Box Set Review: House of Psychotic Women (1972 – 1985)

February 25, 2023

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, director, producer, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

Dig this; ’round about a decade ago horror scholar/author Kier-La Janisse released her legendary tome; House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films, the title of which alone let’s you know that she is the perfect person to curate (and provide intros for) a box set full of lunatic ladies various and sundry!

Severin’s House of Psychotic Women set contains four films spanning the years 1972 – 1985, and in a move bound to shock and excite I’m going to feast my putrid peepers on each in good ol’ chronological order!

We begin with 1972’s The Other Side of the Underneath

A woman is pulled from a lake and takes up residence in a dilapidated asylum filled with an all-female roster of patients… some of which may or may not be a theater troupe that push our heroine trough one nightmare after another that gradually explores her life as a schizophrenic and the ways a male dominated society exasperated her condition.

That sounds heavy as fuck, and believe you me, The Other Side of the Underneath, is capital-H Heavy.

Based on a play created by this film’s writer/director Jane Arden, and starring her experimental theater troupe “Holocaust”, The Other Side of the Underneath, is a fever-dream journey into a female mind broken in ways normalized by society, and while I obviously can’t comment on that experience, I can say the portrayal of mental health issues as a never-ending phantasmagorical nightmare is certainly relatable.

While not a straight-up fright flick (or conventional narrative story), The Other Side of the Underneath, is full of terrifying imagery to be sure, but there is beauty among the madness as well which is mirrored by the film’s location; a grimy Welsh mining town set against a breath-taking countryside… the ugly constraints of the cold dark buildings jutting defiantly from the pastoral nature standing in perhaps for the prison of the mind and a call to return to nature and it’s pagan ways rather than spiraling into a never-ending cycle of clinical treatments.

In order to bring some method to the madness at hand, Disc 1 offers interviews with actresses Sheila Allen and Natasha Morgan who detail their experiences working with the often-troubled Arden.

Also included are an extended work-print of the film that runs nearly 20 minutes longer than the finished film, a collection of extended sequences, and a fascinating interview with surrealist Penny Slinger, who served as The Other Side of the Underneath’s art director, as well as performing in the film (also included is a trailer for a documentary concerning Slinger).

Next comes 1974’s Identikit

Lise (legendary screen icon Elizabeth Taylor… a name I’d never think to find in this column) is planning a trip from her home in Germany to Rome in order to meet the perfect male (by her increasingly bizarre standards anyway) so she does what anyone would do; purchase the absolutely loudest outfit imaginable from a fashion shop seemingly created from nightmares made real (for instance, most of the mannequins are nude and have their faces covered in foil like they are being suffocated… at least that’s the intact specimens; the ceiling just features plastic legs in rainbow hues.. how all of this is selling fashions in any way is left a mystery). Oh, she’s also completely mentally unbalanced.

Along the way, Lise meets a cadre of individuals including a New Age nutritionist named Bill (Ian Bannen) who must have an orgasm a day for health reasons, a mysterious English Lord (played by Andy Warhol of all people), and an old lady hellbent on buying slippers (Mona Washbourne).

Told in a non-linear fashion, Co-writer/director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s (aided by screenwriter Raffaele La Capria working from a novel by Muriel Spark) Identikit unravels the particulars of Lise’s ever-unhinged journey contrasted with the police investigation that follows in it’s aftermath. This broken narrative contributes to the over-all sense of unease and confusion that our heroine feels as she cartwheels through her psychosis and leaves a trail of ever increasing blue balls in her wake.

And speaking of Taylor; I never thought I’d see her fondling her breasts in masturbatory delight, being forced to give head, and hating big-time on a dietary staple loved world-round all while her hair seems hellbent on exiting her skull to every point on the compass… yet here it all is (and so much more) in gloriously surreal fashion, and say what you will; the woman looks lie she was eating this stuff up with a huge ol’ spoon which helps keep the viewer on board no matter what bizarre turns the story takes!

As for special features accompanying Identikit, we are first treated to an audio commentary courtesy of TCM Underground curator Millie De Chirico, who takes us through the film’s themes and it’s place in Taylor’s oeuvre… but the chat does suffer a tad from the commentator frequently not speaking for long periods of time, but considering what she is watching it’s understandable.

Next comes a biographical piece on Muriel Spark hosted by author/literary historian Chandra Mayor, followed by the film’s opening credits under it’s alternate title of The Driver’s Seat.

Bringing up the rear are a duo of trailers for the film in both SD and (recreated) HD formats.

Moving on we come to 1975’s Footprints

Rome-based interpreter Alice (Florinda Bolkan) is promptly fired after being absent from work for several days… days she has no recollection of.

