August 7, 1965 [The Beast That Killed Women]

Certain movie theaters ought to have a sign out front like the legend on the blank spaces of old maps: “Here be monsters.” They squat in a strange downtown land, where everyone is lost, lonely, or vicious--teenage dolls, boy slaves, jungle women, Lucky Pierres and Nature’s Playmates, two thousand maniacs running wild, the scum of the earth enjoying their blood feast and saving Hitler’s brain. Such movies promise long after midnight to provide the hesitant, half-admitted, guiltiest pleasures of my life in movies.

Of course, the actual experience of watching one of them is not often as, ahem, satisfying as I'd hoped. After all, there is something quintessentially adolescent about the impulse to seek out movies with titles like Orgy of the Dead, Anatomy of a Psycho, or The Rebel Set ("Today's Big Jolt about the Beatnik Jungle!").

But it is precisely this “sinister urge” that drives me back to them, certain that this time things will be different, this time I'm going to be plunged into deep waters, a blurry dreamworld of the id, where all the silly excesses of these humid little movies will wilt under the high-contrast glare of the sudden lurching fulfillment of cinema's persistent promise: a glimpse of the First Image, in which self and society disappear into the secret garden of almost-emergent tender shoots, irresistibly vague but pure.

But so often it’s only stuff and nonsense. The people who actually make these things are simply sticking their stubby little fingers into the movies’ shallower, greasier peepholes, and their dogged desire to cash in makes their films as empty as their big-budget counterparts', both so cynical in their intents that they have no room for any persistent images.

--Unless I make them persist. I watched The Beast That Killed Women, a nudist camp “thriller” whose actual intent is merely to provide redundant semi-nudity, mostly women who sit on the ground together, huddle in bunk beds together, or play endless games of volleyball--and in general initiate the undulatory effect attendant upon reaching for objects--beach towels, board games--that have been inexplicably placed atop walls and high shelves. And most of all something I can call with Continental delicacy la promenade en deshabille, in which figures pass the unmoving camera so that the viewer can receive a flat, semi-unobstructed perspective as they saunter by.

It is here, in the promenade, that I catch a whispered hint of this cinema's hold on me. The women (and men--but they are incidental, often wearing swim trunks, in-camera observers, so to speak, of the women) walk away from the camera and make their way over a small hill or behind some foliage--or toward the camera--filmed from the waist up, or at such an angle that we cannot visit the Netherlands, if I may be discreet. These shots are so nonchalant, and so often repeated, that the fact of voyeurism is absolutely exposed (the entendres just keep doubling). No metaphors remain to provide ironic (let alone erotic) distance, no mediator separates the watcher from the intent to watch.

And watching this movie myself, I wondered at what point in my life would I not have been bored by these scenes. And that of course would have been in adolescence. At twelve or so, I would have recognized the promenade as the film’s center (the kinetic dynamics of volleyball notwithstanding), the plot all but a distraction.

Because the promenade of course is the plot, if "plot" equals "point." And, as I watched the three or four promenades of The Beast That Killed Women, I found myself passing beyond boredom and into that dimly lit, quiet place, where my libidinal instincts look up at me from the bottom of Time's hill--like the small rise of the promenade, reminding me that we all climb the hill, with the shadowed low place at the bottom--from which I observe the rise: my own pubescent promenade, the necessary circuit; but I swear the hill gets higher every time I climb it, and all I can hope is that I get stronger with every attempt. After all, there’s nothing like a nice walk.


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