Sep 2, 2014

Shadows of the Mind

While best known for his pleasantly politically incorrect Manson-esque quasi-artsploitation horror flick The Last House on Dead End Street (1977) aka The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, sub-underground auteur Roger Watkins (Corruption, Midnight Heat)—a man that is certainly a top contender for America's most sleazy ‘auteur’ filmmaker as a drug-addled human trainwreck who used his god-given artistic talent to direct some of the most nihilistic, misanthropic, and pessimistic porno films ever made—would ultimately direct more fuck flicks than horror flicks. In fact, Watkins only directed one other horror flick, Shadows of the Mind (1980) aka A Heritage of Blood, which was credited to the pseudonym ‘Bernard Travis’ and which the auteur vehemently disowned (in fact, it was not until October 2005 that Watkins owned up to directing the film). Indeed, as Watkins stated in an interview featured in issue #23 of Headpress Journal: “It’s a piece of trash. I mean even the porno films I did, I think they are well done for the most part. But this is just inept. It’s just an abomination. The stories I could tell about that mess...”  Somewhat interestingly, ‘Bernard Travis’ was not actually a pseudonym created by the actual director but the name of the film’s money man, who put his name on the film and who Watkins had much ill will towards, even rejoicing when the man kicked the bucket under tragic circumstances. Indeed, Travis later committed suicide and Watkins would jokingly insinuate that he murdered him, stating regarding his nemesis and his lack of a director’s credit for Shadows of the Mind: “Yes, the suicide case. I really scared the shit out of Fenton [the film's producer], because he told me Bernie committed suicide and I said to him “What makes you think it was suicide?” But that guy, Bernie Travis, he put his name down as the director, and that’s shit! It’s bad enough to steal, but are you going to put your name on shit?! And him and his wife put their names down as the writers. Fine with me, I would never allow my name on that garbage—or even [my pseudonyms] Richard Mahler or Victor Janos for that matter.” On top of being the film’s financial backer and pseudo-director, Travis was also the husband of the uniquely untalented lead actress of the film, Marion Joyce, who is not exactly easy on the eyes or ears. Indeed, to put it more bluntly, Joyce seems like a typically spoiled, overweight, and all-around grotesque JAP (aka Jewish American Princess).  Indeed, probably the most horrifying and disturbing element of the film is Joyce's horrendous Hebraic NYC accent. Indeed, Shadows of the Mind seems to be more or less the banally ugly, patently pointless, and aesthetically odious outcome of Watkins whoring himself to an unkosher backer who wanted to make a film glorifying his innately inglorious kosher wife. Needless to say, the film is quite the disappoint seeing as it is more or less considered a ‘lost film’ by the marvelously mischievous mensch who brought the world The Last House on Dead End Street. Indeed, aside from a couple striking gore scenarios and flashback scenes that seem like something out of an obscure Czech New Wave flick, the film seems like a poor man’s equivalent to those horrendous PG-13 horror-thrillers that are incessantly shit out by Hollywood and are specially tailored to appeal to the low IQs of hormone-ridden teenage girls. 

 Almost immediately seeming like one of the most hopelessly schlocky Freud-fetishizing pseudo-Hitchcockian flicks ever made, albeit minus the suspense, Shadows of the Mind centers around angst-ridden anti-heroine Elise Halsted (Marion Joyce)—a meta-bourgeois basketcase that is certainly of no relation to S&M sodomite pornographer Fred Halsted—who went crazy at age 12 after witnessing the rather pathetic pondside drowning accident of her father and stepmother, thus resulting in her long-term institutionalization. Now an adult (it is hard to tell how old she is, but she looks like she is at least in her mid-30s, if not older) who has spent most of her life in a loony bin receiving experimental treatment, Elise finds her rather fragile sanity tested when her ‘progressive’ pill-peddling psychiatrist Dr. Robert Lang (Erik Rolfe) abruptly releases her back into society, thus forcing her to move back to the large family estate where she witnessed her father and stepmother drown. Elise’s only living relative is her self-obsessed hot shot Wall Street swindler stepbrother Leland Sayers (G.E. Barrymore)—a prestigiously pompous littler pisser who drives a sports car and has not bothered to visit his stepsister once since her initial institutionalization—and he wants her immediately recommitted so that he can be the sole heir to the family estate. When Leland rudely arrives at the family home in his candy ass sports car, Elise, who seems more than a tad bit socially retarded, refuses to embrace him and yells at him for never visiting her in the nuthouse. When Leland incites the family groundskeeper Andrew (Anthony Frank)—a creepy dude that likes perversely staring at homely young girls and stroking his scythe as if it is his cock (I hate to say it, but Watkins seems to be paying tribute to Carl Th. Dreyer's 1932 masterpiece Vampyr during this scene)—by insinuating that Elise plans to sell the estate thus leaving him out of the job, the pissed off prole worker goes insane and attacks the hysterical little heiress. Needless to say, groundskeeper Andrew is soon slaughtered with his own beloved scythe. 

