Written by: Jessica
Welcome ghouls and goblins to The Spinster’s Parlor. Please, have a glass of wine, indulge in your favorite herbal remedy and relax on the chaise lounge. This is the place where we sit and casually discuss themes found in a variety of cult, subversive and exploitation films that have been generated over the decades. I will acknowledge that while some of these films may be viewed problematic either in content or production, they address topics/concepts that are part of our everyday lives that I don’t think we should dismiss.
It may come as a surprise to you, but I have always had an interest in films that are on the subversive side of cinema. I have always wanted to see the arthouse and cult films that cinephiles would talk about and dissect the themes and imagery. I would stare at the cover of international and exploitation films at the alternative video rental store in North Bay (my hometown) MudShark, wondering about the stories they would tell me. These films felt just as taboo to me as the horror genre - but they would peak my interest nevertheless. Just as I did with horror, I would dabble from time to time with films like Trainspotting (1996), Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and Thirteen (2003), but I knew that all these films were just the tip of the iceberg. There was a whole other world of cinema out there that I was curious about and would spend many years as a voyeur - always looking in from afar but not experiencing.
There are various reasons as to why I am only just now engaging with these interests of mine: lack of accessibility, financial resources, and naturally being a weirdo (I was already a strange teenager with my obsession with anime/dark macabre stuff) . I didn’t want to alienate myself even further. When I was 17 it was my girlfriend at the time who introduced me to these films as I find that queer cinema tend to be labelled under the umbrella of cult/subversion/exploitation. But, I still stayed along the fringes due to Catholic guilt that was doctrinated into me and my childhood trauma. While I had interest in the themes of sexuality, violence, hysteria, absurdity, drugs, obsession, sadomasochism, kink and fetish - I found that I would feel not only guilty for watching, enjoying and even celebrating these films, I also had fear. As while they drew me in they also triggered my trauma and unresolved emotions. So I steered clear of them.
However, since starting the Spinsters of Horror, I have found the horror genre to be something that has helped me with my mental health and working through my past traumas. This combined with changes in my own lifestyle through embracing my authentic self and seeking the necessary means to address my trauma, I have learned to heal/live with it. As I have grown over the past four years, horror has also been a genre that has tested my boundaries and re-exposed me to subversive films. The Let’s Scare Jessica to Death monthly challenges and Disturbing Films for a Curious Mind minisodes re-ignited that interest with films like Nekromantik 2, Begotten, Tetsuo and Possession. While these films follow along in the horror vein, they actually became a gateway back to the world of cult and subversive cinema that lived in the dark corners of my mind. I have also been inspired by the work of Annie Rose over at Girls, Guts and Giallo as she unabashedly talks about these films and shares her extensive knowledge.
Here is a list of films that I have watched recently and enjoyed.
Der Fan (The Fan) (1982)
I was first introduced to this film by Kelly when she picked it up at the Horror-Rama flea market in the summer of 2021 in Toronto. She had heard about the film after reading volume one of the zine Nekromantikal Screams. So on a rainy Sunday horror movie marathon day, we watched Eckhart Schmidt’s new wave obsessive film Der Fan (1982). The film tells the story of Simone (Desiree Nosbusch), a teenager who becomes so obsessed with new wave singer R (Bodo Steiger) that she abandons her home, schooling and finds R to be with him. I remember being entranced by this German exploitation film that transgresses into some taboo territory of obsessive, idolatry, sexuality, murder and cannibalism.
The shocking events of the film all unfold to the new wave soundtrack “Fan Fan Fanatisch '' that charted in Germany in the 80s. This film can be viewed as controversial as through the story of the obsession of a young girl and a star, we get a metaphor for the rise and fall of fascism, in particular Nazism. This can be seen in the uniforms that R wears as well as the relationship between idol/dictator and fan/civilian. Der Fan is a moody German psychosexual horror film that has instantly become a fascination of mine. Look forward to a future piece on this film.
