ephram Wells reading from his bible to Miranda
CapturFiles_6 I thought so it's got spirits in it. A little bit. Even a little bit of evil cannot be good Mirdanda
Miranda takes a drink of wine. Her father reproaches her-“I thought so, it’s got spirits in it. A little bit. Even a little bit of evil cannot be good Miranda”– Her stifling life with her religious father pushes her further into the arms of Nicholas Van Ryn

This scene foreshadows the dangerous path the Miranda is willing to wander through, as she starts to break free of her puritanical upbringing and reach for a life of being a free spirit. Believing that Nicholas represents that freedom. But there is a hint of evil that her father can sense.

Vincent Price once again manifests a passionate yet conflicted antagonist Nicholas Van Ryn with a magnetism you cannot escape, yet you may despise his cruelty and his self indulgent murderous arrogance.

CapturFiles_52 I must not feel like my life is finished as long as you are with me
“I must not feel like my life is finished as long as you are with me”-Nicholas
CapturFiles_41 You must never be afraid when you're with me Miranda
“You must never be afraid when you’re with me Miranda”

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Glenn Langan is the handsome yet vanilla Dr Jeff Turner, Anne Revere adds a depth of nurture as Abigail Wells-Miranda’s mother who is weary of her daughters intentions to marry such a powerful man.

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Spring Byington is one of the maids-Magda. Connie Marshall is the young melancholy Katrina Van Ryn, Henry Morgan is Bleeker one of the farmers who challenges Van Ryn and fights back against the antiquated laws.

Vivienne Osborne plays wife-Johanna Van Ryn. Jessica Tandy gives a marvelous performance as Miranda’s maid the feisty Peggy O’ Malley. Trudy Marshall is Elizabeth Van Borden. Reinhold Schunzel is Count de Grenier, Jane Nigh is Tabitha. Ruth Ford is Cornelia Van Borden, David Ballard is Obadiah. Scott Elliot is Tom Wells and Boyd Irwin is Tompkins.

DRAGONWYCK is a Gothic suspense melodrama in the grand classical style. It even brushes against the edges of the classic horror film not only because of the way it’s filmed, but there are certain disturbing elements to the story. The shadows and darkness that are part of the psychological climate work almost reminiscently of a Val Lewton piece. There’s even a pale reference to that of a ghost story that is concealed or I should say unrevealed, with the first Mrs.Van Ryn’s spirit playing the harpsichord, and the eerie phantom chords that add to the mystery and gloom that hang over the manor house.

CapturFiles_48 I don't like it now The singing's getting louder now, I'm afraid I'm afraid
Katrine-“I don’t like it now The singing’s getting louder now, I’m afraid I’m afraid”

Ghostly Dragonwyck

With swells of atmospheric tension and darkly embroidered romance there’s just the right tinges of shadows and danger. A lush and fervent tale that combines tragic Gothic romantic melodrama with the legitimate themes of social class struggle wrapped within dark secrets and suspense.

As always, Price conveys a tragic pathos even as the story’s villain, he is a man who manifests layers upon layers of feeling. Brooding, charming, sensual, intellectual, menacing, passionate, conflicted, self-loathing, and ego-maniacal all at once.

One of my favorite roles will always be his embodiment of Corman/Poe’s Roderick Usher in House of Usher 1960.

Vincent Price in House of Usher, 1960.

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The film also offers us the sublime acting skill and divine beauty of- Gene Tierney as the heroine or damsel in peril, a simple farm girl living near Greenwich Connecticut, who dreams of the finer things in life, swept up by the allure of a fairy tale existence only to find out that her dream has become a nightmare.

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Once Miranda receives a letter inviting her to come and visit Dragonwyck, she is perhaps at once young and naive when she arrives at the austere place to be a companion to Van Ryn’s despondent daughter Katrine, a lonely sort of isolated child. First triangulated by Van Ryn’s over-indulgent wife Johanna, after her death, the two begin a whirlwind romance that leads Miranda to marry the imposing Nicholas Van Ryn.

Almost in the style of a Universal monster movie, the central focus is the mysterious mansion, surrounded by volatile thunderstorms and restless villagers who want to take action against their oppressor. The film works as a period piece seeming to possess an added heaviness due to the provincial settings and underpinnings of class unrest, which lends itself to the bleak mood.

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DRAGONWYCK’S villain or very human boogeyman is the inimitable & urbane Vincent Price who holds sway over the locals as the patroon–lord of the land, as well as master of all he surveys, and of course his new wife. Driven by his obsession to have a son. He is a brooding dark figure whose dissent into drug addicted madness comes to light like a demon who has escaped from a bottle.

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Van Ryn is vain and contemptuous, scornful, condescending and cruel. Eventually driven by his immense pride, love and desire… to murder his first wife who is in the way of his ultimate legacy.

DRAGONWYCK is an interesting film that belies any one genre. And as I’ve pointed out, beyond the dark melodramatic suspense elements, it’s every bit a horror film. And it is also the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankiewicz 

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Set during the Nineteenth Century when parts of New York were still founded as feudal Estates. It’s a fascinating portrayal of the history of the 19th century Upstate New York Dutch colonies and their struggles between the rich and poor against the reigning yet dying tradition of aristocratic rule over the small family farms which were overseen by ‘Patroons’  A Patroon is the owner of the large land grants along the Hudson River. They are descendants of the original Dutch patroons… “and they’re terribly rich and elegant.“ -Miranda

Yet as in the case of Nicholas, they can be brutal and self-opportunistic land lords who collected the rent from these hard working, exploited and poor farmers.

This is what first impresses Miranda about Nicholas, his power and station in life. Tibby her sister tells her that she’s not anxious to leave home.

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Miranda says “That’s not fair, you know that I love you and pa, all of you and my home it’s just that I try to be like everyone else… and want what I’m supposed to want. But then I start thinking about people I’ve never known and places I’ve never been. Maybe if the letter hadn’t come I’d…. Oh I don’t know I must be loony.”

Nicholas Van Ryn is a brooding and powerful aristocratic patroon who runs all matters with an iron hand. In the Nineteenth Century the upstate New York counties were still dealing with a system run by these Patroons. There began a social uprising of the surroundings farmers who wanted more power over their land and a rule that would abolish the aristocracy that was a tribute to a dying past practice. Soon there would be an end to these ruling Estates.

As seen in Van Ryn’s maniacal demonstration of his being seated in an elaborate throne he remains poised while collecting the farmers rent. Henry Morgan plays the tough and prideful farmer Klaus who has brought nothing with him. “Not rent– nor tribute.”

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“I’m a free citizen I take my hat off for no one”

When Nicholas’ first wife cannot bare him a son as heir to carry on the Van Ryn name, the wealthy and wicked Nicholas Van Ryn secretly plans to poison her with the help of an Oleander plant. Setting his sights on the younger, more beautiful cousin Miranda.

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He then invites Miranda (Gene Tierney just naturally exudes a uniquely dreamy eyed splendor) to come and visit Dragonwyck. She is an innocent girl fascinated by the urbane Nicholas but by the film’s climax she becomes entrapped in the foreboding and bleak atmosphere of Dragonwyck, a place of secrets, sadness and insanity.

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Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”

Miranda is so taken with the idea of dancing the waltz and how fine a gentleman cousin Nicholas seems. Her father always reading passages from the bible, she hungers for adventure. Miranda craves the freedom to experience a better life.

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Vincent Price is incredibly handsome as Nicholas. Mysterious, his deep blue eyes crystallize   through the stark black and white film. He has a strong jawline, and possesses a vitality… at first he is so charming. Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”

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The first meal at Dragonwyck, is a grotesque scene in which his wife Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) shows herself to be a lugubrious sow, a glutton and a spoiled child who now bores and disgusts her husband. He tells Miranda, “To my wife, promptness at meals is the greatest human virtue.” 

Nicholas is already starting to reveal his cutting tongue by commenting on how his wife over eats and is not refined. A hint of his cruel nature.

