In honour of the fact it's Friday 13th (and as such a time traditionally reserved for misfortune and unpleasantness), and also as an accompaniment to Cigarette Burns’ special screening of creepy Spanish horror Who Can Kill A Child? at the Rio Cinema tomorrow, here’s the 1972 made for TV short La Cabina, another fantastic and unique bit of Spanish weirdness that managed to achieve a minor bit of notoriety in the UK when it was shown on TV in the eighties.
Much like Forklift Driver Klaus, the first entry in the Short Fridays series, La Cabina would be shown in the wee hours on Channel 4 seemingly at random with little in the way of advance promotion. While it’s obviously great that all these films are freely available on YouTube now, I do envy insomniacs in the eighties who would stumble upon them late at night with just the right level of susceptibility: sleep-deprived, mentally and emotionally vulnerable, looking to be soothed and relaxed by the idiot box and therefore perfectly positioned to be utterly freaked out by them.
Also similar to Klaus, La Cabina makes a point of not showing its hand too early – it lulls you into a false sense of security, making you think you know what you’re watching ut really you have no idea. Of course Klaus takes its big left turn into OMGWTFBBQ laugh-out-loud Evil Dead –style insanity, whereas La Cabina’s approach is very different.
This slow-burn style of horror is becoming increasingly rare, as most modern entries tend to start big and noisy and scary and just stay at that level for ninety minutes. I watched The Birds the other day and was staggered by the first hour, in which barely any birds appear and the tone of the film is more screwball comedy-cum-romantic drama, with no indication of the horrors that are about to befall its pristine characters. I suppose the closest modern film to trick you in this way is Takeshi Miike’s Audition, and we all know how much of an effect that had on people.
No more should be said on La Cabina. It’s long, but it's really a superbly made film, and well worth your time. Turn the lights out, sit back, and thank God for the invention of the mobile phone…
I'll go out on a limb here: Abel Ferrera's Ms 45 is the most enjoyable rape-revenge film ever made.
I understand that as compliments go it's up there in the redundancy stakes with 'loudest silent film' or 'funniest holocaust drama', but I'll be damned if it isn't true.
Screened by the wonderful and vital Cigarette Burns collective at the Rio cinema in Dalston last Saturday, Ms. 45 was their best screening yet and a fantastic way to spend a Saturday evening.
Not only was it an inspired pick, but a brave one, because as Josh Cigarette Burns mentioned to me after the film, it's one thing to watch a rape scene in the confines of your home where you can properly contextualise it, and it's another to screen it for a pleasantly liberal yet ultimately judgemental East London audience who just want to see a fun midnight movie and could do without the lengthy scenes of graphic sexual violence thank you very much.
He needn't have worried, but it did strike me what a risky game exploitation films play with depicting rape: make it too sexualised or violent and you're trivialising or possibly even glorifying sexual assault, which is clearly unacceptable to just about everyone make it too ascetic and punishing, though, and you're moving away from the amoral thrills that personify the best exploitation and into something approaching cinematic penance (Oh hai Irreversible).
You need to be a really good film-maker to achieve the right balance, and Abel Ferrera is so good that he starts Ms. 45 with not one but two rape sequences, both uncomfortable and horrifying, yet essential in setting up the roaring rampage of revenge that follows.
When the titular Ms 45 is subjected to her first assault, it's too quick and shocking for her to fight back or even really register what is happening -during the second, lengthier attack however, she finds it within herself to fight back and murder her assailant right at the moment off climax. As a result, the previously milquetoast mute is newly empowered by this seizing of power from the aggressively primal men she is persued by persistently , but conversely the Pavlovian connection between sex and murder established by her first kill soon drives her completely insane, most memorably demonstrated in a Repulsion-echoing scene where she attempts to look at her naked body in the mirror, but hallucinates a masked attacker's arm grabbing her before she can fully disrobe. She quickly transforms from feminist avenger targeting violent chauvinists, into a psychopathic angel of death out to murder anyone with the balls to have, erm, balls.
There's a level of characterization and psychological complexity to Ms 45 that is unusual and some might argue unnecessary in a nasty little genre piece like this, but it's also what raises it to a level of quality and (II would imagine) rewatchability that distances it from other rape-revenge flicks and instead invites comparisons with psycho thrillers like Repulsion and recently, Black Swan; two films that also explore the link between repressed sexuality and insanity to chilling effect.
Fans of films like I Spit On Your Grave and Last House on the Left would argue that when placed in an allegorical or feminist context that they have an intellectual rigour that demands they be taken equally seriously, but I’m not as convinced. I found the psychodrama of Ms 45 to be a much more satisfying experience, and ultimately it’s a film with something I don’t think anyone would argue you could describe those other rape-revenge films as: fun. Just because the filmmaking and storytelling is a little bit more sophisticated than your standard grindhouse fare it's not to say that it loses any of its pulpy enjoyment.
There's a wonderful stream of jet black humour running through it - every scene with the dog is gold, and there is a neat pre-credits coda that acts as a funny punchline after the intensity of the end sequence. Zoe Lund looks fabulously iconic throughout, and the setpieces are uniformly fantastic - highlights include a confrontation with some Warriors-esque thugs in Central Park, and of course the unforgettable final showdown at a packed Halloween party.
Much like The Warriors, Ms 45 uses the amoral backdrop of 80s New York to underscore the dangerous, almost Western like atmosphere - every dingy alley and corner is a potential hiding place for a thug, murderer, or rapist, and everybody else is either a deadbeat, a yuppie or a potential victim.
80s New York may have been a violent, crime-ridden hellhole, but at least it provided the inspiration for some great cinema: Ms 45 sits alongside The Warriors, Street Trash, After Hours, Escape from New York, and the Death Wish and Bronx Warriors films as movies that take the seedy atmosphere of the period and heighten it to a level of apocalyptic scuzz that borders on the fantastical.
Overall it's just a great, great film, and thanks again go to Cigarette Burns for turning me on to a new favourite that is inexplicably and tragically not currently available on DVD in the UK. I see that the whole film is on YouTube if you look for it, however, and it really is worth tracking down if you're a fan of exploitation, psychological thrillers, or just awesome cinema in general. Just don't expect the infamous 'Halloween party sax riff' to leave your head for the next hundred years or so.