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Trash and Masochism: The Transcendent Aesthetics of Dungeon of Harrow

Trash and Masochism: The Transcendent Aesthetics of Dungeon of Harrow

“. . . a jewel with sides of illness operating all by way of it.” – Lester Bangs

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It was as soon as stated that the actual heroes of 18th-century writer Anne Radcliffe’s gothic tales have been the readers who have been capable of stand up to their terrors, and I feel an analogous dynamic informs the modern-day trash-film fanatic, as reflected within the typically masochistic rhetoric of their writings (a well-known cliché being that the reviewers have put themselves via a particularly loathsome slog “so that you gained’t should”). The flagellants and penitents of the 13th century had the identical concept, believing the true path to enlightenment lay not in ache, essentially, however within the transcendence of it, excoriating the flesh till there was nothing left however spirit; “beating the Fact out” of oneself. It’s the essence of philosophy: deconstructing the finite exterior to find the infinite inside. In some methods the Dangerous Film enthusiast’s venture is a equally spiritual one – to seek out transcendence by way of the systematic obliviation of traditional film values and expectations, a Rimbaudian kind of disordering of the senses. Maybe fittingly, there’s a form of sadism built into their commentary too, their condescending tone suggestive of a resistance to the belief the most effective of the “loser” movies abandon themselves to: that we’re diseased – but, diseased, we will prevail.

I first caught Pat Boyette‘s chic 1962 Texas-made no-budget gothic The Dungeon of Harrow on late-’60s late-night TV and have never been capable of overlook it. Many years on from those preliminary flickerings, the movie’s sense of contamination, of an endemic, systemic impurity, bears renewed significance because the modern tradition evidences a sense of the self-loathing Boyette, who wrote, produced, edited, and scored the function, typically pseudonymously, steeped his low cost, darkish dialogue and set-pieces in.

It’s no marvel trash-film aficionados have latched onto the film: its dialogue, appearing, cinematography, and rating – principally a blaring, halting collection of overheated suspense and romance cues from unidentifiable footage past, typically inappropriately placed and augmented by a primitive synthesizer – are pitched so extremely as to supply an atmosphere of disorientation from which aid is fleeting, and futile. However neither should we attempt to deny it its many virtues, its narrative symmetry and purely framed compositions (a harbinger of Boyette’s later profession illustrating such ’60s pulp staples as Creepy and Cracked magazines) suggesting that the artist was in complete management of his disorder; it’s simply that no one had ever so completely succeeded in realizing the structure of the irrational on film earlier than. The film is all about being a misfit, peopled as it’s by all method of lepers, exiles, castaways, and minorities, one more reason it’s caught on with the nonconformist clique and why some have responded with ridicule, sensing, maybe, that the film cuts a bit of too close to the bone. Because of its directness, when it ponders its personal cancerousness it achieves a defeatist type of confessional poetry: “I used to be a nurse,” heroine Cassandra deadpans at one level; “now I’m not much of anything,” even this character – named for the seer who was doomed by no means to be taken critically – too burned out to prophesy anything, as though conscious that perception is useless to the forsaken. That masochistic relinquishing of oneself to at least one’s destiny is what distinguishes Dungeon from the primary stream of Hollywood fare most various critics decry, and stands out as the key to its specific type of genius.

Its story of insane 19th-century rely Lorente de Sade, his leprous bride, her atrophied nurse, and the hapless nobleman who arrives on their island bears considerably on its 1960s vintage. The air of loss and decay inhabiting such strains as “We’re in exile, sir; we’ve been severed from humanity. We’re a disease; we’ve been minimize out,” delivered in the drabbest of monotones, displays the inmost doubts of a rustic throughout considered one of its most affluent eras, questions so threatening to the nationwide ego they had to be relegated to the lowest budgetary and geographic quarters of the leisure world. When Sade proposes “a conversation – an trade of personalities” together with his shipwrecked houseguest Fallon, you already know that that is no bodily wreck or island; it’s the psychological crash of an phantasm – of purity, privilege, and precedence. Our freedom fighters brought with them a propensity towards slavery; our Eden was watered by the blood of its natives. When the countess makes her escape from the title chamber, it’s a document of not a lot a bodily sickness invading the body as a psychic one emerging into consciousness. It was only a matter of time before the malaise was to creep out of Boyette’s cinematic Third World and into the bigger culture too busy celebrating its personal optimistic Youth Explosion in anticipation of some storied Age of Aquarius to note this new factor sneaking out and slouching towards My Lai. The countess finally does get out, in fact, and for the spoiled, aristocratic Fallon it’s the emergence from his subconscious of the leper within – the second he becomes “fallen.” He arises from the dungeon with the rely’s shocked-white hair (the latter character later to echo his “damn you to hell,” indicating his “change of personalities” has indeed taken place), an indication of the new purity he’s found on this confrontation and submission.

