The Porcelain of Seagull Island in The Deadly Bees (1966).

 

rev., May 29 2013

Posted May 24, 2018, to mark the fifth anniversary of rmarts blog.

The movie, The Deadly Bees (1966), has a quite thorough arrangement of white porcelain figures scattered throughout the rooms of the farm houses and pubs of Seagull Island. It has some of the best porcelain in all of British Horror, and, it would seem, makes use of porcelain to communicate tacit unspoken meaning about the character and mis en scene. These are some examples of the good porcelain. In every main set of the movie, there are good examples of porcelain. In Michael Ripper’s pub, lovely deer bookend guardians on the mantel;

bees 1in the beekeepers main parlor,

bees 2where the farmer-landlord’s wife sits unhappily, an extravagant figure;

bees 3in the agent’s office, with also a rare horror movie sighting of Beatle memorabilia (behind the porcelain lamp)

bees 4in Suzanna Leigh’s bedroom, as we see sequentially, a virgin mary,

bees 7but, then, also a faithful dog

bees 8when the police look into it

bees 5and in Findlay’s lair,

bees 6a changing exhibit of porcelain. What does it all mean? In the pub, the porcelain on the mantel is apotropaic, indicating, as much as Ripper’s wary eye, that the pub has seen a lot in its years and is always on the lookout for more. In this space, the porcelain are miniaturized guardian figures. In the parlor of the beekeeper, however, the porcelain speaks of the wife’s view that the husband has become a stone figure, her ill will, her boredom, has made him that. He represents the something gone wrong in their relationship, and he is shown quite often, coming in and out of the space. In Leigh’s bedroom the Virgin Mary porcelain only bespeaks its meaning when Leigh is lifted half naked into bed by her rescuer after having almost been stung to death by the deadly bees. She is there for intercession, for best wishes. The dog next to her adds the element of guardianship to it. There is no cult figure in the house. In Finlay’s house, however, the porcelain plays a somewhat different role. A very odd thing about his room. Leigh thinks it is lovely. But he has a very odd set up that gives him away right away, though the movie successfully misdirects us away from it: he has inserted his apiary into the window of his rooms, so that the bees cover one wall, separated only by a pane of glass. When he first shows this set up to Leigh the porcelain on the bureau below the window is a shepherdess, but when he shows her what it is really all about at the end the figure is different, it is male, and a shepherd. Probably just a continuity error, but perhaps indicating a certain falseness about his set up, that it is premediated and covering something up. These porcelain, along with the butterflies and deaths head moth, are specimens, collected, they are relics of discovery, they indicate that he is a scientist, and more likely than not the mad scientist. Just by reading the porcelain then one can tell what is going on, if one wishes to read it. In each case, the porcelain bespeaks the character of the person who owns or will live in the room shown. Finally, the fact that in every case on Seagull Island all characters have secrets, have a cold and unfeeling exterior, then hide their emotions, and do not communicate well with others, it all indicates that they are constructed porcelain figures. The figures in this case say something about their condition as human beings. After having set up the scene with these porcelain linchpins in each setting, I expected in each case the porcelain to be broken or made use of in some way to act to resolve the problem. But in fact only one piece of porcelain was broken in the movie (unlike in Hitchcock’s original, when a whole row of hanging teacups are sawed off by the bird flock). It was also somewhat disappointing that no porcelain was injured in the sense of being used in the plot, in some way. The fact that they were not indicates to me that perhaps the director did not know the language of the kingdom porcelain anymore and simply put it all in there because that is what he was taught to do, but then he made little use of them. This means that in the end while extravagant the porcelain in The Deadly Bees is conventional, and not instrumental; or, rather, it has some instrumentality, in speaking of characters, but was not instrumentalized in a creative way in the mechanics of the plot.

If Hitchcock had his birds razor of teacups, and destroy all the china, it would seem natural that a swarm of bees in a house ought to have caused the character under attack to fling their arms about in a way that knocked over all the porcelain. But this is where the Englishness of the movie and the transience of the medium of film in the B movie comes into play. Some modern cinema, in the studio style, was rooted in the unconscious of literature and books. There is an attachment to books here too, with, in fact, the bookshelf and books becoming a major instrument of the plot. That is, Finlay’s ruse is to go by the other place to get a copy of Simmons beekeeper book, but then Leigh sees that he has it right there on his shelf and he is lying. So, it plays a part: it is authority, but also reveals the true situation in terms of who is the mad beekeeper. But then there is also a second unconscoiius for modern film, the theater, and its conventions of set direction. One suspects that porcelain property originally developed on the stage for various reasons. It exists in film, then, as a carried over convention, with, perhaps, little clear sense by any film directors as to what its purpose is. It is just there, because it has to be there. As a result, it lies in the unconscious of the film, and, for that reason, communicates the unconscious of the character. Thus, when we come to the final confrontation, Finlay identifies himself as a British gentleman scholar to the end by confessing to his aggression with a cup of tea in hand.

