Tuesday, 18 February 2020

On a Thousand Walls #28: Orrore Popolare, Part 4

The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh) (1971)
The Perfume of the Lady in Black
(Il profumo della signora in nero) (1974)


(More Italian cinema. Spoilers. Discussion of misogyny, with all you might imagine that entails. You know.)

The easiest thing to do when you're looking at the portrayal of women in classic horror from any country is generally to shrug and say, well, those were different times, and to an extent that's true, in that the way we did discourse forty or fifty years ago was different, and the terms in which we framed our expectations of gender roles were informed by societal mores, and the law, and what mum and dad were told by their mums and dads. But what that ignores is empathy.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Cult Cinema #25: Sects Education, Part Three

Don Verdean (2015)


(Today, I'm looking at Jared Hess's interesting, misunderstood and antisemitic 2015 comedy Don Verdean. There are spoilers, but it's not like you're going to watch this movie, so don't sweat it.) 

Could it be fair to call the most vocal and temporally powerful branch of English-speaking Christianity a sect? It's easy to point out all the ways in which American evangelicalism decades ago departed from historical Christian orthodoxy. It has its own media, its own ways of speaking. It has peculiar obsessions and fears that it has superimposed over actual traditional belief – abortions, sexuality and gender, evolutionary science – and doctrines that are in most traditional readings literally prohibited by Scripture, but which somehow have become normative, like the Rapture, and Prosperity Teaching. And it is partisan in its politics, for since the 1980s, the fortunes of American evangelicalism have been tied tightly to those of the Republican Party, and so we've seen this particular take on the faith metastasise into something hard-edged, and warlike, and, to outsiders frightening and fascist.

Template

(Recently rediscovered in the archive. memory of too many open mic poetry nights.) 

(adjective) (noun) of the (adjective) (noun)
(verb) the (participle) of the (adjective) (noun)
Until, (participle), (participle), (participle),
By the (adjective) (noun) and the
(adverb) (participle) (adjective) (adjective) (noun)
The (adjective) (noun) (adverb) (verb)s.
So (exhortation) to (verb) the (adjective) (noun)
(adverb) (participle) (unnecessary archaism)
Betwixt the (adverb) (participle) (adjective) (noun)
And the (adjective) (adjective) (adjective) (adjective) (noun)
As it (verb)s
(adverb)
(adverb)
(adverb);
As it (verb)s
(adverb)
(participle)
Until (shoehorned internal rhyme) the (adjective) (noun) (and another one)
The (adjective) (noun) (verb)s (and another time)
(thought-provoking reversal in final line)

Friday, 7 February 2020

On a Thousand Walls #27: Orrore Popolare, Part 3 and a half

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave
(La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba) (1971);

The Black Cat (Gatto nero) (1981)

(This is a continuation of my discussion of films set in England where everyone speaks Italian. Once again, spoilers abound.)

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, another richly saturated, spicy and mainly nutty giallo by Emilio Miraglia, begins with a man trying to escape from a psychiatric institution. He has all the genre movie signifiers of “madness”: he twitches and shakes, his vision is blurred. The orderlies restrain him and drag him back. The credits roll.

On the other side of the credits, we see him again, out of hospital. He is, we discover, Lord Alan Cunningham (Peter Wyngarde lookalike Anthony Steffen), inhabitant of a decaying ancestral pile a short drive from central London (yeah, let that sink in).

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Cult Cinema #24: The Atrocity Tour, Part 4

American Horror Story: Cult (2017)

The premise of American Horror Story is simple enough. Each season, a fairly consistent ensemble of actors stars in a serialised long-form tale of terror, which is complete in about eleven episodes, and which deals with one of the big tropes of American horror: a malevolently haunted house, an asylum, a coven of witches, the backwoods, a freak show, the Apocalypse. Occasionally references are made to characters and events in other seasons, but the stories stand alone, and (with the exception of Apocalypse) you can watch any one season of AHS on its own and not miss anything. The seventh season, then, is the Cult season, and since it's explicitly called a horror story in the title, and since AHS is heavily invested in using classic tropes, we know from the beginning that we're going to be approaching the great cult atrocities.

And we do.

Spoilers, all of them, as usual.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Cult Cinema #23: Subsocieties of Control

[This essay will go in my section about deprogramming, along with Faults, Holy Smoke and Ticket to Heaven. It refers closely to the last of those, as Split Image and Ticket to Heaven are based on the same source material. It's one of the last entries in the Cult Cinema series; there's maybe a couple more to fill out an obvious gap or two, but essentially it's more or less ready to be a book.]

Split Image (1982)

Canadian writer Josh Freed's book Moonwebs: Journey into the Mind of a Cult was published in 1980, based on his 1977 involvement in the abduction and deprogramming of a friend, named Benji Miller in the book, who had fallen into the Unification Church's clutches. Freed frames his narrative with a thorough outsider investigation into the history and influence of Sun Myung Moon's religious, political and financial activities. It hit the zeitgeist – Jonestown hadn't long happened, and the Moonies were at their peak – and Ticket to Heaven, the “official” film adaptation, came out in October 1981, which is a pretty swift lead-in for a theatrical film. It shows, frankly. I wonder how Josh Freed felt about it. On the one hand, his book got a new tie-in edition off the back of the movie's release. On the other, the film sticks closely to the narrative part and ignores the background. And of course in Ticket to Heaven, while its cultists call their distant, absent leader “Father” as the Moonies did, and while the cult members (like the real ones) don't know that they're Moonies, we don't know that they're Moonies either, because the filmmakers, presumably afraid of litigation, don't ever mention the group by name, which arguably defeats the point of the whole thing.

Ted (Wake in Fright) Kotcheff's Split Image, also made with Canadian money, released twelve months after Ticket to Heaven did. In a lot of ways it is pretty much the same film, and shares a lot of details with Ticket to Heaven, at least on a superficial level. They're just too close together for Split Image to have been plagiarised; but Split Image was absolutely inspired by Moonwebs. In fact there are details from Josh Freed's book that appear in Split Image and which don't appear in the “official” adaptation – for example, the distressing anecdote that the Moonie women in the 70s groups became so malnourished and sleep-deprived that they stopped having periods (framed by the cult as a good thing), which Freed mentions, comes up in dialogue in Kotcheff's film, but not in its predecessor.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Cult Cinema #22: Sects Education, Part Two

Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

Gentlemen Broncos bombed when it came out. It had almost entirely negative reviews and nearly ended the career of husband and wife team Jared and Jerusha Hess (of Napoleon Dynamite fame). Its cast of apparent eccentrics and nerds was not embraced by the filmgoing public at large, and in fact AICN (remember them?) even accused the film of being “bully porn”, designed to make you laugh hard at the homespun, poverty-stricken weirdos, just as you might have done at school. For my part, all I saw in the film was affection for its subjects, and a meditation on creativity that hit a chord with me.