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“I think I’ll have the bon bons before going to bed”
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Look at the detail of this frame. It’s almost the perfection of a Late 19th century painting

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Miranda meets the despondent Katrine… a hapless child

At dinner, Johanna begins to nag him about bringing home the pastries from New York, the Napoleons, she appears to be a glutton, and though very pretty, a most unattractive portrayal of her character is given for the narrative’s purpose of Nicholas justifiably ridding himself of her so that he might pursue Miranda. In contrast to Johanna’s piggishness, Miranda is given a clear bowl of broth for her supper. the scene is set up so we feel a bit of sympathy toward Nicholas.

As Johanna shoves another bon bon into her mouth…

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Cinematographer Arthur C. Miller frames the shot as Johanna is placed in between Nicholas and Miranda. His wife Johanna appears like a fairy tale character–the over-exaggerated plump wife who gorges herself on sweets while Nicholas and Miranda talk of love and loss. Miranda is wildly curious. He is withdrawn and pensive.

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Nicholas plays the harpsichord. Miranda listens contentedly then asks who the woman in the painting is. He tells her it’s his grandmother Aziel –“That’s a strange name… she looks like a frightened child.”

Miranda asks him to tell her more about his grandmother. Was it love at first sight?

Nicholas-“No Van Ryn does anything at first sight” Miranda-“Oh but she must have been happy to live here” Miranda smiles, her face a glow. Nicholas adds, “As it turned out it didn’t matter, soon after her son was born she died. She brought this harpsichord with her from her home. She played it always.”

Johanna “If you listen to the servants they’ll have you believe she still does!“ she laughs. But Nicholas quickly turns around to look at her, a dark shadow creeps along his brow. His eyes raised.

Nicholas-“fortunately we don’t listen to either the servants or their superstitions.”

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Magda (Spring Byington) tells Miranda about Nicholas’ grandmother from New Orleans, the woman in the portrait. That his grandfather never loved her, he never wanted her at all. he wanted their son. he kept her from him… He forbid her to sing and play. He broke her heart. And drove her….” Magda stops short…. “She prayed for disaster to come to the Van Ryns and she swore that when it came she’d always be here to sing and play… She killed herself in this room.”

Magda asks-“Miss Wells why have you come here? Do you think Katrine is in need of a companion? Miranda answers her, “Well that would be for her father and her mother to decide.”
Magda says, “Don’t you think she’s in need of a father and a mother… that was a silly question wasn’t it?” 

The meddling maid pierces Miranda’s innocence with her honesty like venom–causing a bit of shock on Miranda’s face that usually seems as tranquil as a quiet lake of sparkling water.

“You like it here?” Miranda answers–“Of course I do” Magda comments- “Course you do, you like being waited on, I could see tonight it was the first time. You like peaches out of season. You the feel of silk sheets against your young body. Then one day, with all your heart you’ll wish you’d never come to Dragonwyck…”

The handsome young Dr. Turner (Glenn Langan) comes to take care of Johanna who has taken sick to her bed.

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He and Miranda sit and talk by the fire. He tries to imply that living at Dragonwyck has changed her, he tells her that the last time he met her he felt like they had so much in common.. “Frankly right now I doubt you have any idea about the slightest thing to talk to me about.”

Johanna’s illness gets worse, of course we know Nicholas has poisoned her. Lying in bed she tells him that sometimes she thinks he hates her, but asks if they can go away together once she’s better. He says yes because he knows she’ll never get better. In fact she will never leave that bed alive.

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Continue reading “Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!”

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)

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Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
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Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
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Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
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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
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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.”

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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!”

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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!

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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.
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Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
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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
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Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
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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”

Sunday Nite Surreal: Serrador’s The House That Screamed: Elegant Taboos in the Gothic Horror Film-The Fragmentation of Motherhood, castration and the enigma of body horror

THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969)

“TEACH HER TO TAKE CARE OF ME LIKE YOU DO” — Luis talking to his mother ‘Madame Fourneau

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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.

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“The Lesson” episode of Criminal Minds directed by Matthew Gray Gubler. Starring Brad Dourif one of THE most underrated actors… It doesn’t get more jaw tightening than this-!

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 it’s 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.

The House that Screamed

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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.

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“This is a boarding school not a prison…” Madame Fourneau ” If it isn’t one, we’ll make it one.”

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Lilli Palmer is wearing Revlon’s “repressive salmon’ lipstick–that special color that just says–Yes I’m a ball buster and a closet lesbian to boot!

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“Don’t you understand that none of these girls are any good. By the time they bring them to me they’re already marked… Or they’ve done worse things and then they hand them over to me…{…} In time Luis, in time you’ll find the right girl, you’ll marry her. You’ll have your own home. These girls are poison… You need a woman like me who will love you, take care of you, protect you. We’ll find her… you’ll see… you’ll see.”

Lilli Palmer’s (Body and Soul 1947, Mädchen in Uniform (1958), The Boys from Brazil 1978) is 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 it’s 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’. In this repressive sexual confinement it bursts wide open into a sensationalist breeding ground for the lesbian as predator trope. The repressed older woman being 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.

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John Moulder-Brown
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The film also co-stars Mary Maude who’s natural earthy beauty reminds me of Barbara Hershey as Irene ( Crucible of Terror 1971, Scorpio 1973)
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The lovely Maribel Martin... will she escape the finishing school? Here is Martin as Isabelle she also starred in (The Blood Spattered Bride 1972
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Ironically, it is Madame Forneau’s rigid obsession with controlling everything around her (as she glides through the school in her starched white blouses-a facade to her self-constraint) that creates the grisly puzzle to the plot, which I will not divulge here.

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….

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This film is an elegant horrifying waltz, textural, voyeuristic Spanish thriller and timeless late 60s horror film… an absolute master-work of art. From the acting, cinematography, Neo-Gothic art & set direction, the incredible use of lighting, music, sound design (each frame exists with it’s own individual cue that mark the scenes with a spine-chilling ambiance, a chorus of whimperings & glossolalia) and the fabulous period wardrobe designed by Víctor María Cortezo.

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Cristina Galbó as Teresa arrives at the finishing school and greeted by Madame Fourneau

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 peep holes 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)

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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 narrative, the film’s oxygen is apprehensive. As tautly wound as one of Teresa’s mother’s (the prostitute) corsets. Driven by the beauty of a frightening impressionist painting, the cinematography, (Godofredo Pacheco & Manuel Berenguer ) and the applied use of color, conjuring the film’s atmosphere like a Gothic masterpiece of terror. Colors which are also very emblematic of the works of Mario Bava having given his films a lush surreal dream like quality to them, making work like Black Sabbath 1963 a memorable walk through a lush nightmare. The House That Screamed evokes a world of repression, decay and an unseen menacing eye that is brushed with vibrant liquid like colors.
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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.

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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 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 which bring 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 nigh terrors either… If you want nightmares, just watch Criminal Minds  while eating a large bowl of pasta at 10pm 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!

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It’s been Sunday Nite Surreal… Have a light hearted Sunday Nite from your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl

Lemora: a Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) & Dream No Evil (1970) Journeys of: The Innocent/Absent Father Archetype & Curse of the Lamia or “Please don’t tresspass on my nightmare!”

Lemora, Lady Dracula

“For some nights I slept profoundly; but still every morning I felt the same lassitude, and a languor weighed upon me all day. I felt myself a changed girl. A strange melancholy was stealing over me, a melancholy that I would not have interrupted. Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome possession of me. If it was sad, the tone of mind which this induced was also sweet. Whatever it might be, my soul acquiesced in it.”
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, ‘Carmilla’

LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL 1973

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Run, little girl! Innocence is in peril tonight!

The Light in the Window … The Lock on the Door … The Sounds in the Night! A Possession is Taking Place!

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A while ago I double featured Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) and The Night God Screamed (1971). I made it clear that I felt Let’s Scare Jessica to Death was the superior film but somehow they made good companion pieces. And since I’m a child of the 70s, those days of the double bill, musty theaters, milk duds and groovy posters, I’ve decided to pair these particular films. And once again, I’ll emphasize now that I believe Lemora to be by far not only the superior film, but one of the MOST uniquely beautiful horror/fantasy films I’ve ever seen.