bees 10The fact that his serving tea serves to try to keep the misdirection going and dissemble his aggression makes his picking up a teacup with hot tea in it a possible aggressive act, but, in an understated, almost unconscious way, British style. But he is embodied and epitomized in his politeness by that tea cup. It is not just that tea time makes everything right, in Britain, but that tea cups do indeed tell us whats what witt the characters in British movies. All the British need do is read the micro body language movements of his service, to tell what kind of man he is. All of this tacit body language is British, and most likely unconscious even to British audiences. Finlay has then planned a very tidily instrumented death for her. The bees are right there, in the wall, a slide of glass away. He has the formula, he was douse her with it, open the window, voila, she is dead. But she turns the tables on him by getting hold of the solution and splashing it on him: and so his bees attack him, and, in doing so, they do take apart the tidy room that he has created for himself.

bees 11Again, the movie has a very tidy instrumentation. The bees are kept in an apiary; But he has made a killer bee variant. They can be controlled by the tape recorded sound of the death’s head moth, which he has, and which hypnotizes them into stillness. But then the ammoniac smell of death attracts the bees, and they attack anything covered with it. He puts on the tape recording of the death’s head moth whir, but then she gets the smell of death on him, and that causes him to back off and knock his pictures crooked, one of the death’s head itself, the other of a picture of flowers, as if art made for the viewing pleasure of the bees. All of this way touched off by one toss of a mantelpiece porcelain, which set off the chain reaction in which the solution gets on the wrong person, but the right person for the movie.

The movie’s instrumentation is expanded upon based on his theory of the smell of fear, which attracts animals. It’s a very intimate thing for a horror movie to be based on, smell. More so, that the smell is transmitted by clothing, hands and onto skin. The contagious element of this causes a few deaths by mistake, both the dog and his wife get killed by mistake because of rub off of the smell from a rag in a bucket. But then Finlay plants the smell directly onto Leigh’s clothing, and when she strips for bed and hangs the dirty jacket on her bedpost, that is what attracts the bees. Then when Katy Wild takes the jacket out to the laundry that brings the bees through the woods after her, in a verbatim recreation of a typical Hammer vampire attack in the woods, though this time with bees (a vampire variant, then).

bees 12The most brutal attack scene in the movie involves the wife of the beekeeper getting stung to death. But the most important attack in the movie is directed of course at Leigh. It is always the outsider that brings in trouble, and, Hitchcock suggested, always the unattached hysterical woman who stirs up nature and sets it awry. The move does have a variant of the conventional shower scene. But it is not a shower scene. This is because Leigh had to have at least some residual rub off of the smell of fear still on her skin, her hands and maybe her upper chest where the sweater covered her. So, it is a brushing teeth scene, but she is in her bra.

bees 13But, when she hears the bees, the fact that she is in her underwear, gathers from the scene the sense of vulnerability that penetrates to the viewer, in any case

bees 14And then the bees fill the room

bees 15The fact that she is in her bra makes her fright a good opportunity not only to see all of her facial grimaces but to see her body, in particularly her chest, react too, and when she tries to push a towel under the door and set it on fire every push of her arm muscle causes her breasts to quiver

bees 16It is also during these attacks, that the movie fails most grieviously, perhaps fatally. The bees swarm in the foreground, the scene is in the background: it is done by superimposing one film or using rear projection. Then, spliced in with that, are a few shots where a real bee was set on a real towel, or in hair, on, one or two, on Leigh herself (earlier, with the death of the wife, interspersal went for a lot of extreme close ups of bees stinging human skin, almost as if from a medical film). And, then, in between, general unpeopled shot of bees swarming through the room. The problem with these three separations, if you will, is that they remain too far apart throughout, they never come together, and never therefore coalesce into a convincing filmic event that makes you think it is actually happening to them. The special effect therefore looks very unspecial, and fails to convincingly render the horror of a bee attack. In fact, Leigh only really succumbs at the end to the smoke, at which point she is rescued. Then, as if to recoup, or in a second thought, she immediately, in her recovery bed, has a dream sequence replay of not just her experience but the whole sequence of events. Surely the instrumentation of such a dream would be that she figures out whats what through it, but it only serves for her to re-experience it and when she wakes up, the bees gone, but she still is in shock and thinks they might be there, she responds to the room itself. And in this moment, we peel back a layer of veneer to see what we should think of the room, as she glances at a landscape painting.

These are pretty good agencies, but the sequence wraps up with the apparent villain putting her to bed, the sacrificial lamb of an island dispute between two beekeepers, the primary agent of the movie, with her body and clothing, the main agent connected to her, followed by books (not to mention a car, the dog) leaving porcelain to play a supporting role here. Porcelain in this arrangement then comes to represent the everything staying the same that country folk like, the repressed incommunicative unhappy lot they live in, day in day out, not to be disturbed by outsiders. At last, then, in these country locales, porcelain is apotropaic, but, warning, stay out, don’t bring your problems to us, leave things as they are, it’s the English way.

bees 17Which is actually epitomized by a contrast between the same shot as above, which traumatized Leigh sees, looking out into her room

bees 19and then the room again, as is, but without her, and without the bees, because they are not there anymore, though the landscape painting then free to represent place, but always threatened by things coming at it from over the horizon

bees 18in Leigh sitting traumatized on her bed, seeing the bees even when they are gone, in fact, the inadequacy of the special effect might have been better utilized, to advance beyond simply doing some Tippi Hedrun hand gestures and neck jerks of re-experiencing, if she had developed a sense that bees were still there in her purkinjee imagery, and she saw bees for a while, but she doesn’t. In any case, this exposes the wallpaper as too busy, exposes the odd pillar and the door to the bathroom as a bit threatening, because odd, making her feel vulnerable, and there she is, vulnerable, there, her raised exposed armpit suggesting the danger of that corner, and then the innocuous landscape painting is exposed as, what I theorize it is, bringing outside in, and outside fears in, an introjection, in the room, of her fear of the country, and so it attracted the bees, by one reading, and still might harbor them. It’s a good reading of the secret meaning of these apparently benign features.

