Wednesday, March 13, 2013

House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films

(Kier-La Janisse, 2012)
This book's fantastically ambitious agenda is all there in the title: Janisse aims to situate trash-horror and art-horror representations of crazy women within the narrative of her own crazy life as a means of explaining their worth and import, and does so 'topographically' - by surveying the entire terrain rather than privileging any one route to enlightenment. The approach is valid and overdue, the personal narrative is compellingly told, and the volume of information and insight into the individual films discussed is invaluable in and of itself. One does wish, however, that it had the benefit of one more rigorous re-drafting, because much of the time the pieces don't quite hang together. Janisse is to be commended for rejecting the 'academic' approach as such in her intro, but given this - and considering the compelling first-person storytelling of the confessional content - it's curious and disorienting that her diction keeps shifting to passive voice in the discussion of the films themselves. This schism reinforces the feeling of the book being two separate things, especially since the anchoring of individual films in her life narrative is tenuous at best; one wants more impassioned celebration and less plot summary, especially since the latter is given a generous 150 pages of appendix. Only in the discussion of cinematic self-harm does one feel the passion that imbues her tales from the trenches. Still, this is a solid (and gorgeously-appointed) step toward a non-alienated approach to genre film criticism, and it follows a compellingly independent moral compass that one is pleased to engage and, on occasion, argue with.

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