Not available to Stream. Can be Purchased at Severin.com
Hausu (House) (1977)
Okay, so I think Japanese horror and cult cinema from the 60s and 70s is becoming one of my favorite types of films to watch, that of which was inspired by this particular film. I had first heard of Hausu when the Faculty of Horror covered it for one of their earlier episodes. I remember listening to Alex and Andrea talk about it and thinking so much of how it reminded me of something out of an absurd Japanese anime or manga. So I added this film to my watchlist and I was finally able to see it this year after subscribing to the Criterion Channel.
This film is described as an Japanese experimental comedy horror film that was directed and produced by Nobuhiko Obayashi. And if you have seen this film, you would agree that it is definitely experimental. Hausu follows a school girl and her friends traveling to her ailing aunt’s country home and where they encounter a supernatural entity who wants to devour them one by one. The imagery is striking and strange from the piano's eating one of the girls, and Melody and another girl, Kung Fu, being eaten by a possessed light fixture. While the story may seem incomprehensible, the imagery, dialogue, cinematography and score make it worth a re-watch just to capture its spooky magic all over again.
Available to Stream on The Criterion Channel and AppleTv
Boxing Helena (1993)
This is a film that came onto my radar a few years ago that I had let slip past me. However, when I started to catch up on some old episodes of Girls, Guts, and Giallo, her episode on this American thriller-horror film piqued my interest. Especially since this was a film directed by Jennifer Lynch, whose work I had experienced before with the LSJTD movie Chained (2012). I wanted to see the film that had so much drama embroiled around it from during the film’s production to the critical backlash it received upon its release. In 1993, the film sparked controversy as being seen as an extremely misogynistic tale about an obsessive surgeon amputating the arms and legs of a woman to make her his.
I could see why this film would have struck a nerve with people in the 90s and why some people may find it controversial today. However, I see this film highlighting stories about the objectification of women, power, attraction, stalking, obsession, as well as kink and fetish. The way the movie plays you can definitely tell Lynch is influenced by her father’s work - as the set design, scenery, costuming, score, and lighting help to tell this controversial story of the lengths someone will go to be loved.
Not Available for Streaming.
Sister My Sister (1994)
Sister My Sister is a British film from 1994 that I have had on my Tubi list for quite some time. The film is directed by American theater and film director Nancy Meckler who went on to receive awards for the film from both the Valladolid and Turin Film festivals in 1994 and 1995. The film is based on the 1933 Papin murder case that happened in Le Mans, France, where two sisters working as maids in an English house murdered their employer and her daughter. This murdered shocked the country particularly since it was believed that the sisters, Christine (Joely Richardson) and Lea (Joghi May) Papin, were having an incestous lesbian affair.
What attracted me to this film was that it was a LGBTQIA film that was directed by a woman and transgressed the boundaries of sisterly love. The film highlights the class barriers among the women in the household as Madame Danzard (Jule Walters) and her daughter, Isabelle (Sophie Thursfield) look down on the sisters over trivial matters and no longer speak directly to them. The sisters feel alienated and look to each other for companionship that eventually turns sexual. This heightens the tension in the house as the sisters try to hide their affair as Christine’s jealousy rises, concerned that Lea will be taken away from her when Isabelle marries. This film is a tender psychological thriller that is brilliant with its intense performances that highlights that inevitable madness when people are constantly belittled and regarded as inferior.
Available to stream on TUBI
So here at The Spinster’s Parlor I will talk about these types of films, whether it be a summary of some of the films I have watched, or an exploration into the themes of one film in particular. The films that will be discussed will by cult/subversive or exploitation in nature and will expand across genres such as horror, film, noir, drama, comedy, historical, queer, as well as encompasses international films. These films may also be animated or not. But this is the place where I will talk about them - when it peaks my fancy. Also, I am by far an expert on any of these films or the subcultures they represent, this is just a start of a long awaited journey for me and I am inviting you dear reader along to witness as I experience it.