A JOURNAL OF FEAR WEEK 4: IN A GLASS CAGE/ BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE DEVILS/ BURNT OFFERINGS/ HELLRAISER III/ A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN

IT JUST WON’T END!!!

Welcome to week 4 of A JOURNAL OF FEAR! It has been a long and bumpy ride, and it is almost through. This process is not easy, well the writing aspect isn’t. Watching a movie a day for a month is not impossible, but it ain’t easy either. I have a conference coming up I am presenting at, and it is difficult giving this project the attention I thin it deserves while also preparing for that. Oh, and I guess figuring out how to make money as well. This week was my highest number of disappointing films, and as a result I am not sure I was able to engage at a level that I have in previous posts. Apologies in advance, but comment below and let me know what you think. You will also notice there are no Saturday or Sunday entries, as with every other year I was at the 24 Hour Horrorthon. Keep an eye out for a post about that as well as an episode wrap up.

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October 19: In A Glass Cage

Of all the films to start my week with, I had to go with this mind melting oddity. Granted, this was definitely due to the insistence of others, and I am not sure they had my best interests in mind at all. This experience was the direct result of Samm Deighan, Jennifer Rogers, AND Justin Miller recommending this film to me. So, I guess I have them both to thank and blame. In A Glass Cage is the directorial debut of Agusti Villaronga (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0898063/?ref_=tt_ov_dr) and wow, what a way to clear your throat. I mean, as feature length debuts go, this is a stellar, masterwork of a film. It is also, honestly, a disturbing fucked up film which will stay with you for quite a while. It has certainly stuck with me.

I doubt there is a way for me to discuss this film without some spoilers, but I will try and keep it light.

Klaus is a sadist. Yes, his torture and sadism have the power of the state behind him, but in this case it is Nazi Germany, so their endorsement of his pedophilia and serial killer tendencies is not that big of a surprise. The film opens with one of his torture scenes of a young boy, and it is clear that he has an audience he is unaware of. We see some of his process, and it is clear that what he is doing is a compulsion. This is not about enjoyment alone: he is reacting to an internal need. This element of his awfulness is immediately confirmed as we see him attempt suicide. His fall does not kill him, and we fast forward to seeing him some years later living in an iron lung. His wife and daughter are with him, and it is apparent they have no idea what sort of monster he is. Instead he is simply an emotional burden, a family member who they must care for.

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Things begin to change when Angelo shows up. He is an eager young man determined to be Klaus’s new nurse despite obviously knowing very little about home care or even medicine. It is soon clear why, as we learn that Angelo is one of Klaus’s former victims. However, it is not clear that he has come for revenge. No, he has come to idolize Klaus after he stole Klaus’s personal files and read his thoughts about the torture, murder, and sexual abuse he inflicted on small town Catalonia. Angelo, rather than resenting this man, has made him a kind of God in his own mind. Now, he is determined to live with him, to love him, to possess him, and perhaps even to become him. Thus, things start to get weird. Really weird!

Perhaps I can stop there, without exploring too deeply the ways that Angelo begins to change. He starts to commit his own heinous crimes, not unlike Klaus, to transform their picturesque villa into a kind of prison camp environment, and to finally replace Klaus in many ways. The point is, In A Glass Cage manages to sell a plot which is ripe for melodrama and ridiculousness, and it does so through intensely disturbing and cruel imagery, as well as a sophisticated tone and superior acting. This film is amazing. The dark and creepy subject matter is of course going to be a turn off. To say trigger warning for this film is an understatement. Pedophilia and murder are just part of the bargain, and some of the moments that are not even violent are twice as creepy as the ones which are. This sort of exploitation-like extremity is balanced with some interesting insight around trauma, fascism, and religion. Klaus is both a source of erotic fascination and religious fervor. He is also a figure which Angelo, perhaps unknowingly, hates as much as he idolizes. Even more than that, Angelo must recreate his own situation, his own trauma. He must become Klaus, not just for himself, but for others as well. To say this is a film about obsession is not inaccurate, but I think it is perhaps more direct to acknowledge the deep currents here as well. Angelo does not merely love Klaus, not even in the obsessive and possessive way that some might think. It is also not that Klaus disavows his own evil and sadistic nature. Yet somehow this film creates a space where we see the differences between Klaus and Angelo, and while I never felt empathy for Klaus, I understood to some small extent his horror at his own creation.

