Cineray Psychosis!

Hey horror fiends! Today’s double feature is a jump into the fractured dark psyches of seemingly normal people. As we have all seen on the news, it’s always the quiet ones. Ordinary people can sometimes harbor dark and horrible secrets not visible on the surface. From feelings of weakness to an inability to heal the damage of tragic events, some people are incredibly tortured. Eventually, the damn of sanity cracks and madness seeps through, ushering in pain and violence once thought unbelievable. With this in mind, I give you today’s Cineray double feature: Prano Bailey-Bond’s new film Censor and David Lynch’s classic Lost Highway.

Censor is a film with a tortured woman at its center. The film takes place in England in the 1980s when the British government was censoring “Video Nasties,” the name for the influx of horror movies that quickly made their way to video. In the same way that Rock music was often blamed for societal ills during this same era, horror movies were cited as the downfall of society. In the name of protecting children and the general public psyche, the movies labeled Video Nasties were either banned or made to undergo heavy edits to be available to the public. Enter our main character, Enid, played by Niamh Algar. 

Enid is one of the government censors who makes her living instructing production companies what to edit in their ‘questionable’ films. She and her coworkers ultimately decide what films are on the Nasties list, which ones are banned, and what constitutes immoral cinema. She is very good at her job, known at the office as one of the harshest censors on the job. She also looks and acts like the personification of a boring librarian. She has made her life about order and convenience. What we learn, however, is Enid lives like this because she is tormented by the loss of her younger sister Nina, who went missing when they were children. In one early scene, when Enid meets her parents for dinner, they tell her they have decided to declare her sister dead. This upsets Enid because she has never let go and is still convinced that her sister is alive somewhere, a grown woman who has forgotten her family. Amidst the chaos her parents’ decision inspires in her, Enid becomes infamous for passing the movie Deranged when a killing occurs that seems to take its cue from the film. Public outcry picks up quickly, and Enid’s name gets out as the one who passed the film.

Meanwhile, Enid is tasked with rating a new film, and this one seems to have been made about the incident in her past where Nina disappeared. Does the filmmaker know something? Did he take Nina? These events all coalesce, leading to Enid’s dark and violent future as she loses control of her sanity. 

Censor is a very well-made and acted film from an exciting young female director. It’s almost ironic that the film looks so polished when a major part of its focus is the low-budget horror movies available on video cassette during the 1980s. The film utilizes effects to make elements appear low in resolution, adding crackles and pops to highlight the psychic distress of our main character. The aspect ratio of the film also changes in very subtle but smart ways, toying with the ideas of what is real and what is not. Thankfully all of this is carried along by an excellent performance by Algar as Enid. She does an excellent job of portraying this damaged and sad woman who is slowly sinking into the madness of her grief. She delivers a feeling of barely repressed violence that bubbles just below a carefully crafted facade of public decency. Censor expertly portrays a troubled protagonist slowly sliding into madness. Parallels to this film and Saint Maud would be easy to make considering the progression of the main characters in the films. But despite the similarity to other recent films, our second film this week is another tale of madness caused by a lack of control in life. 

Lost Highway is a dark masterwork about a man battling for control in his life, including against his own psyche. Fred Madison is a jazz musician married to the beautiful Renee. One day he gets a videotape that shows a camera moving across the front of his home and then goes to static. The tape bothers him, but he is more concerned that his wife is having an affair at night while playing in clubs. More videos arrive every morning, with Fred and Renee becoming more troubled as the footage moves from the exterior of their home to the interior, finally showing them sleeping in their bed. 

One night the couple goes to a party thrown by a man Fred is certain Renee is cheating with, and Fred meets a pale man who terrifies him. The couple returns home that night, and Fred is frightened when he believes he sees an intruder. The following day a new tape arrives, and Fred is horrified to see it proceeds into the house and shows a crazed version of him over the bloodied dead body of Renee. 

Fred is tried and jailed and set to be executed for Renee’s murder. He begins to have headaches in his cell, and the next morning, the guards find a young mechanic named Pete Dayton with no memory of how he got there. Pete is released and returns to work. One client, in particular, is the violent gangster Mr. Eddy who likes Pete’s work on his car. Complications arise when Mr. Eddy’s girlfriend Alice, who looks like Renee with blond hair, flirts with Pete. They start an affair that will take Pete down a very dark road of self-discovery and madness. 

Lost Highway is a neo-noir masterpiece with horror elements by a director at the height of his powers. David Lynch has certainly done mind-bending stories about women in trouble before, but this is one of his films focusing on a male character who is both the hero and the villain. Bill Pullman and Balthazar Getty alternately play the main character at different times in the film and do a great job. It’s strange to explain, but they have to perform as two sides of the same coin. Both do well as a man whose life is beyond his own control. Patricia Arquette is great as Alice/Renee. She is a perfect femme fatale as a woman who is a victim of paranoia and alternately a manipulative monster. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Hollywood greats Robert Blake and Robert Loggia. Loggia steals almost every scene he is in with a frightening menace, and Blake is chilling as the pale stranger. I count one of his scenes among the greatest jump scares I have ever seen. 

Some would argue Lost Highway is not a horror movie, but I disagree. I have recommended this film to some people who have claimed it is too frightening to watch. To be clear, Lynch does not employ monsters or gory special effects. His terror is purely psychological; a deep underlying fear of the monsters we all keep at bay within the deep recesses of our minds and a fear that those monsters may eventually come forward. The worst thing in the dark is our own minds and the potential for evil they hold. 

 For those who enjoy this double feature and are looking for more films with this type of story, there have been many films made recently to watch. Films such as Saint Maud and The Lodge are slow-burn, psychological horror with a focus on young women crumbling under present stress aggravated by the trauma of past events. And for more Lynch terror there is Mulholland Drive, which feels a little like a female remake of Lost Highway but has so much of its own character and bizarre elements it’s absolutely worth a watch. The bad news for these two films is that there is no legal avenue to stream these films freely, they both either have to be rented or purchased on streaming. But that being said both of these films are worth owning.