‘Germ,’ a Horror Short Story

[SEXUAL CONTENT]

Vera crouched in the shower stall, trembling in fear as the water sprayed down on her bruised body. In her mind, she replayed the beating she’d got from Bob, her pimp.

“Only two hundred bucks?” he’d said after thumbing through the bills in her bedroom.

“Business was slow tonight,” she’d said in a shaky voice.

“You had at least four men in here today, probably five or six,” he’d said, scowling at her. “You may not be all that great-looking anymore, but you’re good for more customers that this. You’re holding out on me again, aren’t you? Empty your purse!”

She’d done so. There were at least one thousand dollars from that day alone. Now she was really shaking.

“Bitch, you never learn!” he’d said, followed immediately by the first punch, to her jaw on the lower left side.

As she shook remembering each punch to her face, shoulders, and chest, she never noticed a tiny green splat, no bigger than the tip of her index finger, go from a tile next to the shower drain, up her right foot, then her ankle, calf, knee, upper leg, and finally deep inside her vagina.

It never tickled or anything; it felt no different than the water soaking her body.

She did notice, however, and about ten seconds later, a strange, warm, vibrating feeling all over her body. It was surprising, but it felt good, soothing. The pain from her beating faded away.

She looked down at where the bruises had been on her chest, two of them, each just above a breast.

They were gone.

Her breasts were bigger, rounder, and firmer, too. Her hairy pubes were replaced by a landing strip.

“Holy shit,” she whispered.

Now with a new energy, she got up on her feet and quickly began running a lather all over herself. As she’d been soaping up her face, she felt no cut just below her lip on the left.

Once she was clean and rinsed off, she got out of the shower stall, towelled herself off, and ran out of the bathroom to find her bedroom mirror, a tall one giving her a full view of her body, from her head to her toes.

She examined her entire body, turning around and eyeing every inch of her skin. No cuts, no bruises…

…and no imperfections from ageing.

“What…the…hell?” she gasped, with agape eyes.

This 38-year-old woman now had the body of a 22-year-old porn star.

She couldn’t explain it.

She couldn’t stop grinning, either.

*********

All tarted up in a tight-fitting red dress to show off her new figure, Vera was out on the streets again, hoping to make a huge ton of cash all at once, to speed up her savings so she could leave this town and Bob forever.

Maybe she’d even find a good man and never have to hook again.

Someone like Derek.

Over the next several hours, she’d had two johns, a nice one and a bad one, this second one having worn a tacky pink paisley shirt. His attitude towards women was as bad as his taste in clothes, for he’d aggressively fucked her so it hurt inside; he also enjoyed slapping her around as he fucked her.

He left her apartment in a hurry, having never taken off his clothes for the sex. He’d unzipped himself, whipped it out, slipped on a condom, done her, pulled off the condom, zipped himself up, paid her, then ran off.

“Bastard,” she hissed after he’d slammed the door behind him.

All the pain from each of his slaps went away seconds after she got them; her vaginal pain disappeared by the time he’d left, too.

Wow, she thought. What is this super-power I’ve got? Is there an angel above who’s pitying me?

Ten minutes later, she was back on the street and, about twenty minutes after that, she found another john.

“Lookin’ for some action?” she asked him.

“Sure do,” he said, smiling and approaching. “How much for…?”

He was interrupted by a grunting sound coming at them from the side, a shuffling and scraping sound on the sidewalk.

They turned their heads and looked over to where the sounds were coming from…and their eyes and mouths widened.

A man without legs or a right arm was crawling towards Vera, his empty pants legs and pink shirt sleeve sliding behind his ass.

“You…bitch,” he hissed, then a few of his teeth fell out. “What did…you…ungh…” His tongue came off and got stuck in his throat. He coughed it out, then it lay on the pavement beside his cheek.

She screamed, then she and her new john ran away from the crawling man.

“Who was that guy?” the john asked her as they reached her apartment.

“I don’t know,” she lied, for she’d recognized the crawler’s paisley shirt.

*********

In her bedroom again, she danced and stripped for her new customer, proudly displaying her new and improved body.

He gazed in awe at her nakedness.

“Wow, you’re hot,” he panted, unzipping his jeans.

“Thanks,” she said with a grin.

“How much for anal?” he asked.

Her smile vanished. “I…d-don’t do anal.”

“I want anal!” he shouted, then punched her hard in the gut.

She buckled and fell on the bed. He pulled off his T-shirt, jeans, and underwear, then got on the bed with her.

The pain from the punch was gone within seconds, but he got her in position for anal rape too quickly for her to resist him.

He shoved it in raw. She screamed in pain, and though the pain of each ramming went away quickly enough, the relief didn’t amount to anything, for the old pain got replaced by that of a new ramming in each time. After a few minutes of the ordeal, he pulled out and came all over her buttocks.

She lay there on the bed, sobbing.

My daddy did that to me when I was a teen, she thought. “You bastard.”

“That’s what you get for choosing to be a whore, bitch,” he panted, and reached down for his pants and underwear…but, “Ungh!

His dick fell off.

He screamed at the sight of it between his shoes. Then his balls fell off.

“What the fuck?!” he screamed in a soprano voice. “What…germ…did you pass onto me?”

His nose fell off.

Oddly, there was never any blood.

He screamed again. A few teeth fell out.

Her pain was all gone. She wiped his come off her ass with a tissue, sat facing him, and smiled.

His left arm fell off. Now, he was the one sobbing.

She got back into position for anal and spread her buttocks wide open. She looked back at him with a mock-seductive look. “Wanna fuck my ass, baby?”

He glared at her, but just then, his right eye fell out.

She got off the bed and went for his jeans. She pulled out his wallet. “OK,” she said, “how much have you got in here?”

He tried to reach for his wallet, but his lower jaw fell off. “Umph!” he grunted.

She pushed him to the floor. Now, all of his remaining limbs detached from his torso. His head came off, too, and rolled to the other side of the bedroom. Finally, all was still and quiet.

So, she thought as she continued thumbing through his wallet, I guess I know what happened to Mr. Pink Paisley. Fucker got what he deserved.

“What?!” she yelled. “Only twenty-five bucks? No ATM card, either. You were gonna rape me, and not even pay me?! You fucker!!” She stomped on his left arm. The fingers and thumb detached and rolled away. “I’d better get some garbage bags and clean up this mess.”

