Virgins, Venuses, Miniskirts, Sorcerers, Pretty Poison, Peeping Toms & WomanEaters

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A scene from David Cronenbergs The Brood 1979

It’s a psycho-sexual smorgasbord of cinematic thrills & filmic frissons! As women are in peril and perilous are some women!

RACHEL, RACHEL 1968 directed by Paul Newman

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Rachel Cameron: I’m exactly in the middle of my life. This is my last… ascending summer. Everything else from now on is just rolling downhill into my grave.”

Joanne Woodward is the dowdy looking emotional time bomb Rachel a 35 year old school teacher who lives with her mother and needs to either break free or break down. Kate Harrington is fabulous as her mother, James Olson who was often cast as the male figure of desire in 60s & early 70s psycho-sexual thrillers plays her lover Nick. The marvelous Estelle Parsons is her well intentioned by misguided friend Calla who has a budding lesbian attraction for her and Donald Moffat plays her dad.

I almost included this film with my compendium of cult films, though it is more melodrama than a crossing of noir, or psycho-sexual horror. The film works on the underlying premise that establishment culture has become like a sort of imprisonment to Rachel, reinforcing a repressive landscape and marginalizing the character of Rachel thus creating her own counter-culture reflecting the eroding of the American Dream and crumbling Idealism. (source American Cinema of the 1960s Themes and Variations Edited by Barry Keith Grant)

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Rachel is the archetype of the repressed New England girl form a small town. Where everyone knows your business and it becomes impossible to breathe. One reviewer on IMDb called it “deep-level collective cultural phantoms” I particularly like that phrase. A suffocating lifestyle or stasis of life more aptly, Rachel is trapped by caring for her overbearing mother. and pulled to one side by the desire she has for Nick. Haunted by memories and collected damage over the years, she carries her emotional baggage til it is too heavy to bear.

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Kate Harrington in Rachel, Rachel

A few very memorable scenes come to mind. Of course when Calla has the awkward revelation that she is in love with Rachel. But there is the bizarre church scene, and several flashbacks that allude to her childhood trauma.

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Will Rachel decide to free herself from the shackles of stifling conformity and become a liberated individual

The film also co-stars the great Geraldine Fitzgerald as Rev. Wood.

Who was she? Sometimes she was a child skipping rope. Sometimes she was a woman with a passionate hunger. And one day the woman and the child came together..

who cares about a 35 year old virgin?

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Joanne Woodward and James Olson in Rachel Rachel 1968

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VENUS IN FURS 1969 directed by Jesús Franco

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In Istanbul a jazz trumpeter Jimmy Logan (James Darren) finds the corpse of a beautiful woman named Wanda Reed (Maria RohmHouse of 1,000 Dolls 1967. The Blood of Fu Manchu 1968, Eugenie… Her Story into Perversion 1970, Count Dracula 1970) washed up on the beach.

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Jimmy remembers her from the night before, when he saw her at a party and then later as she was assaulted by the party’s host and two of his friends.

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He winds up in  Rio where he hooks up with Rita, played by Barbara McNair a singer who invites him to live with her and help him shake the nightmare off and stop thinking of Wanda.

Jimmy Logan:She was beautiful, even though she was dead.”

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Suddenly a woman appears who looks exactly like Wanda. Jimmy becomes obsessed and pursues her trying to get to the bottom of this mysterious woman.

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The woman returns from the dead to take revenge on the group of wealthy sadists responsible for her death. The film also stars Margaret Lee, Dennis Price and Klaus Kinski

Frenzied, dream like colorful excursion into the psycho-sexual mind of Jess Franco.

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The coat that covered paradise, uncovered hell!

A Masterpiece of supernatural sex!

Venus In Furs -wrong side of the art

THE MINI SKIRT MOB 1968 directed by Maury Dexter

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Driven by jealousy, Diane McBain plays Shayne the jilted leader of a female motorcycle gang who’s socio-pathic and ruthless nature instigates a sadistic reign of terror against her ex-lover Rodeo Cowboy Jeff Logan and his new bride Connie (Sherry Jackson)

Stars Jeremy Slate, Diane McBain, Sherry Jackson, Patty McCormack and Harry Dean Stanton.

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Diane McBain plays Shayne the head of The Mini Skirt Mob Patty McCormack plays her little sis… and the ruthless Shayne only has eyes for Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen)

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Diane McBain Mini Skirt Mob boss
They’re hog straddling female animals on the prowl.