One last comment about the main room property of the movie, Finlay’s apiary insert

bees 20It, at least, is not simply a structuralist reference to some other aspect of the film (as the two way picture mirror in Cabin in the Woods is, introduced, then plays no role whatsoever in the movie, it only serves to fill us in than some higher than average level of meta distance is in control in the movie). At least, this odd eccentricity of rural Brit life turns out to be the primary instrument of the movie, and its malfunction in the end results in the concluding crisis: that is, he opens it up, the bees hypnotized by the death’s head, but, then, she tosses the monkeywrench porcelain, the tape goes bad, the smell is spilled, he is attacked, all gone wrong. So, it has a high degree of instrumentation, it’s not just passing scenery.

 

Black Christmas (1974) Revisited: Margot Kidder’s Barb torn apart by the world in a time of transition.

 

Rev., May 15, 2018.

Dedicated to Margot Kidder, d. May 13, 2018. Disclaimer: readings of the tea leaves of inferences in the text as they speak to me in a particular viewing are not “views” that are necessarily those that I hold regarding current social issues.

As an observance of her death, I watched Black Christmas (1974) again with attention to the role that Margot Kidder played in it, Barb, the sharp-tongued, heavy-drinking, entirely-messed up, but fun, and very much of the moment sorority girl, who comes to a bad end. It is a small, but fierce performance, and in many ways the movie is not imaginable without it, indeed it won her some awards. But, then, the question is, why? why does her performance capture the nature of the movie better than anything else in it? The main issue is that Black Christmas, like several other movies of the time that I remain intrigued by, is a kind of shambles, and filmed in that shambling, unclear style, full of loose ends, that a lot of 70s directors were toying with at the time (The Exorcist was one of these, but also Midnight Cowboy, The Omen, several others, it was the style of the time, it was gritty, realistic, but upsetting, so many loose ends, such an obtuse way of making a movie). I have not yet been able to put my finger on what exactly accounts for the special character of these movies, except by way of talking about the invasive-contagious associational chain created at the start of The Exorcist, but by focusing on Kidder’s Barb in Black Christmas that might get me there.

The movie starts out with a house invasion, with the killer of the 13-year-old in the park coming to roost in the attic of the sorority house. Then we see life inside, and it is spun about by Barb, coming down the stairs, with a drink in her hand (also note the honeycomb Christmas decoration, an all-directional apotropaieon, which, for that, screams look out)

amar 1while she stirs the pot

amar 2the killer invades the house

amar 3and it will stay like this, it is almost as if she is the “reason” or at least the symbol for the reason why the killer is there, which is that is he a first entry in the counterrevolution in horror against the sexual revolution, a victim-psycho of the sexual revolution who now wants his revenge at all the slutty girls in the world (there is little question that underneath the unhinged liberalism of the 70s, that is, detached from progressive actual politics, there was a riptide current activated). So it is important to note that while the killer is already, in media res, psycho, she is already, at the very start of the movie, pouring heavy, and drinking a lot

amar 4and while her dog collar indicates a perhaps sadistic edge, her open blouse is revealing of a woman comfortable with her sexuality, even flaunting it all over, and then, of course, a cigarette to make of her a moll, a wild girl who is indulging in everything (Kidder died of throat cancer thus I fear this pose took ten years off her life in real life)

amar 5she is even tending the bar, opposed to the bookshelves

amar 6and in a synchrony that is quite strange her drinking is paralleled to the psychokiller finding a place to squat up in the attic, and it features several shots of the rocking horse, why would that be up there? being rocked back and forth

amar 7I mean, it is a trope, instrumentalized

amar 8a lot

amar 9the last time I had to deal with the rocking horse was in dealing with the true haunting of Biddesden house, where it might be that a legend of the old duke riding his horse up and down the main stairs was perhaps the basis for rocking horses showing up as the toy du jour in all the upper floor bedroom nurseries. It may be that the rocking horse also signifies the nursery, as spelled out in English lore of the upper class, that is, the special out-of-touch world of the upper class nursery-educated, with their secret languages and way of talking. It is also true that the “rocking horse people” are mentioned in Strawberry Fields, and they may be taken to be people who have become accustomed to living in fantasy, stiffly, plasticly, going through the paces of corporate or middle class or upper class life, but detached. The horse aspect might also bespeak a wild animal element to this too. So, having seen this settling, we get Barb on the phone, calling upstairs, no problem, because she is also a loud mouth, and has no problem screaming