********

She was back on the streets later that night. It was past midnight. Now, she was almost hoping for nasty customers, so she could see them come to pieces from her new powers.

As she looked around for men to attract, she thought she saw the first john who’d had her since her transformation–the nice one. Same clothes–a white T-shirt and black pants–same brown hair, same skinny build and height–about the same as hers. Same face, too…she thought.

Wow, she thought. He didn’t come apart. He didn’t die, like those two bastards. Is it because he was gentle with me? Is that even him? Looks a lot like him, but I can’t be sure in the dark.

Then she saw Derek.

Speaking of nice guys, she thought. Here comes my man, or so I’d wish him to be. He’s one of the few johns I actually like having sex with.

He approached her with a smile.

“Hi, Derek,” she said, beaming at him.

“Wow, you’re looking the best you ever have,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said, turning around for him with pride. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Not that you had to change your looks at all, of course,” he said. “I’ve always thought you were beautiful just as you are.”

“You are so sweet to me.”

“My pleasure,” he said, offering her his escorting arm. “Shall we?”

“Uh, OK,” she said, and took his arm.

“Why the hesitation?” he asked as they began walking towards her apartment.

I can’t tell him about the Germ, she said. He’ll dump me. But what if he catches it? “I-I had a few nasty johns today,” she said.

“Well, if you don’t feel up to having sex, why are you out here streetwalking?” he asked.

“Because I have to, silly,” she said. “Bob will beat me up if I don’t. You know that.”

“I’d like to beat Bob up.”

“He’s much too big for you to beat him in a fight. He’d kick your ass. Besides, even if you won the fight, he has all his mafia friends who’d kill you.”

“I’ve gotta take you out of this town, far away from him. If only I had the money,” Derek said.

“You have had the money to pay for sex with me, and that’s been on lots of occasions over the months. Why not save your money instead of blowing it all on me?”

“One, because I’m so hot for you, I’ve got to have you as often as possible. Two, because I want you to experience a gentle, considerate john as often as possible, to offset and take away the time from the nasty johns, and to pay you more than they will.”

“Bob just takes the extra money for himself. You’re giving it all to him, not to me.”

“Bastard. Anyway, how’d you get to be so…well, more than usually beautiful today?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “A good makeup job?”

“Come on, it’s much more than cosmetics, Vera. You’re much more shapely than your usual shapely self, like a girl half your age. What did you do?”

“I really don’t know,” she said as they reached the front door of her apartment building.

“Black magic?”

“I don’t know. Strange things have been happening tonight. I can’t explain it.”

“Really?” he said as they got in the elevator. “Anyway, whatever it is, you look really beautiful. Of course, as I said before, you always did look beautiful, makeover or no makeover.”

“Thanks,” she said with a giggle. I really like him, she thought. I wanna make love with him so badly…but I shouldn’t!

They reached her floor and got out of the elevator. As they walked down the hall to her apartment, he said, “I’m burning to make love to you.”

“So am I,” she said, fitting her key into her door. “I’d do it with you for free, you know that, but Bob–“

“Even without the threat of Bob, I’d pay you, to help you make ends meet. If only I could get you away from that piece-of-shit pimp.”

They went inside. “If he were dead, we wouldn’t need to leave,” she said, thinking, Maybe, with this new power of mine, I could coax Bob into a suicide fuck. They went over to her couch and sat together.

“Don’t do anything foolish to get the cops after you,” he said, then he put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek.

“Wait,” she said, pushing him away. “Not right now.”

“Those two guys before me really shook you up, didn’t they?”

“Yeah. I just need a few minutes.” Or days…or weeks…or years…

“Well, OK,” he said, taking his arm away. “I don’t wanna pressure you into sex. We can sit and talk for a while.”

“Thanks.” You are so sweet, Derek. I wanna have sex with you so badly…yet because you’re so sweet, I can’t have sex with you. If I saw your body falling to pieces the way those two other guys’ bodies did, I’d fall to pieces!

She sat on his lap, delighted with the feeling of his erection under her buttocks…yet terrified of it, too.

“Cuddling will be fine,” she said. They put their arms around each other. She pecked him on the lips. Cradling her in his arms, he slowly rocked her back and forth as they looked into each other’s eyes. “I think I love you.”

“I know I love you,” he said.

“What do you see in an older woman like me, in such damaged goods?”

“Well, maybe it’s because you’re damaged…not in body, but in how you’ve been hurt so much. I see the pain in your eyes. My mom used to have that look. Your pain arouses my wish to help you, to love you.”

Now I know I love you, she thought while smiling at him.

They started with a few pecks on the lips. Within ten seconds, the pecking phased into French kissing. The pleasure he was giving her made her forget, for the moment, all of her worries, and she let him get her out of her dress.

In pink underwear, black stockings, and black high heels, she was allowing his hands to roam all over her skin. She let him unhook her bra, and it slid off with a proud wiggle of her breasts.

“Do you like them?” she asked with a grin.

He looked down at them. “Whoa!” he said while fondling them. “No silicone. How is this possible?”

“I don’t know. I only know that I like it.”

They resumed French kissing. He pulled off her panties to reveal her new landing strip.

“Did you get a waxing?” he asked breathily.

“No,” she sighed between kisses. “As I said,…I can’t…explain it.”

This is really weird, he thought while unzipping his fly. Still, I guess I can’t complain. He got on the floor and lay on his back.

She hesitated before mounting him. Will he die if we fuck? she wondered. Will his dick fall off?

He furrowed his brow at her hesitating. “Still don’t wanna do it?” he asked.

She was too horny to say no. She rationalized it thus: If he dies, I’ll lose him. But if we never screw, I’ll never enjoy him, which is the same as losing him, because I’ll never have him. Besides, he might dump me for someone else if I hold out too long, and that means losing him, too. I’ll have to take my chances and see if he survives a fuck. “Yes, let’s do it,” she panted.

“You sure?” he asked while putting on a condom.

“Yes!” She took it in, with sighs of rising pitches and loudness.

As she moved up and down on him in the cowgirl position, her mind swung back and forth between fear and desire. Was that brunet in the white T-shirt and black pants really my first john after my beautifying…was he really the nice one? she wondered. Did he survive–if it was him–because he was nice to me, or because this poisonous Germ in me hadn’t taken effect just yet? The answer would seem to be the first one, because the beautifying took effect so much sooner, and because everything about the Germ seems to be working in my favour, like the quick healing. I’m glad those two asshole johns died, and if that guy I saw was the nice john, still alive and healthy, I can be confident that Derek will be OK…but I only think I saw the nice john! I can’t be sure.

