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

Postcards from Shadowland No. 8

Ace in The Hole 1951
Billy Wilder’s Ace in The Hole (1951) Starring Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling
Brute Force
Jules Dassin’s prison noir masterpiece-Brute Force 1947 starring Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, and Charles Bickford
citizen kane-
Orson Welles- Citizen Kane (1941) also starring Joseph Cotten
devil and daniel webster
William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941
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Directed by John Brahm-Hangover Square 1945 starring Laird Cregar , Linda Darnell and George Sanders
House by The River
Fritz Lang’s House By The River 1950 starring Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman and Jane Wyatt.
i cover waterfront-1933
I Cover the Waterfront 1933- Claudette Colbert, Ben Lyon and Ernest Torrence
Jewel Mayhew and Wills Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte
Robert Aldrich’s Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964 starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Mary Astor, Agnes Moorehead and Cecil Kellaway
Key Largo
John Huston’s Key Largo 1948 Starring Edward G Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Killers Kiss
Stanley Kubrick’s Killers Kiss 1955 Starring Frank Silvera and Irene Kane.
Lady from Shanghai(1947)
Orson Welles penned the screenplay and stars in iconic film noir The Lady from Shanghai 1947 featuring the sensual Rita Hayworth, also starring Everett Sloane
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Lady in a Cage 1964 directed by Walter Grauman and starring Olivia de Havilland, James Caan, and Jennifer Billingsley.
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The Long Dark Hall 1951 Starring Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer
lorre M
Fritz Lang’s chilling M (1931) Starring Peter Lorre
Mark Robson The Seventh Victim
Mark Robson directs, Val Lewton’s occult shadow piece The Seventh Victim 1943 Starring Kim Hunter, Tim Conway and Jean Brooks
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Kirk Douglas in Ace In The Hole 1951 written and directed by Billy Wilder
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Akira Kurosawa’s film noir crime thriller Drunken Angel (1948) starring Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune
Panic in the Streets
Elia Kazan’s socio-noir Panic in The Streets 1950 starring Jack Palance, Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes and Zero Mostel
persona
Ingmar Bergman’s Persona 1966 starring Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson
Queen of Spades
The Queen of Spades 1949 directed by Thorold Dickinson and starring Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans and Yvonne Mitchell
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Director Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s beautifully filmed Mother Joan of The Angels 1961 starring Lucyna Winnicka.
shanghai express
Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express 1932 Starring Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook and Anna May Wong
The Devil and Daniel Webster
The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941
The Haunting
Robert Wise’s The Haunting 1963. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding based on the novel by Shirley Jackson. Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn
the Unsuspected_1947
Michael Curtiz’s The Unsuspected 1947 starring Claude Rains, Joan Caulfield and Audrey Totter
Viridiana
Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana 1961 Starring Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey and Fransisco Rabal
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
Robert Aldrich’s cult grande dame classic starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford-What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962

From The Vault: The Long Dark Hall (1951)

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THE LONG DARK HALL 1951

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Directed by Reginald Beck, and Anthony Bushell. Written by Nunnally Johnson, Edgar Lustgarten based on his book “A Case To Answer” and W.E. Fairchild. With cinematography by Wilkie Cooper (Stage Fright 1950, Jason and The Argonauts 1963), granting wisps of shadowy montages that are equally noirish, suspenseful and simply splendid.

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Patricia Cutts gets no sympathy from me after slipping him a mickey and letting loose that darn Tingler on poor unsuspecting Vincent Price.

Yielding and obsessive Rex Harrison plays Arthur Groome a London gentleman married to the devoted and lovely Mary (Lilli Palmer.)Unfortunately Arthur becomes consumed by a flirtatious showgirl Rose Mallory (Patricia Cutts), who winds up being brutally knifed in her boarding house room, and left for the credulous Groome to become suspect one. First getting the splattter of Rose’s blood on his jacket, but then failing to prove his innocence in a sea of circumstantial evidence.

Condemned to hang, this allows the real serial killer played by the tall and eerie Anthony Dawson who looks frightened all the time, destroyer of wanton women who sees himself as ‘an instrument of justice‘, still lurking about, first at the trial spouting off about his obvious philosophy on sexually independent women, and then creepily shadowing poor Mrs. Groome, whom he idealizes as the perfect woman.

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I’ll be up the long dark hall til next time ! -Yours always- MonsterGirl