FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 12, 2023

Day 12 - "Oh, I am a ghost."

I will admit right here in front of the tens of you reading this that I have seen woefully few Robert Altman films. I will go on to admit that of the few I have seen, they haven't all thrilled me. I found Quintet (1979) to be a dull, turgid mess. Let me risk being banned from ever talking about movies again when I say that I respect Nashville (1975) more than I actually enjoy it, although I'm willing to accept that I might simply need to see it again. But man, when I jive with whatever he's putting out, we are a match made in heaven. 3 Women (1977) is an all-time favorite, and I might just find myself in agreement with the lone reader who voted for Altman's only horror film Images (1972) because hot dang, it knocked my socks and my wig right off.

Cathryn (Susannah York) is a writer of children's novels who retreats to the damp Irish countryside with her husband Hugh (Rene Auberjonois) after receiving a series of disturbing phone calls from a woman who accuses Hugh of having an affair. As the couple draws nearer to their cottage, they make a pitstop. Hugh runs off to hunt some quail, and in a deeply unsettling scene, Cathryn watches...well, she watches herself arriving at the house, and this second self watches her up on the hillside. 

Here, Images does the unexpected thing by switching things up, pulling the rug out, and following this second Cathryn. She is increasingly a woman on the edge, battling both mentally and physically against hallucinations of past lovers, her present spouse, and even herself, before things get even more complicated with the arrival of a former lover and his daughter, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Cathryn. Things spiral as the two Cathryns are drawn inexorably closer to one another.

We've perhaps seen this kind of thing before (did this character kill character one only to find out they'd actually killed character two? or maybe they didn't kill anyone at all?) but Altman approaches these ideas masterfully, keeping us guessing--sometimes, along with Cathryn--at what's real. It's riveting, thanks in large part to York's layered performance, which thankfully steers away from histrionics and keeps things grounded even as we're unsure if Cathryn is taking control of her madness or merely succumbing to it.

Images is a slippery film, one that may take multiple viewings to "get," but that doesn't mean it's inaccessible. It just exists in its own kind of dream logic, and hey, maybe it's best to let yourself experience that, you know? Sometimes it's great fun to pull at every dangling thread of a film, analyzing every line and frame (*cough* Suspiritober 2019, anyone?), and sometimes it's greater fun to kind of sit in it and let a movie be. I truly love (and am prone to) getting wrapped up in "Okay, but what does this mean?" with the majority of horror films I watch, no matter how hollow or junky they may be. But I find it's an even bigger treat when I'm confronted with a story that's practically begging to be dissected--Picnic at Hanging Rock, for example--and I simply don't want or care to. 

Make no mistake, Images is definitely begging to be dissected. Just take a gander at these credits!

As with 3 Women, I see where I could bust out several skeins of red string and start making all kinds of connections as I interpret and infer and analyze my heart out. But also as with 3 Women, I think I'll be content to watch Images time and again, fully enraptured by its strange, eerie world.


Jason Adams said...

Oh yes love IMAGES! That said I have only seen it once and that was several years ago. But I felt it in my gut when you showed that series of images where York watches herself from the hilltop. Just stellar stuff. Def one I should revisit this spooky season. Incredible vibes.

Richard said...

We saw The Shout, which also features Susannah York, a few weeks ago. She's perfect in these weird dreamy "did that happen?" movies.

Stacie Ponder said...

@Jason--that scene was SO UNNERVING! I'm not sure if it was simply the way it was shot, how unexpected it was, or Stomu Yamashta's spooky sfx or all three or what, but I actually gasped haha

@Hors--Somehow I'd never heard of or seen The Shout but having just watched the trailer, now I must. Looks weird and what a cast!

Geeeeez I loved Images! I'm watching it again on the next soggy day that comes along.

Steve K said...

My introduction to Altman was in 1980, when my mom dropped my 13-year-old-self off at the theater to see H.E.A.L.T.H. because I loved Carol Burnett. I was the only person in the theater. I was also baffled because it wasn't comedy in the way I was used to comedy. But because this movie has been buried and is really hard to find, I'm one of the few people I know who's actually seen it (even though I barely remember it). I would love to have the opportunity to see it again.

I know 3 Women isn't a horror film per se, but some of the scenes between Duvall and Spacek feel to me like they're almost horror, especially when Pinky sort of SWFs Millie, personality-wise.

SHOCKTOBER is proving useful because I'd never heard of Images and now I have another one for my list.

Marty said...

This sounds similar to 2009's "Triangle". I'll give it a looksee!

Stacie Ponder said...

Final Girl readers have exquisite taste *nail polish emoji* and so it's a delight to dive into that huge list of favorite films, that's for sure. So many great movies to discover, I'm loving it.

Riccardo said...

I'm glad this came back to my attention. I saw it four decades ago when I was, like, 16 or 17 and I may have found it "interesting" but there's more here than that on second watch. It's hard for me now not to see it as a gender swap of Bergman's "Hour of the Wolf" (which surprised me when it appeared on people's SHOCKtober lists over the years since it never occurred to me that it was a horror film), but "Hour" keeps its distance by focusing on the lover (Liv Ullman) of the artist descending into madness (Max von Sydow) and he never seems to actively fight his downward spiral as Cathryn does in this movie. Though which is worse? Fighting and losing or not fighting and losing? Maybe I should watch "Hour of the Wolf" again.

I saw "The Shout" back when it was making the art house circuit. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's based on a short story that does make more sense, IIRC.

@SteveK: HealtH/Health/H.E.A.L.T.H. may be my favorite Altman film. I watched it many times on pay TV in the early 1980s and even made a cassette of the audio track (pre-VCR). It was an early screen role for Alfre Woodard and she steals the show every time she's on screen.

Nicholas Kaufmann said...

This sounds really good! I have to hunt this movie down!