House of Psychotic Women

Author(s) - Kier-La Janisse

Publisher - FAB Press

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

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The Book (5/5)

   I subscribe to that Spielberg quote (that I am seriously going to get wrong here), about loving to read about cinema, just as much as I love to watch it.  My shelf is covered in books from capsule review guides that used to be my method of finding out about new and interesting films, to biographies or directors, actors, writers, and histories of film/film genres. So when I first heard about House of Psychotic Women through a friend, I knew it was to be a must read.  I was told it was an exploration of women in horror and exploitation cinema, from an intellectual perspective, Where do I sign up?

   Kier-La Janisse's book is subtitled An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films. I had assumed from the brief description that I had gotten that it would be a simple genre exploration, an analysis of female-centric horror, and exploitation cinema, maybe a bit of a history, but the subtitle seemed to indicate much more than that.  Due to a busy schedule, it was a few days before I got to crack open the cover beyond perusing the pictures, and the wonderful film guide in the back, only to discover that the subtitle accurately reflects the content of the book, and creates what could only be described as one of the most unique, interesting, and fulfilling experiences in genre film literature.

   House of Psychotic Women (the title taken from a Carlos Aured film) is essentially a biography of the author, through her traumatic childhood experiences. She then writes about genre movies that apply to these experiences, and analyze them from the perspective of both the films as independent entities, and how they relate to her existence growing up in very difficult circumstances.  

   The author's selections of topical films runs the gamut from critical darlings like Lars Von Trier's The Antichrist to understated and obscure horror films like the sleepy shocker Let's Scare Jessica to Death. The selection of films coupled with the autobiographical nature of the tome, offers some interesting insight into the nature of film criticism itself. It is obvious that Kier-La is a very distinguished film fan, her book references filmmakers from Roman Polanski to Ingmar Bergman, but of course, the primary thread that ties the book together is the horror genre, proving that critical taste truly is in the eye of the beholder, and is weaved into the life fabric of the viewer.

   If the main body of the book weren't enough to justify the purchase price, the book also includes a large capsule review section in the latter half of it discussing the films in the book, and many others.  This is an invaluable reference guide to film fans who may want to add another avenue of exploration to their viewing agenda.

     The book seems to have an organic flow to it. It never feels like the author decides here is the part where I discuss my life, here is where I write the plot of a movie, and here is where I analyze the film, and apply it to my existence.  House of Psychotic Women more than any other film-related book I have ever picked up feels like a true entity upon itself, and honestly that is the books most rewarding aspect. I have read an epic amount of books on film, but none like this, and I doubt I shall ever come across one like this again. Kier-La Janisse has created a truly invaluable piece of film literature.