The Devonsville Terror (1983) and the negative space of a shower scene.


Rev., May 31, 2018.

Note: this note makes use of a taxonomy of types of apotropaia derived from Talismans and Trojan Horses (1992), Dennis Faraone.

Following up on a previous note expressing interest in the simple one-two devices made use of by 40s movies like Fear in the Night, and then Dark Mirror (1946), The Devonsville Terror (1983) comes back to suggest itself as following in the footsteps of those movies. What this means is that the movie is caught in a particular state, and this could be called 2D space, but in this case it is curse space. Curse space is the space which a place is trapped in because of a curse. Because Devonsville was where they burned witches, and, as typical, the witches cursed them

aaaadev `1the town is caught in that curse, which consists of its very narrow views about women, especially young women, coming in from outside, teaching new fangled ideas. As a result of this curse, I think I can state with a fair degree of accuracy that Devonsville is a town caught in a state of  what I call “twinfire”, which means, if any woman coming into town looks like one of the witches they burned, then that means she is the witch they burned come back to life, and we will have to take care of her the same way. Thus, I can use the same graph as before, we are in an adjunct glass onion (second level hypnagogy) state, in which haunting is done by way of kaleidoforms not so much whooshing as just zooming down at one. One can get best to this point by first examining the very odd point that the movie does not really have a shower sequence, or rather, has offset or negative shower sequences. In the large picture, the movie also takes place entirely within hypnagogic space, and does not overly involve the Ambients or the Sentients that might spin in from farther out in the mind

aaaadev 2

Early on, when one of the town fathers, who had just murdered his wife, goes into the bathroom, he senses a presence in the shower curtain. He murdered the wife at the hour of TV static, that is, under the control of an entoptic state of sleepwalking or hypnagogy

aaaadev 3then he looks at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, either to ask what have I done? or just tell himself, you’ve done it, now, you’ll be ok

aaaadev 5and he looks at the shower curtain. Now, normally, this screen wipe is an entoptic device to reduce the showering body behind it to just an object of one’s incoming passion or menace, to make it easier to kill her

aaaadev 6and so, this is an alibi formation, as the folds, before the darkness a few feet behind, in many movies, create the idea that someone is behind there, perhaps naked. But, instead, in this case, there is no shower sequence, there is only a witch face come zooming up at him out of the folds and the entoptic field

aaaadev 7and then the movie makes clear that the device of a face coming out of a shower curtain is like an acheiropoetic (not made by human hands) style imprint of a face on fabric, in the same form and arrangement of materials, as the wife’s face suffocated by a pillow, so, it is a “neat” or “tight” movie, making near comparisons

aaaadev 8but, when, way later on, almost at the end of the movie, we do have a shower spray turned on, and, luckily, it is Suzanna Love’s, the main character

aaaadev 9but, then, just as she is about to undress to shower, she hears a noise outside the glass bricks

aaaadev 10she has previously been shown undressed, getting ready for bed. In an earlier scene, she is topless, putting on a sleep shirt for bed, she is getting dressed, however, for bed

aaaadev 11perhaps, post shower, and it seems she needs some lip balm too

aaaadev 12then she goes in

aaaadev 13and encounters under the blanket, another common trope, a snake in the bed

aaaadev 14but this time, back before she takes the shower in the later scene, she, rather oddly, right hand on the left, left hand on the right, turns OFF the shower, ending all hope that the movie would have a shower sequence with which to show her vulnerability

aaaadev 15so, the question is, two shower sequences, but entirely pulled back from, and gone into negative space. What gives? What gives is what is shown very quickly after. One of my favorite things about Haxan (1922) is how it rationalizes modern appliance life after ancient rite and claims that today’s shower bath for neurotic women

aaaadev 16is the equivalent of burning witches in the old days, a montage

aaaadev 17back to the witch

aaaadev 18Well, this movie, perhaps influenced by that film, does the same thing. When they at last decide to kill the three new women who have come to town bringing the trouble of their sexuality with them, they use modern means, for old tortures. So, pulling one witch by the hands behind the wheels of a truck, to kill her that way, as she spins on the ground

aaaadev 20is the equivalent of rolling a witch on a firewheel down a hill 300 years before (the other kill, by pigs, stays the same)

aaaadev 21this means that the shower is the visual equivalent of another old device of witch killing, and that is burning, and this is stated by, shortly after the shower turn off, the headlight glaring into our eyes

aaaadev 22that then representing the gaze that rapes her, then burns her, first, I think, the rape