Because her pleasure was limited by her worries, she wasn’t as lubricated as she should have been.

In his passion, Derek gave her a hard ram; it felt like a stab against her vaginal walls.

“Oww!” she yelped.

“Sorry,” he panted, then tried to move in more gently.

“It’s OK,” she sighed…or was it? Even if the Germ is benign to me, she thought, would it misinterpret my pain as Derek deliberately hurting me? Is the Germ some kind of alien that doesn’t know the difference between accidentally and intentionally hurting people? If that’s so, I’d better try to enjoy this sex the best I can. It’s too late to stop it, anyway–there’s no turning back. The guy in paisley wore a condom, too, and it didn’t save him from the Germ.

She looked down in his eyes and tried to focus on her love for him. They were getting more and more excited, but he gave her another impassioned, hard ram.

“Oww!” she screamed. Oh please, Germ-alien, or whatever the hell you are, don’t think of Derek as an enemy. Don’t kill him!

“Sorry,” he said again. “I didn’t mean…to do that.”

Did you hear that, Germ-alien? she thought. C’mon, Vera: focus on your desire!

“I’m gonna…blow my load! Oh!” he grunted.

“I’m…almost…there, too. Ah!

They orgasmed at about the same time. He pulled out and removed his condom.

Here it is, she thought, watching him closely. The moment of truth. She got off of him.

He started getting himself off the floor. “Ungh!”

“Oh, my God!” she screamed. “Are you OK?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, getting to his feet. “I just haven’t put my dick away yet. Silly me. I should’ve done it before.”

As he was putting it in his pants, she watched with a terrible dread. He noted her staring at him.

“I don’t need any help, thank you,” he said with a sneer. “Ooh!”

“What’s wrong?” she fired out in terror.

“Nothing,” he said, zipping himself up. “It’s just really sensitive after a fuck. If I’m not careful with it, I’ll hurt myself.” He saw the look of fear still in her eyes. “Why are you so jumpy tonight? Did my aggressive fucking remind you of those two bastards?”

“Yeah, in a way…not that you’re at all like them, of course.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel that way. I guess I’m just clumsy when I’m horny.”

“Oh, you’re the best lover I’ve ever had,” she said.

“Thanks,” he said while stretching. “Oww!”

“Oh, God! Are you OK?”

“Yeah. I just pulled a muscle in my back, that’s all.” He took his wallet out of his pants pocket.

“Thank God.” So far.

“Why are you so worried about me hurting myself all of a sudden?” He took out a few hundred dollars and paid her.

“N-nothing,” she said, taking his money. “I just…care about you.”

“That’s sweet,” he said, put his wallet back in his pocket, then kissed her on the cheek. As he walked to the door, he said, “I’ll call you tomorrow, late morning or early afternoon.”

“OK.” I sure as fuck hope you do. “Bye.”

“Bye.” He walked out the door and into the hall.

She stood at the open door and watched him approach the elevator. I guess he’s gonna be OK.

“Oomph!” he grunted as his knees buckled.

“Oh, God, no!” she screamed, running out to him.

“I’m fine,” he said with a wincing face. “I just sprained my ankle. What is it? Are you worried you’ve given me a bug or something?”

“Oh, no,” she said with a nervous giggle. “Of course not.”

“Look, two guys sexually assaulted you tonight, so you’re not feeling well. Go to bed and sleep it off. I’d stay and comfort you, but that asshole Bob would charge me for extra hours I cannot afford. Good night–I’ll call you tomorrow.” He kissed her, got in the elevator, and left.

********

Early in the afternoon of the next day, Vera had just about finished with another nasty john, one who’d punched her in the face before receiving a blow job from her.

When he came in her mouth, he noticed the disappearance of the bruise, cut, and blood on her face.

“Wow,” he said. “You heal quickly, bitch. I’ll just have to give you another taste of my fist.” But as soon as he balled up his fist, that arm fell off. He screamed. “What the fuck…?”

He spat a few teeth out.

She got up off her knees, sat on the edge of her bed, and watched him, grinning.

“You bitch!” he screamed, spitting out a few more teeth. “What have you done to m–?”

His lower jaw fell off, then his cock and balls did. She laughed.

He shook his head and groaned.

Then his head fell off.

“I still have the power,” she said, then picked up his body parts and put them in big, black plastic bags, and set them next to those of the night before, which contained the body parts of the man who’d anally raped her. “I was so worried that I’d lost the power after Derek’s survival, which I hope has lasted up to now…wait! He hasn’t called me yet, the way he promised!”

She rushed over to her phone, which was on her coffee table in the living room. She noted the time: already 1:30 in the afternoon. She dialled his number in a near-panic. After an eternity of waiting through six rings of the dial tone, he finally answered it.

“Derek?”

“Yeah?”

“How are you? Are you OK? You said you’d call earlier today, and you didn’t, so I got worried.”

“Yeah, of course I’m OK,” he said. He heard a sigh of relief. “Why wouldn’t I be? I was just too busy with work to call earlier, that’s all. Sorry for making you wait. Anyway, are you gonna tell me why you’re so worried about me getting sick and dying, or whatever your problem is?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you everything tonight,” she said.

“What about Bob?” Derek asked. “I don’t have any money for another screw tonight. He won’t want me around if I don’t pay.”

“Oh, I’ll take care of Bob, don’t worry.”

“What are you gonna do? Don’t go putting yourself in a situation where he beats you up again.”

“Won’t happen, I promise. See you here tonight.”

She hung up, then texted Bob: I made a lot of money today and last night but Im keeping it all if you have a problem with that come here and tell me CUL8R

When Bob stormed into her apartment, which was no later than ten minutes after receiving her text, he–approaching her wide-open bedroom doorway–found her naked on her bed, on all fours, with her back to him, her ass pointed out at him with both of her holes showing on purpose.

“So, you’re keeping all the money for yourself, are y–? Whoa,” he said once he’d reached her bedroom doorway, and was now checking her out and feeling his jeans’ zipper already straining from his hard-on. “That’s the best you’ve looked in a long time, Vera. If you spent the money on improving your looks, I might forgive you…almost. What did you do to yourself?”

