Saturday, November 24, 2012

House of Psychotic Women: Interview with Kier-La Janisse

This Wednesday, November 28th, Kier-La Janisse is coming to Philadelphia to introduce her new book, House of Psychotic Women, and to screen the Spanish horror film Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll. Presented by Joseph Gervasi (of Exhumed Films and Diabolik DVD), the event will be held at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, a great new space that has had a lot of exciting film, art and music events in the last year. Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Carlos Aured, 1974) stars Paul Naschy and concerns a serial killer and three very odd sisters. Its alternative title, House of Psychotic Women, inspired the title for Janisse’s book. Doors are at 7:30 pm and the event is $8.

Janisse is extensively involved in the North American horror community. She’s been a contributing writer for Rue Morgue, Fangoria, Filmmaker and others, and has already published one book with horror/cult publishers FAB Press, A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi. She’s co-produced the documentary EUROCRIME! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ‘70s and been the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror. Janisse has programmed films at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest, at Canada’s CineMuerte horror film festival, etc. She edited Fantasia International Film Festival’s former online magazine Spectacular Optical and founded The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She also founded and curated the now-defunct Montreal film center, Blue Sunshine. Learn more about her at her personal site, Big Smash! Productions

House of Psychotic Women is an autobiographical study of female neurosis in horror and exploitation cinema. Probably the first book of its kind, House has been getting rave reviews and I’m very excited to read and review it myself. On Wednesday, Janisse will bring copies of her book to sell and will answer questions about it and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll

Janisse was kind enough to answer some questions about her book, recent film screenings and future projects. 

Satanic Pandemonium: How are you choosing films for your recent book tour/appearances? I believe all the screenings so far are covered in your book, but do you follow any other criteria?

Kier-La Janisse: So far all the films are things that are covered in the book, but there is some talk about doing it at some festivals tied in to new films that fit the theme, which I've discovered people are a lot more interested in than I had anticipated. A lot of times when I select the films, or give programmers a selection to choose from (it mostly tends to be a collaboration with the programmers for those venues, more so than me just being an outside curator), I'm looking for films that I feel don't get enough play on the big screen or that are representative of some of the major themes in the book: destructive familial/pseudo-familial relationships, overcoming childhood trauma, and the externalization of that trauma as a physical being or force. Or else, as in the case of The Entity, which I've selected for a few events, it relates directly to my retelling of a personal story in the book. Of course you also have to think about the draw of the film, so sometimes I don't pick certain films that are major entries in the book (Antichrist, Possession, The Piano Teacher) because they get frequent bookings for the big screen already, or have had their theatrical release too recently, which isn't as interesting for programmers as playing something rare.

SP: What are a few of your favorite films that you wrote about in House of Psychotic Women?

KJ: Well, The Piano Teacher for sure. Frighteningly, the character of Erica Kohut is one I can relate to a lot, and thinking about her keeps me in check. Obviously if I was just like her I wouldn't have written this book, but I do sometimes relate to the characters that are the most exaggerated reflections of my own issues. The Brood, Antichrist and Possession I think of as a triptych: they're really all the same film, and I love them all. I love The Haunting of Julia and Marnie. Marnie is totally fucked up, but very fun to write about. And Rebecca - actually one of my big regrets about the book is that I didn't cover more of the paranoid woman films from the ‘40s, but I just hadn't seen enough of them at the time. Films that have less to do with psychotic women but were in the book because of how they were important to me at a key age, like Born Innocent, Streetwise, Christiane F. and Out of the Blue, are also some of my favourites. And Toys Are Not For Children is completely disturbing and not very well known, so I'm programming that for an upcoming event at SF Indie. 

SP: As a fellow horror fan with a traumatic childhood, there were a few films that I saw at a relatively early age and really related to on that level. Many of them certainly fall within territory covered in your book, like The Stendhal Syndrome. Are there are films like this that affected you at an early age

KJ: Stendhal Syndrome came out when you were at an early age? Ha ha. I feel so old now. Well, Carrie was a big one. It's funny because although I talk in the book about relating to Carrie White, her mother is really the psychotic woman of the film. So the film's inclusion in the book is kid of two-fold. I read Carrie over and over again as a kid, I remember doing my book report on it multiple times throughout my schooling, all the way up to my graduating year! The Watcher in the Woods I found very scary, especially since it dealt with a missing girl named Karen, and that was the name of my sister who had run away from home. 

SP: You’ve become a pretty recognizable/well-known figure as a horror fan, writer and festival programmer. Can you talk a little about your overall experience being a woman within the mostly male-dominated horror genre?

KJ: I have?? Tell that to the distributors who don't call me back when I try to book films! Ha ha. Actually as far as my experience as a woman in the genre, the only time it ever even came up was one year at Fantastic Fest I had to be on the international team for their annual Fantastic Feud, and Paul McEvoy from Frightfest announced into the microphone in front of 300 people that our team had lost "because we have a girl on our team." I know now that he's not as bad as all that, but at the time I was furious. But other than that, I've never felt that anyone treated me differently. If anything, most of the male genre fans seem stoked when women accomplish things in the genre world.

SP: I’ve heard nothing but good things about your book so far. What kind of feedback have you been getting from horror fans?

KJ: I've only read a handful of reviews, which luckily have been good, but other than that, I sometimes see people recommending it on Facebook. Very few people have talked to me directly about it though - maybe it makes them uncomfortable. Some of my friends have told me they liked it, but I haven't heard much at all from people I don't know other than this handful of reviews I mentioned. BUT - Tim Lucas, who I don't really know personally but who's a genre legend from Video Watchdog and of course his mammoth Mario Bava book, raved about it on Facebook the day he got it in the mail, and that was stunning to me. That was a huge compliment to have Tim Lucas plug my book. Of course I'm still waiting for all the bad reviews from people who will think it's a self-indulgent pity-party, but I tried really hard to have some levity in the book so that it wouldn't come off that way. I definitely don't think my life has been as tough as some reviewers have made it out to be, but people adapt to different things I guess, it all depends on what you're used to. So it's been weird reading some reviews where people characterize my stepfather as a monster, but perhaps that's a failing in my writing that I don't convey enough how important he was to me. I would not be working in the genre now if it wasn't for him; despite our turbulent relationship he was the one who really made genre films a staple of my childhood. 

SP: What are your plans for the future, especially in terms of writing projects?

KJ: I have a few things I'm working on for other people's books - an essay on kids' horror films and children's spectatorship in the 1940s for a book called Fragments of the Monster: Recovering Forties Horror (being edited by Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare, Kristopher Woofter and Charlie Ellbe); working on some reviews and an essay for a book about Made-for-Television films that is being put out by Headpress, and I wrote an essay on Nelvana's The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Rock and Rule for a prospective Carlton University textbook which should come out next year. Aside from that, my own next book project will be called A Song From the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time (a line from The Devil and Daniel Mouse) about the effects of the counterculture era on children's programming, with a focus on the immediate post-counterculture years of the ‘70s, and going up through the ‘80s a bit. Basically just an excuse to spend the next few years watching fucked-up kids shows like Chocky

SP: I understand your small film venue, Blue Sunshine, was closed semi-recently. Do you miss it? And do you have any plans to do something similar in the future?

KJ: Well I loved Blue Sunshine, it was probably my best exercise in independent exhibition in terms of both personal fulfillment and community impact. Ultimately our overhead - rent and electricity - was too stifling; even when we went through months where almost every show was sold out we still somehow ended up in debt. But we were locked into a two-year lease, and so the cash flow just became more and more dire, and my partner and I were literally starving and selling our personal belongings just to make it through to the end of the lease. Once the lease was up, we were out of there - I think we could have made it work in a less expensive venue - we took on an expensive place for the central location and the fact that it was really well-maintained - but after the two years we were so burnt out form being broke that we needed time to recover. I don't know if I'll do it again - I do think it can work, but I've been doing it too long and put too much of my money into exhibition, now I want to just be one of the people that pays $5 to get in. Other people who aren't as jaded can take over where I left off, and in fact one of our former programmers and volunteers has started up something of his own called The Noah, so now I get to just go watch movies and not have to be the one putting it on.

Thanks so much, Kier-La! See you Wednesday. 

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