Book review: House of Psychotic Women

houseofpsychoticwomenPer the enthusiastic recommendation by Fangoria‘s Sam Zimmerman, I recently purchased and immediately devoured House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films Book by Kier-La Janisse (FAB Press). 

Despite its obvious subtitle, I expected a somewhat standard anthology of horror films featuring women in horror films. And while that actually may have been enough, what this book is instead is so much more; an unexpectedly raw narrative of a woman’s journey as related, and influenced, by horror films. House of Psychotic Women is perfectly whip smart, with just the right combination of academic philosophical references, personal narratives, and film analysis. That Janisse has the ability and bravery to discuss her life in these terms is beyond engrossing, it’s admirable. 

As with most female horror fans, people love to ask me what it is I get out of horror. I give them the stock answers: catharsis, empowerment, escapism and so on. Less easy to explain is the fact that I gravitate towards films that devastate and unravel me completely – a good horror film will more often make me cray than make me shudder. I remember someone describing their first time seeing Paulus Manker’s The Moor’s Head as so devastating they had to lie on the sidewalk when they exited the theatre. Now, that’s what I look for in a film.

For those of us who have an obsession with horror films (and we do for numerous and various reasons) there is a common denominator the Janisse underlines throughout the book: the ultimate reason why we watch these movies that we can’t stop watching is because something about them reflects ourselves. Not that we’re all murderous psychos, but the psychological breakdowns displayed before us in cinema tend to resonate with those who, quite frankly, aren’t like everyone else. And while my personal research of horror tends to purposefully sidestep the affect/cathartic aspect of horror, Janisse managed to get me to consider how these aspects of horror cinema actually do affect me. She is so dead on (see quote above, only from page 7) because it’s the power of cinema, the lure of the ugliness in life, the punched-in-the-heart feeling that horror films produce that also keep me coming back for more. 

One of my favorite films discussed in the book…

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