“Oh, I didn’t spend any money on my looks,” she said, looking back at him with an inviting smirk.

“Well, how did you suddenly become so hot-looking? Normally, you look like a dog.”

You bastard, she thought; Derek would never say that to me. “You don’t need to know.”

“Well, I say I do,” he said, approaching the bed. “You’re my product.”

“All you need to know is that you’re not getting your greasy fingers on one penny of my money.”

“Well, in that case,” he said, unzipping his pants and getting on the bed on his knees behind her, “I’ll just have to give you one hell of a hate-fuck.”

Still looking back at him and grinning, she said, “Come and get it, baby.”

‘Succubus,’ a Surreal Erotic Horror Short Story

[SEXUAL CONTENT]

“Oh, no!” Jack Bates said as he looked at an online newspaper article on his phone.

“What?” his friend, Ivy, said while sitting across from him at their table in the food court of a shopping mall.

“Svetlana Sharapova killed herself,” he said, frowning. “She died of a drug overdose, it says, but they think it was suicide, because she’d been depressed for some time.”

“Who’s she?” Ivy asked.

“Who’s Svetlana Sharapova? She’s only my absolute favourite porn star.”

“Oh, you pig,” Ivy said with a sneer.

“I don’t mean to be a perv,” he said. “She just has this…power over me. I can’t describe it. It’s like she compels me to watch her videos. She seems to come right out and touch me. I can’t explain it.”

“What do you need to beat off to internet porn for? With your blond good looks, those baby blue eyes, that manly husky voice of yours, that good-looking plaid dress shirt you have on, your stylish brown leather shoes, and those tight blue jeans, you could get any girl.” I’m right here, she thought, and not bad looking, even if I do say so myself. You never notice me, though. You never pick up on any of my signals, you asshole.

“I’ve done relationships before, and I’m done with them. I don’t want my heart broken again, especially since the last girlfriend I had two months ago. Sometimes a guy just needs the honesty and security of some good porn.”

“‘Honesty? ‘Security’? ‘Good porn’?” She sneered again.

“Well, hey, you’re into ‘Wicca.’ You’re a ‘witch,’ right?” He giggled an annoying falsetto laugh.

“Don’t make fun of my religion, Jack.” Now she was frowning.

“Why don’t you use your ‘magic’ to find me the right girl?” He was smiling at her like a smart-ass.

“Magic doesn’t work that way,” she said. “Besides, I don’t need magic to find you the right girl. All you have to do is open your dumb-ass eyes.”

“OK, well, how does Wiccan magic work?” he asked. “Or, at least, the way you use it?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “For me, it involves cycles, like the seasons. One thing rolls into its opposite, then back again.”

“Well, can you roll me from loneliness to its opposite…b-but not back again?”

“I could…but not with magic.”

He just looked stupidly at her, while she frowned in annoyance back at him.

*********

That night, he was in his apartment, half-asleep and sitting in front of his desktop. He wore nothing but a half-opened bathrobe. A box of Kleenex sat to the left of his mouse. He clicked on PornHub, then typed in Svetlana Sharapova in the search engine.

“This meat-beating is in your honour, and in your memory, sweetheart,” he said in yawns. He clicked on a solo video of hers, one he’d enjoyed many times before. “I never get sick of this one, and since I can’t see anything new of hers, I’d might as well enjoy a good classic.”

He yawned again.

“This wank should wake me up.”

She was gloriously naked from her head down to her bare feet, a blonde beauty with eyes even more hypnotically blue than his. Bright makeup painted up her face with purple eye shadow, black mascara and eyeliner, pink blush, and red lipstick. She had her skin tanned a golden brown, and had large, natural breasts, a full Brazilian wax, and a bleached anus. These features, combined with the Photoshopping done to the video, made her body look so fake in its anatomical perfection that what he saw of the real her was so invisible, it was as if she were fully clothed.

She was masturbating with a vibrator. He was playing with himself, too, but his fatigue was making his eyes heavy.

“Oh, your body…is so perfect,” he grunted, halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness. “Oh! Why…did you want…to kill yourself? You don’t know…your power…over men…over me. Unh! You could have…any guy…you wanted. Ah!

At that point, she looked directly at the screen, right into Jack’s barely opened eyes, as if she’d heard his words. He closed his eyes and slumped back into his chair.

“Who’s gonna…free me…from my lust…over you, Svetlana?” he mumbled before nodding off.

“Jack,” she said to him in a sigh.

He was dozing for about half a minute, lightly snoring.

“Jack,” she said louder.

His eyes opened. “Svetlana?” he said. “Did you say my name?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “I want you.”

“Am I dreaming?” he asked with widened eyes. “I thought you were dead. Didn’t you kill yourself by ODing on heroin or something?”

“Yes. I am her spirit, and I want you.” Her Slavic accent alone was getting him hard.

“What are you, some kind of succubus?”

“Something like that. I want us to be together, forever.”

“Why me? I’m nobody special. You could have any guy.”

“I don’t want any guy. I want you.”

“What’s so special about me? You don’t even know me.”

“My spirit scanned the feelings of everyone around the world, just after I died. Nobody cared about my suicide. Not even the abusive family I ran away from in East Europe, when the news came out.” She sobbed a little. “Only you felt anything, not just lust for my body.”

“Really? Only me? That’s awful. I’m sorry, Svetlana.”

“Yes,” she sobbed. “Only you see me as a human being, not just a piece of ass. That’s why I want to be with you.”

“Wow,” he said, then thought, If this were a dream, surely I’d have woken up by now, because I always wake up as soon as I know I’m dreaming. Is Svetlana my Mrs. Right? Did Ivy’s ‘magic’ do this? Oh, come on, Jack! What a ridiculous idea! Why would Ivy want to mate me with Svetlana, even if she could do that? No, this must be a dream…but I’m not waking up.

“Let me climb on top of you,” Svetlana purred. “Then we can make love.”

“How can you come out of my monitor and onto my lap?”

“Spirits have special abilities,” she said, then crawled out of the screen.

“Holy shit!” he said as she, in the bare flesh, crawled onto his lap. “What is this, The Ring? This can’t be real. I must be dreaming. Why am I not waking up?”