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Patty McCormack not beating a little boy to death with her tap shoe

THE SORCERERS 1967 directed and screenplay by Michael Reeves (Castle of the Living Dead 1964, Witchfinder General 1968)

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Set in the atmosphere of the mod 60s of LondonBoris Karloff is a subtly imposing looking more time worn elderly Professor Marcus Monserrat scientist and hypnotist extraordinaire who has discovered the secret of mind control, and the ability to become empathic with the object of their desire.

Monserrat and his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey-stage actress who was a regular performer with the Old Vic Company from 1951-went on to play eccentric spinsters-) can literally share sensations, thoughts and feelings of the subjects they wish to control.

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Ian Ogilvy is the shady swinger Mike Roscoe who falls into their trap and allows them the excitement of experiencing what he does, virtually enjoying the self-indulgence of being young again. But as usual power corrupts and greedy Estelle begins to crave devouring Roscoe and the pleasure it gives her. Roscoe begins to lose control of himself, mind and body as the battle of wills ensues with the power hungry old bird trying to experience ‘kicks’ vicariously through the unlucky chap. Co-stars Elizabeth Ercy and Susan George.

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 Boris Karloff He Turns Them On…He Turns Them Off…to live…love…die or KILL!

PRETTY POISON 1968 directed by Noel Black

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When a mentally disturbed young man Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) tells a pretty girl that he’s a secret agent, she believes him, and murder and mayhem ensue. Anthony Perkins character of Dennis Pitt is every bit more an emotional enigma as the young man with the pathological imagination who is an outlier of society. Released from an institution he gets a regular job at a lumber yard. But he meets the All American Cheerleader squeaky clean blonde apple pie Sue Ann Stepaneck (Tuesday Weld) who just might be even more disturbed than Dennis. He informs her that he’s working undercover for the CIA and enlists her in helping him on his case. Dennis cannot help live in his fantasy world, and Sue Ann is as aggressive as a giant creek carp, if you ever seen one of those canoeing you’ll know what I mean.

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As she manipulates his vulnerabilities into committing acts of dangerous vandalism and eventually murder, she is in control of this Folie à deux

Co-stars Beverly Garland as Sue Ann’s Mama.

She’s such a sweet girl. He’s such a nice boy. They’ll scare the hell out of you.
Did you ever see two kids like Dennis and Sue Ann? We think not…
…Wait till you see what they did to his aunt – the night watchman – to her mother.
What brought a nice kid like Sue Ann to a shocking moment like this?

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PEEPING TOM 1960– directed by Michael Powell

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Powell had been known for his very barbed visual style.

The background story behind Mark Lewis’ madness/murder compulsion.

Mark Lewis-focus puller on Arthur Baden’s new film The Walls Are Closing In-he also moonlights as a photographer of racy pictures on the West End. He is smitten with 21 year old Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) and they are carrying on a very civil and sweet courtship. Almost child-like which is probably what kept Helen safe from Mark’s darker side.

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What Helen doesn’t know is that Mark, has a blade hidden in the armature of his tripod, and stabs the object of his desire, filming their deaths, as a surrogate to his past abuse. When he was a young boy his father, a biologist researching the effects of fear on children, ‘the physiology of fear’ used to film Mark continuously like a mouse in a maze, through out his childhood, subjecting him to various fear inducing incidents as his experimentation.

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Voyeurism and psycho-sexual compulsion drive this very startling horror/suspense film starring Karl Böhm, as Mark Lewis who works as a camera-man at a British film studio. His fetish is to kill women with his camera tripod while filming their death. It’s not hard to envision that the tripod is a surrogate for his phallus, and the act of stabbing them with it is his act of penetration. A mirror is fixed to the tripod so that the women can see the expression of their own faces right before death, to witness their own fear.

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Unfortunately in the way Psycho with its subversive themes propelled Hitchcock’s status to  auteur, the controversial Peeping Tom ended Michael Powell’s career with all the reviled reviews.

Nothing, nothing nothing… has left me with such a feeling of nausea and depression as I got this week while sitting through a new British film called Peeping Tom… Mr Michael Powell (Who once made such outstanding films as Black Narcissus and A Matter of Life and Death) produced and directed Peeping Tom and I think he ought to be ashamed of himself. The acting is good. The photography is fine. But what is the result? Sadism, sex and the exploitation of human degradation- Daily Express

Mark has had a very traumatic upbringing by his father who used his own son in experiments of the effects of fear and self loathing. Well, they produced a son who is a sexual sadist who makes his female victims watch their own deaths-specifically the expression of terror on their faces right before death. Co-stars Moira Shearer, Anna Massey and Brenda Bruce as Dora. Absolutely chilling for 1960. Bohm’s Mark Lewis almost elicits sympathy due to his childhood psycho-trauma. Much like Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates and his fateful childhood.

