FF2012: Kier-La Janisse is in the House...
…of Psychotic Women
By Marc Savlov, 5:18PM, Thu. Sep. 20, 2012
It's always cool to catch up with old friends at Fantastic Fest, but this year heralds the return of original Alamo 409 Colorado programmer, film scholar, author, and all-around kickass cinemaniac Kier-La Janisse, whose new book 'House of Psychotic Women' is a fearless dissection of women in horror.
It's also a smart, occasionally disturbing, downright invaluable work of self-catharsis. Subtitled 'An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films,' it's dense with savvy deconstructions of genre watersheds like David Cronenberg's The Brood and newer femmes-in-extremis films such as Lars von Trier's Antichrist. Above all, it's a deeply personal journey through the glorious results of a misspent youth, to paraphrase Joan Jett.
We spoke with Janisse -- she's also curating the titular FF2012 series -- about her book, the films she's chosen to represent it, and the currently unfolding conservative war on women in the U.S.
Austin Chronicle: When did you first hit upon the idea of writing and autobiographical examination of women in genre films? Was there an epiphany moment?
Kier-La Janisse: I don't know that there was an epiphany so much as I'd been working on it for ten years and I just couldn't figure out what my angle was. It was originally going to just be a book of essays. I kept asking myself, What's my point? What point am I trying to make? And I would talk about this book project obsessively to my friends and they said, You know, you're always talking about these films in connection to yourself and comparing them to things in your own life. Why don't you write it like that? I thought, you know, nobody wants to read a book about my life. I'm not a famous person. It's not like I can sell my memoir or something. But from that point on, I started putting in some little anecdotes which ended up growing and growing until I felt as though I could see these connections between thing as I was writing it. I would write a little anecdote and then realize that if made six other movies connect.
AC: Impressively organic.
K-LJ: Yeah. It was not only therapeutic for me to figure stuff out in terms of my own patterns of behavior but also seeing the patterns that are in all the different films. So many of these films are actually dealing with the same issues and their female characters are just dealing with those problems in different ways.
AC: What's your take, from a Canadian perspective, about this so-called "war on women" that's picking up steam south of your borders? I'm referring to the whole anti-abortion resurgence and a very conservative strain of conservatism that is a part of the broader culture wars down our way…
K-LJ: I've been hearing about that. We certainly don't have any laws up here that would fine a woman for having a miscarriage, which is the latest proposed [U.S. law] that I've heard about. Obviously, it's completely ridiculous. My book was never meant to be a gender studies book or a women's right's book, but I think that automatically just how it came out. I don't know enough about all the different stories about what's happening [in the U.S.] but the things that I have been hearing have been totally appalling. They're so misogynistic they seem like science fiction, you know?
AC: You're screening three films covered in the book at FF2012. Can you talk a little about why you chose these specific films?
K-LJ: Sure. The Entity was kind of an obvious choice because it was the first movie that I saw when I was young and it kicks off a pretty important story in the book. And I don't think I've ever seen it on the big screen, which of course I want to. As for Secret Ceremony, I'm just a huge fan of the movie and of the house in which the film takes place. The interplay between Mia Farrow and Liz Taylor and Robert Mitchum really amazing. It's one of those movies that a lot of people have never seen and never even heard of, which I find totally weird, because Mitchum is even creepier in this movie than he is in Night of the Hunter, as far as I'm concerned. Yeah, I'll stand by that. And also I really like Joseph Losey. And then the last movie, The Mafu Cage, no one's ever heard of that either. It's such a weird movie with such a great performance by Carol Kane. She' so crazy, she's so nuts in the movie, that I want people to see it on the big screen where her craziness can just envelop them, you know?
[Screening dates and time for all three films can be found here.]