Flash forward 30 years to the ’90s, with its epidemic of virus-paranoia thrillers in films, books, and on TV, ostensibly elicited by a worry of AIDS and other sicknesses but arriving so tardily as to recommend a less speedy, or literal, motivation. That era’s company culture (Dungeon’s citadel as oppressive multinational) was rife with speak of trade secrets and techniques and line contamination and the significance of sustaining “line purity” whilst those companies have been gearing up for their very own first wave of downsizings (their staff bearing the projection of management’s tainted shadow; in my workplace, the chief patrolman of such “contamination” was indicted a number of years afterward insider-trading costs) whereas across the Atlantic the Balkans have been abuzz with the ethnic cleansings that posed a mirror to the continued actions of America’s White Supremacist and other hate-group movements and their religious-persecution complexes unabated to this present day. With our modern right-wing immigration paranoia, Ebola and measles outbreaks coupled with the hand-sanitizer worry of all things bacterial, Dungeon’s masochism bears renewed significance, as if emblematic of a have to rid the filmic, personal, and political organisms of other, actual impurities. Perhaps it’s time, then, that the universality on this once-outcast example of Southern grotesquerie have been acknowledged and its implications reassumed into the mass consciousness, like Fallon himself, who prepares to go down into the title dungeon in the long run to satisfy the dis-ease he now accepts as his mate.

As Lyn Cowan describes him in Masochism: A Jungian View, the masochist, “In his heroic stance, stuck quick . . . is compelled to bow before the gods. Trapped in the painful information of his personal inadequacies, he suffers the interior, typically invisible, humiliation of his humanity.” It’s as truthful a summation of Dungeon’s aristocratic hero as you’ll discover; even his identify signifies the fallen state he’s accrued to. (His first identify, Aaron, is Boyette’s center.) The shipwrecked son of a shipbuilder, his sense of unworthiness of the daddy’s legacy and that father’s lack of ability to adequately prepare his son for this “passage” are elementary. The movie is bookended and narrated, just like the similarly themed Japanese production of two years later, Matango, by this determine as he prepares to consign his contaminated mistress to the title location. (The film additionally bears similarities to 1961’s Mr. Sardonicus and the Jan de Hartog love-and-leprosy novel The Spiral Street, as well as Shakespeare’s The Tempest [“SCENE. – The Sea, with a Ship; afterwards an Island”] – probably by means of 1959’s The Killer Shrews or 1932’s Most Harmful Recreation – as well as Roger Corman‘s lately initiated collection of Poe variations. Its title probably derives from 1947’s Foxes of Harrow, its protagonist’s identify from the equally taciturn wanderer of 1945’s The Vampire’s Ghost.) Every little thing in the movie plays like an enormous fatalistic machine destroying every glimmer of probability it sets up for itself: the happiest character right here is the terminal countess-to-be, and she or he’s insane, the relationship between the hero and heroine probably the most passionless and rote as has been committed to film. Far from conveying any presence or attract, they’re two unattractive and withdrawn neurotics who, for all their high-blown dialogue and heroic stances, shrink from the display and each other, so devoid of stamina that, after narrowly escaping rescue from their effeminate previous captor the Rely, they virtually deserve the sorry fate they arrive to. Subsequent to Dungeon, film noir really is, as has been argued, just an mental pose.

