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Reviews and Commentary:

Deleted Scenes

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Review

Murder as a form of artistic expression?

By Alexandra Galitsyna, (Deutche Kino Bewertung, Berlin, 2016-04-18)

Deleted Scenes, a serial killer's video journal

Director: R.C. Hörsch (aka Ich Bin Niemand)
Producer: S.E. Stokowski
Cinema Menteur, IMC / Eroto~
116 minutes, 16:9 HD 1080

 

Deleted Scenes is, perhaps, the most unusual film I have seen in a very long time. It might also be the best. However, there are serious caveats and qualifications.

First of all, it is not a film for everyone.

Having watched it several times, I’m still not sure exactly what it is. I would hesitate even to call it entertainment. It is highly experimental in content, structure and execution. It is very intense and powerful and not always in a good way. It is slow paced but compelling in the schadenfreude sense of a spectacular train wreck. It is sometimes poetic but often grotesque; alternately convoluted and brutally direct. It is a film that is survived more than watched

It is very well made and visually striking despite the fact that it was shot over a period of fifteen years, almost entirely without a crew of any kind. It is structured like a piece of baroque music and ultimately coherent despite the fact that it was entirely improvised with no script. It is very well acted (assuming the participants are, in fact, acting) with no professional actors. It is disturbingly hyper-realistic. Critic A.D. Coleman, has described Hörsch and the group of a dozen or so women he regularly works with as a performance troupe, interchangeably recording and inventing their reality, and this film derives much of its power from the fact that it is sometimes impossible to separate what may have actually happened from what was staged.

It is also like nothing else. It fits no genre. By my count, it is made up of about fifty short film clips, almost all of which can stand alone but that together tell a story. It is an approximate sequel and continuation of the 1973 quasi-documentary, Slaves (also difficult to characterize), which over the years has attracted a minor cult following; part horror film (Frankenstein with a very unusual monster); part portrait of a psychopathic serial killer; part mystery film with little mystery; part crime film with no cops; part twisted, demented love story; part treatise on abnormal psychology; part slasher film with strange, often willing and co-operative victims; and a sexually deviant and explicit film that is somehow not pornography. The main female character is totally naked throughout the entire film and this somehow seems natural. The sociopathic artist almost convincingly claims to kill out of artistic expression, love and devotion and, even more strangely, his victims often agree. In almost every scene, common, universal moral and social assumptions are turned on their head. In Slaves, for example, there is a remarkable scene in which one of the slaves controls and directs her own brutal, bloody beating. In this film, after torturing a woman into catatonic submission, the killer perversely observes, “...when a woman will do anything for the happiness of another [him], isn’t that called love?” Almost every scene offers similarly grotesque inversions of common perception, which, because the narrator is insane, often seem deceptively logical and even normal.

Do I recommend this film? Well, yes in the sense that it is conceivably a masterwork that will stand the test of time and no because it is not socially acceptable in either content or execution, will be understood by few, and will never be shown in theaters or on any mainstream media.

(The opening title card contains a warning that should be heeded: “This film contains explicit verbal and visual depictions and discussions of sexual and emotional abuse with themes of sado-masochism, rape and murder. If you are not of legal majority in your jurisdiction or if you are emotionally or mentally immature or otherwise feel that you may be offended, do not watch this film.”)

 

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Review

By Paul Hanson, Independent Film Review, July 2016

Deleted Scenes, a serial killer's video journal

Director: R.C. Hörsch (aka Ich Bin Niemand)
Producer: S.E. Stokowski
Cinema Menteur, IMC / Eroto~
116 minutes, 16:9 HD 1080

 

Deleted Scenes is what might be called a psycho-sexual horror film. It is described by its producer, S.E. Stokowski, as a continuation and sequel to R.C. Hörsch’s 1973 film, Slaves and it reprises several of that film’s characters, most notably the sociopathic artist played by R.C. and two of the slaves of the title: Samantha, played by Amy McHale and the young, nubile Cecilia, played by Suzanne McElvenney. Stokowski further describes the film as “an experimental, unconventional story told almost exclusively from the viewpoint of a deeply disturbed, sociopathic serial killer ..a video journal of ...increasingly chaotic fragments of the killer’s mind ...a graphic, violent, sexual and psychological horror story about obsession, rape, torture, sadism, death and insanity ...and also a twisted, convoluted love story about people totally incapable of love.” I don’t think I could improve much on that synopsis and won’t try.

It is composed of about fifty short, self-contained, vignettes (the deleted scenes of the title) structured like a piece of baroque music in a combination of developing and recurring motifs. The main theme is that of the narrator, a sociopathic artist who relentlessly documents and rationalizes his devolvement into a murderous psychopath. Along the way he successfully attempts (a la Frankenstein) the creation of a perfect sexual partner and slave. Also, as in Shelly’s  masterpiece, his creation is initially pure and naive. However, here the creator is himself a monster, and his beautiful creation eventually becomes the embodiment of that evil. If there is a message or moral, it is that violence begets violence and evil spawns evil.

