Far more well known for his sprawling ensemble casts and “maverick” style of film making, Robert Altman (MASH, Shortcuts, Nashville, Gosford Park) did cover a lot of genres in his career, including “psychological horror” — well evident in his 1972 film Images.
This film stars Susannah York, a very talented British actress of many films, including one of my favourites, The Shout amongst many others such as The Killing of Sister George, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and so on.
Sometimes I get in patterns where I’ll watch a film directed or starred in by a particular person, in this case Susannah York, and then watch several others soon after with the same person, often discovering a film I wasn’t really aware of before, like this one.
York stars as Cathryn, an author of children’s books who is married to, Hugh, a professional photographer (played by René Auberjonois) who is often out and travelling for business and photo shoots. Right from the start the atmosphere of this film is very on edge and claustrophic — not only by a odd phone call see receives from what is apparently a stranger telling her of rumours of her husband’s infidelity, but also the soundtrack. This was an earlier film scored by John Williams sounds very different than the more orchestral compositions he did for Star Wars, perhaps even somewhat “industrial” sounding — lots of atonal bells, chimes, overblown woodwinds and what sounds like bowed metal making for a very brooding, creepy undertone that runs through the whole film.
This strange phone call is the start of a mental unravelling for Cathryn who starts to have numerous strange hallucinations, including her real husband and her previous husband (now dead) constantly interchanging in front of her eyes amongst other subtle oddities. Hugh suggests they retreat to a country home in rural Ireland for a while to relax things a bit but this just amplifies things.
Some really good use of light and transitions as far as cinematography goes in this film — really interesting on the eyes and when paired up with the atonal, experimental nature of the music makes this relatively simple story about a woman having a mental breakdown all that more frightening and harrowing, putting the PSYCHO into “psychological horror”.
I’m never one to give away the plot in these synopsises (ie: go watch it yourself) but things continue getting stranger, including Cathryn more and more regularly seeing a doppelgänger of herself creeping about on the hills and countryside about their holiday home. And things in this film do not end well.
I probably should watch it again as I’m writing this a couple of months after watching it for the first time so it’s not totally fresh on mind. This is one of those films that I’ll probably pick up a lot more things I didn’t notice the first time around.