Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies
A stylish riff on Repulsion that pays homage to a number of other arthouse horror classics.
A chilly art-horror exercise from writer-director Mickey Keating (Pod), who reunites with lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter – but here gives her the crazy role rather than asking her to be the ‘normal’ character. Indeed, the film is pretty much built around Carter’s presence as a stylish beauty with distracted eyes – she’s virtually the whole show, and luckily is strong enough to carry a picture that sometimes can’t make up its mind whether it’s more than a collage of homages (we checked off The Shining, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Ms 45, The Tenant and others) couched in coolly gorgeous black and white (the only colour is lettering used in chapter headings).
In New York – perhaps circa 1970, though that’s not quite clear – an unnamed woman (Carter) takes a caretaker job (from sinister Sean Young) in an old house that has given rise to many ghost stories and whose previous caretaker has taken a suicide leap off the roof. The house is pristine – and, as a real location, interestingly narrow – but has a single locked room the Madame warns ‘darling’ away from – later, when opened, the contents are terrifying to the protagonist but not shown to us. The woman finds an inverted crucifix necklace in a drawer and later a random guy (Brian Morvant) in the street gives it back to her, claiming she’s dropped it… She becomes convinced that the guy did something avenge-worthy to her (she has scars on her ribs – except when she doesn’t) and sets out to stalk him and pick him up in a bar, leading to an uncomfortable flirtation/confrontation, which pays off with a stabbing and extensive (if tactfully shot) dismemberment. Not only isn’t it clear that the victim is the guilty party who (presumably) raped ‘darling’, it’s ambiguous as to whether she’s remembering something that happened to her – or has filled her blank soul with a trauma inherited from the previous caretaker, and liable to be passed on to the next (Helen Rogers), who turns up during the end credits to replay the opening scene.
Glass Eye Pix mascots Larry Fessenden and John Speredakos show up as cops, barging in just as the heroine has been pared down to a screaming, primal creature. Many reviewers are puzzled or infuriated by the refusal to state clearly what’s going on, but the inferences seem plain to me… and the cloudy areas deliberate. Carter – who was in Jugface too – has something of the pop art look of a 1960s Italian comic heroine, with bobbed hair, carefully applied make-up (we see her doing it) and an array of little black dresses. Her stare is discomforting, yet undeniably sexy – raising the creepy possibility that she’s attractive to her victim because she’s mad rather than in spite of her mental troubles, be they her own or imposed on her by the house. Short enough not to wear out its welcome, this is an intriguing entry in the recent spate of post-millennial Repulsion redos (Goddess of Love, Sun Choke, Broken).