Technically and artistically, the film is very good considering the conditions under which it was made. Its slightly rough, quasi-documentary feel actually enhances the fact that it was shot over a period of fifteen years and embodies everything from old interlaced VHS video to more modern high definition formats.

Hörsch is unusual in that his films are built on a cohesive theme but are otherwise unscripted. He reportedly shoots and assembles the pieces first and only then creates the whole. Like his other films, Deleted Scenes is an intense collaboration between himself and the other actors who mostly improvise; interchangeably filling roles both before and behind the camera and filming themselves without benefit of any crew. What is even more unusual is that this collaboration and improvisation works and is undetectable in the final result.

Almost every horror film trope is violated or stood on its head. The main character progresses from a kind-of empathetic, Kevorkian style mercy killer to a total psychopath who rationalizes murder as his artistic right and harbors absolutely no desire to stop or to be caught. And contrary to the stereotyped psychopath, he does not depersonalize his victims and often rationalizes their death as a sort of “loving sacrifice” for his sexual gratification and art. There is no one dedicated to his capture and none of the cat-and-mouse detective drama. In fact, the world seems completely unaware of both him and his deeds. The victims, for the most part, are not whimpering, helpless girls. All are portrayed with some degree of depth and a few even willingly cooperate in their own demise. The female monster is (and remains) physically beautiful and is no grotesque caricature. And, finally, while the violence is explicit, sexual and bloody, it is never gratuitous.

As an actor, Hörsch, plays a convincing psychopath and is often the subject of his own films and books. This is not meant as a complaint. He is no narcissist and the very best art is always intensely personal. But in Hörsch’s case, it’s hard to draw a firm line between fact and fiction. Hopefully, there actually is such a line and, in the instance of this film, he is not an actual serial killer. (I feel compelled to note that I’ve met several of his collaborators and models and they are all very much alive and tend to describe him as a kind, loving person and a good friend but not necessarily someone they would introduce to their parents.)

The female lead, Suzanne McElvenney, is absolutely brilliant in her understated dual roles as both the monster and the monster’s bride despite the fact that she has almost no dialog and plays both roles completely (but appropriately) naked. During the film, she devolves from a beautiful, innocent young girl to an equally beautiful, bone-chilling, quietly psychotic monster. Regrettably, except for her cameo in Slaves, this seems to be the only film she ever made.

* * * * *

Whether or not I would recommend Deleted Scenes is a kind-of trick question.

If you are looking for easy, watchable entertainment; if you are looking for a blood and gore slasher flick; if you are looking for the super-natural and occult; if you are looking for gripping mystery and suspense; and even if you are looking for traditional horror, then Deleted Scenes is probably not for you.

This film is simply different.

There are many memorable portrayals of psychopaths. Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lechter and Jack Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy  (or Jack Torrance) are at the top of a very long list. However, in all of these portrayals, insanity is usually viewed from the outside and we watch from our presumably sane viewpoint. But with Deleted Scenes, we are completely inside the insane mind with no stabilizing point of reference and see only through insane eyes and, frankly, this is not a very nice or comfortable place to be. But it is a very interesting place. Hörsch’s artist does not think as we do. To him, murder is just another means of expression. To him, there is no guilt and no remorse. To him, insanity is normal. He looks into a distorted fun house mirror and describes straight lines. Deleted Scenes requires work and no small amount of concentration on the part of the viewer. To me, the experience was well worth the effort. So far, I have watched it three times and, each time, discovered more depth and nuance.

* * * * *

Hörsch, himself, is an artist obsessed with the darker aspects of sexuality. His fifteen year study of heroin addicted street prostitutes, for example, tenderly depicts them as individual human beings rather than objects. He paradoxically tends to find beauty in horror and nobility in degradation. The prequel to this film, Slaves, investigated seven women who voluntarily enter into sexual slavery. This very idea (voluntary slavery) is incomprehensible to most and, although a minor cult classic in some respects, Slaves has been largely labeled as pornography and, as with Hörsch himself, marginalized. Deleted Scenes is an equally serious investigation of pathology and since it has much less explicit sexual content, might have a better chance at mainstream acceptance.

But I’m not holding my breath. There is a wonderfully horrific scene in which the killer, not yet a complete psychopath, kills a former lover. It’s clear that she loves him and that he still loves her and that he kills only at her own request. The character, Samantha from the Slaves film (Amy McHale), has slipped deeply back into heroin addiction and prostitution. She wants to end her life but is too weak to do it herself. He fulfills an old promise that he would help her if and when her pain became too much for her to bear. She is lovingly presenting a final gift by performing one last act of fellatio when he quickly and mercifully snaps her neck. That few seconds of quiet, beautiful and graphic sex is absolutely necessary to the entire scene. It is in no way gratuitous and not remotely pornographic but nevertheless is sadly enough to prevent meaningful exhibition and distribution of the film. But if the past informs the future, Hörsch will never cut that, or any other, scene.

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