His bathrobe fell off of his arms and draped onto the chair. Now he was as naked as she was.

When she sat on his lap, his erection slid into her effortlessly. It was as if both his and her genitalia knew exactly where to be, without needing to aim. The lovers began grinding on that chair, looking into each other’s eyes.

“Oh, the power…you have…over men!” he panted. “Over me.”

“Power?” she sighed with a slight sneer. “What power?”

“Pussy…power,” he grunted. “All men…want you. You control us…you control me. You can have…any man…you want.” He reached up and cupped her breasts.

“All men…wanting me…never made me…feel powerful,” she sighed, fingering his nipples and pinching them. “All men…wanting me…terrifies me.”

“Why?”

“They may…want to rape…me.”

“I’d love…to be…as desirable…as you are. Oh!

“If you think…I get power…from my body,…you have it.”

Suddenly, he felt a strange sensation in his groin area. It didn’t hurt–actually, the sexual pleasure was the same, if not better–but he felt a sudden anatomical loss. Instead of him sliding in and out of her, she was sliding in and out of him…they had traded genitals!

“What?” he said, looking down. His eyes and mouth opened their widest possible. “My dick…is gone! You have it! Unh! And I…have…your pussy? What the fuck?” He was shaking in spasms and jerks.

“What are you…worried about?” she asked as she continued sliding in and out of him. “You have…the ‘power’ now.”

Still with his trembling hands on her chest, he felt her breasts shrinking and flattening. His own chest felt heavier now, jiggling. He looked down: her boobs were on his chest! “Oh, my God!” he gasped. “Why do I have your tits?”

What was more, he felt his body hair disappearing. His fingers, on her torso, felt wisps of hair growing, tickling him. He saw the growing hair on her and recoiled, pulling his hands away.

“Eww!” he groaned with a crack in his voice like that of a pre-teen. “What the fuck is happening to me…and to you?” He looked at her face, which now had his three-day beard.

With her remaining–yet slowly diminishing–feminine features, she looked like a strange merging of his parents…fucking him! It reminded him of a time when he was about four, and he went into their bedroom one night and caught them having sex. His father screamed at him to get out. He could never forget that fright.

Suddenly, all the lights went out. Jack felt his chair disappear; he fell to the floor with a thud. “Oof!” he grunted…in a woman’s voice.

What the hell? he thought. Have I become a she?

Jacqueline, if you will, began running ‘her’ hands all over her skin. All of it was the hairless smoothness of a woman’s curvy, buxom, naked body. Svetlana’s body, or so it felt to ‘Jacqueline.’

Soon, she felt not only her own hands feeling her up, but also the bigger, stronger, and hairier hands of several men, moving all over her naked body. All the men want me, she thought. But I don’t want any of them to want me. ‘Pussy power’ is total bullshit.

Hard phallic objects were being shoved inside her three holes. She whined in pain from the stabbing. Were they cocks or dildos? They certainly weren’t welcome.

The lights came back on with a flashing, blinding brightness. She got the answer to her question: bukkake was raining all over her body. Definitely not dildos. Some of the ejaculation got in her eyes, so she couldn’t see the group of men encircling her. A dozen leather shoes rubbed against her arms, hands, legs, and feet, letting her know how many men were surrounding her.

She wiped her eyes clear, and tried to look around her, but the light was still too bright for her to see easily. Her eyes adjusted to her surroundings in about twenty seconds; she saw a square room with white walls, cameras, and lighting and sound recording equipment.

Six blond men, fully clothed, were operating the equipment. These men, it was safe to assume, were her gang rapists. She couldn’t make out their faces clearly, though she saw lecherous smirks on all of them. They were also dressed identically, wearing plaid dress shirts and blue jeans.

She lay there, as naked as a newborn baby, with only the men’s come for clothing. Suddenly, she was sprayed on with cold water from a hose held by one of the men, all of whom laughed in falsetto giggles at her shocked reaction. After being thoroughly washed clean, she lay there shivering when the hose was turned off.

“I love the way her nipples get erect when she’s cold and wet,” one of the men said in a husky voice.

Still, the men’s faces were all blurry. One of them threw her a towel. She dried herself with it, then hoped to cover her nakedness with it, but the man who’d given it to her snatched it away from her before she could.

“Nope,” he said in that same husky voice, suggesting that all six men had as identical a voice as they had clothing. “No covering yourself. You’re always to be naked. We like seeing every inch of you, all the time.”

All the men giggled another falsetto laugh. Still, she couldn’t get a clear look at their faces.

One hid his behind a camera. “OK, Svetlana,” he said. “Get on all fours, spread your legs, and point your ass at the camera.”

Svetlana? he wondered. I’m Svetlana now?

Trembling, and with the utmost reluctance, she did as she was told. She looked back at the camera in abject terror.

I’m turning these men on, these rapists of mine, she thought. I’m all exposed. They can see everything, and their hunger for another fuck is growing. That hurt like hell the last time; I’m still shaking from it, and they want more, I can feel it. I have no protection, no one to help me. They’re wearing almost identical clothes, all too familiar clothes…what’s that supposed to imply?

One of the men walked up to her with a little bag of white powder. She shuddered at where his eyes were pointed, though his face overall was blurred enough not to be recognized.

Please, don’t stare at my ass like that, she thought. That sodomizing I got was the most painful of all those intrusions. I’d cover my nakedness with my hands, but I’m afraid they’ll beat me or something.

“Hey, Svetlana,” he said, crouching by her face. “Wanna get high? I have some ketamine here. When you do it, your body won’t care what’s happening to it. C’mon, try some. Live a little.”

“Oh, uh, OK,” she said in a tremulous voice while avoiding his eyes, so she never saw his face. I’d like it if it could kill me.

He chopped a line on a nearby table and she snorted it. She waited for the K to kick in. When it did, the lights turned off again. She lay there in a sea of infinite black. All she could hear was her breathing. She couldn’t see anything, certainly not any of those men: could they still see her?

It felt as if they could see her…yet, nothing happened.

She just waited on the floor, on all fours, with her legs spread and her ass pushed out.

The waiting was unbearable.

What were they about to do?

She soon found out. Intrusions in her vagina, anus, and mouth happened as before, but the dissociation she felt from the K kept them from being physically painful. All the same, the sensations triggered the memory of her previous rape, and she felt no less a terror than the last time.

