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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 disease operating all by way of it.” – Lester Bangs

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It was once 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 mirrored in the typically masochistic rhetoric of their writings (a well-known cliché being that the reviewers have put themselves via a very loathsome slog “so you gained’t should”). The flagellants and penitents of the 13th century had the same concept, believing the true path to enlightenment lay not in ache, necessarily, however in the transcendence of it, excoriating the flesh until 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 within. In some ways the Dangerous Film fanatic’s venture is a similarly spiritual one – to seek out transcendence by way of the systematic obliviation of conventional film values and expectations, a Rimbaudian kind of disordering of the senses. Perhaps fittingly, there’s a type of sadism constructed 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 are diseased – yet, 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 by no means been capable of overlook it. Many years on from those initial flickerings, the movie’s sense of contamination, of an endemic, systemic impurity, bears renewed significance as 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, dark 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 assortment 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. But neither should we try 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 dysfunction; it’s simply that no one had ever so completely succeeded in realizing the structure of the irrational on film earlier than. The movie is all about being a misfit, peopled as it is 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, perhaps, that the film cuts a bit of too near 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 significantly – too burned out to prophesy something, as if aware that insight 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 would be the key to its specific form 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 significantly 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 illness; we’ve been reduce out,” delivered in the drabbest of monotones, displays the inmost doubts of a rustic during one among its most affluent eras, questions so threatening to the nationwide ego they needed to be relegated to the lowest budgetary and geographic quarters of the entertainment world. When Sade proposes “a dialog – an change of personalities” together with his shipwrecked houseguest Fallon, you recognize that that is no physical wreck or island; it’s the psychological crash of an phantasm – of purity, privilege, and precedence. Our freedom fighters introduced with them a propensity toward slavery; our Eden was watered by the blood of its natives. When the countess makes her escape from the title chamber, it’s a doc of not a lot a bodily sickness invading the body as a psychic one rising into consciousness. It was solely a matter of time earlier than the malaise was to creep out of Boyette’s cinematic Third World and into the bigger tradition too busy celebrating its own 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 lastly does get out, in fact, and for the spoiled, aristocratic Fallon it’s the emergence from his subconscious of the leper inside – the second he turns into “fallen.” He arises from the dungeon with the rely’s shocked-white hair (the latter character later to echo his “rattling you to hell,” indicating his “change of personalities” has certainly taken place), an indication of the brand 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 different sicknesses but arriving so tardily as to recommend a less instant, or literal, motivation. That era’s corporate culture (Dungeon’s fort as oppressive multinational) was rife with speak of commerce secrets and line contamination and the significance of sustaining “line purity” whilst these companies have been gearing up for their own first wave of downsizings (their staff bearing the projection of management’s tainted shadow; in my office, 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 activities of America’s White Supremacist and different hate-group movements and their religious-persecution complexes unabated to today. 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, private, and political organisms of different, actual impurities. Perhaps it’s time, then, that the universality in this once-outcast instance 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 own 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 indicates 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 film is bookended and narrated, just like the equally themed Japanese production of two years later, Matango, by this figure 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, in addition to 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 – in addition to 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 similarly taciturn wanderer of 1945’s The Vampire’s Ghost.) The whole lot in the movie plays like an enormous fatalistic machine destroying every glimmer of probability it sets up for itself: the happiest character here is the terminal countess-to-be, and she or he’s insane, the connection between the hero and heroine one of the passionless and rote as has been dedicated to movie. 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 one another, so devoid of stamina that, after narrowly escaping rescue from their effeminate previous captor the Rely, they virtually deserve the sorry fate they come to. Subsequent to Dungeon, film noir actually is, as has been argued, just an intellectual pose.