Angelo is really the point though. He is such a brilliant character, this wounded figure, this recreator of trauma. He is committed, he is devout, he is somehow both intimidating and vulnerable. This film, like Calvaire, is an event. Unlike Calvaire I think it could benefit from analysis, from deeper thought, from the scalpel of critical reflection. That is not to say that you cannot watch this movie and simply experience the event of it in your life. This film ravaged me. It is beautiful, it asks much of its audience, but it is so disturbing and unpleasant that I am unsure if I could watch it again. That is not to say it is a film of extraordinary violence. Yet, so much of that violence is directed toward children, and done in such an unapologetic way, what there is will get under your skin. Not that alone though, but the pain and the trauma of Angelo and Klaus as well as Klaus’s daughter Rena will really upset many viewers. In fact, this is that kind of movie. The sort of film which relies far more on emotional and psychological pain, than it does on depicting extreme violence. In A Glass Cage examines a realm of deep sadism, of horrifying events which are likely more common than anything in a normal horror film, and on the ways those trauma take on an almost supernatural power. It is not a film of realism, but in its drama it gets at a few truths which are tough to look at.

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I have written many words, but I feel like I have not gotten at the heart of the film much at all. I think I am ok with that. I can only recommend this film for those who can handle something dark, something disturbing, in order to get at something beautiful. Maybe that is wrong. Maybe what I mean is, this is an aesthetically impressive exploration of true ugliness, of the awfulness underneath life and too often states. I dunno. I want to politicize this movie, which is not wrong because it has a deep politics in the real sense of that word. Yet I know I want to do it to get away from the abuse and the pain. I want to see it as a comment on fascism, and in some ways it is, but I also want to avoid the comment on trauma. Look, I need to watch it again to say more, but I am not sure if I can watch it again. I guess we will leave it at that.

October 20: Blood Orgy of the She Devils

Now, after the severe emotional turmoil stirred up by In a Glass Cage, I was very interested in something more on the ridiculous/schlocky side. I have written in the past in defense of the cornball factor in horror. Sure, it can be disappointing when you check out a film which is promising something spectacularly frightening and unique, and instead get what amounts to a comic portrayal of “horrors.” I get that sense of disappointment a lot. Yet, the corny and the goofy are undoubtedly a part of the tradition of this genre. I have so much affection for the horror host, hamming it up with cornball humor, playing off the more silly and goofy aspects of this fearful tradition. Let’s be honest, every moment of fright is close to spilling over into humor. In fact, everything that is funny is often terrible as well. Maybe that is often what makes it funny, how just odd and grotesque it is.

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Point is, when I saw this ridiculous title come up on Fandor I was sold. A corny, ridiculous, sex filled romp of trashiness? I was sold. But I was wrong. I was so very wrong.

Look, I am not at all a professional. I think it would be some stretch to consider me as a critic in the traditional sense, or as a film writer of any kind, or even as a straight blogger. I have a loose style. Heck, I would say I have very little of what you would even call integrity. Still, I can’t write up a movie without finishing it, so I stuck it out. I watched this entire film. I wish I hadn’t.

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Blood Orgy of the She Devils is missing so many things that it could benefit from. Among those things are actors, dramatic tension, special effects, an orgy, she devils, a plot, anything even vaguely interesting. I mean sure, I get it, part of the “fun “ is how bad this is. How amazing it is that it was even made. Yet, it really isn’t that surprising at all. It is, in fact, not nearly inept and ridiculous enough to be fun. It is, in every possible way, boring. I cannot handle boring. I really cannot.

Of course, I did watch this right after watching one of the more amazing films I have ever seen. Is In a Glass Cage my kind of movie? Not sure, but it definitely made an impact on me for sure. This film is a memory I hope to forget.

October 21: Burnt Offerings 

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Now this is what I am talking about. I mean, Oliver Reed y’all. Do I need to say more? This film is fun and ridiculous. It has a corny factor for sure, and it never really reaches what you would call scary, but it is effective and the more silly aspects simply heighten its general entertainment value. Plus, Oliver Reed is in it, so yeah!