amar 10and it is almost as if the movie is timed to make the point that by calling up, she situated the killer at his point of remove, and so he took up his place, vis a vis her, or all the girls, all “whores” represented by her sluttish ways (again, this psycho POV)

amar 11then she goes back to talking, she is talking to her mother, and when she says, mother you are a real gold plated whore, but also that she has a ski place in the country, we learn that she IS a rich girl, but has been entirely neglected by her family, so has a deep hurt in her, for that

amar 13when she calls her mother a whore, she is seen POV by the killer, the first in-house sighting by him of anyone of the girls, all of whom are characterized thereafter as whores

amar 14and, of course, Kidder’s performance is so special because she manages to slip in between her moments of public bravura moments of private pain and fragility, as when, after the call, she is quickly devising a face-saving proposal, so her sisters don’t know what a messed up person she is

amar 15When, then, they get the first obscene phone call, in the movie, though it is suggested this has been going on for a while, Barb takes an interest in it, and is curious about its twisted sexuality

amar 16at one point even admits to being rather impressed that he has upped his game to talk of licking pussies, big pink pussies

amar 17and, then, another gem moment for Kidder, whatever this means, is she turned on by this? is her sexually liberated sex drive got so unhinged that some talk of oral sex by an obscene phone call turns her on?

amar 19she even has a smoke, listening in

amar 20and then returns fire and reassumes her role as the golem or guide in these matters, the front person, of the group, in dealing with the evils of the world, the experienced girl, and she taunts him, and almost at one point turns it into phone sex, and the other girls are horrified, thinking that maybe she is encouraging him, or putting a target on her back (which she is)

amar 21and then when Martin says that she is playing with fire, because a townie was raped last week, she says, you can’t rape a townie, meaning that townies are too tough to get raped, that is, it was part of it, for them, but also, she says, this is a sorority house not a convent, that is, we talk about sex, sex is good, sex is almost the point of all this, so, no need to worry

amar 22then when Carol, the first victim retreats, not being able to take it, Barb shoots at her, I know a professional virgin when I see one, and the others tssk along, though no doubt all sexually experienced by this point

amar 1 1and then the movie moves on. Later, at a house on campus (I am unsure of the timeline), where the sorority is staging a kid’s Christmas party, she reveals her even worse sense of the inappropriate by, in front of all the kids, at a public event, deciding to continue her binge, drinking bottle-heavy

amar 25she even SERVES ALCOHOL to one of the kids, while the father of the missing girl, Carol, is talking about his missing child on the phone (for this she might be arrested today).

amar 26then at the police station, when the Carol case begins to actually develop into something, she is back at “the man”, at playing at hijinks by relaying the sorority number to the dumb desk sergeant, this an old trope, it is FE exchange, that is Fellatio 2450, etc (note that when the girls first gather around the obscene phone call, the side of a calendar one sees only spell out, on screen, FE FE FE FE FE, for February)

amar 27and, then, that evening, the drinking still continuing, she is at dinner, or after dinner, sitting on a couch, paging through no less than a Penthouse magazine, while the father worries

amar 28it is a Penthouse, with a centerfold of a female nude, which she was scribbling on, and the question would be why is it in the house, if not to satisfy, in the logic of the picture, a same-sex vibe in her character (could she be miserable because closeted?)

amar 29then she gives her talk about turtles having sex for three days without stopping, unlike men, who take about three minutes, another jab, and after that, she is shown to bed, for she, they all now realize, has had way too much to drink

amar 30but not without a total reaction that she has internalized a bunch of inferences that, because of her taunting of Carol, she drove her away, to her room, and by upsetting her, and not letting rest in the group, she caused her death, and she is like, why don’t you say what you are thinking? you think I had something to do with this, I caused this, it’s my fault

amar 31one more time, some time later, we see her again, as we find out that she has yet another weakness, she has asthma, and should not have been drinking for another very good reason, it triggers episodes, but she did, and here she is, attending to by Hussey

amar 32but for this, she comes directly into the POV radar of the killer

amar 33then Hussey tucks her in, but not really, as she is pretty exposed, indicating her weakness, perhaps she left her chest exposed to help her breathe

amar 34and she goes, because drunk, right back to sleep

amar 35but while it was previously suggested that her first introduction and her rambling attack on all things by way of being drunk and wild, echoed the ingress of the psychokiller into the sorority house, making of him an all but homunculus form of her, them the two sides of the same coin, the failure of the sexual revolution, here, there is now a direct misdirection involving her to allow her to die unattended by the protection she was promised by others. As the killer steps aside, to hide, passing a picture of sorority girls past

amar 36Hussey is drawn downstairs into seasonal ritual by the appearance at their doorstep of the Christmas carolers

amar 37she then has to snap out of it, from the emergency mode, and having all these troubles in the house, to play the hostess, in a pro forma way, for the kids, for the season, and stand at the door and as part of the ritual listen to the kids sing out their song, next to the red star

amar 38and yet it is almost as if the red lit wreath star is this movie’s version of a shower sequence, as it is to the obligations of the season acts as the device that causes her, behind her back, to NOT PAY ATTENTION to what she should be paying attention to, and in that backstab blindspot behind her, behind the formal niceties of the season, the red lit star is contrasted directly and immediately with its eclipse form, the parodic black mass version of Christmas cheer placed by Barb on her dorm room door, the black Christmas wreath, ornamented with little bottles of alcohol