Coming from Texas, a former slave state contiguous to and sometimes identified with the South, adds an additional dimension to the film’s self-flagellating tone and attract. In response to W. J. Cash in his signature work on The Mind of the South, a type of entropy was encoded in the origins of the land, from the inbreeding that resulted from the isolation of the early settlers within the mountains and forests to the character of the aristocracy that had shortly taken root in that soil, manufacturing another type of isolation for themselves at the very least as corrosive as that of the lower courses’. Arising from a vestigial attachment to Previous England by means of the extra established plantations to the north and based mostly largely on a social splendid inspired by the romances of Sir Walter Scott, this aristocracy was from the primary an imitation of an imitation, an affectation of those that had attained their station not by breeding or bloodline but from a number of fortunate land claims and on the sweat of a horde of African backs.

This environment lends resonance to Sade’s portrayal by a crashingly fey and campy Englishman, Invoice McNulty: he is, in reality, a parody, an concept of the Aristocracy projected by the very “widespread whites,” as Money describes them, from which he arose and from whom he was typically solely a relative or two removed. As Cash has it, “the individualistic outlook” that made their enlargement potential in the first place as well as “the shortage of sophistication strain from under” those new barons; “the divorce of delight from the thought of effort and achievement” wrought by slavery; “the very conviction that they have been already absolutely developed aristocrats – all this, [combined] with their natural unrealism of temperament, bred in them a thoroughgoing self-satisfaction, probably the most complete blindness to the true details of the world.” Because of the “tragic descent into unreality” that was the South’s inheritance, the usually hysterical wrongness of Cassandra’s degradation and her patient’s derangement as well as the rely’s vanity and Fallon’s affected noblesse – the very tone of the film itself – achieves a dreamlike rightness, an correct approximation of Cash’s self-described Thoughts, if not an actual movie.

The presence of the rely’s Nubian servant, Mantis, indicates probably the most outright form of the leprosy destroying this faux-aristocratic world, the slavery Faulkner thought-about a curse on the Southern temperament and which was partly the rationale for its own model of flagellant faith, the evangelical and revivalist traditions. Consequently, the elevation of the Southern Belle – symbolic of the land the pioneers had fought for and tamed alongside their expansionist destiny and so consultant of the sins dedicated on it and in its identify – was an overcompensatory response to the Southern man’s private descent into “bestiality,” the countess’s dissipated situation an indication that not only his ethical character however his defense mechanism as properly was eroding. Likewise, the “rape complicated” – the insistence that the newly freed Negro posed a menace to Southern womanhood – betrayed an analogous sense of corruption, the metaphoric “black man,” or shadow, a projection of the white man’s responsible conscience. On this lightm Fallon’s “fall” – after the Home of another fallen gentleman who should have been Boyette’s mannequin for all this lurid exercise, Poe’s Roderick Usher and his similarly in-bred ancestry – is reflective of not solely this illness within the blood but in addition a psychic shaming after the defeat of Dixie.

After the Civil Warfare (an applicable image for all the cognitive dissonance inside the Southern thoughts) and Reconstruction, the area’s “march towards aristocracy” came to a halt, as reflected within the conventional Gothic end-of-the-family-line motif that reverberates throughout Dungeon, from the figure of the unregenerate Sade to his nurse’s failure to midwife his inheritance and the terminal really feel of the film itself. (You get the feeling watching it that the madness can’t proceed for much longer, solely to have it protracted again and again by Boyette’s reported padding of the movie by 20 minutes on the insistence of his distributor.) The business that came in towards the flip of the final century to exchange the plantation system and in many ways replicate it as an economic anchor for the territory finally additionally proved to actually poison the land by way of its air pollution of the air and waterways, doubling the effect of the diseased countess as a Gaia determine reaching from her place of incarceration and repressed shame to poison us as nicely, as in Boyette’s key sequence, where Fallon, chained outdoors her cell, watches as her diseased arm reaches via the window to unlock her door, accompanied by the creepiest cackling ever placed on movie.

Freud saw masochism as rooted in a stage of improvement when the child begins repressing its incestuous inclinations, creating a pull between attraction and restraint and a confusion between the mum or dad (or superego) as both dispenser of love and lordly meter of punishment. Guilt over inadequate resolution of this complicated impels the masochist to proceed rehearsing such conduct—”You’ve been a very, very dangerous boy” – throughout life. We see in Fallon’s moroseness and sullen gestures an identical adolescent trapped in the void between seeing his father as helper (the shipbuilder, facilitating passage) and oedipal menace to his mobility (the rely, whose home breeds only rivalry and repression). The psychic currents that introduced him right here demand that he encounter the latter image, though this childish and recalcitrant not-father seems himself caught in low gear, as is his bride-to-be, who, recognized on her wedding ceremony day – another rite of passage – was imprisoned within the robe she wears at this time, all the time the bride, never the countess. With the island a desiccated Eden and the rely its lunatic god, she is the barren, suffocating virgin mother-Eve infecting Fallon of their deepest-unconscious mutual cell, Cassandra a Mary Magdalene who can’t correctly minister to her failed messiah.