Adding to the static in her life, Alice suffers recurring nightmares inspired by a film she saw years past titled Footprints on the Moon; a film in which an astronaut is left to die on the moon due to the machinations of the sinister mission controller, Prof. Blackmann (professional lunatic Klaus Kinski).

After one such episode she awakens to find a yellow dress and a postcard for a place called Garma… neither of which are hers. Since she’s free of those pesky job responsibilities, Alice heads to the seaside town of Garma located on a Turkish isle.

Once there many locals recognize her, although they claim she had long red hair and was named Nicole the last time they saw her… never-mind that she’s never been to Garma before. Stranger still, the shops in town sell dresses like the one Alice discovered in her apartment… and the time her doppelganger was on the island coincides with her period of missing time!

Will Garma hold the answers Alice seeks, and if so will her sanity survive what they reveal?

Best described as a “space-age giallo”, writer/director Luigi Bazzoni’s adaptation of Mario Fenelli’s novel Las Huellas is as bizarre as it is mesmerizing.

Functioning as a pseudo-Gothic thriller at it’s core, Footprints contains the foremost of the genre’s tropes such as: a lone female protagonist lost in a miasma of dark secrets, and an ornate, if outdated, and mostly empty central location (the opulent hotel Alice stays at in Turkey makes a worthy stand-in for the usual shadow-clad old mansion)… but there are dashes of Lovecraft present too with the seaside town filled with mystery… but we also get a fourth wall breaking sci-fi film stuffed in here as well!

As disparate as those elements may seem, the film manages to blend them together into an absolutely spellbinding narrative that keeps one’s ass upon seat’s edge from frame one to frame done as we attempt to solve the mystery of what happened to our heroine on the days she can’t account for.

All of this is perfectly accentuated by the dream-like cinematography of Vittorio Storaro , the surreal (yet absolutely beautiful) locations and interiors, and the Gothic and mysterious score provided by composer Nicola Piovani… all of which provide the suitably psychotronic, fever-dream punch a narrative such as this demands!

It also must be said that all of the above has never looked better than it does here (and trust me, I’ve watched this flick on shitty DVD transfers for years) with this transfer featuring breathtaking detail and color that make the unearthly story at hand explode in visual perfection!

Adding to the experience are special features that include an interview with actress Evelyn Stewart, and a video essay on ethereal child star Nicoletta Elmi, who had memorable roles in Mario Bava’s 1971 thriller A Bay of Blood, as well as Argento’s Deep Red and Lamberto Bava’s Demons… not to mention the putrid picture at hand… and that’s just Disc One!

Disc Two kicks off with the Italian cut of the film (which runs four minutes longer than the U.S. cut on Disc One) along with an ultra-info packed commentary from film historian Kat Ellinger, a lengthy interview with Storaro (with conversation spanning his entire career), and the film’s trailer.

Last up is 1986’s I Like Bats

Isabella (Katarzyna Walter) spends her time making ornate (if a tad Goth) tea-sets and hanging around in her New Age aunt’s (Malgorzata Lorentowicz) shop… a shop that sells tea-sets, divining rods, and low-rider choppers as many do.

Unfortunately for her, Isa must constantly fend of the advances of various and sundry love-smitten murderous sex-perverts… but unfortunately for them, she is a vampire.

Although being a fang-banger that pals around with bats, Isa’s heart and it’s desires are all-too human… and she soon finds herself smitten with a hunky psychiatrist with the way-too-on-the-nose name of Dr. Jung (Marek Barbasiewicz)… so much so that she soon admits herself to his posh castle of a sanitarium in order to rid herself of her vampiric curse!

Director Grzegorz Warchol’s (who also co-wrote the picture with Krystyna Kofta) I Like Bats is one schizophrenic film (appropriately enough given the nature of this box set). Is it a vampire film? Is it a black comedy? Is it a romance? Is it at times a glance of the hypocrisy of some mental health professionals? Fuck yes. Should it work? No… but it does thanks in no small part to the wonderful performance from Walter that runs the gamut from cool, detached creature of the night, to frustrated (and at times vulnerable) lover.

The supporting cast is also excellent here, especially when playing the more off-the-wall characters such as the aforementioned  Lorentowicz as Isa’s mystic-aunt who can inexplicably levitate, and Jonasz Kofta as Narkoman, a rich “cured” addict who chooses to live in the asylum… but the real winner is Jan Prochyra as a practical joke salesman that is one confetti toss away from being the Polish Rip Taylor.

Adding to the surreal nature of it all is the audio commentary provided by actor/literary editor Kamila Wielebska that is equal-parts informative analysis and performance piece.

Lastly we get a TV spot for the film.

To sum it all up; If you like ‘em psychotronic and psychotic in equal measure, the House of Psychotic Women set will be right up your arcane alley… it’s cadre of hallucinatory images and fever-dream doused heroines should prove irresistible for lovers of off-kilter cinema!



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