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Because the film hit a very bumpy road on it’s release, it wound up being passed around like an orphan from one distributor to another. Thus the reason for several titles over the years. It has been called The Legendary Curse of Lemora and Lemora, Lady Dracula, the latter hoping to ride the wave of low budget vampire films that have now also attained cult status such as Bob Kelljan’s authentically potent Count Yorga Vampire 1970 starring Robert Quarry, and the equally stylish Blacula 1972 and of course the Gothic vampire pageantry of Hammer Studios churning out stylish costume melodramas with a lesbian vampire sub-text like The Vampire Lovers 1970 and Lust For a Vampire 1971, Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire 1971, and Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride 1972. The liner notes written by Richard Harland Smith of Video Watchdog & Chris Poggiali of Fangoria and Shock Cinema interviewed Richard Blackburn and Byrd Holland and point out that Blackburn’s film is “less exploitative” yet “not unerotic” while using the “fragility of innocence.”

From the Journal of Horror and Erotic Cinema-Edited Andy Black
Bev Zalock’s- Girl Power From The Crypt

“In a sense, horror more than any of the other exploitation genres, with its monsters of the imagination, feeds fantasy and configures fear in a very direct way. With its linking of sex and death, horror taps into the unconscious and is associated with surrealism and the fantastic in both literature and cinema. Desire becomes the primary mise-en-scene within the realm of the supernatural and, as David Pirie observes in his excellent book The Vampire Cinema’ there is a strong cultural connection between our perception of sex and the supernatural. Pirie cites an article by Susan Sontag written in 1967 entitled “The Pornographic Imagination” in which she locates the fantastical realm of the human imagination as the site in which the two are classically connected.” – from Susan Sontag’s piece–Styles of Radical Will 1966

Celeste Yarnall-The Velvet Vampire
Celeste Yarnall is the dark lady vampire in Stephanie Rothman’s -The Velvet Vampire-co-starring Sherriy Miles.

In addition to these lesbian vampire narratives, you have Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos 1970 and auteur Jean Rollin’s distinctive style who like Hammer connected suggestions of the ‘pornographic imagination’ that Susan Sontag describes. Films that use the spectrum of surrealist imagery from the Gothic to the gory. What they share is a ferocious appetite for power and the desire for sexual freedom.

Directed and written by Richard Blackburn  (Eating Raoul 1982 with cult idol Mary Woronov and co-written with director Paul Bartel) fresh out of UCLA film school, with his pal Robert Fern. Blackburn has said in interviews that there are things he would have done differently with a better budget and more time. He shot Lemora in a month. I think the crudely macabre tonality of Lemora is what makes films like these from the good old ’70s oneiric, quintessential, haunting and flawless as is.

There is a discrepancy as to whether the running time of the film is either 85 minutes or 113 minutes (uncut). The remastered DVD through Synapse Films took the original 35mm negatives and brought this film back to it’s ‘never before seen clarity.’ The prints were presumed lost for over 30 years.

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The hauntingly macabre and somber music is by Dan Neufeld who crafted electronica and claviers and what I think might be a Melatron to evoke the eerie essence of the story is absolutely brilliant. With crying strings that fortify distorted wails and moans. With music box tinkling, poignant yet eerie flutes and piano, muted horns-noises that shimmer and reverberate on cue with the dialogue or surreal set piece- I wish Dan Neufeld had done more movie scores. The sound design, the dysmorphic groans-unearthly wails- they’re the sounds you’d imagine the ‘old ones’ make in a Lovecraftian tale. Even the crickets and chorus frogs of the swamp sound metamorphosized  into frightening aberrations.

And the visual settings that create a landscape of fable, folklorish imagination and sleep walking nightmare that contributes to the film’s fantastical quality was done by cinematographer Robert Caramico (Orgy of the Dead 1965, The Black Klansman 1966, The Wild Scene 1970, Octaman 1970 yes it’s a guilty pleasure of mine!, Blackenstein 1973 and The Manhandlers 1975) The sequences are saturated with a European color palate and low lighting that permeates the dream-like magnetism.

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Art direction by Sterling Franck who took Blackburn’s book of Charles Adams prints and ripped the pages out, putting them up on the wall to study. The creaky bus Hy Pyke  drives is an actual 1913 REO bus.

The visual effects were done by Byrd Holland (Rabid 1977,The Baby 1973) costumes and wardrobe by Jodie Lynn Tillen (Angels Hard as They Come 1971, Switchblade Sisters 1975) Tillen dresses Lila Lee, her hair done up with pale blue ribbon and black patent leather shoes on her journey as if she were Alice from Lewis Carroll’s story. For all the modern CGI effects in contemporary film- Holland gives special credit to his lab assistant Doug White. I prefer the look of the 70s, and as Byrd Holland said these were the only tools they had in their make-up kit. I think the simplicity is so effective it taps more into the primal…

Tillen’s costumes use night-fevered colors–The most decadent black satin for Lemora, with rhinestone buttons on the cuffs and velvet black gloves, or lace hand ornaments that reveal her deathly black nails. Only the choir robes, the reverend’s shirt and Lila Lee’s nightgown are white. Her pale pink and blue dresses splinter the darkness that looms about. White and the pale pink and blue obviously symbolizing purity and innocence, diverges wonderfully against the forbidding black nails, pale purplish lips, burnt orange, mustard golds and satin lilac purples. In Lemora’s nether region there is a deep blue tinge throughout the film’s lens. Blackburn’s film does have; as he states a “quasi European slant.”

Like Rollin’s work who created expressionist, surrealist and pulp influenced imagery, the use of color portrays an atmosphere of the uncanny. Daniel Bird a Rollin enthusiast cites his work as ‘pulp gothic’ referring to his colors as cobalt blue and scarlet. Much like the colors in Lemora.

The darkest Gothic blues, Victorian purples and greens, fiery red haze of the lantern light and blood red ‘sort of’ like wine in the goblet, to the blood red Victrola, –Sharon Cassidy was responsible for the archetypal fairytalesque hair styles.

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The dialogue is perfectly suited for a modern day adult fairy tale, filled with innuendo and simplifying the story so that it translates more effectively as a fairytale and not dramaturgical, which might have constrained the film’s fantastical moodiness.

I caught Lemora, as many of us did back in the days of Fright Night on channel 9 in New York. I was mesmerized by it from the outset. In James Arena’s entertaining and nostalgic book Fright Night on Channel 9 he mentions Lemora in his section The Fright Night Experience-1983 having aired on March 19th within weeks of Mind of Mr. Soames with Terence Stamp ( I will be covering this film down the road) Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (another fav of mine!) and Don’t Look in the Basement. So many of these obscure low budget gems found their home and reached us fans on late night theater like Fright Night and Chiller Theater. But I wax nostalgic…

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Lesley Gilb (Taplin) who plays Lemora, was very intellectual, had more academic interests than to continue as an actress, Blackburn recalls. She died tragically in 2009 in a car accident on Highway 101. Ironically I just wrote about that particular road in my last double feature with Man on a Swing. It’s sort of eerie to be hearing about her tragic death on that same highway that Joel Grey refers to while being questioned about the murder of a young girl. Having two kinds of fans, the people who knew Lesley for the performance in this cult masterpiece and the people who knew her as a social activist. From IMDb it lists her as having worked as a film producer, production assistant, production manager, story editor, researcher, writer, gallery manager, publisher, teacher, and a dedicated volunteer with many downtown Los Angeles organizations.

Cheryl *Rainbeaux* Smith who plays the very ethereal Lila Lee was seventeen when she starred in Lemora. I think she did a terrific job of portraying a naive thirteen year old, then allowing herself to emerge out of her prepubescence singin’ angel into a feverish nymph.