Jung, Freud’s scholar and oftentimes rival, then again, believed masochism was a means of connecting us to the collective unconscious and a forgotten animality by stripping away the ego, attaining an intercourse with nature and the archetypes denied us in our alienated trendy lives. Indeed, this is how the novelist whose identify furnished the basis of the time period, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, saw it, as a liberation of all of the pagan (typically rooted in a veneration of the Goddess and of Earth), Dionysian imperatives buried in civilized society however nonetheless preventing for expression. The not-countess’s cell options as her own lifeless womb denied the power to fecundate beneath the mad patriarch’s rule. Thus the other hidden females in the movie, from the little-seen survivor on the other aspect of the island – an invisible, vestigial feminine character within the males themselves, her screams the cry of their very own anima in the darkness of masculine id – to the vision of servant Little Anne being tortured in a window throughout from Fallon’s as he sleeps under. (When the sunshine within the opposite room goes out moments after the hero wakes, it casts the episode as a scene from a dream, her window certainly one of Boyette-the-comic-artist’s thought bubbles.) Anne’s later emergence from behind a curtain in his room anticipates both the escape of the countess from her cell and the appearance of Cassandra from out of the shadows in the room the place Fallon has been narrating his histoire, to be relegated to the same dungeon as her predecessor – buried, quickly rejoined.

What all this boils right down to is an eruption of a principally noble female character right into a film-world the place man is the violent and obstructing environment friendly reason for all that’s merciless and unreasonable. Because such males as Fallon and his burly captain are educated from start (the identifying crests the former accords such respect) to be the stoic and heroic, this female emergence is perceived as a menace, the rely who holds sway over all himself a flake, a pipsqueak no one would worry. McNulty goes full-tilt with the fey grandeur; the truth that he’s in charge is the actual horror of the film. When the lads land on the island, they enter a world of ambiguity where their each patriarchal precept is thrown into query, the leprosy that wears on the physique (as the unconscious encroaching on the dreaming consciousness) a creeping inadequacy assaulting the tumescent ego. The brutalizing of the ladies at a (psychological) distance signifies both the impact of patriarchy on not solely the females underneath it but in addition the males whose inside female is being offended and the “torturing out” of this high quality in Fallon himself, a bringing of Her into the daylight. (It’s additionally a metaphor for the brutalization of the South – portrayed, once more, when it comes to its ladies – by the censorious North.) When Anne provides herself to Fallon in gratitude for her rescue, his demurral is directly a recognition that he’s not but prepared to simply accept this lady as a part of himself and a synecdoche for the complete movie, a dream of management that doesn’t have the desire to dream itself triumphant. It’s the dungeon for him next, a confrontation together with his essential weak spot and corruption and an acceptance of this actuality as his religious bride.

Since “humiliation” shares its root with “humility,” for the boastful aristocrat this tearing down is an elevation. Just like the similarly transcendent Unimaginable Shrinking Man, he turns into, by way of deterioration, an entire individual. Although the film’s library-music rating helps reinforce the sensation of an inescapable – programmed – destiny, a reiterative dependence on a circumscribed, closed universe, Fallon’s defeat is Fallon’s triumph, his physical illness a religious remedy. When he goes down to hitch Cassandra in the title dungeon – indicating the film itself as a melting pot with the facility to scale back all who inhabit it for some time to equals, all equally diseased – as descend he predicts he’ll do, will probably be the joining of Orpheus together with his Eurydice in the underworld from which he has no hopes, this time, of escape. The triumphant music serves to each mock him and to honor his acquiescence, as we viewers are given to do: he has gained out in the long run over his own most debilitating attribute, his sense of well-being. The movie proves itself a parable of the straightforward act of dwelling, a progressive erosion of the body in addition to the spirit, from its opening birth-separation from the father-divine to the abandoning of childhood attachments – the loyal ship captain – and defeat of the father-surrogate to be able to take a bride and turn into a sexual being. The Jungian take prevails.