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The gist of why this film shook up the British film industry in a time when they were trying to tone it down was the idea of this gruesome ‘snuff’ film maker getting off on sublimating his own sexual impotence by finding victims to penetrate with his camera or gaze. The way Otto Heller sets up our participation as voyeurs makes it doubly uncomfortable to watch the killings. For example. Mark takes a red bloused prostitute up to her room. His camera it’s several lens eyes like an insect about to prey is concealed, the whirring is cloaked inside his duffel bag. See they even had kill bags back then. As she leads him upstairs he throws an empty box of Kodak film in the garbage. Not cigarettes, or a box of condoms, but still the very sexual instrument in his mode of arousal + fixtion+ object  / spectacle +gaze =murder. Also turning their own destroyed images back on themselves is quite disturbing–It’s a kinky and interesting little detail. Otto Heller also added a wonderful detail to the film as Mark’s private ‘viewing room’ was bathed in a sanguinary red tone.

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Director of Photography was Otto Heller, Art Director- Arthur Lawson, Editor Noreen Ackland.

Anna Massey plays Helen Stephens, Maxine Audley is Helen’s mother Mrs Stephens who while blind senses that there is something off about Mark, Moira Shearer is Vivian, Nigel Davenport is Sergeant Miller.

Can you see yourself in this picture? Can you imagine yourself facing the terror of a diabolical killer? Can you guess how you’d look? You’ll live that kind of excitement, suspense, horror, when you watch “Peeping Tom”.

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Karl Böhm and Anna Massey in the skin crawling thriller Peeping Tom 1960 directed by Michael Powell

THE WOMAN EATER 1958 directed by Charles Saunders

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Oh those silly Colonialist white dudes get to have all the fun — feeding young native girls to those flesh eating plants!

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A mad scientist Doctor Moran (George Coulouris) captures women and feeds them to his carnivorous tree with tentacle like branches that only has a taste for the ladies preferably young ones, this in turn gives him a serum that helps bring the dead back to life.

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Because the tree gets fed it’s nourishment, it provides the evil doctor with a liquid that restores life to the dead. So naturally the first woman you would want resuscitated would be a good housekeeper right! No… She goes all Rochester’s crazy wife Bertha on the place, you know the violently insane first wife of Edward Rochester; moved to Thornfield and locked in the attic and eventually commits suicide after setting fire to Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre., that sort of way! and ruins everything….

It’s really just a silly B movie from the 50s that finds unique ways to destroy beautiful women by way of mad science or mad obsession.

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The film also stars Robert MacKenzie, Norman Claridge, Marpessa Dawn as a ‘native’ girl. Jimmy Vaughn as Tanga, Sarah Leighton as Susan Curtis and Vera Day as Sally.

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Vera Day in The Woman Eater 1958

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“No Beautiful Woman is Safe!
See the nerve-shattering Dance of Death!
See the Woman Eater ensnare the beauties of two continents!
See the hideous arms devour them in a death-embrace?”

Your Everlovin’ MonsterGirl saying hope you stay on the good side of the camera and watch out for those strange large plants at Home Depot!

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) & Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964): Otto Preminger/Bryan Forbes -‘A Conspiracy of Madness’: Part 1

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Doll-maker: “This doll had almost been loved to death. You know, love inflicts the most terrible injuries on my small patients.”

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965)

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Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) (British) is director/producer Otto Preminger’s psychological thriller, considered to be part of the noir cannon or Post-Noir yet embraces the suspense thriller sub-genre. A thriller about a little girl who may or may not exist! The film deals with the dread of losing yourself, not being believed, childhood nightmares which are rooted in the sense of lack of safety in the environment where they should be protected.

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Starring Carol Lynley (The Cardinal 1963, Shock Treatment 1964,The Shuttered Room 1967) as Ann Lake and Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey 1968, Black Christmas 1974) as brother Stephen Lake, the Americans who relocate to London and exude a mysteriously emotionless manner even when they act frenzied, enraged or frantically distressed.