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Sadly succumbed to a hard life of heroine addiction and died in 2002 of hepatitis. Once a member of the girl band, The Runaways. Auditioned for the role of Iris in Taxi Driver (1976) which of course made Jodi Foster’s career. Smith had parts in many ‘B’ movies of the 70s & 80s. I loved her as Lavelle in Jonathon Demme’s  Caged Heat 1974. This taut women-in-prison film also stars Juanita Brown and Roberta Collins, plus! Barbara Steele plays Superintendent McQueen!

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The gorgeous Cheryl Smith in the superior women-in-prison- flick of the 70s by Jonathon Demme- Caged Heat 1973

Smith was a groupie in Phantom of the Paradise 1974, The Swinging Cheerleaders 1974, Farewell, My Lovely 1975 with Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling. Massacre at Central High 1976, The Incredible Melting Man 1977, The Choirboys 1977, Laserblast 1978, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and Vice Squad in 1982.

I perceive several different allusions within the narrative of this adult fairytale, with it’s strong sexual overtones and the central theme of corrupting innocence. A story that harkens back to dark and grim folktales representing the  a coming-of-age rite-of-passage tale.

From–The Dread of Difference-Gender and the Horror Film edited by Barry Keith Grant from Chapter 3 –Carol Clover’s ‘Her Body, Himself’– “What makes horrorcrucial enough to pass along’ is, for critics since Freud, what has made ghost stories and fairy tales is engagement of repressed fears and desires and it’s reenactment of the residual conflict surrounding those feelings. Horror films respond  to interpretation as Robin Wood puts it, as ‘at once the personal dreams of their makers and the collective dreams of their audiences–the fusion made possible by the shared structures of a common ideology’

In an interview back in 2010 at Cinemamateques Egyptian Theatre 2010 Richard Blackburn discusses how mind blowing it was for him to read the French critics reviewing Lemora, in magazines during the film’s release who actually cited Blackburn’s literary homages, and how much insight they had into his reading sensibilities. How “they had gotten all the references.” One of his favorites was Arthur Machen’s The White People. You can see shades of this in the sequences of Lemora and her horde of spooky children with their secret rites and ritual dancing, and the initiation of a young girl into a secretive occult society.

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Director/Writer -Richard Blackburn on the right being interviewed in 2010.

From Wikipedia- the synopsis of The White People- A discussion between two men on the nature of evil leads one of them to reveal a mysterious Green Book he possesses. It is a young girl’s diary, in which she describes in ingenuous yet evocative prose her strange impressions of the countryside in which she lives, as well as conversations with her nurse, who initiates her into a secret world of folklore and ritual magic. Throughout, she makes cryptic allusions to such topics as “nymphs“, “Dôls”, “voolas,” “white, green, and scarlet ceremonies”, “Aklo letters”, the “Xu” and “Chian” languages, “Mao games”, and a game called “Troy Town” (the last of which is a reference to actual practices involving labyrinths or labyrinthine dances[1]). The girl’s tale gradually develops a mounting atmosphere of suspense, with suggestions of witchcraft, only to break off abruptly just at the point where a supreme revelation seems imminent. In a return to the frame story, the custodian of the diary reveals that the girl had “poisoned herself—in time”, making the analogy of a child finding the key to a locked medicine cabinet.[2]

Blackburn remarked that he was pretty steeped in horror literature at the time. One in particular was to Arthur Machen the Welsh author and mystic of the early 20th century, best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction much like his contemporaries, and friend H.P. Lovecraft. Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe and of course August Derleth and Ray Bradbury. The hellish bus ride through the nightmare forest had been considered Lovecraftian by Blackburn in his commentary on the DVD. Blackburn contributed his thoughts to the DVD liner notes saying that it was a nod to Lovecraft’s short story “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” where the population of a small fishing village devolve into monstrous things, much like the inhabitants of the abandoned Astaroth. Blackburn also was inspired by Lewis Carroll ( I did think of Lila Lee & Alice Through the Looking Glass) and James M. Barrie with the ‘lost boys’– as you can see with Lemora’s children. There’s a reference to Tennessee William’s cannibalistic children in Suddenly, Last Summer as similarly undead urchins.

Also wonderfully descriptive on the liner notes- “dark tale of childhood terror and transgression-both set within sprawling nightscapes.”

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the notorious and evil gangster Alvin Lee, Lila’s father

The film’s narrative is drenched in subtextual planes, like Lila Lee’s father(William Whitton) being a gangster in the South during prohibition era late twenties, early thirties. Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encylcopedia of Film sets the film in Georgie in the ’20s. Though the story is supposed to be situated in the deep south, it was actually shot on location in Culver City and Pomona Valley California.

The song the ornery old woman (Maxine Ballantyne) sings to Lila Lee while she’s locked in the little stone house is something that Blackburn’s grandmother used to sing to him. I remember hearing it sung to us by the librarian around Halloween when I was in kindergarten.

This version was collected by folklorists Iona & Peter Opie in the 50s in England. The Opies claim that published versions go back as far as 1810:

My kindergarten class experience-

“There was an old lady all skin and bones, whoooo, oooo, oooo
She lived down by the old graveyard, all alone, whoooo,ooooo,ooooo
One night she thought she’d take a walk, whooooo,ooooo,oooooo
She walked on down by the old graveyard, whoooo,ooooo,oooooo
She saw the bones a laying around, whooooo,ooooo,ooooo
She went to the closet to get a broom, whooooo,ooooo,oooooo
She opened the door, and… BOO!”

The film’s version of the folk song–

The Old Woman singing while circling Lila Lee, “There was an old woman all skin and bones, Ooh-ooh-oooh-ooh-ooh. And she did weep and she did moan, Ooooh-ooh-oooh-ooh-ooh. She walked on through the streets of town. Ooooh-ooh-oooh-ooh-ooh. Where all the dead lay on the ground. Ooooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh. Then turned and to the parson said. Ooooh ooooo ooooo. Will I look like that when I am dead? Ooooh ooooo ooooo. The parson to the old woman said… BOO!!!!”

Lila screams, the old crone cackles with glee!

Myself, I see a synthesis of ideas and several different parallels from fairy tales , mythology and classic literature disambiguated in the narrative. From the frightening mythical she-creature Lamia in Greek Mythology who was a child eating demon, the mistress of Zeus who angered Hera so much that she killed Lamia’s children except for the cursed Scylla. Hera then transforms Lamia into a monster who steals and devours other people’s children. Later traditions referred to her as a vampire or succubus that seduced men and fed on their blood.

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Loving Lemora feeds off the blood of her children

Here are some little tidbits of info about the lore of the Lamia I found from Wikipedia-Folklorist David Walter Leinweber in Witchcraft and Lamiae in “The Golden Ass” notes that translations and the evolution of the story reveal many vampiric qualities. In Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere, Lamia is a “velvet,” a type of warmth-drinking vampire.

“She became a kind of fairy-tale figure, used by mothers and nannies to induce good behavior among children.” Wikipedia lists Christian writers having warned against the seductiveness of the lamiae.

John Keats described the Lamia in Lamia and Other Poems, presenting a description of the various colors of Lamia that he based on Burton’s book- ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy.’

Melancholy is a very good word to describe the sense of atmosphere in Lemora. There’s a relentless twilight and night world, a pervasive wickedness that blankets the darkness with gloom and dread.

In terms of literary allusions I can even see a bit of Hansel & Gretel the journey of children who wander through the enchanted woods only to stumble upon a witch who wants to eat them. Little Red Riding Hood, a tale that has representation of a ritual of puberty, where the young attractive girl who goes through the process of leaving home is transformed into a woman , who comes to her sexual awakening by the ‘wolf.’

And of course the more direct identification would be with Sheridan Le Fanu’s Camilla. The most beautiful adaptation for me is Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses 1960.

Blood and Roses-Roger Vadim

Another connection I could make is the story or long narrative poem of Christabel written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which also utilizes a central female character who meets a stranger called Geraldine. Familiar as Coleridge was in suggesting mysticism and ambiguity with his The Rime of The Ancient Mariner. Many modern critics seize upon the theme of lesbianism and view it as a feminist poem. Interpreting the powerful mesmerizing presence of the supernatural, and demonic forces which are underlying in the piece. Geraldine is later revealed to be both ‘sexually and morally’ nuanced.