Coming from Texas, a former slave state contiguous to and sometimes identified with the South, provides an extra dimension to the film’s self-flagellating tone and attract. Based on W. J. Cash in his signature work on The Thoughts of the South, a type of entropy was encoded within the origins of the land, from the inbreeding that resulted from the isolation of the early settlers in the mountains and forests to the nature of the aristocracy that had shortly taken root in that soil, manufacturing another kind of isolation for themselves no less than as corrosive as that of the decrease courses’. Arising from a vestigial attachment to Previous England by means of the more established plantations to the north and based mostly largely on a social best impressed by the romances of Sir Walter Scott, this aristocracy was from the first an imitation of an imitation, an affectation of those who had attained their station not by breeding or bloodline but from a couple 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’s, the truth is, a parody, an concept of nobility projected by the very “widespread whites,” as Cash describes them, from which he arose and from whom he was typically only a relative or two removed. As Money has it, “the individualistic outlook” that made their enlargement attainable in the first place as well as “the shortage of class strain from under” those new barons; “the divorce of satisfaction 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 pure unrealism of temperament, bred in them a thoroughgoing self-satisfaction, probably the most full 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 movie itself – achieves a dreamlike rightness, an correct approximation of Money’s self-described Thoughts, if not an precise movie.

The presence of the rely’s Nubian servant, Mantis, signifies 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 personal model of flagellant religion, the evangelical and revivalist traditions. Consequently, the elevation of the Southern Belle – symbolic of the land the pioneers had fought for and tamed along their expansionist future and so consultant of the sins committed on it and in its identify – was an overcompensatory reaction to the Southern man’s private descent into “bestiality,” the countess’s dissipated condition a sign that not solely 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 identical sense of corruption, the metaphoric “black man,” or shadow, a projection of the white man’s responsible conscience. In this lightm Fallon’s “fall” – after the House of another fallen gentleman who should have been Boyette’s mannequin for all this lurid activity, Poe’s Roderick Usher and his similarly in-bred ancestry – is reflective of not only this disease within the blood but in addition a psychic shaming after the defeat of Dixie.

After the Civil Conflict (an applicable image for all of the cognitive dissonance inside the Southern thoughts) and Reconstruction, the area’s “march toward aristocracy” came to a halt, as mirrored in the traditional Gothic end-of-the-family-line motif that reverberates throughout Dungeon, from the determine 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 continue for much longer, only to have it protracted again and again by Boyette’s reported padding of the movie by 20 minutes at 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 also proved to literally 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 disgrace to poison us as properly, as in Boyette’s key sequence, where Fallon, chained outdoors her cell, watches as her diseased arm reaches by way of the window to unlock her door, accompanied by the creepiest cackling ever put on movie.

Freud noticed masochism as rooted in a stage of improvement when the kid begins repressing its incestuous inclinations, creating a pull between attraction and restraint and a confusion between the mother or father (or superego) as both dispenser of love and lordly meter of punishment. Guilt over insufficient decision of this complicated impels the masochist to proceed rehearsing such conduct—”You’ve been a very, very dangerous boy” – all through life. We see in Fallon’s moroseness and sullen gestures an analogous adolescent trapped within the void between seeing his father as helper (the shipbuilder, facilitating passage) and oedipal menace to his mobility (the rely, whose house breeds solely rivalry and repression). The psychic currents that brought him here demand that he encounter the latter picture, although this infantile and recalcitrant not-father seems himself caught in low gear, as is his bride-to-be, who, recognized on her wedding ceremony day – one other rite of passage – was imprisoned within the robe she wears at this time, all the time the bride, by no means the countess. With the island a desiccated Eden and the rely its lunatic god, she is the barren, suffocating virgin mother-Eve infecting Fallon in 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. Certainly, 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 the pagan (typically rooted in a veneration of the Goddess and of Earth), Dionysian imperatives buried in civilized society but nonetheless preventing for expression. The not-countess’s cell features as her own lifeless womb denied the power to fecundate underneath the mad patriarch’s rule. Thus the opposite hidden females within the movie, from the little-seen survivor on the opposite aspect of the island – an invisible, vestigial feminine character in the men themselves, her screams the cry of their own anima in the darkness of masculine id – to the imaginative and prescient of servant Little Anne being tortured in a window across from Fallon’s as he sleeps under. (When the sunshine within the reverse room goes out moments after the hero wakes, it casts the episode as a scene from a dream, her window one in every 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 within the room where Fallon has been narrating his histoire, to be relegated to the same dungeon as her predecessor – buried, soon rejoined.