The lights came on again with the same temporarily blinding flash. Now, she was on her back with her spread legs pushed up and her feet above her ears. The man she’d been sucking off pulled out and rained come on her hair and left ear. He got up, zipped up his tight jeans, and walked away.

The man who was pumping her vagina now bent forward and brought his face close to hers. She could see his face clearly now, and all the eerie familiarity about the men was confirmed for her…the man on top of her was Jack!

Jack’s consciousness, trapped in Svetlana’s body–that is, ‘Jacqueline’–was being fucked by a smiling, panting, and almost drooling Jack Bates! She looked over at the man who came on her…she saw Jack’s smirking face on him, too! Then she looked down at the man who was moving in and out of her ass…she saw Jack’s face a third time!

Svetlana wanted me to go fuck myself, ‘Jacqueline’ thought. Literally.

Jack’s own face was close enough to give her a kiss, laughing and panting as he fucked the female form that the soul of the real Jack was trapped in! All the other Jacks were laughing in that annoying falsetto as female Jack was being degraded in Svetlana’s body. Now ‘Jacqueline’ knew which sex had the power, and which one didn’t.

Her other two rapists came all over her body and showered her with the hose as before. After having her shivering, freezing body towelled off (and again being denied the towel to cover her nakedness), one of the Jacks approached her. She lay on the floor, trembling in the fetal position.

“You must be starting to come down from your K high,” he said. “We have other drugs: heroin, cocaine,…”

“Heroin!” she gasped in that Slavic accent, in frantic desperation. “Lots of it!”

“Will do,” the Jack said, then produced a needle.

Now, there’s a prick that’s welcome in my body, anytime, she thought.

He stuck the needle in her.

She blacked out.

***********

The next thing she knew, she was looking out of what seemed to be a window–one of black borders and infinite blackness surrounding it–looking into Jack’s apartment. He was sitting, slouched in his opened bathrobe on the chair in front of his computer, which she was obviously inside.

His eyes were only ever so slightly open. She heard a faint snoring. He was mumbling something.

“Ivy,” he mumbled. “How can we…free Svetlana? How can I…free myself…of her?”

There is no freeing her, ‘Jacqueline’ thought. There’s no freeing yourself from her, or me from her. We’re trapped in her forever. I know that now. This is at least the third time we’ve passed through this loop, this cycle, now that I finally realize–this is no dream I can hope to wake from. Nevertheless, it’s my turn to have the power now, and after what I just went through, I want it.

“Can’t…your magic…rescue Svetlana…from porn, Ivy?” he slurred.

Ivy’s magic doesn’t work that way, Jacqueline thought as she crawled towards the monitor screen, about to slip out and climb onto his lap. It works this way.

“Jack,” she purred, waking him up.

Analysis of ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’

The Miraculous Mandarin (A csodálatos mandarin in Hungarian; Der wunderbare Mandarin in German) is a pantomime/ballet composed for full orchestra by Béla Bartók from 1918 to 1924. It premiered in 1926 at the Cologne Opera, in Germany. The story is based on a libretto by Melchior Lengyel. The violence and sexuality of the story caused a scandal at its premiere.

What also would have caused distaste for the audience, whom I’d presume to have been mostly conservative in their musical tastes, was the extreme dissonance of the music. Indeed, Bartók’s toughest, most dissonant music was written in the 1920s, with such pieces as his third and fourth string quartets, his first piano concerto, Out of Doors for solo piano, and his second sonata for violin and piano. At times, this music would get so dissonant as to border on atonality.

Though he insisted that his music, while using all twelve semitones, was tonal (a reaction to Schoenberg‘s atonal use of all twelve semitones), Bartók essentially abandoned the major/minor system in favour of one based on axes of symmetry. These axes are at the intervals of the diminished seventh chord; this isn’t to say that he made constant use of that particular chord, but that he would do modulations and chord changes–and use such scales at the octatonic (and its alpha chord)–based on the minor third, the tritone, and the major sixth, pivot points, if you will, which are comparable to shifts from the major key to its relative minor, and vice versa.

These–at the time, unusual-sounding–melodic and harmonic experiments, as well as the extensive influence of the folk music of his native Hungary and neighbouring countries (around which he traveled much in his younger adulthood, recording and studying the music), gives Bartók’s music its unique sound.

A few YouTube videos of performances of The Miraculous Mandarin can be found here, here, and here. A video with the score, which includes written indications of developments in the plot of the story, can be found here. And here is a link to the concert suite, which removes about a third of the score, mostly the last twelve or thirteen minutes, which musically depicts the tramps’ robbing and attempting to kill the mandarin.

Bartók insisted it was a pantomime rather than a ballet, since the only dancing in the story is supposed to occur when the pretty girl–forced to lure male victims into the tramps’ den to be robbed–seductively dances with the victims (Gillies, page 373); nonetheless, performances tend to have everyone dancing throughout–see the links above, and a few brief excerpts of performances in links given below. The pantomime begins with the chaos of the city. The orchestra assaults our ears with dissonances.

The second violins play a flurry of quick ascending and descending sixteenth notes in septuplets of G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G#, up and down and up and down, the outer edges making a dissonant minor ninth. This up-and-down cycle I see as symbolic of the boom-and-bust economic cycle, a manifestation of the instability of the capitalist mode of production. Such economic uncertainty leads to an aggravation of crime, which in turn leads to the next issue.

A hectic rhythm in 6/8 time is heard with notes in minor seconds, a motif that will reappear whenever we encounter the violence of the tramps (also referred to sometimes as apaches or vagabonds), three male criminal thugs who find themselves without money and resolve to rob others, using a pretty girl to dance seductively and lure the victims in.

The brass section adds to the dissonance by imitating the honking of car horns. Flutes are now playing waves of shrill, quick chromatic notes in a manner similar to the opening second violin waves. The horns get much harsher. The violent tone of the pantomime has been established. We have in this music a vivid depiction of the neurotic, alienating, and violent modern urban world. The stage has been set for the entry of the three tramps. The curtain rises.

A tense theme is played on the violas (later taken over by the first violins) when we see the tramps; the first checks his pockets for money, and the second tramp checks the desk drawers of their den for money, of which they haven’t any. This lack of theirs gives rise to desire, which is one of the dominant themes of the pantomime, as we’ll see with the old rake, the shy young man, and especially the mandarin, when they behold the beauty of the dancing girl, who now appears on the stage.