amar 39and made darker still (ie, black), by the killer’s shadow in POV falling on it

amar 40and then he enters the room, we see him in silhouette, but figured out by the glass unicorn in Barb’s surprisingly delicate collection of glass figures, the arty nature of which I have commented on in another note. But, at this point, I want to point out the unicorn nature of the nexus itself. That is, this is a clash of two injured people, a psycho and a drunkard, both are easily breakable, he is animalistic, she is glass, the horn perhaps represents his knife, his weapon, his ill intent, but the “unicorness” of it represents, in keeping with my previous analysis of the movie’s use of the trope of the Dead Eyes of the World, the absolute wrong-place at the wrong time stupid nonsensicalness of them coming in contact with each other, to this bad end. In this capacity, a unicorn represents an act of violence of shocking unnecessariness, a freak accident, as they say, but, here, a freak killing, with no point, except that it happens. And Clark is saying that this happens, this reduction to glass, in the wake of pro forma keeping of things like the holidays, and behind or in the eclipse of a wreathe reversed by alcohol into a black mass negation, which ten breeds other darkness. But, it is important to note, Clark is not saying that this killing has any agency, this is a clusterfuck incident in the big wide rationalized modern world, and not a ritual killing done in some contra or psycho world divorced from it, this is just the fuckedupness of the god of carnage of the world, expressing itself. I previously noted that Barb’s barbs are all expressive of pure spite and messing with the system and “the man” and have no serious point or in any way other than just being acting out of her hurt and pain and giving it to others. That is, I think Barb operates relative to the world of the 70s, much in the same way as the bikers in California biker movies in the 60s acted out irrationally and absurdly against “the man” and “the system” and in that sense I see their actions as but reactive responses in pure spite or hate to the current oppressiveness of mass modern life (see my piece on what the Swastika most definitely does NOT mean in a 60s biker movie, ie it is NOT a regression to neonazism). What to call this? I graph out her situation like this

amar 41

that is, while it is tempting to say that she is living in a glass onion, to see the world through it, and feel impulses from the wider world’s Sentients and Ambients through it, I do not think that is what is going on here. She has let herself, perhaps by drink, maybe by sex, be dissociated entirely into the far scaffolds of rationalization that afflicts modern life, where symbolic and utterly stupid secondary issues clog up the brain and carry things away in endless rationalization. And, then, out there, caught in a clusterfuck maelstrom, wider Sentient forces come in against her, and, because she is defenseless, having given in to all the world’s pressures, and let the world tear her apart, the Sentients whirl in in a manner of cutting, and tear her to pieces, leaving behind a raggedy ann doll ruination. I ran across a quite good word last night, in Gibbon. He talks of a sixth century Byzantine treasurer, Alexander, who reduced the size, but not the figure, of Byzantine coinage, so that the same size denomination was worth less, for that he was called PSALLICTION, the scissors. I believe I will call “psalliction” the process by which far off Sentients of a menacing sort tear to pieces persons who have allowed themselves to get caught up in the riptide of rationalization on the scaffolds of meaningless resentment and unhappiness in modern life (its symbol, then, a paper honeycomb decoration). And there is little question to me that Barb in Black Christmas (1974) is portrayed, for all her pulledapartness, as a girl who has been psallicted or subjected to horrible psalliction by the turn of the times from the 60s to the 70s, where a kind of hook of contrary red and green flows not unlike in a tornado circulation made those few years quite difficult to navigate. So, this is the particular locale of a particular tearing-apart mechanism of the world, and Barb in her bed is in that sour spot, ready for the kill

amar 42

and I noted before how odd it was, such a vivacious, aggressive woman, a sitting duck, dead asleep because of her drinking

amar 43even even uses the unicorn horn as the murder weapon, again, I will call a “unicorn” a basically freak killing, with no sense, or the victim thereof, a person who simply did not have to die, and, perhaps, I have talked about another of this type in The Undertaker, The Black Swan, here a kill that makes no sense, except as to convey the idea that these times are totally fucked up, Barb the Unicorn getting it then

amar 1 2and the minute before death shot, also a trope

amar 45some interaction with her visuals in her room, again reinforcing the “she asked for it” vibe

amar 46then, that’s that, there is a sense of the scene, she does reach up, to fight back, but she is helpless, it is over quickly

amar 47and the movie ends the rather sharp contrast between Christmas Caroling and Christmas Harrowing by pulling back to the black Christmas wreath, festooned thematically with a whisper of blaming at what made of her not only a sitting duck, but a unicorn death.

