It is not often that one watches a film that carries an aura that feels like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) meets the TV-series Northern Exposure (minus an ample dose of the quirky humor) meets The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) with Lynchian undertones; as such an ideally idiosyncratic work – for better or for worse – certainly sticks out in one’s mind. Last week, I had the random luxury of sharply gazing at such a work – Sweet Angel Mine (1996) directed by Curtis Radclyffe and co-scripted by Sue Maheu and Tim Willocks (Swept from the Sea, Sin) – and I was certainly not left with a feeling of chagrin, even if the film was not exactly up to par with seemingly equipollent works like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin (1990). In terms of quality, aesthetic, execution, and essence, Sweet Angel Mine is in agreeable company with Garth Maxwell’s equally underrated and unseen film Jack Be Nimble (1993). Like Jack Be Nimble, Sweet Angel Mine is a work that although sometimes extremely violent and vulgar in regard to imagery and sentiment, features a certain metaphysical dream logic that further accentuates its quasi-mystical rural setting and the menacing mystique of its mentally-imbalanced characters. Sweet Angel Mine follows a bodacious and sometimes bratty twenty-something Brit named Paul (Oliver Milburn) who has traveled to Nova Scotia, Canada in the hope of finding his long vanished father. While keenly cruising around on his crotch-rocket (a 1973 T140V Triumph Bonneville), Paul eventually encounters a visibly hesitant, awkward, and somewhat feral-like yet pulchritudinous country girl named Rauchine (Margaret Langrick). Although Paul takes an instant liking to the sub-literate little lady and her young, voluptuous body, he has yet to realize that her mother Megan is a homicidal maniac who has intimate conversations with ethereal beings. In an attempt to get closer to Rauchine and what lies beneath her virginal white skirt, Paul convinces the always confrontational Meg to hire him as a laborer on her farm; a place where hogs engage in comical carnal knowledge and where many formidable family secrets lay in plain sight. Not long after taking residence on the farm, Paul begins to have less than wet erotic dreams about the atypical mother and daughter that eventually evolve into a real-life nightmare that inevitably leads him to solving the mystery of his father's unexpected disappearance and the bounty in Rauchine's panties.
As someone who has personally encountered the detrimental effects that mentally ill matriarchal mothers have over their physically and mentally abused daughters, I found Sweet Angel Mine to be an especially eerie yet radiantly-stylized cinematic work. In Hitchcock’s Psycho, one learns that exceedingly bitchy and overbearing mothers can spawn sexually depraved homicidal lunatic sons, but the calamitous side-effects of a unhinged wench on a daughter is a subject that has been rarely explored in cinema, thus Sweet Angel Mine comes as a notable and mostly worthwhile exception, even if it does not feature the same psychological depth and wholly convincing acting one would expect from an Ingmar Bergman film. Upon first appearing in Sweet Angel Mine, it is quite apparent that Rauchine has virtually nil self-esteem and barely even a distinguishable personality of her own. After Megan initially appears it is obvious as to why Rauchine seems to have a glaring hole in her emotionally-ravaged soul, as the girl's callous and cunning mother dictates every thought and action of her grown daughter’s life. It is only when she meets and swoons over Paul that Rauchine begins to form an identity of her own, thus resulting in a quasi-schizophrenic break in her psyche between her new organic self and the old one formulated by Meg's nefarious nurturing. Being a chivalrous and charming British chap, Paul is wholly willing to deal with Meg’s backwoods megalomania and Canadian-peckerwood pomposity during his precarious mission to win Rauchine’s heart. Of course, Paul also encounters hostility from local would-be-vikings yokels that are far from welcoming when compared to how the North American Nordics from Northern Exposure dealt with the ill-disposed and whiny Judaic fellow from NYC. In short, Paul is a strange young man in a strange sullen land, but he stays committed to the philosophy of ‘love conquers all', in spite of it threatening his very existence. Although Paul is the lead protagonist of Sweet Angel Mine, Megan is ultimately the most complex and multifaceted character and a lot of this is owed to actress Alberta Watson’s (La Femme Nikita, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) erotically and psychotically-charged performance. To say that Meg makes Paul seems like a bitch-that-eats-fish-n-chips would be a reckless underestimation. As Paul lets her know, Megan is certainly a cold cunt incapable of true love and human companionship, but she certainly knows how to (literally and figuratively) crucify a virile young man and handle a loaded firearm due to what seems like 2+ decades worth of steadily seething sexual repression.
After appearing briefly on VHS, Sweet Angel Mine all but disappeared (only to be recently unearthed via Netflix instant-viewing) from the world and has henceforth remained a rarely seen work with a virtually nonexistent cult following, but I have a feeling that will change as the years pass as the film will certainly appeal to fans of Philip Ridley (Sweet Angel Mine is a virtual "sister film" to The Passion of Darkly Noon) and the less pretentious admirers of David Lynch's work. Unfortunately, director Curtis Radclyffe would go on to direct the rather mundane and fundamentally formulaic British horror flick The Sick House (2008), thus one can only wonder if Sweet Angel Mine is a fluke of sub-masterpiece psychosexual filmmaking; or a sound and succulent synchronistic marriage between director, screenplay, and actors (I would assume the latter). Either way, Sweet Angel Mine is undoubtedly one of the most audaciously ambitious and perversely gratifying works about a disintegrating derelict matriarchal family gone awry. If any film has the potential to inspire an individual to second-guess a relationship they have with a girl (or guy) who has a bats in the belfry mother, it is indubitably Sweet Angel Mine.