JX Williams' Psych-Burn

Format: DVD

Release date: 25 September 2007

Distributor: Other Cinema

Director: various artists


95 mins

The healthy bleed between horror, the avant-garde and the cultural demi-monde can comfortably be dated back to at least the Grand Guignol of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Paris and, in cinema, as Jack Sargeant points out in the DVD booklet of Experiments in Terror 2, to Buí±uel and Dali’s Un chien andalou (1928).

This is perfectly natural. The underground and the avant-garde revel in forms and notions seen as threatening to mainstream society – a threat most effectively neutralised by adopting it, at which point the cycle begins again, only louder, nastier and occasionally smarter. So Romero’s Night of the Living Dead becomes Michael Jackson’s Thriller, becomes Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, ad nauseam.

I’d suggest that hardcore horror audiences are likely to be more tolerant of alternative and experimental cinema: certainly it was that shared sense of the absurd, the uncanny and the other (and enlightened Scala cinema programming) that drew this youthful horror film fiend to the more celebrated cinematic avant-gardists. And let’s face it, one person’s performance art – whether it’s naked beatniks splashing about in a Hermann Nitsch extravaganza or Joseph Beuys confronting a baffled wolf – is just another day on set at American International Pictures or Troma.

But back to the DVD. With Experiments in Terror 2, curator Noel Lawrence has put together a largely satisfying sick bag. The two vintage pieces – JX Williams’ Psych-Burn (1968) and Lloyd M. Williams’ (no relation as far as I can tell) Opus 5 (1961) – are real standouts. The former a distillation of the Corman/AIP flavour of psychedelic horror, all swirling patterns and blood-soaked go-go girls set to a disjointed psych-rock soundtrack, the latter a hypnotic, multi-layered cine-fugue of archetypal night horrors and the fears of the damned, all apparently suffered by a hooch-drinking country-dweller.

Of the younger blood, Angel Nieves’ The Fear (2001) toys successfully with 70s horror tropes surrounding the home and family, managing to be surprising, scary and playful, while you could spend some time unpicking film references in the interior decor alone. Damon Packard’s dreamy, suggestive Early ’70s Horror Trailer (1999) pursues female archetypes from 70s horror flicks – the witch, the victim, the dreamer, the killer – through the Ballardian architecture of Cronenberg’s early work. Bill Morrison’s ‘re-vision’ of 1926 silent The Mesmerist is, well, mesmerising, redeploying the decomposition effects used so stunningly in 2002’s Decasia to equally beautiful effect, nicely complimented by a moody Bill Frisell soundtrack. Found footage is put to genuinely uncanny use in Wago Kreider’s Between 2 Deaths (2006), which superimposes scenes from a familiar-looking 50s thriller over what appears to be the film’s actual locations, shot more recently on DV. The effect is quite unusual, not unlike an extended sensation of déjí­Â  vu. Elsewhere we get skeleton sex in Amor Peligrosa (Michelle Silva, 2002), Maya Deren-esque choreography and stop motion in Childree and Rollason’s She Sank on Shallow Bank (2006) and Goth music video action in Usama Alshaibi’s Hold My Scissors (2004).

Perhaps some of the films come across as a little too knowing for my tastes, but then so does the majority of what passes for ‘horror’ cinema these days. Overall this is a very worthwhile collection, though I still think I’ll stick to the real thing, thanks!

Mark Pilkington

Read the interview with Other Cinema co-founder Noel Lawrence.