amar 48now, there are a few odd complexities that I did not pick up in an earlier screening, for one thing, now that Barb is dead, psychokiller can spend some time in her room, so the next call, I think, comes from her room, the empty bed that of her roommate, and by the phone, though I do not know how calls could be made from inside the house, nor does the movie try to explain this oldest of urban legends, and we see by the phone a poster for the McHenry sisters

amar 49then, I think, Andrea Martin must be her roommate, because she comes right in, to see if she is ok, and she gets it too, easily, from behind the door, so he stayed put

amar 50and I would certainly like to know what these posters are, but cannot make them out *though it has both a Che Guevara and a spreadeagle vibe)

amar 53then, later, when Hussey is told, leave the house, she nonetheless, being a good girl, has to go up and check for Barb and Martin, and so she comes back into the black Christmas wreath eclipse too

amar 54and it is at this point that she sees his Christmas wreath, Martin and Kidder wrapped up as if in a parody of triabic consummation, and is terrified

amar 55and since he is STILL on the other side of the door, we get a view of his eye, the cycloptic POV of the killer, from behind the door, looking, now, at her

amar 56two things here, or three. One, first of all, I would wish to know what the posters in Barb’s rooms were, because if by one’s being swept away by contact with elements of popular culture one is completely unfamiliar with that one is put into a state of unhingedness that can lead, in fact, to psalliction. I recollect being regularly exposed, on a the film schedule at my college, a whole series of early 70s current movies, if not blockbusters, then at least in theaters, such as Joe, Straw Dogs, Scarecrow, Panic in Needle Park, Deep Throat (yep), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Monte Walsh (terrible), and on and on, in which one was yanked out of one’s comfort zone to be asked to confront aspects of life one did not even know about, and sometimes this was quite upsetting (I can document this movie going as I have a record). The capacity of the 20 year old to absorb all this is limited, and thus can lead to simply feeling the scratching effect of psalliction. If we knew what she was watching, we might have a better sense of how close to the edge she was, in just reacting angrily to a world, nothing of which was working for her at the time (a feeling common in the early at-sea, unhinged 70s) (the most extreme example of which would be the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, by the unreal fantasy regime of the Symbionese liberation army, but which resulted in realworld confusion for her, and a severe case of disassociative disorder)

Second, I have noted that the killer was introduced as if in a duet counterpointing Barb’s first great spin of this-worldly bravura and posturing through the house. Then, Barb was killed when Hussey had to be watching her, but was distracted by the pro forma obligations of Christmas (the nondiegetic irony of this might’ve amused Kidder, whose career was said to be launched when Brian di Palma left a giftwrapped copy of a script for Sisters under her 1971 Malibu Christmas tree). Finally, Hussey, breaking the cop’s rule, and the cop failing to get her out of the house, first realizes with shock that it is all real and she is in trouble by seeing Barb murdered in her bed, now Christmas wreathed with Andrea Martin. Thus, at this door, at the nexus of this black wreath, symbolic of the fuckedupness of the times, she is now sent running. But, she cannot get out of the house, so she retreats to the basement, so the opposite of the attic. And this is where a very odd scene occurs, and one which places the movie entirely into the rationalized zone of the world’s fuckedupness, far from actual horror. She has previously realized that in so far as Peter (Keir Dullea) was with her, coming down the stairs, but in a false positive way to us, that is, made for a moment to be the killer, when the third obscene phone call was made, he could not possibly be the killer, she is relieved. But, at the same time, she is very upset with him, and they have been fighting, even on the phone, fed into the cops’ suspicions, by the fact that she has told him she is pregnant, she wants to get rid of the baby, he is adamantly opposed. So, there is an inference in his shadow on the basement window that maybe she confuses the two. But, once he gets in, not only is he solicitous in his calling her name, but, seeing her, smiles, what are you doing back here? but, then, the movie breaks, and when the cops break back into the house they find her unconscious in the basement, with Peter lying dead on top of her, and so they assume, yep, got him, Peter was the killer, take her up to recoup, to leave her there for the final crawl away

amar 1 3I mentioned in a previous note a certain medieval cast to this bedside vigil. Then amazement that the police did not search the rest of the house, or even the attic. But they did not because they thought they had their man, Peter, killed by her defending herself from the psycho killer, the killer of one girl in the park, then three or four girls in the house. But THEY ARE WRONG, that is, the movie, this movie, in a way that is not all common, gets itself wrapped up entirely in the red herring, and glories in the red herring, and it concludes inconclusively by the police thinking the red herring is the solution. And Hussey it turns out, to get her way, to be free as a woman from the burdens of children, Hussey committed murder of a person she knew full well was Peter, not the psycho, she killed him, and will get away with. So, here again, THIS, in the whole mis en scene of the movie is itself a PSALLICTION.

I have not mentioned the obscene phone calls. They are odd. They are also the basis for the urban legend that the calls were coming from inside the house. But, the weirdest thing about them, is that they were beyond irrational, they addressed no one, they just gave voice, like the opposite of oracles, to the madness of the outside world, of life now, of the times we live in, and in the use of the many voices, the splicing is almost as interesting in the annals of strange recordings in 70s movies as the backwards ramblings of the devil in The Exorcist, or the like. I do not have the patience to work out the details of the rantings, or where the clips all cut together, into chaotic but frightening nonsequiturs of rage, punctuated by obscenity, come from, but they bespeak the times, and the chaos of the movie’s mis en scene, and, moreover, they are the ultimate expression of a way of expressing onself that even Barb has taken up, all just things said, crazy comments, one liners, all over the place,

you’re a real gold plated whore mother you know that?….. you can’t rape a townie…..this is sorority house not a convent……I know a professional virgin when I see one…..rare species of turtle that screws for three days without stopping, not three minutes, like most men.