“Christabel goes into the woods to pray to the large oak tree, where she hears a strange noise. Upon looking behind the tree, she finds Geraldine who says that she had been abducted from her home by men on horseback. Christabel pities her and takes her home with her; supernatural signs (a dog barking, a mysterious flame on a dead fire) seem to indicate that all is not well. They spend the night together, but while Geraldine undresses, she shows a terrible but undefined mark: “Like one that shuddered, she unbound
The cincture from beneath her breast: Her silken robe, and inner vest,
Dropt to her feet, and in full view, Behold! her bosom and half her side— / A sight to dream of, not to tell! / And she is to sleep by Christabel” (246–48)

Vain Lamorna A Study for Lamia by John William Waterhouse
Vain Lamorna A Study for Lamia by John William Waterhouse – Take out the ‘N’ and you have Lemora.

Even the name Lemora could be a derivation of Lamia or Camilla, it’s very Victorian, Gothic and macabre- amorous as it rolls off the tongue. Perhaps one question I would ask Blackburn is, did he use as inspiration for the title character Lemora, Waterhouse’s painting of Lemorna the Lamia?

As an adult fairytale which uses film credits like The Reverend, The Old Woman, The Bus Driver, The Ticket Seller, The Young Man–all characters designated for a fable-the film conveys an atmosphere of sexual repression, religious anxiety, and archetypes of the ‘innocent’ and the ‘absent father’. Lila Lee’s trial of temptation and seduction becomes a sexual journey that is quite unsettling but beautifully rendered.

Lila Lee much like the character of Grace MacDonald in the second feature I discuss Dream No Evil, is also in search of her father. Her authentic father, and prior to that, the ‘heavenly father’ as the church represents the patriarchal figure of fatherhood. In this film, it is challenged by the dark inexplicable forces of the Monstrous Feminine or female abjection which is represented in the form of Lemora who is demonic and Sapphic.

Lemora is lensed through a fantastic eye that translates wonderfully the notion of, the ‘Monstrous Feminine’ and these other modern cultural & classical archetypes. What I think is really fabulous is that the narrative operates from the female gaze, and not the socially constructed male gaze that was common in cinema, but I talk a bit about that later.

And incidentally, I’ll be doing a piece for The Great Villains Blogathon coming up in April, hosted by Silver Screenings, Speakeasy and Shadows and Satin. I’ll be talking about Gloria Holden’s more sympathetic Contessa Marya Zeleska in Lambert Hillyer’s timeless horror classic Dracula’s Daughter 1936  “Yes, you’ll do very well indeed. Do you like jewels, Lily? It’s very old and very beautiful, I’ll show it to you.” Zeleska says to another blonde nymph Nan Gray as the naive and hungry model Lily. God I still love that scene! Say if you’re interested drop them a line and join in the Villainous fun…

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Gloria Holden as the Contessa Marya Zeleska in Dracula’s Daughter 1936

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is hypnotic, transgressive, surreal, rebellious and as one of Blackburn’s interviewers said, it has an ‘odd fabulousness’ surrounding it.

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Film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini write in their book ‘The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ that Lila Lee flees, ‘to escape the sexual advances of the minister’. While Lila Lee does embrace him with a burgeoning affection/attraction she is still an innocent which makes the relationship very uncomfortable on purpose. Silver and Ursini also perpetuate the on-going rumor that Lemora was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, rather than by the Catholic Film Board. Phil Hardy and Barry Kaufman claim that it was the Catholic Film Board that condemned Lemora as anti-catholic. “the entire plot of the film reeks of anti-Catholicism” from Demonique #4, FantaCo Enterprises, Albany, 1983, p.3 by Barry Kaufman.

In the big black beautiful book Phil Hardy edits ‘The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror’, which I sometimes go to as my reference bible, he writes, “leavened with a fierce anti-Catholicism that recalls not only Communion 1976 (he’s referring to Alice Sweet Alice 1976) but also the works of Luis Buñuel.Hardy also says the film has “considerable eroticism which details in a most imaginative fashion and with with scant regard for conventional ethics the sentimental/sensual education of a young girl…{…} Blackburn’s elaborate yet meticulous mise-en-scene captures the essential amorality and mysteriousness of the world of childhood.”

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When asked about the film being banned by the Catholic Church and the Catholic Film Board. Blackburn says he’s not sure if that was ever true. He was told that it had been rated C by the Catholic Legion of Decency and felt honored since Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956) starring Carroll Baker and Karl Malden had gotten ‘the big C’ for condemned too.

During that interview he was asked why if the film was such a beautiful fable with it’s ‘odd fabulousness’, why he didn’t make another one?

Richard Blackburn replied, “first of all it was an abject failure.” His initial impetus was the craze of all the vampire films that were being produced at that time. But the film had a dismal release, receiving bottom billing and wound up at drive in theaters (and that’s bad?) His favorite description of the film was in the Village Voice-the reviewer called it ‘artsploitation.’  He went on to say that, “The reason the film fell through the cracks is that it didn’t have enough gore or action in it to be exploitation and it didn’t have what it would take to be called an art film…”  I think Lemora IS every bit an art film and it still has the power to cast it’s unconventional and eerie spell to this day, I’d love to tell Richard Blackburn that myself. I would love to interview him for MonsterGirl Asks.

The Plot

It’s the story of a young girl’s fall from innocence and her sexual awakening real or imagined- she is submerged into a world of erotic images, threatening forces, menacing and horrific, while being held captive by a mysterious woman who is surrounded by a legion of sinister undead children with black nails, and an old crone who loves to cackle and scare the bejesus out of her with little folk tunes! As Phil Hardy says, Lemora “(Gilb) attempts to initiate her into the delights of vampirism” Hardy also makes the comparison of Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness 1971 (yet another fantastic vampire flick) and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) which Goregirl’s Dungeon has highly recommend and I still haven’t had the chance to see it yet. Writer Tim Lucas compares the film as a whisper of Val Lewton, while I’m not sure I can see that, I sort of see why he also mentions director Harrington. There’s a bit of Curtis Harrington in the film’s gritty portrayal of human nature spiraling downward with some supernatural edginess to create a landscape of dread. I’m a huge Curtis Harrington fan. Perhaps the added gangster meets eerie is reminiscent of his Ruby 1977 with Piper Laurie. But that film was four years down the road from Lemora.

Alvin and his gun

Lila's mother in bed with her lover

Alvin Lee kills his wife

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The notorious Alvin Lee’s daughter is an ethereal, prepubescent girl of 13 named Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith) who is being raised in the church where she sings in the choir- “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and is cared for by the Reverend Mueller (director/writer Richard Blackburn) who secretly lusts after the little blonde waif known for her angelic voice. In a newspaper clipping she is referred to as The Singing Angel. Lila Lee’s celestial other-worldliness draws you in… the film emphasizes how much everyone desires her…

The Reverend addresses the all female congregation with a fury –“Vicious slander and gossip about our own Lila Lee.”

Being the daughter of a notorious gangster and having an almost trance like beauty that could be mistaken for the wiles of the devil, the Reverend defends Lila Lee to his congregation as “the most innocent creature on God’s earth.”

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Curiouser… and curiouser… an all female congregation

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It’s the prohibition era in the deep south. Lila Lee’s father, a gangster brutally murders his wife and her lover while in bed. She is removed from her monstrous parents for more than three years. Reverend Mueller gives a stirring sermon to the gossiping congregation spreading maliciousness about their own Lila Lee- “Must you demand that this poor innocent child be punished as well” -The sins of the father being delivered upon the child.

Her father Alvin Lee, flees and runs over a poor old woman, an almost more refined version of the old crone Solange. He becomes a fugitive from the law and reviled by the whole county as evil, escaping into the backwoods of a clandestine community reigned over with a languid poise by the elegant, enigmatic and arcane Lemora.