The third tramp violently tells her to dance alluringly for any male passer-by, so they can sneak up on him and rob him. She refuses to, of course, but the tramps force her to all the same. Here we see how desire gives rise to suffering, just as lack gave rise to desire–the three go round and round in a cycle–for the tramps, lacking money and desiring it, are now exploiting her for the hopes of gain. Such exploitation is the essence of the relations between the owners of the means of production (the capitalists) and those who have only their labour to sell to survive (the proletariat).

Thus we see how the tramps, in spite of their momentary pennilessness, represent the bourgeoisie. Their den represents the land and means of production owned by the capitalist class. The girl, who can do nothing other than dance and arouse men’s lust, has only her body to sell; thus, she represents the disenfranchised working class. She is being, in essence, a prostitute for the pimp tramps (and pimps, as mafia, are a perfect metaphor for capitalists, as I’ve argued elsewhere); small wonder The Miraculous Mandarin was banned on moral grounds.

There is probably no worse example of worker exploitation than that of pimps exploiting prostitutes, something euphemistically expressed in this pantomime through the girl’s erotic dancing. Thus we can easily see why Lenin, in his agenda to promote equality for women, wanted to end prostitution.

The concert suite version of The Miraculous Mandarin cuts out a brief section of the music at around this point, at a ritardando when the girl refuses to dance for male passers-by. We hear a plaintive melody played on the first violins; then, when the tramps repeat their brutish demand of her and she, however reluctantly, acquiesces, the section cut out from the suite ends, and the discords in the music sadly begin to calm down in a decrescendo. The girl is about to do her first seductive dance.

She begins a lockspiel–a “decoy game”–by a window to attract the first victim. We hear a clarinet solo as she dances. The first victim is an old rake, who sees her and is immediately enticed by her. Musically, he is represented by trombone glissandi spanning a minor third, which is an important interval heard at various points throughout the pantomime.

A minor third is suggestive of sadness. It is significant that we hear so much of it in this piece, for it reflects the universality of suffering as experienced in the world of this story. Hearing the minor thirds in the trombone glissandi, representing the lecherous old rake, is important in how it links lack and suffering with desire, an important combined theme in The Miraculous Mandarin.

As György Kroó explains in his analysis of the pantomime: “The minor third has a special function in The Miraculous Mandarin. Because of the central role of the ‘desire’ motif this interval is the differentia specifica in the work’s score.” (Gillies, page 380)

As the shabby old rake lustfully watches her dance, she asks if he has any money, during which time we hear a flirtatious melody on the cor anglais. He replies, “Never mind money! All that matters is love.” Useless to the tramps, the penniless man is thrown out, at which time we hear the tense 6/8 motif with the minor seconds.

Part of how the capitalist class keeps the poor in control is by dividing them; one common division is made between the sexes. We’ve already seen how women are exploited and injured because of this divisive use of sex roles, in making women into sex objects. Men have their lust exploited through how society addicts them to beautiful women; and if men don’t provide money, they’re deemed useless, as the old rake is, and as the shy boy will be.

The girl returns to the window and resumes her dancing. We hear the clarinet again during this second lockspiel. The shy young man appears, and he is as captivated by her beauty as the old rake was. His shyness makes his seduction more difficult; the clarinet solo is longer and more florid.

Soon, he and the girl dance to a haunting theme on the bassoon, a melody featuring tritones, in 5/4 time, backed up by rising notes on the harp; then the theme is played on the flute, then there are crescendi and decrescendi on the clarinet, suggesting a heating-up of the dancers’ passion. Finally, the haunting theme is heard briefly on two solo violins, and finally, climactically on all the first and second violins. The boy has been successfully drawn into the den, where the hiding tramps are poised to strike.

They attack the boy, and we hear the opening 6/8 motif with the minor seconds again. The tramps learn that the shy young man hasn’t any money either, so he is quickly thrown out, too.

The girl gets ready to do a third lockspiel at the window, and we hear the solo clarinet again. This time, a wealthy mandarin appears at the door. We hear a kind of parody of a stereotypically pentatonic Asian melody here, harmonized in tritones. She is terrified of him; next, we hear three loud brass glissandi (trombones and tuba) in descending minor thirds (recall how the minor third suggests sadness, so in this moment of the tramps’ desire of the mandarin’s money, and the mandarin’s growing desire of the girl, we have desire again as the cause of suffering). The mandarin stands immobile at the doorway, and her dancing only very slowly arouses his desire.

An interesting question needs to be addressed here: why a mandarin, of all male victims, to be the most important one of the story? György Kroó explains: “The chief male figure of the pantomime, the mandarin, is not typical of modern urban society–as are all the other characters–but is a force existing outside society. He is, to some extent, an unreal and symbolic figure. It is this unreality and symbolism which lend him a fearful greatness, enabling him to stand isolated above the world of the vagabonds, and to defy them. But the mandarin’s triumph is only symbolic: he raises the girl to his own level of existence by making her aware of herself as a human being and aware of the existence of true love. For this victory, of course, the mandarin has to die, and the girl is left standing beside his body, shocked and lost in wonder, unable now by herself to progress to a better life, unable alone to oppose the evil surrounding her.” (Gillies, pages 372-373)

This “force existing outside society,” an East Asian in a European city, can be seen to personify the East Asian Third World, just as the girl represents the exploited proletariat of the First World. The tramps, representing the rapacious bourgeoisie, have failed to get any money from the men of their own society, so they must find riches from men of foreign countries.

What we see being expressed here allegorically is the shift into imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, as Lenin theorized. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall forces capitalists to seek out counteracting factors, one of the chief ones of these in the modern world being the exploitation of foreign markets. The robbing of, and violence against, the mandarin thus represents the invasion and plunder of the Third World.

We often speak of the Third World as poor, as undeveloped or underdeveloped. Actually, these countries are rich, like the mandarin who personifies them in the pantomime. It’s the people of the Third World who are poor, like the mandarin after he’s been robbed and brutalized. The Global South isn’t underdeveloped, it’s overexploited.

The China of the time that The Miraculous Mandarin was composed and premiered was similarly exploited by imperialism; but like the defiant mandarin, Mao Zedong stood up to the imperialists. (More will be said below about how The Miraculous Mandarin can be retroactively allegorized on contemporary China.)