The film also stars Laurence Olivier as Superintendent Newhouse, Martita Hunt as retired head schoolmistress Ada Ford, Anna Massey as the uptight Elvira Smollett, Clive Revill as Sergeant Andrews, playwright Noel Coward as Horatio Wilson, the lewd, drunken, seedy and lecherous Landlord who is creepy and inappropriate as he carries his little dog Samantha around with him everywhere. He’s also got a wicked whip collection… one which was once owned by the ‘master himself’ the Marquis de Sade.

Otto Preminger and Laurence Olivier on the set of Bunny Lake
Otto Preminger and Laurence Olivier on the set of Bunny Lake
Preminger and Noel Coward on the set of Bunny Lake
Otto Preminger and Noel Coward who plays the lascivious Horatio Wilson on the set of Bunny Lake Is Missing.

Finlay Currie plays the kindly old Doll Maker, Adrienne Corri  is the disagreeable Dorothy,and Lucie Mannheim plays the irascible German cook.

Preminger filmed Bunny Lake Is Missing in stunning black & white using a widescreen format on location in London, hiring Director of Photography and cameraman Denys Coop (The Third Man 1949, Saint Joan 1957, Lolita 1962 and Billy Lair 1963) and Production Designer Don Ashton.

The story is based on the mystery novel by Marryam Modell  using the pseudonym Evelyn Piper (who also wrote the novel, The Nanny 1965  brilliantly adapted to the screen starring Bette Davis as a very sympathetic yet disturbed nanny) With a screenplay by John and Penelope Mortimer, Preminger adapted Piper’s original novel and re oriented the story taking it out of New York and placing it in heart of London.

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Seth Holt directs my favorite- Bette Davis in The Nanny- 1965’s adaptation of Marryam Modell’s novel

The incredibly striking, simplistic and evocative score was composed by Paul Glass (Lady in a Cage 1964) and used not only in the opening titles designed effectively by the great Saul Bass but the theme is used frequently as a childlike refrain, poignant and moving. The British group The Zombies also appear in a television broadcast, featuring three of their songs, “Remember You”, “Just Out of Reach” and “Nothing’s Changed.”

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No one designs a title sequence like Saul Bass… each one evocative, primal… yet simplistic at it’s very core

Hope Bryce (Anatomy of a Murder 1959, Exodus 1960, Advise and Consent 1962) was responsible for the Costume design.

A standout performance is Martita Hunt, the wonderful British character actress who was in Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode as the batty aunt Celia Sommerville in The Last of The Summervilles. Here, she plays the school’s eccentric retired old headmistress Ada Ford who listens incessantly to recordings of little children who tell their nightmares and dreams recorded on her reel to reel tape machine.

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The fabulous Martita Hunt as the batty Celia Sommerville co-starring Phyllis Thaxter as the cunning cousin Ursula Sommerville in one of the great episodes of Boris Karloff’s anthology television series THRILLER.

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Columbia Pictures actually wanted Otto Preminger to cast Jane Fonda as Ann Lake, and Fonda was very anxious to play the role, but Preminger insisted on using Carol Lynley.

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Carol Lynley as Ann Lake

Much like the hype of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, audiences were not allowed to tell the film’s ending. The film’s poster promoted a tagline “No One Admitted While the Clock is Ticking” I will also choose not to reveal the film’s coda in this post, so as not to give away the culmination of the film’s secrets or it’s finale.

This was one of Preminger’s last films with a Noir milieu, since The Man With The Golden Arm 1955 starring Frank Sinatra.

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Preminger and Frank Sinatra on the set of Man With The Golden Arm (1955)

Within the film’s openness, and it’s various environments, it appears that several of the frames are cluttered with visual odds and ends and bits and pieces, the sequence with the unbroken view of dolls, Wilson’s African masks and whips all evidence of the film’s sense of Fetishism.

Bunny Lake is Missing has a visual openness and fluidity which gives the film a striking dimension. The sweeping camerawork is familiar from the noir days of Preminger’s epic Laura (1944), although here it breaks away more completely from the enclosed environs of the 40s noir film.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Premingers iconic noir Laura
Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Preminger’s iconic noir classic Laura (1944)

Denys Coop’s diligent camera seems to peek into corners, moving through doors and up and down those iconographic STAIRS becoming part of the film’s fretful and apprehensive rhythm. Coop uses peculiar camera angles and lights his subjects from below in order to distort the mood, and throw odd uncomfortable shadows on their faces.