 Later that night, Dr. Lang and his much younger and vaguely beauteous fiancée Diana Russell (Bianca Sloane) come by the Halsted estate to spend a quaint evening with Elise and her dickhead stepbrother Robert. Naturally, Elise becomes quite unhappy when Dr. Lang arrives with his fiancée, as she is in love with her doctor yet at the same time sees him as a father figure of sorts, thus causing her to associate Diana with her much hated stepmother, who she blames for her less than ideal childhood and poor papa’s premature death. Of course, psychopathic pseudo-playboy Robert—an exceedingly effete little turd that seems like a miserable mix between a meth-addled fag queen and a stereotypically repugnant Jewish stand-up comedian—acts like a first-rate posh prick and makes wisecracks like, “I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight,” which demonstrates his nauseatingly annoying narcissism. Needless to say, Dr. Lang is not amused by Robert’s glaring arrogance and unwarranted sense of superiority, especially after he hits on his fiancée Diana, so he soon decides to take his babe and leave, but his car fails to start, thus forcing him and his lady friend to stay the night at the Halsted home (which Watkins described as an, “rundown Citizen Kane-like befouled Mansion in Westchester County”). Of course, when everyone goes to sleep, murderously jealous Elise goes on an unhinged murder spree which begins with her stepbrother, whose eye she gouges out, and concludes with the seemingly ritualistic burning of Diana. After managing to lock Dr. Lang in a room, Elise, who has covered her face with clownish make-up that makes her look like a six-year-old drag queen, surprise attacks Diana and repeatedly stabs her in the chest with a butcher knife. From there, Elise drags Diana outside, doses her body with gasoline, and sets her on fire while the unlucky little lady is still alive.  As Diana screams in pain while burning to death, Elise laughs maniacally while deriving sadistic glee from the young woman's brutal death.  In the end, the only thing that remains of poor Diana is a burnt skeleton and Elise is sent back to the mental institution, though she probably won't enjoy her stay there as much as she did before, as it is quite doubtful that Dr. Lang will want to continue treating her since she burned his fiancee alive and all. After everything is said and done, it is revealed that Elise accidentally caused her father’s death while attempting to kill her stepmother when they were riding in a small rowboat in a placid pond.  Indeed, after 12-year-old Elise knocked her stepmother into the water by hitting her over the head with a paddle, Mr. Halsted jumped in to save her, thus resulting in both of their would-be-tragic deaths.

 Despite being less than 80 minutes long, Shadows of the Mind feels like it is well over two hours in length, which probably has to do with the fact it does not show a single murder scene until about 40 minutes in and routinely recycles a number of the same flashback scenes, as if the editor did not have enough footage to work with to edit together an entire feature film, thus he decided to merely reuse the same banal scenes over-and-over again. Indeed, this absolutely appalling quasi-melodramatic horror abortion ultimately seems like an over-extended short film, which probably largely has to do with the fact that auteur Roger Watkins was forced to work with contemptible crew of pretentious NYU film school graduates who tried to lead a mutiny of sorts against the director on the set, thus bastardizing his original artistic vision, or as the auteur stated himself in the Headpress interview: “I learnt something interesting on that set. Here’s what I learnt: As I said, I wanted to make films when I was ten. I’m sixteen and I’m good. At twenty-two I’m real good. All of a sudden this asshole Fenton has got me directing this film that I wrote with Paul, and he’s hired these assholes out of film school or visual arts who think they know everything and they know fucking nothing. But because they are all friends, they are like ganging up on me. “I want this… no, no I want this…” It’s just like pulling teeth to get the shot you want, and then when you see it it’s not the shot you want anyway […] Do you know William James? Henry James’ brother? He had this saying: ‘looking glass self.’ You could be the most handsome man in the world, but if everybody around you tells you that you are fucking ugly, you will believe it. I would get all these people who knew nothing and I had to question: “Wait a minute. Do I know what I’m doing? Maybe these eighty-seven jerks out of NYU and out of the School of Visual Arts, maybe they know and I don’t know?” I actually went through a sort of crisis which lasted a few months. Then I said, “No, they know fucking nothing!” But it happens.” Indeed, aside from its sometimes foreboding tone and its handful of scenes of demented ultra-violence, it is hard to tell that Watkins was the man in the thrift store grade director’s seat. 

 Undoubtedly, the most ‘entertaining’ element of the film is its shockingly horrendous acting, especially from the pudgy slag lead, who resembles a gigantic autistic toddler who suffered brain damage after taking one-too-many hits of acid. Of course, you know a film is a plodding pile of philistinic celluloid shit when the director describes it as follows: “Of course the production is a nightmare: You can actually see the “star” looking for cue cards as she tries to deliver her lines; the crew was an inept bunch of shitheads from NYU, each one of them thinking they were a combination of Welles, Buñuel, and Fellini, No, I take that back, each one of them thinking they were a combination of Michael Winner, Roy Ward Baker and numerous other money making hacks.” Rather interestingly, Watkins subsequently directed a dark comedy entitled Spittoon (1981) based on the hellish production of Shadows of the Mind starring the auteur himself as a famous Nazi filmmaker who became famous during the silent era. Unfortunately, Spittoon seems to be impossible to find. Undoubtedly, any film that mocks a work as innately wretched and aesthetically insipid as Shadows of the Mind must be some sort of lost masterpiece.  Indeed, maybe if there was a scene in the film where the lead actress was gang raped by some high ass homies from Harlem, Shadows of the Mind might have been more appealing, but ultimately the film is as limp as a veteran porn star's diseased dick.

-Ty E

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