If watching films like Dungeon of Harrow is a masochistic act, though, the query arises, What fact are we trying to torture out of ourselves in so doing?

Perhaps, if the type of punishment we select is audio-visual in nature, the sort of rapture we’re in search of is sensory too: the will to see and hear represented outdoors what we maintain true within. Like Ray Milland in X – The Man with X-Ray Eyes continuously punishing himself by way of using vision-enhancing chemical compounds, we’re enacting a want to see till we will see beyond, past the façades that divide and obscure the divine; to see the chaos behind the construction behind the chaos. If we comply with Jung by way of masochism to the collective unconscious, then perhaps what we misfits and nerds are really hoping to seek out is that sense of oneness and connection behind our individualizing quirks, which may convey us back into the experiential world we feel so alienated from.

On John Cale’s 1982 album Music for a New Society there’s a bit referred to as “Risé, Sam and Rimsky-Korsakov,” the place his spouse recites a Sam Shepard vignette regarding a person who considers the radio “pleasant,” who feels he communicates with it in a primal, pre-lingual means. Different pop songs like Thomas Dolby’s “Airwaves” and Package Hain’s “Danny” paint the radio in comparable terms, as a metaphor for telepathic communion and a shared “heritage,” as Shepard put it; it emerges, too, in such terms in Cocteau’s Orpheus and Tobe Hooper‘s Texas Chainsaw Massacre Half 2, and in the type of television in Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist. You get the identical feeling watching some of these “trash” films late at night time, half asleep and solely partly registering the impression they’ll have on you in years to return. By means of their inefficiency with a few of the most elementary instruments of narrative craft, they’re capable of strip away the artifice of filmmaking to disclose the archetypal material within. Consequently, you are feeling like you’re tapping right into a form of collective unconscious Jung didn’t intend in his coining of the time period, as though the pictures and signs have been coming to you not by way of your sensory equipment however by way of the thoughts immediately, in the same type of wave-form they have been initially broadcast in.

Some films go additional than others in making the connection between their own nature and that of goals, and never solely the experimental works of Surrealist auteurs out to subvert our expectation of visual and narrative circulate; slightly the sincere efforts of low-budgeters like Boyette, lacking the technical properties and expertise wanted to convey a extra typical sense of movie reality. The aimlessness and repetitiveness of those films can enslave you in their illogic in order that you need to watch to the top that typically appears will never come. (Goals don’t climax; they only cease.) You’ll be able to think about them enjoying in their day to some massive, empty drive-in (an existential vision of hell on earth, the place the dangerous films play constantly and there’s no one there to even watch them), and you need to marvel if some filmmakers didn’t intend them to be shown that approach in the first place. (Tarkovsky’s Stalker seems made to be drifted out and in of, like a dream.) More than most renegade films, these films (what critic Manny Farber termed “termite” cinema) can have a disturbing presence that adheres to the reminiscence and mirrors the sensation of the goals you have to be having at that hour anyway – films so low cost and illogical they virtually achieve creating another reality; films that make their very own guidelines.

Perhaps as a result of trash works on us on such a subliminal degree and with none filmic superego to implement order or sense and even embarrassment on itself, it could possibly turn into so ingrained in our unconscious that it could both drive us out of the room speechless or stir a helpless fascination – like masochism – akin to Fallon’s as he sits watching the countess reach from that horrible window on his thoughts. Because Dungeon is like a dream, one the place you recognize individuals although they’re not who they’re imagined to be, as a result of they’re you – your reminiscence of the world divorced from all however its floor pictures and imbued with your personal which means. We will’t assist however watch these films, because we all know one thing of us is reaching from that window, too: something is leaning towards consciousness; something wishes recognition. Dungeon is the sort of movie that may evoke that nocturnal feeling regardless of if you experience it, but in case you do watch it, wait till you’re on the verge of sleep. Let it turn out to be part of your goals, after which try to deny it, for all its limpness and perversity, its personal insensible energy.

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All pictures are screenshots from the movie’s DVD.

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