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As Alvin Lee drives, he is being watched by the unseen eyes of Lemora’s vampiric drones

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Lila Lee packs her things, to go and meet her father

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Lila is all too happy when she gets a letter from the mysterious, Lemora, relating the story of how her father is dying and is deteriorating rapidly. He wants to see her before he dies so she can forgive him for his sins.

“Dear Lila, I’m writing you at your father’s request. He is on his death bed. He constantly asks for you to come and forgive him for any harm he has done you. Come alone. If you tell of this or bring anyone with you, you will not be taken to him. The instructions to follow are enclosed. Because of your good work and intense devotion to God, I know you won’t fail him. A fellow Christian-Lemora”

Lila Lee sneaks off in the middle of the night from the church and, ‘the Reverend’, though she leaves him a goodbye note.

” I am going to see father and forgive him. I’m still afraid but I want more than anything to be a good Christian and make you proud of me-Love Lila”

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Lila Lee asks The Young Man for a lift to the bus station
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The Young Man tells her he’s not a taxi service, but doesn’t hesitate to gaze on her with lasciviousness, telling her to get! before he changes his mind…

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During her flight, she encounters various salacious rural folk. She sneaks into the back of a car in order to get to the bus station. Hiding down on the floor of the car she overhears the conversation between The Young Man and his girlfriend.

We see the backs of their heads while they talk about Lila Lee. We hear their voices but there is a sense of detachment and an unreal quality because you do not see their faces, their lips moving or expressions. The camera angle purposefully removes them from Lila in a way that creates a more imaginary feel to the scene. It is her crossing over the threshold from being the singin’ angel in the choir to passing over on into the borderland of the netherworld of Astaroth.

The Young Man talking with girlfriend who refers to Lila as ‘Miss Priss’, accuses Lila of being shacked up with the Reverend and if he were him, he’d have one hell of a time keeping his mind on bible studies.- This triggers a flashback for Lila Lee. Reverend Mueller is reading from the bible.

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After Lila tries to embrace him with a hug, telling him “he’s so good”, he tells her he won’t tolerate these unseemly displays of affection. Obviously challenged by his own sexual attraction to her, he sends her to her room, and opens to the Song of Solomon, the most sensual verse in the bible. “How beautiful are they feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman…”

This is cleverly cross faded over a scene of Lila getting dressed in front of her mirror. When suddenly Reverend Mueller appears in her mirror having opened the door. Or has he? She shudders catching her breath, for a moment turning around to welcome him into her room, a joy of seeing him appear and then the reverie is over and she is back in the darkness in the backseat of the Young Man’s car.

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The rural town folk consist of a host of shady characters- a seedy man peeing on a wall who leers at her, a prostitute looking out the window smoking a french cigar with a red lighting gel cast over her, the reflection of Lila Lee in the window to the right hand corner is a great effect…. There’s a man beating his wife outside a bar, for her infidelity. Her screams are violent and disturbing, as he stops for a moment to gape at Lila “Looking for a good time girlie?”

Then begins music by an unseen bluegrass singer twanging the lyrics of Paper Angel.

“She was holy and divine and I wish that girl was mine. Her eyes they were the bluest of them all. But on that dark black day when she left and walked away… I knew she was a headin’ for a fall…{…} Well I saw her late last night, oh god she was a sight all painted up and colored like a whore. And I knew that wife of mine, the one that’s so divine, and there ain’t no paper angel anymore.” -Paper Angel-Sung by The Black Whole.

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She goes to buy her bus ticket but the trip is not part of any regular line, you just pay the driver when you board. The Ticket Seller (Steve Johnson who does a great job of being way too creepy) gazes at her in the same lustful way, offering her chocolates. “What do you like best, soft or hard centers?”  The whole never take candy from strangers theme… another warning for Lila Lee along the way.

She goes to the back where the bus is idling, and so begins her harrowing journey with ‘the Bus Driver’ an uncivilized wild-man with crazed eyes (Hy Pyke who played Taffy Lewis in Blade Runner) through the eerie fog soaked swamp lands and labyrinthine woods on the way to a town named Astaroth.

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“You goin’ to Astaroth- You Lila?” His voice and grubbiness make him appear like a shabbily dressed Igoresque skid row bum. The bus sputters and clanks so wonderfully illustrative of the film’s atmosphere of degeneration and disorder.

In demonology, Astaroth is the name of the Crowned Prince of Hell. Although it is referred to as a male figure, he was named after the Canaanite goddess Astaroth.

Lila Lee tries to open the window but the stink of the salt marshes that are rotten gets in her nose… the Bus Driver laughs…

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Lila Lee’s image is split down the middle-her reflection in the bus mirror shows the other side of her nature

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“The railroad stopped going through years ago. Swamps all over the place and hardly aint nobody there… and those people oh god those people. Nobody like those people. It’s the way they look they call it the Astaroth look.” He starts to mention an epidemic that beset the town, but when Lila asks him about it, he tells her “I don’t know, I don’t know… don’t make me curious (waving his hands ) they don’t like people asking questions. Sometimes they don’t come back” The Bus Driver is himself a puzzling character that Pyke imbues with a strange confusion and agitation. He’s also the one taking her on her way toward her rite of passage.

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While on the bus, there’s a wonderful split-image of Lila Lee who’s reflection is caught in the bus window. She is framed split down the middle. Symbolic of her journey and the emerging choice she will have to make.

The music that underscores this scene as it descends into chaos, becomes a version of the folk song “There Was an Old Woman All Skin and Bones”. It prepares us for later with old woman Solange.

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Along the way the bus is taken siege by a strange pack of monstrous creatures who inhabit the forest who make horrible growling, gurgling and beastial sounds as they run along side the bus. The woods people begin to converge on them, chasing the bus down and pounding on the side panels. -It’s such a frightening scene.

Lila Lee asks the Bus Driver what the attack was- “Those are the ones who have taken to livin’ in the woods… they’s the real bad ones.”

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“Pull the break !!!!!”

When the bus actually breaks down the driver gets out to take look under the hood and plans on coasting down the hill, he’s done it before. He takes a rifle with him. Suddenly he is confronted by one of the forest people. He tells Lila Lee to pull the break, she coasts down the hill trying to steer and crashes the bus. Lila Lee suddenly begins to hear the ungodly monstrous noises of the grotesque creatures coming closer…

A monstrous face appears at the window. here you can see the tribute to Dr Moreau’s and Lovecraft- and the wonderful make up by Byrd Holland.

As they start to break the windows of the bus, a figure in a black hat, and cape, pale face, blood shot eyes and fangs raises a wooden stake and slays the creature before it can reach Lila Lee. She cups her hands to her mouth and screams.

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The cloaked fanged vampire stakes the sub-human killing it. Lila passes out.

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Lila Lee is rescued by a mysteriously dark figure, the woman who sent the letter… Lemora (Lesley Gilb) who fixates on Lila Lee’s visage in the newspaper clipping about “Singing Angel” with a special fascination and libidinous gaze.

Lemora has summoned Lila Lee to these dark, shadowy woods to be the ‘object’ of her affection and to corrupt the innocence that Lila Lee exudes. Like the Lamia, she seeks to digest the very soul of what ever goodness lies within this child. At first Lila Lee remains locked in a little stone house, taunted by the ‘old woman’ who brings her food and sings her wickedly spooky songs. While in the stone prison Lila Lee is also visited upon by the ashen faced children that gabble and cluck at her like devil imps.

Lila Lee faints and the scene cross fades-We hear Lemora’s voice “Burn those things after you carry her to the stone house” the screen is black as pitch Lemora’s voice has an elegant lucidity.

Out of the blackness comes the hoot of an owl and the sound of crickets as Lila Lee awakens on a cot in the stone house with a small barred window.

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The scene- it’s tone and colors, the fable quality remind me of the beauty of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

Lila Lee starts to hear a melody on fiddle like a diabolical waltz of “There Was an Old Woman All Skin and Bones” and the cackling of small children.