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An odd angle as the camera catches Ann Lake coming up the iconographic noir stairs. The visual Images are often a little skewed in Bunny Lake
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While Ann talks with the quirky Ada Ford, her face is lit from underneath giving her an ethereal, fairy tale like glimmer

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING: THE SYNOPSIS

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A single American mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley relocates to London England to live with her journalist brother Stephen (Keir Dullea), Ann drops off her four year old daughter Felicia nicknamed ‘Bunny’ on the first day at her new nursery school “The Little People’s Garden.” When Ann returns to see how Bunny is getting on in school, she can not find a teacher or administrator present, except for a cranky German cook who is complaining about serving Junket (which is essentially gruel) played by Lucie Mannheim. Ann is forced to leave Bunny unsupervised in the building’s ‘first day’ room under the promise by the cranky cook that she will look after the child. Ann must rush to meet the movers who are awaiting her at the new apartment. When Ann returns in the afternoon to pick up her little girl, the cook has quit, and she becomes distressed when Bunny is no where to be found and the school’s employees Elvira Smollett (Anna Massey) and Dorothy (Adrienne Corri) who are left in charge fervently obstruct Ann’s attempts at locating Bunny even denying that the little girl was ever at the school in the first place. No one remembers having seen her. This creates a mood of distrust and paranoia.

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Ann desperately calls her brother Stephen for help. Ann and Stephen were raised without a father, and Ann never married the man who got her pregnant. She and Bunny have depended on Stephen to take care of them. Brother Stephen becomes enraged by the carelessness of the school’s staff, but Scotland Yard begins to investigate the matter. In walks police superintendent Newhouse acted thoughtfully by Laurence Olivier assisted by Sergeant Andrews played by Clive Revill. Newhouse begins searching through the Lake’s belongings and the details of their lives trying to uncover what seems to be a mystery as to whether the child ever existed at all. He discovers that Ann once had an imaginary childhood daughter named Bunny, but even more odd is that there seems to be no presence of Bunny’s belongings at the Lake’s residence.

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Little Bunny’s hair brush and comb set out on the bathroom shelf…

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Where are Bunny’s things???? A taste of female hysteria and maternal paranoia.
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Does the curious headmistress Ada Ford know more about Bunny’s disappearance than she’s telling or is she just one of the plot’s red herrings?
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Retired head mistress Ada Ford who has a fantastical grasp of the inner workings of a child’s nightmares. Inhabited perfectly by wonderful character actress Martita Hunt

There are several red herrings which are inserted into the plot to divert us away from the truth. One such red herring involves retired headmistress, the eccentric Ada Ford played by the marvelous Martita Hunt who seems to have an odd sensibility about children and an acute understanding of childhood motivations which is quickly picked up on by the plasticine yet cold-blooded Stephen Lake.Yet another odd character in the mix is the lecherous landlord Horatio Wilson an aging writer and radio actor played by Noel Coward who revels in his African Fertility Masks and let’s himself into the Lakes apartment at will, in a perpetual state of inebriation lurking about making lewd gestures and propositions to Ann. He also has a collection of whips, exhibiting signs of his sadomasochistic proclivities.

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Horatio Wilson (Noel Coward) is a peculiar sort… as he intrudes on Ann’s world

All these strange characters give Inspector Newhouse a lot to digest, as he tries to eliminate all the possible suspects while trying to find a trace of Bunny that proves she actually does exist, not discounting the idea that Ann Lake is a delusional hysterical woman.

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Ann and Stephen tell Inspector Newhouse that Bunny’s passport and all her belongings have also gone missing, assumed stolen during the mysterious burglary in the apartment. Another odd detail which doesn’t support Ann’s truly having raised this missing child, is that the school’s authorities claim that they never received a tuition check for a Bunny Lake.

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Ann shows Stephen the voucher for the Doll Hospital where Bunny’s doll is being repaired. Proof that she exists? Traces of an incestuous bond from the bathtub…

Ann finally remembers that she has a ticket for the Doll Hospital where she took Bunny’s doll. She remembers this during a scene where Stephen is taking a bath, and brother and sister are both just smoking and talking like a married couple. The film constantly hints at traces of a very incestuous relationship, creepily manifested in several scenes, Stephens physical contact with Ann when he tries to comfort her and one other such overt scene while Stephen is taking his bath…

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Ann runs out into the dark and ominous London nightlife to try and get the doll from the repair hospital so she can show the police that Bunny owned a doll, reasoning that this will prove she exists.

Ann at the doll hospital

Continue reading “Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) & Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964): Otto Preminger/Bryan Forbes -‘A Conspiracy of Madness’: Part 1”