Anna Biller

Wicked Wednesday: The Hypnotist (2001)

Siblings can be a real pain. My sisters and I like to bicker and judge each other, but at least they never tried to get me committed to an asylum. At least that I know of.

William, Charles and Beatrice Cooke are the children of a wealthy man. On the man’s death bed, he tells his children that they will inherit under one condition: that they live under the same roof to take care of their mother. If they move out, they will be disinherited.

Shortly after their father’s death, Charles begins plotting with a suspicious psychologist, Dr Schadenfreude. He asked for the doctor’s help to get both of his siblings declared insane so that they would be committed to an asylum, and thus would be disinherited by not living in the house.

Dr Schadenfreude goes after Beatrice first. She’s the most difficult target. Charles is convinced that his sister is a “whore” who is also a necrophiliac. It’s up to the doctor to make sure that’s true.

The doctor drugs Beatrice one night, then puts her under hypnosis. The command “open the door” makes her feel an overwhelming sense of dispare. She begins to hate herself and feel sickened. It’s only when he says the command “close the door” that she awakes from her trance to feel herself again.

The next day, Dr Schadenfreude goes after the religious William, who believes his mother is touched by God. The children often debate the state of their mother’s mind, but only William believes that she is completely well. Though one conversation with the doctor makes him uncomfortable (though I’m not really sure how).

Charles later tells his siblings that he wants them claimed mentally incompetent. Beatrice is, understandably, outraged, but William accepts his fate and leaves of his own free will.

Later that night, Beatrice sees her mother for help. The woman is in her bed, and seemingly too unwell to get up. But it’s then that Beatrice is struck that her mother is in fact not mentally insane.

The trial follows, and only Beatrice arrives with the doctor and Charles. William has wandered off alone (supposedly as a confirmation of his ‘condition’). The doctor and Charles try their best to defame the woman. They bring “facts” written only German. They bring “letters” from her gigolos and the men she went to orgies with.

Beatrice tries her best to defend herself, and ultimately announces that Charles murdered two. She tells the judge that all the court records were burned but one. One that she found in her mother’s room.

Dr Schadenfreude quickly tells Beatrice to “open the door” but as she admits she’s deranged, she collapses to the floor. When she awakes, though, she breaks free of the hypnosis. She quickly recalls what happened to her. She tells the judge, then informs her brother that the doctor also put her under hypnosis to steal their money. The doctor flees from the courtroom, rich from his con.

Now completely ruined, Charles begins his (further) descent into madness. He vows to kill Beatrice, but his mother, now out of bed, tries to stop him. Beatrice hears her mother’s cries, and finds Charles standing over their mother’s dead body.

In a rather ghostly ending, Charles runs away. He sees the apparition of his mother, and falls to his death. A rather well-deserved ending, I think.

I love nearly everything Biller touches, but it’s her writing that I love (okay, the visual style certainly doesn’t hurt). And since this wasn’t written by Biller, and you can certainly tell, it doesn’t work as much for me. The script was probably the biggest issue with this short. It’s good, but perhaps a bit confusing in places,  particularly what happens with William. Though I did love the hints of House on Haunted Hill and Douglas Sirk.

Like many of Biller’s films, the main message driven home here is that there are many men willing to weaponise a woman’s sexuality. They’ll use it against her and destroy her for it. It was nice to see that ultimately Beatrice came out on top.

But again, I’m a sucker for Biller’s style. It’s very dramatic and romantic here. And while The Hypnotist isn’t my favourite thing she’s directed, it’s certainly worth the watch.

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Wicked Wednesday: A Visit From the Incubus (2001)

Happy Women in Horror Month! Where our realities are terrifying, and the movies just reflect that!

And what better way to start the celebration than with a short film that was written, produced, directed, edited by the woman who also starred in the film as well did the costumes, sets and score. (And I’m pretty certain she sang her parts in the musical as well. Who says a woman can’t have it all?)

Anna Biller’s A Visit from the Incubus is a western horror musical that is as good as it sounds. Biller’s style has to be one of the most visually recognizable contemporary filmmakers. It’s in full effect here.

Young Lucy (Biller) is a woman in the wild west. Each night she is haunted by an incubus, who torments her by raping in her sleep. She goes to seek advice from her friend Madeleine, who admits she used to be haunted by the incubus as well. But Madeleine tells Lucy that she was able to get rid of her demon.

Despite the offer of refuge at Madeleine’s, Lucy goes home alone. That night, she’s visited by the incubus again. Only in the morning, Lucy doesn’t feel like taking the incubus’s shit anymore. In fact, she feels like a woman.

Taking her new confidence out for a spin, Lucy goes to the local saloon to ask for work – “that kind of work”.

That night, Lucy appears in her first show at the saloon. But her opening act is none other the incubus himself, trying to steal her limelight from her. The two begin their ultimate showdown the only way possible: with song and dance.

The incubus takes the stage and is booed off not once, but twice. And when Lucy hits the stage, she’s an instant success. She becomes the star of the saloon, and is immediately offered a new contract for $100 a week by the saloon manager. Lucy’s victory is her own.

It’s obvious what the message is here, but A Visit from the Incubus never feels heavy-handed. In fact, it also manages to elevate the genre it emulates, something a lot of similar writers and directors often fail to do. There’s a touch of The Harvey Girls with just enough Satanic fun. It’s amazing to see a character have a full story arc (with development!) in under a half hour.

This short was everything. It was smart, funny, provocative, and it can original songs! I’m a sucker for it all.

Women in Horror Month is an initiative to promote the work of women filmmakers throughout the month of February (and all year!). Whether that be behind or in front of the screen, it’s a celebration of a bad-ass group that’s largely underrepresented in the film industry. This month I’ll be highlighting female-directed movies, and I’m really excited about every single one of them.

Visit Women in Horror Month‘s website to learn more about their cause! If you’re a creator, it’s a great space to meet with others in the community.