Let’s put first things first: the premise is fun and I liked it. I get the feeling, reading others comments on the movie, that it seems a bit obvious. From early on the audience knows what is up, and why things are happening. The house is in a real sense eating them, their deaths and suffering rejuvenating it, and transforming the matriarch into the mariachi of the house. Yeah, it belabors the point. It takes its time getting there, and the big reveal is emotionally not much at all. However, the image of Oliver Reed diving out of that window and landing on the car more than makes up for it. The film has just enough creep, just enough unsettling, that it works for me. The performances are fun, and while the kills are mild, the film never lost momentum for me.

Also, Oliver Reed is in this, so…

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So what is the anxiety behind Burnt Offerings? Is this a movie about family life? About the absorbing conformity of the suburbs? About traditions which eat us whole, asking more of our present than we can possibly give? Honestly, none of those things. The book may be different, it may take all of these potential feeling, ideas, themes, and play with them. Not this movie, however. The movie never really gets past the basic story, and it leaves the themes of family tension or an absorbing past in the background. Instead, the house lives off of them. That is it. Yet, I found myself preferring that to someone attempting to add something more to this film. I do not think it could bear the weight. Burnt Offerings is a very slight film, but effective for what it is, which is fun.

October 22: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

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So let me go ahead and say, this was chosen because recently a wrong of mine was pointed out. My good friend, and guest of the podcast, John Wren, pointed out that I said disparaging things about Hellraiser II in an old Journal of Fear (http://cinapse.co/2013/10/24/journal-of-fear-week-3-april-fools-day-hellbound-hellraiser-2-trick-r-treat-demons-2-silver-bullet-prom-night-resolution/). I think the way he characterized my comments is unfair, BUT, on rereading I do think I was harsher than I needed to be. I still think the film lacks some coherence, but it also has some of the most frightening moments put to film. I just think the original is way better, and I will argue that point. However, that does not make Hellraiser II bad.

Now, you may ask yourself, how does watching the cinematic abortion that is Hellraiser III help right the wrong of you dismissing Hellraiser II unfairly? Well, to be frank, it doesn’t.
OK? I GET IT, I MESSED UP, AND NOW WE ALL MUST PAY THE PRICE!! YOU HAPPY??

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Yeah, Hellraiser II is perhaps the worst kind of flummoxed horror movie, and maybe this is a good place for me to address that. Lets do that by addressing Hellraiser II and some of my justified issues with it. The film had shooting issues, and it feels to me like pieces of it are missing. It lacks a certain amount of cohesion that I think the first film benefits from. However, none of my issues with the film are related to the IDEAS it conveys. Hellbound is in fact a great advancement on the series. Amazing thought, amazing imagery, and solid performances. It is, in many ways, a triumph and I wish I had stated that or saw it more clearly when I wrote about it last time. Why does that relate to Hellraiser III? Basically, Hellraiser II is a movie with so much going on, and great ideas, but it suffers some technical issues that I think are hard to get around. Hellraiser III is the exact opposite. That is, Hellraiser II is an exeptionally competent presentation of some of the worst ideas in the entire series.

I do not want to beat this point too hard, not because it isn’t solid, but rather because it is so painfully obvious to me. Hellraiser III actually has a lot of momentum, it has solid effects, and the performances are just fine. No one is as good as our main players from the other films, and Doug Bradley seems to be phoning it in as both aspects of Pinhead. My point, though, is that there is not really a technical or film making failure in the movie other than the obvious one: no real imagination. All of the ideas in the film are bad. The split Pinhead, the tower of body parts, the use of the puzzle box as a weapon to trap pinhead. All of them: terrible. The worst might be the cenobites. In the film new cenobites are introduced, ones this lesser Pinhead makes up, and each of them has a “witty” theme attached. Of course, none of them are witty. They are all bad.