Meaning that the obscene phone call, and the phone, strangely enough, for this is quite antique, first expressed, in the group call, by the holes in the receiver

amar 58then after all the hijinks about phone numbers, and then all the cops and robbers about the way in which calls are traced, and then the full phone, unanswered, in its cradle, as the symbol of the filter by which the voice of the angry Sentients come into this world

amar 59and again, the urban legend, he is in the house with you

amar 60all of this speaks to the fact that the obscene phone calls were the very central instrumentation of the movie, then reflected in the character of Barb, and that the irrational, multivocal, schizo, multiple personality insanity of the clipped sequences of the phone were also reflected in her all-over crazy retorting, and that then all of this represents aurally the ingress of Sentients into this world in a way that by the depleting process of PSALLICTION in rationalized scaffold places can tear people to pieces. For all this, in addition to all the issues raised in a previous note on Black Christmas (1974), Black Christmas is, as one of those ramshackle 70s movies that tried to capture the roughshod nature of the transitions of the times, a quite good movie, and one in which the all but unknown Margot Kidder kind of stole the show, in her brief performance of a young woman very much of the moment, Barb.

When Ambients Attack: hypnagogy in Justin Fitzpatrick’s contemporary art and in Red Eye (2003, Korea).

FUSION byline. FUSION entries make connections observed in passing between trope instrumentalization in horror movies, and in contemporary art, without any claim of influence or artistic intent–entirely my POV.

Dream guides class: Land of Nod Adjunct Ambient; Lattice-whoosh Adjunct Ambients.

Rev., Feb 15, 2018.

 

In another fusion moment, I commented on a work of contemporary art on FB by Justin Fitzpatrick

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And posited with four images, how it might’ve come to have such a decidedly odd, “wriggling” form. I supposed that it is based on a memory when, perhaps, he was napping on the couch, but nodding off while watching Jason and the Argonauts, where there is a work of art, of Hera as figurehead of the ship that talks to Jason to guide him

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And, then, in the background, his mother was doing the laundry, but had to hang up his socks on an indoor rack, maybe because of breakage of the machine, or it was winter, and so I related the laundry aspect of the piece, that there are sails in formation, but they are made out of hung athletic socks, and so that form develops from the trope of encountering a horror in the laundry, such as in The Creeping Terror (1965)

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And then the laundry

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And it turns out as this.

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But, then, all through the other works like this, with Sodomy, for example, there is a sexual inference

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and other works

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a close-up, strange things

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And the press release does mention sex

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So it can be inferred that there was a sexual element to this nodding in and out from the movie to the scene happening out in the room (a light land of nod state of hypnagogy I have written about a lot, but this then following from my treatment of the Land of Nod in Whistle and I’ll Come to You, and then my eternal evocation of the “tincan hollow” of hearing the world from out of a light nap, on the couch, just like this, so that Hera, from the movie)

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Suddenly asks him, in a trope that is right out of a porn scripting, “Do You have a boner?!” (in this rather extreme version of the trope mom realizes that her trick to get her hub up, by switching Viagra for Aleve, has backfired, as son has “accidentally” taken some, and now has a four hour erection, and in trouble

kor 12so like a good mom and because it is “her fault” decides, ok, I’ve got to help, so gives him a hand- and then a blowjob, then, of course, that doesn’t work, so it ends up with full sex, all an alibi formation to exonerate both from “we shouldn’t be doing this,” these alibi formations very similar to dream states, but mainly rationalized as daydreams). This is not what I am saying happened in the above, but suggest a similar trope scenario (lack of attention to the soft power cultural forces of porn and other scripts underlying a lot of strange sexual behavior in the culture, now being called harassment by all those subject to it, once somewhat just brushing it off, now rejecting it, as they pull back to radical positions, is what makes the current debate shallow, and bound to fail, these things are deep-seated).

kor 13And, then, in this case, the broom comes into it, because embarrassed real-world mother wouldn’t want to touch him, so nudges him awake with a broom, to shame him into pulling in his boner (and, in truth, I was given the broom once, when staying over at a young woman’s apartment she was annoyed by my snoring but perhaps thought it too erotically suggestive to in the middle of the night, in her night gown, actually touch me, to nudge me to stop, so she took a broom and I woke up  being poked, hard, A LOT, by a broom, no kidding!)

And that is my breakdown of what I think is its only explainable rationale, and in this first linkage of wriggling with a light dream state, I link this work to the Land of Nod, as a work of art conceptualized by way of remembrance of a hypnagogic moment of a sexual nature in one’s teens, projected into adult works of art.

