Horror, The Universal Language 4: Freedom vs. Conformity in Blind Beast (1969) & Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 17, 2010 11:52pm | Post a Comment

Halloween's coming, so why not continue with my horror double-feature suggestions? Although based on an early 1930s story by Edogawa RampoBlind Beast can be seen as Yasuzo Masumura's inverted take on John Fowles' abduction classic The Collector (made into a 1965 movie by William Wyler, which might've been recommended here if it were a better adaptation). Fowles' book is about class and the empty exercise of capital, in which an alienated office clerk moves up the economic ladder by winning the lottery, but remains on the outside looking in. His only passions are in the form of commodity fetishism: collecting butterflies and fantasizing about a beautiful young female artist whom he obsessively watches from afar. He uses his newfound wealth to kidnap and imprison her with the hopes that she'll discover who he truly is, you know, on the inside. But what he is is nothing more than a guy who collects things, with no more connection to those things than that they fulfill some mental checklist. His is a life reduced to reification where an emotional bond is seen as two stamps being placed together in a book.

In Blind Beast, the kidnapper, Aki, is a blind sculptor who poses as a masseur in order to get tactile inspiration for his art, surrealistic walls of female body parts. Being a sadist, Aki finds his perfect model, Michio, a woman who begins as his victim, but with the transgressive sexualization of pain (or, perhaps, the Stockholm Syndrome) is transformed into a willing masochist. As Luis Buñuel explained his attraction to surrealism:

For the first time in my life, I'd come into contact with a coherent moral system that, as far as I could tell, had no flaws. It was an aggressive morality based on the complete rejection of all existing values. We had other criteria: we exalted passion, mystification, black humor, the insult, and the call of the abyss. Inside this new territory, all our thoughts and actions seemed justifiable; there was simply no room for doubt. Everything made sense. Our morality may have been more demanding and more dangerous than the prevailing order, but it was also stronger, richer, more coherent. -- quoted here

Whereas The Collector's Frederick never sees his captive as more than an object, thereby reinforcing his own alienation, Michio's abduction is cause for an aesthetic release from objectifying social restrictions. In a spiraling dialectic of slicing and dicing, she and Aki achieve an intersubjective bond through sensuousness (more painful than I'd prefer, but you get the picture).

There are three good variations on Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers, but the best is Don Siegel's from 1956, due in no small part to Kevin McCarthy as Miles Bennell, the doctor who discovers something's amiss with the neighbors. With a Cold War sweat constantly pouring out of him, he's the panicking embodiment of middle America's fear of atomic bombs and communist infiltration. His rapid sideways glances keep the viewer feeling anxious for the film's duration. The alien collectivist consciousness that each stolen body is mentally linked to and controlled by suggests an extreme version of Orwellian totalitarianism (the goal of the ideologically pure language Newspeak was, if you'll recall, to rid the individual of the ability to think outside the mandated system). So, on the one hand, the film is, as oft-noted, a critique of communism. But, on the other, there's the auto-critique implicit in the way the possessed Americans are difficult to distinguish from their unpossessed counterparts. In other words, the real horror is that there might be no difference between what most do with their supposed freedom and living in a totally administered society.

When there's nothing left of moral behavior but habit, the perversity of surrealism and Blind Beast becomes paradoxically a moral act in defiance of the totalizing will. From 1984, consider Winston's reaction to Julia's admission that she'd slept with so many Party members:

His heart lept. Scores of times she had done it; he wished it had been hundreds -- thousands. Anything that hinted at corruption always filled him with a wild hope. Who knew? Perhaps the Party was rotten under the surface, its cult of strenuousness and self-denial simply a sham concealing iniquity. If he could have infected the whole lot of them with leprosy or syphilis, how gladly he would have done so! Anything to rot, to weaken, to undermine! -- p. 127-8

As two dead perverts, Aki and Mishio are libidinal martyrs for Miles and Winston's cause.

Blind Beast is available on a fine DVD from Fantoma. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is available on a serviceable DVD. Philip Kaufman's 1978 version featuring a man's head on a dog that gave me nightmares as a kid is now out on blu-ray. And Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers (1993) is out of print, but should be fairly cheap used.

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