aaaadev 23and then the burn

aaaadev 24though the movie lets her keep her night slip on

aaaadev 26but still we get a screenwipe breast close-up, to tell us that something is about to happen. But what is that something? First, let me summarize, this formulation of contrast between a modern day shower being cancelled out, and sent to negative space, by a witch burning, in the same position and relative to the opposite marterial, fire from water, as a shower, is why there is no shower here. What this means is that the sexual attraction of the woman is not circumscribed by her private life and her home and her bathroom, even, but that her whole being the minute she crossed the town line and came to town, is the problem, the problem is that she is there, period, the minute she came into town, she was a problem. And that is the issue. Thus, the shower sequence is here, but it is cast as a witch burning sequence in the public realm, to communicate to the whole county and town. But, then, how this is specifically done is the thing. Again, here is the screen wipe at the last burning which tells us something is about to break from one zone of reality to another, her breasts, though faintly covered in slip lace

aaaadev 27but the thing is, just her presence in town is enough to cause all the men in need of women to not only fantasize on her, but almost have hallucinogenic moments of imagining her nude in front of them. The really odd thing here is that she appears to the grocer in a kind of window, at least behind a pane of glass, giving us, as viewers, what we would normally get from a shower sequence, except that here, since he is the one shocked to see it, she is not vulnerable, but powerful, menacing, her presence and sexuality weighs heavy on his mind

aaaadev 28it seems to be the back of a closet door, it is a full on nude scene, her entire torso, as one might see in a shower sequence

aaaadev 29this so turns him on that he later attempts to exploit the fact that he was able as grocer to get some herbal tea for her to try to date her, in his very strange living room, log cabin style, with a flag in the corner, which I have written about before

aaaadev 30and, of course, flag and winter landscape protecting her in her refusal to be interested, as one might expect

aaaadev 31but then he (or another man) has another erotic nightmare about her, and, again, she appears, but in light, her hair either colored or on fire, and she is sweating

aaaadev 32and then in this nightmare he meets her out by the bog

aaaadev 34and she glares at him pitilessly, with disgust

aaaadev 35as he goes down in, as if it were quicksand

aaaadev 36and the nightmare aspect of this that brings the dreamspace very very close into him, almost suffocating, in his sleep, is her glare, we get the close-up of her eyes

aaaadev 37and her lips

aaaadev 38and what’s under her tartan skirt

aaaadev 39now, somehow, the nightmare contagion in town gets to her too

aaaadev 40she dreams that she is tied up at a witch burning

aaaadev 41and though it is odd that she sleeps in her pearls, she sits up covered in sweat, the pearls likely there to reinforce figuratively her cold fear sweat

aaaadev 42this is a very odd dream, however, let me pause to consider what it means. She is strung up to a particular tree. In only a few movies, one Spanish one with Paul Naschy, where there is a witch hanging tree, have I heard much about witching trees, that is, trees with strange shapes like spooky sticks which came to seem to the local people to be good places, for all the warding off that their branchings did, to hang witches, but in a way to ward off her power to curse one or fight back. This is a strange trophy, with three branchings, then it has a stump behind, and then she is spread out her arms most of all on two of the branches, and then she stands on the built-in kindling piles of roots

aaaadev 43but now the most curious thing is, each of the branchings has a demonic mask mounted on it one behind her, and one to the left of her

aaaadev 44that ram’s head on the branch is very odd, indeed

aaaadev 45and that one to the left of her is given a close-up

aaaadev 47and two other masks are given play too, perhaps also affixed to the tree, or worn by particular participants in the rite, not to let devil power get to them

aaaadev 48and another one that almost feels like an Iroquois false face between the trees

aaaadev 49very close to its prototype (so an example of cultural borrowing; and it is, I think, impossible to tell, in these her dream elaborations of a witch burning, if, one, she is just improv-ing in the dream, or, two, this is an atavistic vision back to how it was authentically in the real past, where her avatar lived)

aaaadev 50The Romans and Greeks would make a trophy, sometimes of a tree, or carry a trunk in a parade, to mark the spot where a turning point in battle was made, and it was won. They did this by mounting enemy armor on the tree or trunk, and carrying that as an effigy of their defeated presence, always after this under the control, and then as an offering to the gods. I would argue that this is similar. The strange hecatean tree was chosen as a place where the devil is known to come into this realm, so it is a kind of doorway (like in Maciste movies) to his realm, why not offer sacrifice to him right at his front door? Then, as mentioned, the branches had to be festooned with masks to both mark his presence, and the goats head behind her looks a lot like the appearance of the devil in The Devil Rides Out, again, to reinforce this as his spot. But then the other ones would, I think, serve, to push back that evil energy for it not to get on them, to ensure that she is trapped in it, and wont turn the tables on them. So it is an interesting property, and as a dream device it signals that this nightmare has in fact spun down from the lattice (third stage hypnagogy), the tree, to represent the whoosh (fourth stage) in her twisting body, and it lubricated in its drop to nightmare by her sweat, for her to then snap out of it when the fire touches, she wakes up. So, here, too, just as the shower sequence has been erased or displaced by the more public show of a witch’s vulnerability by her burning, so her dreams have been invaded by a nightmare and her bed made over into a kind of burning place too.