Lila looks through the bars of the window and sees the silhouette of figures dancing behind the window shades of the large house across the way. The twirling shadows speeds up, as the pitch of laughter goes up a wicked octave.

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A toothless old crone in a black frock with tattered lace opens the locked door to the stone house, holding a lantern that burns blood red and plate of food. In an ancient crackly voice she calls out…

“Mary Jo!” holding up the light that casts the screen into reds and blue. “I’m Lila Lee…Where’s Lemora?” “For a minute I thought you was Mary Jo… same color hair” evidently Lemora has a preference for blondes. When she asks where her father is, the old woman cackles at her…

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“I was as beautiful as you once… not now” She begins to sing the “Skin and Bones” song.

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The old woman amuses herself having scared Lila Lee… until she hears Lemora calling her name “Solange!!” The Old Woman is suddenly struck with fear. She runs back to the house. Her gate through the eerie nightscape has always left an impression on me. We see her pass the tall dark figure who is standing by the front door, waiting for her. Lemora’s menacing shadow is cast beautifully on the house for extra effect.

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Lila Lee kneels down and begins to recite the lord’s prayer.

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The demonic little imps appear at the bars of the window laughing at her… their creepy voices echoing in the night air. She tells them to go away

When the old woman returns to bring Lila Lee more food, she lies in wait and shoves the woman down. Much like Gretel who pushes the old witch into the oven. She makes her escape from the stone house… as the old woman runs after her calling “little girl… little girl, where are you hiding? If you don’t come out I’ll get Lemora” The moment is so fantastically creepy with Solange calling her little girl and the plucked strings and otherworldly night noises.

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Lila Lee hides under the house. And hears her father talking to Lemora.

Alvin Lee who sounds as if he’s suffering from a terrible agony-“Just do me that one favor” Lemora assures him, “You’ll feel different when you’re one of us” He says, “I know this is the last time before I change, but if she’s still here., look I don’t want to turn against my own kin” Lemora decries, “It’s not like that at all. You’d be setting her free!”

We hear her as she begins drinking his blood, telling him that she’s so “thirsty”. Solange interrupts to tell her that her little girlie has run off.

“You stupid idiot, you let her run off.” Something startles Lila and she screams… Lemora hears her.

Sustained strings, flute, and clavier play while Lila crawls under the house. A single muted horn note and Lemora appears. Waxen faced and dark black satin dress covering her entire body from her the top of her neck down to the black gloves. A provincial wraith…

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“Hello Lila… I’m Lemora” Lila crawls out of the under part of the house like the hole Alice had fallen into.
Lila asks Lemore, “Why did you lock me in?”
Lemora tells her, “It wasn’t to keep you in, it was to keep other things out.”

Walking toward the entrance to the huge house, Lila asks to see her father but she’s told by Lemora that she’s not immune to his disease. She’ll have to wait til tomorrow after the ‘ceremony.’

Inside, the house is a Gothic throwback filled with ornate furniture. Lemora tells Lila to go up to her room and put on the clothes she has laid out for her.

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On her way up the stairs, she see a painting of a small child and two little framed collection of buttons. Perhaps a hint at fetish, the trophies of children Lemora has collected over the years.

Lemora watches her go up the stairs-she’s quite taken with the girl. The camera frames Lila from an above angle that makes her look like she’s a small soul in a fun house. It’s an odd angle made to give her the appearance of being lost inside a strange place, which she is.

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Neufeld’s sustained high string note and pensive flutes are perfect for the scene as she enters her room. Heavy dark wood and gold curtains. A plate of raw meat set out for her to eat.

Lila Lee puts on a pale lilac/dusty rose satin dress, slit provocatively down the front.

She goes to look at herself in the small gold hand mirror but the glass has been removed. She takes her own mirror out of the suit case. We hear the door creak open, but the mirror casts no reflection of anyone coming into her room at all. It startles Lila, who turns around and sees Lemora standing there, she drops and breaks her mirror.

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“The mirror is broken but you can see how lovely you are in my eyes.”

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She begins to untie Lila’s hair ribbons, she has a strange look on her face, as if she has been mesmerized by Lemora’s stare… She begins to appear a bit older already. Lila continues to let down her hair herself… Lemora clasps Lila’s face in her gloved hands, telling her to come downstairs the others are waiting.

Lila walks down the hallway as if in a trance. Her dress is slit provocatively down the front. She now walks in bare feet instead of her little girl’s shoes. Again the odd angle from above, she looks like a woman with her hair down now.

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Lila Lee is met by more devilish urchins who cackle and claw at her as she ascends the dark wooden stair case of the Gothic house. The children themselves are a bit androgynous. For me it is hard to tell if they are mostly girls or a few scattered boys. Their clothes, hair and jewelry quite gypsy like do not necessarily reveal this. An interesting gender twist added to the plot.

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“They won’t harm you they’re just curious” Lemora tells Lila gently.

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One of the little ones reaches out to touch Lila’s hand, it has sharp purplish black nails and corpse like skin, and wears a large turquoise ring. “You have pretty skin” Lila Lee lets out a gasp. The child seems wounded by this.

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The ‘Female Gaze’

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As the children sit around in a circle at Lila and Lemora’s feet, the deep strings or it could be a Melatron begins to play the most evocatively haunting melody line. Perhaps one of the most signature themes of the film. The poignant motif that symbolizes Lila’s impending transformation-while Lemora pours a goblet of blood into glasses.
Lila asks if it’s wine. Lemora says “Sort of.” Lila very defensive refuses, “I don’t touch spirits it’s unchristian.”

“It’s very rude not to do what another does when you’re under his roof… if you don’t enjoy our company you can go back to where you were last night” Lemora hands her the glass and tells her to drink!

Lemora takes hold of Lila Lee and leads her in front of the group to sing for the children.

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Lemora catches Lila as she starts to faint, leading her back to the throne like chair
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Lemora –“The drink has done that to you isn’t it nice… now let’s have some music”

As Lila starts to sing a very tentative version of  “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”… the children laugh, as she intones the words of the gospel. Lila’s vision starts to go out of focus and she starts to lose her balance.

Lemora catches her.“The drink has done that to you isn’t it nice… now let’s have some music”

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Lemora walks over to a beautiful old blood red Victrola. And asks Lila Lee...”Do you like to dance?”
Lila stutters, “No… I mean I never have.”

The wonderfully diabolical fiddle version of “Skin and Bones” on the vinyl record sings!

Lemora takes Lila Lee and begins to waltz with her… becoming a twirling, dizzying motion. The room becomes a centrifuge as the children join hands… encircling their Queen and her new chosen one…

There’s a shelf on the wall with a figure of the great god Pan who watches the waltz in the frame with their shadows twirling to the melody.

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The shadows on the wall, the dizzying pace of the waltz reminds me of Ridley Scott’s Legend 1985 which was released twelve years after Lemora. The black satin dressed Mia Sara dances with Tim Curry’s Satan.

“Just give your body up to the music!” Lemora tells Lila Lee excitedly.“The real sin is for a girl to deny herself life and joy especially if she’s as lovely as you…”

Lila Lee espouses “Vanity is a sin.”

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then darkness…..

Later Lemora helps Lila Lee prepare for the ‘ceremony’ by bathing her. It’s the most erotic scene in the film as Lemora tells her, ‘What an exciting figure you have!’

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Lemora's black nails touching Lila's flesh

Lemora acts as if she is a protector and an amorous admirer who has found a new young girl to reign with her. The sallow Lemora speaks sagely to Lila Lee, giving her comforts laced with a sensually sapphic tone. Lemora’s unearthly black nails caress the lily white flesh of the virginal Lila Lee. Like two lost souls they exist to tempt each other-

Lemora is mesmeric, she tells Lila Lee, –“I really only shows people what they really are.” Lila Lee is being tempted away from her faith by the dark forces of evil. By a female seductress, though her male guardian is struggling not to be hypocritical to his faith by the internal desires for Lila Lee. It is this ancient temptress who might be Lila Lee’s descent from grace.