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I think I am done writing about this movie already. What makes the first two films work is not an unwillingness to explore the mythology. It is not that we cannot learn more about the denizens of hell or the world they participate in. There seems to me to be a wide variety of characters who could find and me seduced by the puzzle box, new tortures, and pleasures they would be exposed to. The idea of this expansion is not the problem. It is that every idea tried in this film doesn’t work. Two Pinheads? Come on. There is no dread here, no real fear, and certainly no fascination with the gray area between good and evil. This is just an action like horror film. It misses the darkness, the fleshy terror of the first two movies in every way. I guess, in a sense, rereading my thoughts about Hellraiser II AFTER seeing this terrible film helped me reconsider. The second film may not work in all ways, but thematically it is in every way a perfect follow up. This third film misses what we found both frightening and fascinating about the first films, and replaces it with a shiny simulacrum that fails in every way.

October 23: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin

(NOTE: Each week I will be collaborating on the Friday post with the awesome Nick Spacek of Rock and Roll Journalist and From and Inspired by podcast. We did this last year, in a less focused way. This year, every Friday, we will be doing FULCI FRIDAYS, focusing on a film by the master Lucio Fulci.)

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Nick:
When this was released, Dario Argento had put out The Bird with the Crystal Plumage the year before. Given that film’s massive success both within Italy and abroad, it’s difficult to see Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as anything other than other than a response to Argento’s movie (or, rather more cynically, a cash-in). Additionally, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin also came out just a week after Argento’s The Cat o’ Nine Tales, meaning that within the span of one scant year, three of the most influential Giallo would be released.

Argento is obviously more well-known for Giallo, while Fulci can be said to have released maybe two — this, and Don’t Torture A Duckling. However, upon revisiting this and Don’t Torture A Duckling, it’s interesting to notice that while Fulci’s always been a fan of lingering, loving shots of gorgeous naked women, the stylishly gory violence which became one of Giallo’s hallmarks is fairly absent from his work in that genre. That’s an ironic thing to notice, especially given the grotesquery which would later become Fulci’s signature.

I found that, in revisiting this, it’s impressive to note that Fulci nails pretty much all of the rest of the Giallo trademarks: hallucinatory visions,sexual intrigue, and an overly-complicated plot with more twists and turns than a mountain highway. It looks gorgeous, unsurprisingly, and it’s quite impressive to see how Fulci took all the elements that Mario Bava and Argento set down, and twisted them just enough to make it a little more his. Maybe it’s the addition of the screaming mad hippies, but something about this just feels a little sleazier than your standard Giallo.

Am I imposing my pre-existing knowledge of Fulci on A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, or do you also notice a patina of oiliness on this flick?

Liam:
Yes, there is something very grimy and awful to this movie, which, by the way, I totally loved. I have to dispute your facts though. I would say Fulci has four Gialli. One on Top of the Other and Beatrice Cenci would both count I think. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually SEEN these films, let alone his supernatural thriller The Psychic, so what do I know? I can only say that compared to some other Gialli, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is somehow more sanitary and more cruel. There is something about the filming which gets at a more gritty reality than some of the more stylized Gialli I have seen.

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Of course, this might be because of the horribly realistic dog operation scene. This was the first time a special effects supervisor had to appear in court to prove that his effects were not real. The judiciary was convinced that Fulci had filmed real dogs being operated on. His special effects man had to bring in his effects to show that they had not in fact filmed eviscerated dogs. This detail is of course just one element of the film, and is no surprise in a Fulci feature. Relative to other Gialli though, despite this falsified dog murder, this film is bloodless. So why this feeling afterwards of being so dirty? To me, it is the way that the film’s answer is so obvious the entire film, and yet it makes so many efforts to obscure it in the most seedy of ways. This, when you get to the end, is about blackmail and murder. Along the way, however, we have mental illness, drugs, hippies, suspicions thrown every which way, and even suicide.

This is perhaps the worst detail. It doesn’t help that every red herring in the movie plays off some of our worst assumptions as an audience, or that, in between, each character is morally suspect in some way. No, it is that the murderer not only faked their own mental distress so cynically, and even allowed their father to take the blame and commit suicide. It is all so calculated, so mean, it makes what is otherwise a relaxed film seem more corrupt. Granted, there is the other issue, which I also felt in Don’t Torture a Duckling. Do you feel like this film is further evidence of Fulci’s mixed relations to women on screen? Granted, there are a few examples of females who are not TOTALLY awful, but are the women in this movie particularly vile or am I just being overly sensitive?

