DAUGHTER OF HORROR (aka DEMENTIA) (1955)
Starring: Adrienne Barrett, Bruno VeSota, Ben Roseman, Angelo Rossitto
Directed & Written by John Parker
A weird horror/surrealist art film/noir hybrid, DAUGHTER OF HORROR (originally DEMENTIA) from 1955 is a quasi-Expressionist oddity, probably most famous as the film being watched in THE BLOB when the creature attacks the crowd, this is one strange bird. A voice (a mocking, omniscient voice-over from none other than a young Ed McMahon) speaks to us of madness over a night-dark cityscape and shows us a dingy room in an apartment building where an attractive young woman in black (the titular “Daughter”, played by Adrienne Barrett) frets on her bed while experiencing a dream (an empty beach, an engulfing wave). Awakening, and removing a large switchblade from a drawer, she proceeds to make her way through the darkened city streets, moving among the dregs of society and strange, threatening figures (lunging drunks, vicious cops, a dwarf selling newspapers) before being buttonholed by a slick looking sharpie (a pimp?) who “introduces” her to a fat rich man in a big limousine (very Orson Welles). They end up back at his ritzy apartment where, when he finally deigns to touch her, she proceeds to stab him and throw him from the balcony. Then it’s pursuit through the eternal Noir City nightscape (grasping the man’s severed hand, which clutches her necklace – a clue to her identity), chased by a detective who exactly resembles her Father (seen in an earlier dream sequence wherein she commits patricide) until she finds refuge (or does she?) in a seedy basement beatnik jazz joint (“a drug dream of forgetfulness”) featuring jazz music by Shorty Rogers & His Giants (“new concepts in modern sounds!”). It all finally collapses into a threatening nightmare, topped with a bit of gruesome imagery…
“like something you groggily awake to in the wee hours, the television flickering some strange Midnight Horror Show….”
While never a traditional “horror” film, DOH touches on many images and concepts resonant with the genre, at varied pointes bringing to mind CARNIVAL OF SOULS, David Lynch films, those cityscape backdrops used as fade-outs in some original TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, various noir films, UN CHIEN ANDALOU, even Roger Corman’s BLOOD BATH. I would also make the argument that it’s very like an episode of old time radio shows like INNER SANCTUM and THE WHISTLER, brought to film – did I mention that there’s no dialogue, just the creepy, omniscient narrator and the eerie, unrelenting music of avant-garde/futurist composer George Anthiel?
The mocking voice rambles on about insanity (“guilty, guilty, guilty!!” “Run, run, run!”) as surrealist imagery (like an empty beach straight out of Dali, a severed hand in a flower basket, a dead man thrust through a barred window, a newspaper headline screams MYSTERIOUS STABBING!) haunt our Daughter’s every move. A figure with a black face (her “demon”) guides her through dreams of her past, and black/blank-faced figures (“ghouls of insanity”) in an alley stand mute witness to the rich man’s corpse. A sequence of pursuit through darkened streets by a probing, inescapable police spotlight is particularly nightmarish. Have I mentioned the movie is only 60 minutes long?
The film promises to take us into “the mind of a woman who is mad” and it certainly seems to do that, the action occupying some weird, nightmarish nether-zone where our main character is alternatively panicked or smug/sardonically haughty, reacting to the scenes of degradation around her with mocking laughter (the tenant below her abuses his wife, a cop beats a drunk bloody while both laugh at the man’s pain – even the servant of the rich man laughs at his master’s murder) as she moves through the night. It is a world occupied by sinners and greedy, violent sensualists (herself included) and feels like something you groggily awake to in the wee hours, the television flickering some strange Midnight Horror Show only half-remembered, before dropping off again to sleep. Available on YouTube if that sounds like your bag!