HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL TOPOGRAPHY OF FEMALE NEUROSIS IN HORROR AND EXPLOITATION FILMS by Kier-La Janisse (2012 Fab Press / 360 pp / tp and limited edition hc)
Book Review by Nick Cato
I usually devour film books quickly. There’s just something about them that makes me want to read, to learn, to study films I’ve both seen and have on my viewing agenda. But when I cracked open this beautiful trade edition of HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, I was a bit annoyed at how small the font was, and figured I’d have to take things slow as not to develop migraines. But by the time I finished the second chapter, the author had me completely captivated and I ended up getting through this lengthy volume in a only a few neurotic sittings.
The first section of the book is part autobiography, part intense film study, focusing on features with female characters who are either losing their minds or going through some form of psychological struggle. Author Kier-La Janisse relates a certain film to events in her own life, much of which happened during her teen and pre-teen years. Janisse’s look at director Andrezj Zulawski’s 1981 POSSESSION is the highlight here as she sheds some much-needed light on this often dismissed and overlooked film. She tackles each film from a seriously unique angle, and despite the dark nature of most of them (1977’s MAN, WOMAN, AND BEAST is one I had never heard of but am now on a hunt for), we’re left with a respect for some films we may not have thought too much about upon our initial viewing; I now have a whole new view on Abel Ferrara’s rape/revenge film MS. 45, which I originally saw as part of a double feature and wrote off as just another cheap thrill. It truly is much more.
We’re then treated to over 30 pages of gore-geous rare film ads and posters. Fab Press should take a bow for how attractive this tome is (but again, I’d gladly have paid another ten or twenty bucks for some more pages and a larger font).
HOUSE concludes with almost 150 pages of Janisse’s scholarly film reviews, with capsule reviews of films covered in the first section and extended ones here. Of note are great looks at 2010’s WOUND, 2001’s TROUBLE EVERY DAY, 1971’s SLAUGHTER HOTEL (finally someone who agrees with me on this stinker), and a wonderful mini-expose of Mario Bava’s SHOCK (1977). I was particularly happy with the wide-range of films covered, from mainstream and underground horror to rape/revenge, to arthouse, and even TV movies. The author has collected a vast array of genres and never once falls away from the book’s theme (no small feat considering it took her ten years to complete this).
Regardless that it’s part memoir, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN deserves a place on the shelf of any serious film fan. It’s a volume anyone can learn from, and it also works well as a reference guide. I’ll surely be going back to it many times, and already have a list of almost a dozen films I need to see … PRONTO. This is fantastic, well written material from a fresh voice.
© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato