Welcome to the third day of this madness. Tomorrow I fly to Valdivia, to the south of Chile, to attend the Valdivia Film Festival, which I will cover for a couple of places. So, besides doing this madness inducing countdown of watching a horror film a day, I’m also watching what will probably be among the best films of the year. Today, to talk about something that is going on in the present, is also the first day in which we divert from our classic template of the Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness, as today’s film is ‘Sleepaway Camp’ (1983), a slasher trashy film that I’ve already seen a long time ago, and for those uninitiated I think the video that was done for today (which you can watch here) is the perfect introduction and decisive information for those to decide if they actually want to see this movie or not. I personally acknowledge its importance, I think that it’s exploitative and sometimes a bit ridiculous in its portrayals of youngsters and idiocy, and I much prefer other slasher movies, but the ending is indeed a haunting one that it’s still controversial til this day. So, considering that yesterday’s film was released in 1959, my list makes me jump to 1960, where this French film is what we’ve had to see today, a film that I’ve been meaning to see since I started my film obsession, but I never truly managed to find it, until today, that I’m forced to see it. What will I think? Read on.
It’s been a while, but I am glad to say that I welcome a perfect score in the October Overlook Madness, those that are reserved for the true masterpieces of the genre, as this one is. Here we are filling the empty spaces in my film watching of horror, trying to think that maybe we’re not missing any great film, when we are surprised once and again about the abundance of great cinema and the impressive images that it can conjure when you start looking at the right places. Georges Franju creates images that rival those of Bresson through the simple means of adapting to the horror that was written in a novel and making it literal, horrifying and yet at the same time oddly familiar and beautiful. This is, more than in any other horror film, a representation of true love; the father that lovingly tries hard to have a new face for his daughter; the love of the daughter for his boyfriend, whom she calls even she is supposedly dead to him; the love between assistant and professor, mute, unresolved, but felt, present in every situation in which they are together. Curious it is that faces are the first presentation that we have of ourselves and not our personality (even to this day, in a world of words and electronic distance, our face is still our best presentation card), and that’s what missing in Christiane, our protagonist played by Edith Scob, that after an accident must be confronted with this world of loveless repercussions for her and those around her, as love seems impossible to happen with her faceless expression (she is a recluse in her house, forced to wear a blank mask, as well as dead to everyone that knows her besides her father and his assistant), as it is also a field and an opportunity to love herself, which is best represented in a scene in which she announces her desire to kill herself.
One can clearly see Edith Scob feeling and breathing her performance through the mask, as she can clearly present her state of mind only through her eyes and the deformations of the material from which the mask is made, we can “see” the rhythm of her breath and how deep it is, and thus we feel how desperate she is about her situation, as well as how oblivious her father truly is regarding to the feelings of her, specially when we seem to rarely see them together except when it’s in a medical context: he doesn’t come near her when she’s wearing the mask unless he is operating, and the only time we see them interact in an amiable way was when she, for a moment, has a new face of her own, but that emotion is quietly destroyed when he realizes that the operation has failed and that the face will slowly decay, and she has to wear the mask once again, and we don’t see them together again until he is starting a new operation. But we do know that there is more than the obsession of the father, as well as a disappointment for himself regarding his aptitudes, his talent, and his own mistrust regarding his daughter, he is conflicted with his own inability to do things right and the obsession with the skin transplant that would make him famous even if he “has done some bad things”, on his own words, to get where he is at that moment, it is with those things that we know that there is a true love that can’t wait to be fully expressed once he triumphs, but until then he feels unworthy of feeling it, as he has failed his daughter way too many times. Thus, it becomes a movie about the quiet and untold love between father and daughter. Unexpectedly deep for a movie that was labeled as trash when it came out.
There are some inedible images here, as it’s one that doesn’t shy away from such wonders as the slow decay of the skin, which we see through stills, in an almost medical and documentary approach that Franju knew how to perfect. The coldness of the sequence also talks a lot about how impossible is to have feelings in that relation, as it turns into something more professional but not because of wanting to make the problems disappear, but because they must become visible for them to be solved. The film kinda works like a proto-slasher at times, but one that doesn’t have a killer as much as a chaser, with the strange and never fully developed character of the female assistant, and when I say that she’s never fully developed I say this in the most positive way, as Franju gives way to the audience to write her in as whatever they think that she can be, as she is a blank slate but at the same time filled with complex and contradictory moments so that one can understand for themselves what she’s all about, or who she really is. There are moments where the plot becomes less interesting, but Franju manages to salvage it by making the characters likable, even the police and the investigators, that through their attitudes and voices become instantly warm when they appear to “solve” things, which aren’t necessarily solved, but that need to be anyway to have some sort of closure, that they never achieve anyway. Franju dances around the precepts and the expected, and gives us a final sequence that resolves the emotions and that’s all it matters.