If I were to demarcate the apotropaic complexity of this site, it would focus on the fact that at the center of it was a witch burning, which in its nature intends to banish and utterly destroy the witch, by fire, it is an apompic (banishing) ritual, but it takes place in the crux as it were of lesser or more refinedly parsed types of apotropaiea. In general form, I think it is likely that in that town the three branched dead tree was invested with the power of a hecateaion, which usually stood inside the vestibule of the house, but often at crossroads too, to ward off general evil coming into the town from outside. Since she came to the town from outside, it would make perfect sense in terms of apotropaic magic, that she is burned there. But, then, why is the goat’s head mounted on the main stump, like a titulus over all? It strikes me that since Satan is the presider over her, they also have to invite Satan to witness it, in order for him, in his opposite role, to take the banished thing back. As a result, the goat’s head is like a head of a god placed in an oven, it brings the pest, but it also banishes the pest, and in that turnstile way or janusfaced way, it protects the operation of the site. Thus, the goat’s/ram’s head as a very good example of an epistatic (presiding) apotropaic artistic placement, to contain within the limits of this burning all the evil that is emit from it (it might even swallow up her curse and take it down to hell with him, harmless to man). In addition, I would say that the witch burners also worried about splashback from the burning, so the devil’s face is a straight on blephobic scary face, to keep any other evil spirits who might want to interfere off, but, then, the last face on the left, since so closely allied in form to the tree, I argue that this is a geitonic-baskanian (a neighborhood protector) array designed, specifically, to protect those participating in the event. And, note, strangely, there is a woman off to the side, sitting, as if at a picnic, but perhaps she is the one chosen to light the fire, to burn the witch, therefore, the third mask is meant to protect her. It is also true that there is a man on a horse nearby, meaning that the threat of further torture by way of quartering, or of brutal disposal is shown to the witch the tamp down her tendency to utter curses, I would equate the horse with a herm to mark the boundary of good town land, and this evil place, the go-between that crosses the line between the wagons-circled of the in group of the town, and the outside space

aaaadev 51I also note that she stands on the roots of the tree, and that they are prominent. These undoubtedly serve as baityls (sacred stone) consecrated with a power to drive her to hell, by way of this entrance, with a touch then of intercessional propylaic (before the doorway) function, by touch of her feet, view of her intimate parts, and the touch of fire (perhaps the men being jealous of the tree for sexual contact with her), being the kindling as it were of her immolation. So, it is a very complicated social site. I map it out as an apopompic event in the center, but which had to take place on a hecateaion crossroads protector given intense meaning by also warding off the entrance to hell in its roots, but for that its roots being a baityl with a propylaic punch, to in the firing of it open it up and send her down. Then for all that supernatural business not to splash back and infect the burners with a curse or whatnot, the hecateaion was circled by epistatic power, blephobic power and baskanian-geitonic power, to scare off from moving out into the congregation any contaminating demons that might have been, in the invocation of the devil, called up. Thus, it is a very complex site, with a central apopompic purpose, which nonetheless required, by my count (top of the my head) seven additional gradations of apotropaic form to make sure nothing evil splashed back in the doing of it on the community (here I read it just straight on, not as a projection of her fears in her dreams, which might change the directionals)

aaaadev 52

All this array of torture and protection then circles back by way of mention of the purpose of the herm above, and then the fact that the burning was the last of several tortures, to strongly suggest that the tree was ultimately chosen because it served the physical purpose of a pillory, that is, a place of torture, which then turns into a burning place. Amazingly, in the Japanese movie, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972) the lead figure is tied up to precisely the same three-pronged tree scorp 1She is then tortured on this pillory, in front of all the other inmates, by three guards, who don bear costumes to come and then group rape her, to humiliate and crush her scorp 2and, then, in a circle around, all the others watch, pouring blame on her for accepting this humiliation, so the ultimate answer to why the complexity of the burning site above is that it is, in the New England tradition, a witch burning site true, but mostly it is a pillory for public torture

scorp 3But, then, the really interesting thing, back in Devonsville, is that, she took something up with her out of her dream. After she woke up, back in bed, she was still in a state of sleep drunkenness, and she saw a kaleidoform but in hecaetean triple form, before her eyes, a kind of migraine dysmetropsia, which maybe made her think she might be sick.