What all this boils right down to is an eruption of a principally noble feminine character into a film-world the place man is the violent and obstructing environment friendly explanation for all that’s cruel and unreasonable. As a result of such men as Fallon and his burly captain are educated from delivery (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 fact 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 body (because 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 feminine 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 ready to simply accept this lady as part of himself and a synecdoche for your complete film, 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 important weak spot and corruption and an acceptance of this reality as his religious bride.

Since “humiliation” shares its root with “humility,” for the conceited aristocrat this tearing down is an elevation. Like the similarly transcendent Unimaginable Shrinking Man, he turns into, by way of deterioration, an entire individual. Though the movie’s library-music rating helps reinforce the sensation of an inescapable – programmed – fate, a reiterative dependence on a circumscribed, closed universe, Fallon’s defeat is Fallon’s triumph, his physical disease a religious remedy. When he goes down to hitch Cassandra within the title dungeon – indicating the film itself as a melting pot with the facility to scale back all who inhabit it for a while 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 both mock him and to honor his acquiescence, as we viewers are given to do: he has gained out in the long run over his personal most debilitating characteristic, his sense of well-being. The film proves itself a parable of the straightforward act of dwelling, a progressive erosion of the physique as well as 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 so as to take a bride and turn out to be a sexual being. The Jungian take prevails.

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

Perhaps, if the type of punishment we choose is audio-visual in nature, the sort of rapture we’re looking for is sensory too: the will to see and hear represented outdoors what we hold true within. Like Ray Milland in X – The Man with X-Ray Eyes always punishing himself by means of using vision-enhancing chemical compounds, we’re enacting a want to see till we will see past, previous the façades that divide and obscure the divine; to see the chaos behind the structure 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 again into the experiential world we really 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,” where his wife recites a Sam Shepard vignette concerning a man who considers the radio “friendly,” who feels he communicates with it in a primal, pre-lingual approach. Different pop songs like Thomas Dolby’s “Airwaves” and Package Hain’s “Danny” paint the radio in comparable phrases, 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 only partly registering the impression they’ll have on you in years to return. By means of their inefficiency with a number of the most elementary tools of narrative craft, they’re capable of strip away the artifice of filmmaking to reveal the archetypal materials within. Consequently, you are feeling such as you’re tapping right into a form of collective unconscious Jung didn’t intend in his coining of the term, as if the pictures and indicators have been coming to you not by way of your sensory apparatus but via the mind immediately, in the identical kind of wave-form they have been originally broadcast in.

Some movies go further than others in making the connection between their very 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; fairly the honest efforts of low-budgeters like Boyette, lacking the technical properties and expertise wanted to convey a extra typical sense of movie actuality. The aimlessness and repetitiveness of these films can enslave you in their illogic in order that you must watch to the top that typically appears won’t ever come. (Goals don’t climax; they solely cease.) You possibly can imagine them enjoying of their day to some massive, empty drive-in (an existential imaginative and prescient of hell on earth, the place the dangerous films play constantly and there’s no one there to even watch them), and you must marvel if some filmmakers didn’t intend them to be shown that means in the first place. (Tarkovsky’s Stalker seems made to be drifted out and in of, like a dream.) Greater than most renegade films, these movies (what critic Manny Farber termed “termite” cinema) can have a disturbing presence that clings 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 one other reality; films that make their very own rules.

Perhaps as a result of trash works on us on such a subliminal degree and without any filmic superego to enforce order or sense or even embarrassment on itself, it will possibly turn into so ingrained in our unconscious that it will probably 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 attain from that terrible window on his mind. As a result of Dungeon is sort of a dream, one the place you acknowledge individuals regardless that they’re not who they’re purported to be, because 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 help however watch these films, as a result of we know something of us is reaching from that window, too: one thing is leaning towards consciousness; one thing wishes recognition. Dungeon is the sort of movie that can evoke that nocturnal feeling regardless of once you expertise it, but should you do watch it, wait till you’re on the verge of sleep. Let it turn into part of your goals, after which try to deny it, for all its limpness and perversity, its own insensible energy.

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All pictures are screenshots from the movie’s DVD.

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