Lemora says, “Tomorrow, after the ceremony, you and I will become blood sisters… and all my power… all my beauty… all my life will be yours to share.”

Lila Lee asks, “What kind of ceremony? In the church?” Lemora answers,-“Yes.” Lila Lee naively says-“Baptist?”

Lemora-“Oh, no. Much more ancient than that. A church that all the others came from. A ceremony that goes so far back no-one knows when it began.”

Soon, Lila Lee uncovers the horrifying nature of Lemora the reigning queen of Astaroth, that she is a vampire who feeds on the blood of children to nourish herself.

The lesser beastial creatures of the woods with decaying and diseased skin, possess a primal ferocity that the more advanced strain of pale faced fanged vampires do not suffer from. Blackburn referred to these baser forms that are below the status of the other vampires having been inspired by H.G WellsThe Island of Dr. Moreau.

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Lila Lee and the vampires

Will Lila Lee escape the clutches of this mesmerizing woman? As she journey’s through the town, seeing once again that there are two types of beings that exist here. The higher form of vampire who wear hooded black cloaks and wield torches and are more human-like. And the lesser bestial, mindless and monstrous anomalies that roam the town and the surrounding woods. The two are in conflict with each other.

The Reverend has gone in search of his lovely little choir girl. And he finds her…

Is the entire experience a dream, a sexual fantasy- a flash in time, in the blink of a cinematic eye, while Lila Lee is intoning her angelic solos in the choir in front of an all-female congregation? Hhhmmm…

Lemora, Lady Dracula

Lemora-“Lila… oh yes, you cannot kill me. I am the unkillable. My spirit is the strongest ever. No matter by which name I am called, I am recognised as the most powerful in the hearts of all.”

The female protagonist of the film, Lila Lee is the spectator. I also propose that Blackburn created a feminist film. She takes the journey and becomes empowered by it. She is the witness to her own journey while we hold our gaze. She’s the one in control ultimately breaking free of the church. She chooses which path she will take between good and evil, and she takes control of her ‘desire’ before Reverend Mueller can act on his desire.

lemora-lobbycard with Smith and Blackburn

The Sexual Subject a Screen Reader in Sexuality-Chapter II ‘Desperately Seeking Difference’ by Jackie Stacey
Theories of Feminine Spectatorship:Masculinization, Masochism or Marginality– Stacey discusses Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ who uses psychoanalytical theory to base her premise on cinema which depends upon voyeuristic and fetishistic forms of looking. Stacey argues that Mulvey is too restrictive in her identification with only the male gaze. She cites David Rodowick who asserts that “Mulvey’s theory is flawed because she discusses the female figure as restricted only to its function as masculine object-choice. In this manner, the place of the masculine is discussed as both the subject and object of the gaze and the feminine is discussed only as an object which structures the masculine look according to its active (voyeuristic) and passive (fetishistic) forms. So where is the place of the feminine subject in the scenario?” Stacey suggests the one way to fill the theoretical gaps would be to do a thorough examination or analysis of the film’s narrative would demonstrate that “different gendered spectator positions which are produced by the film’s text, contradicting the unified masculine model of spectatorship. This would leave space for an account of the feminine subject in the film text and the cinema audience.”

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Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland 2010

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I won’t divulge anything else about the plot so you can decide for yourself which way you see it unfolding. I will say that the film has an ambiguous mimesis. We are left unsure of what we are witnessing. Is it fantasy or reality. The past or present. Even if it is just a violent reverie, it’s a ‘pretty lie’ that is intoxicating and terrifying and such a cult jewel that shines in the trope of vampire films and one of THE most powerful gems of ’70s horror.

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“Who are you?”
I am whatever you want me to be"
“I am whatever you want me to be”

Continue reading “Lemora: a Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) & Dream No Evil (1970) Journeys of: The Innocent/Absent Father Archetype & Curse of the Lamia or “Please don’t tresspass on my nightmare!””

No Way To Treat a Lady 1968 & Man On a Swing 1974: All the World’s a Stage: Of Motherhood, Madness, Lipstick, trances and ESP

No Way To Treat A Lady 1968

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Directed by Jack Smight (Harper 1966, The Illustrated Man 1969, Airport 1975 (1974) plus various work on television dramas and anthology series) John Gay wrote the screenplay based on William Goldman’s novel (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 1969, screenplay for The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man ’76, Magic ’78, The Princess Bride. Smight shows us sensationalist traces of The Boston Strangler killings to underpin his black satire.

Lee Remick George Segal & Eileen Heckart on the set of No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)
Lee Remick, George Segal & Eileen Heckart on the set of No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)

No Way To Treat a Lady 1968  Stars Rod Steiger, George Segal, Eileen Heckart, Lee Remick, Murray Hamilton, David Doyle, Val Bisoglio, Michael Dunn, Val Avery and the ladies… Martine Bartlett, Barbara Baxley, Irene Daily, Doris Roberts Ruth White and Kim August as Sadie the transvestite, a female impersonator who was a featured performer at a Manhattan cabaret.

The film has it’s gruesome, grotesque and transgressive set pieces of women splayed with lipstick kisses on their foreheads. Director Jack Smight’s and writer William Goldman’s vision is outrageously dark, sardonic, satirical penetrating and contemptuous of motherhood and humanity in general.

From “Ed Gein and the figure of the transgendered serial killer” by K.E. Sullivan “NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY a story about a serial killer who was psychologically abused by his mother and kills women to get revenge upon her. The killer is most likely based on William Hierans (The Lipstick Killer),yet the narrative foregrounds cross-dressing as part of the murderer’s technique, despite the fact that Hierans did not cross-dress.”

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The dynamic Rod Steiger enlivens the screen as lady killer Christopher Gill, living in the shadow of his famous theatrical mother. He impersonates different characters in order to gain access to his victim’s homes, where he then strangles them, leaving his mark a red lipstick kiss on their foreheads. Gill begins a game of cat and mouse with police detective Morris Brummel (George Segal) who lives at home with his domineering mother.

There is an aspect of the film that is rooted in the ongoing thrills of watching Rod Steiger don his disguises as a sex-killer. But what evolves through the witty narrative is the moral confrontation between antagonist and protagonist surrounding their conflicting values and class backgrounds. The one psychological thread that runs through their lives is the parallel and sexual neurosis both have because of their dominating mother figures.

The opening scene… Christopher Gill impersonating Father McDowall (Steiger) is walking down the street viewed with a long shot, he’s whistling a ‘sardonic’ tune… in the vein of “the ants go marching” along side The East River. Present is the activity of cars passing by on the East Side Highway.

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As he comes closer into the camera’s view we can see he’s wearing a priests frock.

We hear the city noises, the sounds of cars honking, young children plow into him as they run by, a young girl in a short lime green dress greets him as he continues to walk along the sidewalk.

As Gill passes Kate Palmer (Lee Remick) descending the stairs of the apartment house, he says “Top of the morning to you young lady!”

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Kate is wearing in a smart yellow dress (Theoni V Aldredge ) she says “Hello father” As he continues to whistle his tune, she stops and looks up the stairs after him, the camera does a close up on her lovely face. He stops at apt 2B knocks and calls out for Mrs. Mulloy. It’s father McDowall, asking if she can spare a moment of her time. Sounding a bit suspicious she asks if he’s new to the neighborhood, but he smiles and says that it’ll be a pleasure to serve to such as the like as herself. “I Just need a minute of your life” he says and that’s pretty telling… since that’s true. Mrs. Mulloy sounds like she’s making a hard decision to open the door, but we hear the latch click….

Martine Bartlett (Sybil’s mother yikes!) opens the door as Alma Mulloy, the very simple Irish Catholic widow.

Alma Mulloy let’s him in, after all he’s a priest. He remarks on what a lovely place she has. She prides herself on her vocabulary. He delights in a word she uses. “habitable” She’s been taking a self improvement course… She offers him a cup of tea. He asks for something a might bit stronger. She offers him some port. Splendid…

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