aaaadev 53for that reason, her weird night continues as she actually is so frightened by the dream that she gets up out of her bed, gets dressed, and goes sees the doctor. Donald Pleasence’s doctor is one of the most interesting and most paralyzed figures in this movie. He has a very strange office, and he seems to only sit at his desk, waiting for people to come by. He also has a large deer trophy in his office, which means he is an objectifier, possibly an exploiter, and he has behind him, an open window, which people as at a drive in window have become accustomed to looking through to check if he is in. But when she does it, it is a reminder that THIS TOO is a dream place, as she appears in that window as she appeared to the grocer in the closet door mirror, but here as the face at the window trope, haunting him, and this scene too is to be a displaced shower scene

aaaadev 54and the evident weirdness of her behavior here is once again portrayed by the ersatzness of the American flag, just as with her awkward date with the grocer

aaaadev 55then, even weirder, he is still there, late at night, and agrees to examine her. A word. For the briefest of moments, in the previous shot, I spied lower left in the shot, a statue, either on the floor, and therefore fairly large scale, or on his desk, a bronze, but it would appear to be a seated girl, or possibly subscribing to the trope of the Crouching Venus. What this means is, she is going to encounter her dark side, and, in fact, find out that she is not unknown to those parts, but is one of the witches reincarnate, from 300 years ago

aaaadev 56in any case, he will examine her, takes her pulse, listens to her heart, and for that, she must take off her top, but not her bra, still, there is an undeniable sexual charge, since she just came from posing in his window in the exact same hallucinatory way that she did when topless in the grocer’s closet door. So we are consistent formally in keeping visions of her nudity within very narrow confines.

aaaadev 57then the funny thing, in the horror movie sense, is that he is clearly turned on by her, so, I mean, his office is like his house, it is one of those in-between offices of suspicious character as one sees in the sequel to the movie Jungle Woman in the 40s, and which by the 80s gave people the creeps, where the line between professional care and intimacy can too easily be crossed, because it is his ballywick. But, then, he also has a picture of Trumbull’s Signing of the Declaration of Independence above his examination table (with no paper laid down on it, by the way). But, the picture is in the shade of Venetian blinds, meaning that it is rendered shady. What this means is that he is trying, hard, to be an American, this picture abides by the trope I have identified in other 80s movies, the I Am an American trope, and that would be true, but, he is a Warley, deeply American, but he has turned, because of a curse on HIS family, of having a worm-eating disease, against the tradition of it, and wants to turn against, so he is conflicted

aaaadev 58and then, rather remarkably, well, we did see this earlier, his professionalism is limited, or conflicted, as right past his examination light, he has a kind of strobe light, which strobes directly into the camera, as a screen wipe, for him to, completely unethically, without the patient knowing it, hypnotize them, so that they might experience their former lives, 300 years ago

aaaadev 59and the movie goes beyond the screen wipe earlier, to really cast us in

aaaadev 60then she has a vision, but, then, coming out of it, is kind of shocked that the doc has in his collection of witchcraft objects, right there in his office!, a knife like the one she saw wielded in her nightmare of witchburning

aaaadev 62and then this weird night adventure, and her visit, and then her shower being interrupted, it all stirs up the night of the killing, and her getting it too. And we are back to her getting ready to take a shower, but then being interrupted one more time. So, in fact, her shower interrupted turns out to be its opposite, strung up as if to a shower head but to a stake, to be the opposite of showered, burned. But, then, she has powers, perhaps previously conveyed by her ability to appear to others, it is unclear, but her eyes now emit power, bolts of lightning

aaaadev 63and she zaps the men away, one

aaaadev 64two

aaaadev 65this, then. is why I like The Devonsville Terror (1983), not because it is entirely scary, it is more creepy and traditionally weird in the sense of a gothic tale than that, but it is tightly instrumentalized inside the hypnagogic range of imagery that it has staked out for itself, without, except for the lighting blasts, venturing outside the hypnagogic to the ambient and sentient spinnings of terror coming in on a town. This creates a premise for the town’s narrowness, and a kind of Beglaubungsapparat (plausibility enhancing device) to explain how by living in very limited 2D curse space they would come to feel so threatened by the arrival of three modern young women in their town that they would or even could go over quickly to thinking them reincarnations of the witches of old, calling for a revival of the old ways, and kill two and try to kill the third. And this is clued in mostly by the fact that though there is no shower sequence in this movie it is the default or negative space removals from a shower sequence that create a narrow instrumental framework for the hauntings, all of it focused on Suzanna Love’s imposingly beautiful presence, which kinda drives the whole town crazy. For all of this, I think the Devonsville Terror is a very nicely done little horror movie, in the early 80s.

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