But, then, my interest in the scene was deepened by the fact that the night before I had watched the Korean horror movie, Red eye (2003). In that one, a lovely food cart girl, Mi-Sin, begins to have haunting experiences. And this is indicated as happening in her POV, in the lattice, in its chandelier, by this shot

kor 15and in the best sequence in the movie, after looking at a little boy’s drawings, she is surprised to see how thorough one drawing is, as if in a Where’s Waldo way identifying every passenger on the train, but, the problem is, it is not THIS train, but this train on a night in 1988, and so she holds out the drawing

kor 16and then drops it, and it turns out that the whole train has converted to as was in 1988

kor 17and she is in that picture, so has walked into this dream memory place

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which is confirmed by a newspaper she finds out the seat

kor 19but, then, in an amazing moment, in the far back corner of her peripheral vision, she senses an unexpected movement. There is a backpack in an overhead and it moves, or, it moves on her eyes, she is alerted to trouble

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then, it rather remarkably, and I could not freeze the split second when it had arms reaching out overhead, it comes at her, a big figural blob of Idontknowwhat

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and it attacks

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and then consumes her, leaving only one eye staring out

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and then she drops to the floor, and it empties out, she snaps back to the present. But, what was this? Ambients are figures that haunt one overhead circling around you, or below, and come at you from the margins of your field of vision. There is the frontal field of vision, more or less straight ahead including all things off maybe forty degrees either side, and then there is peripheral. The peripheral vision of human beings stretches quite far off and back and if you hold your arm out you can still see your fingers move even if the arm is held someways back of the head, so the field goes out 180 degrees left and right, but also, even if you are looking ahead, thirty degrees back behind your head. But, as I have discussed before, human beings can have troubles with their peripheral vision. They seem to require that the periphery is covered, that is, there is some manner of protection there, so that they do not feel like they are being followed. I have conjectured that the sight of Castor and Pollux on white chargers at the far periphery of Roman battle lines, as reported in the Aeneid, and elsewhere, is a classic manifestation of men in a high state of fighting fervor needing to feel safe and protected on their flanks, and so to avoid feeling weak there they have provided the gods with the job of standing guard over their flank. I also noted that in the Land of Nod there is a tendency to see things far off in the periphery, as haunting. But this formation seems a bit deeper. There is an implication that in the lattice shot thus shot, with the eyes glancing back and forth, that this is happening at stage three lattice light dream, obsessing heavily, and then the periphery involved is expanding horizontally out from that, in a kind of animating complexity that can bring alive and make a wriggling monster of anything out there. Moreover, since being in the lattice has made you paranoid, all those things, in this state come at you much more forcefully, and maliciously, and, indeed, they come at you in a way that mirrors the movement of a haunting hand bearing down on you, to strangle you, a formation I equate with the whoosh, so, it could be said, this sort of thing starts out in lattice-activated adjunct states, then comes through the lattice of one’s obsessive POV, to then cast down to a nightmare state, to cause one to snap out

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that is, the lattice settles in, then it flips out into adjunct space, to animate it, to pick up adjunct objects and animate them, to turn them by successive states from hints, to homunculi, to wriggling forms, to monsters, to then come jump at you, on the lattice, then pull you down through it, to then snap you awake, out of a nightmare. It is an adjunct attack way to nightmare, in a semi-waking state. So, I equate these peripheral animations in the far adjunct spaces of the lattice as Ambients, but of a particularly dark, demonic nature, I guess for the moment I will call THESE particular Ambients Homunculi, with wriggling formation coming in to attack.

But, then, the fun twist in the movie is, a girl then finds a wig in the aisle. That means that the object is rationalized back in waking life, as a wig that has fallen out of a backpack (this is also the dream girl who can see hauntings, so this is not good)

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she then passes it to another girl, who eagerly hits the bathroom mirror, to try it on and see how it looks

kor 26but, then, as malicious wriggling forms will, it is animated, evilly, it strangles her

kor 28and it opposite-of-wigs her, that is, covers her, her face, reducing her to cyclops form of victimhood

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and she is suffocated by it, that, then, being the nightmare of it. So, I classify this as an Ambient attack too, and to me it is somewhat related, simply in its form of dream structure, to the Underworld piece by Justin Fitzpatrick noted in my treatment of his work today (while hair is clearly an obsessive trope in Asian horror, and it’s long-haired, therefore, ropelike, twistable form lends itself to spiralling in a way that conveys the possesion of the self by vertiginous forces leading from the lattice down the whoosh, it also has to be said it has a full-body quality too, invasive of all aspects of the body. In Don’t Click (2012), for example, an evil video on line shows a voodoo doll being stuffed with rice

kor 30and (amazingly) hair

kor 31the girl does seem to be lead along, as if haunted, by her own eidol come back to haunt her, that is, turning against her, repeated view of a model lashing out her hair (besides the Robert Longo origins of this fashion photographer trope, the only example of the use of the trope in US culture is in a lowdown form as a sign of “stripping bare” humiliation when the wigs come off as the women fight on the Jerry Springer show)

kor 32and then in a haunting evoking bodily disgust she feels rice emit from her body

kor 34and also hair

kor 36

which totally freaks her out, as a result, hair anywhere where it is not wanted, it is a deep horror in the culture).

Thus, this FUSION note finds a common ground, and a common means of creativity, in a work of contemporary art of the moment, by Justin Fitzpatrick, which, in my view, has to be called “wriggling”, and a Korean horror movie of fifteen years ago, both of which sought to capture the certain something in things imagined in hypnagogy, one in the first stage entoptic state I call the Land of Nod, the other in the ajunct zones of the lattice, or third level of hypnagogy, but, in both cases, taking a certain form, when Ambients attack.