Nick:
No, you’re pretty much on-point, here. By the film’s end, you’ve seen Julia calling Carol’s husband to threaten him with extortion over her affair with Carol — while Carol sits right next to her! — along with Carol faking her illness, and Carol’s stepdaughter Joan also seeming to be involved in some nefarious business. Most women are either vile or out of it or pretending to be out of it — they’re either conspiratorial evil witches or idiots.

Plus, every death in this film is that of a woman, with the exception of Carol’s father, who dies by his own hand. It’s like Fulci is just wanting to show that, no matter what you do as a woman, something fucking terrible will happen. It’s awful, because there’s not even the patronizing trope of one pure woman against whom all others are judged and found wanting. They’re ALL awful. What makes it worse is that they just seem to be nothing but that: women who are bad, period, full stop.

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It’s weird: Argento’s Suspiria features a murderous coven of witches, which should theoretically be way worse, because it’s a group of women hiding and conspiring to kill. But somehow, Argento manages to make it seem empowering, because there’s a plot, there’s agency, and there’s something of a purpose behind what the witches are doing. He’s not perfect, but his women exhibit varying degrees of duality that Fulci’s do not.

Honestly, going into The Black Cat, I’m hoping to finally get away from Fulci’s repeated shitty treatment of women. Looking forward, is there anything about that film which seems like it might stray from the director’s well-worn misogynist path?

Liam:
I have two things to say to that. First off, no. I mean not in the sense of violence and some poorly written female characters. I am just not sure Fulci has much space for developing many female characters with any depth or agency. I do want to say though that, while they are not paragons of feminist ideals, I am not sure the women in either The Beyond or The City of the Living Dead are quite as vile or useless as they are in his early Gialli. I have also, as we said, not seen all of his work, so it is likely there may be some surprising women in those films.

I know, I am entirely mansplaining for Fulci. Look, I love many of his movies, and they helped form my imagination around what horror could look and feel like. His aesthetics, more than his sexual politics, have been really important to me. The Black Cat will certainly feature some violence that will be difficult to justify, and I doubt there will be any sort of female heroine with dignity and complexity. Yet, I still want to defend the maestro. The man was an Italian trying to please Italian audiences? Does that have any traction? I guess what it boils down to is I have to understand that not every work of art is going to match my ideological bent. That does not make me wrong, even if not especially in horror films, female characters should at the very least be human. That seems a reasonable thing to expect. That does not mean though I can rampage through the past declaring every horror filmmaker suspect.

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Still, though, I am reaching to defend Fulci because I do find him endearing as both a creator and a figure. The reality is that a film like Suspiria, also not a paragon of feminist ideals, somehow manages to feel less awful than some Fulci films. I really just need to own my personal moralyl suspect nature. I have to admit that, despite feeling worn down by the misogynistic ways that Fulci has portrayed women in these movies, I still tend to like them. Don’t Torture a Duckling was a bit much for me, but I really enjoyed this film. I will likely enjoy The Black Cat as well. It really isn’t Fulci I have an issue with, it is myself, and my tendency to ignore how often I really do NOT care. Fulci was an Italian film maker in a time when portrayal of women within this industry did follow certain despicable patterns. Here is hoping our next movie has a little less awful in it.

October 24th.25th
These two days I was at Horrorthon watching 14 films, so you can read that writeup separately. Will link it as soon as it is ready! THANKS

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Liam O'Donnell
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Liam O'Donnell

Liam O'Donnell is co-creator and co-host of the Cinepunx podcast and Editor in Chief of the Cinepunx website. Liam has written about film, music, politics and faith for a variety of publications in real life and online. Despite his advanced age he can be seen moshing in the greater Philadelphia area, usually to a cover song. He can be seen sitting in the audience at the newest comic book film, the retro drive-in screening of a Fulci film, or catching a series of Jodorowsky films. Liam has worked in social services, events planning, arts curation, education, community organizing, faith communities, and scooping ice cream. He has worked with festivals like This Is Hardcore Fest and The Awesome Fest. Despite all these things, Cinepunx is definitely the coolest thing he has ever done.
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