As I said above, the girl is scared of the mandarin and runs off to the other side of the room. Much of her reason for being scared is presumably out of xenophobia and racism against Asians, a common feeling in the West, especially at that time. In the context of the allegory I’m presenting, this xenophobia is significant, for it is a kind of tragic flaw that will ensure that the girl can never escape her exploitation (refer back to the Kroó quote above).

After the loud brass dissonant introduction of the mandarin, the music dies down with the sound of minor thirds in decrescendo in the French horns (F# and A). At this point, the concert suite cuts out another short passage of the music, during which we hear cello, bass, and viola pizzicatos in the background, and the tramps push the girl to get over her fears and dance to lure in the mandarin.

The concert suite resumes with the music at the point in the story when the girl, however reluctantly, begins to dance for the mandarin. We hear flurries of shrill, quick ascending and descending notes in the piccolo and celesta, with a dark back-up in the pizzicato and arco cellos. As I said above, the mandarin’s desire is aroused much slower than that of the previous two men, but when his desire is at its peak, it’s an explosion of lust.

His intensity of passion makes us realize that the mandarin doesn’t merely lust after her. Sexual desire for her is there, to be sure, but for him to survive the lethal assaults of the tramps means that his feelings for her must be more than merely physical. He is touched by her, as I see it: he sees not only her beauty and sex appeal, but also her vulnerability and suffering because of the tramps.

My allegory can explain the transcendent nature of his desire. I say that she represents the Western proletariat; he represents the exploited Third World. Sexual union between the two thus represents the needed solidarity of the global proletariat. He wants her because he empathizes with her.

The relative comforts of living in the First World, even for the working poor amongst us, cause us to have limited revolutionary potential. The desperate poverty of the Third World, on the other hand, gives the people suffering there far greater revolutionary potential (consider that huge general strike in India to see my point).

The girl is repelled by the mandarin, just as the First World poor pay far too little attention to the suffering of those in the Third World. The mandarin’s desire for the girl grows and grows, just as the poor of the Global South, growing ever more desperate, needs the help of the First World (consider the oppression of the Palestinians to see my point).

The girl gets over her inhibitions, and she and the mandarin begin dancing a waltz whose melody is full of minor thirds and tritones. Again, we see lack and sorrow (symbolized by the minor thirds and the diabolus in musica) linked with desire (the soon-to-be lovers’ romantic waltz).

As I said above, his desire isn’t merely lust. It’s more of a Lacanian desire, the desire of the Other, to be what the Other wants, to be recognized by the Other (in this case being, of course, the girl). This wish for recognition from the Other, to be as desired of the Other as one desires the Other, means we’re not dealing with the selfish lust of the old rake or the shy young man. Those two just wanted to get from her; the mandarin wants to get and to give. This wish for desire to be mutual between the mandarin and the girl again, in the context of my allegory, represents the need for solidarity among the oppressed of the world.

The waltz that they dance grows louder, faster, and more impassioned, and the hitherto reticent mandarin suddenly goes wild with desire, terrifying the girl. He chases her all over the tramps’ den. The music gets barbarically dissonant, with pounding drums and a fugue passage representing (fittingly, given the etymology of fugue) his pursuit of the girl. He seizes her, and they struggle.

After this music reaches its most chaotic, brutal point, the concert suite ends with four bars in 2/2, and a tense chord featuring minor thirds is played three times to give the suite a sense of finality. (This three-chord repetition isn’t heard in the full pantomime performance.) It is at this point that the tramps come out of hiding and attack the mandarin. The music isn’t as loud now, but it’s still just as tense.

The tramps strip him of his riches and finery. All he can do is stare longingly at the girl. Having wondered what to do with the mandarin now that they’ve taken all of his valuables, the tramps decide to kill him. This violence against him symbolizes the plunder of the Third World, the taking of its valuable resources and the killing of anyone living there who dares to resist.

The tramps grab pillows and blankets, put them on the mandarin’s head, and try to smother him by sitting on him. After a while, they figure he must be dead and get off of him. The music softens. He’s still alive and looking at the girl. His would-be killers are amazed and horrified.

The tramps make a second attempt to kill him; this time, one of them grabs a sword and stabs him three times with it. Still, he won’t die. Still, he stares at the girl. The tramps cannot believe their eyes.

This miraculous refusal to die may remind us, in a symbolic way, of how the victims of imperialism won’t back down after being invaded. To see what I mean, look not only at the Chinese resistance to Imperial Japan in the 1930s and 40s, not only at the USSR’s successful repelling of the White Army during the civil war of around the years 1918-1921, and of the Nazis during WWII; but also look at the continued resistance to the American empire in Afghanistan and Iraq. China is a miraculous mandarin in its own right these days, surrounded by US military bases, and on the receiving end of hostility from Hong Kong and Taiwan; but China keeps getting stronger and stronger…and richer.

A third attempt is made to kill the mandarin, this time by hanging him from a lamp hook. It falls to the floor, and instead of the hanging killing him, the light of the lamp goes out and seems to be transferred onto him, for now he–always with his eyes on the girl–is glowing with a greenish-blue aura. A wordless chorus (alto and basso at first; later, tenors and sopranos will harmonize) begins singing a melody in mostly minor thirds as he glows, suggesting a superhuman quality in him.

This superhuman quality of the mandarin, with the suffering he’s being put through while cheating death, suggests a Christ symbolism for him. His hanging from the lamp can be associated with the Crucifixion, while his glow–suggesting the spiritual body of the Resurrection–and the almost angelic choral singing lend a kind of mysticism to him.

Now, when I compare the mandarin to Christ, I don’t mean the ecclesiastical Christ whose “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), He who died on the Cross to save us from our sins; rather, I mean the Jewish messianic conception–that of the revolutionary who attempted a defiance of ancient imperial Rome. This was the Jesus of such books as Hyam Maccoby‘s Revolution in Judea, in keeping with the anti-imperialist allegory I’ve been outlining here.

The desire that this messianic mandarin has for the girl can thus be associated with the sexual desire expressed in the Song of Songs, as allegorized as the love of Christ for his Church (i.e., the girl). So this mandarin, in his defiance of the brutality of the exploitative tramps (symbolic of capitalist imperialists), is making revolutionary overtures to the girl (representing the First World proletariat), hoping she’ll join him in solidarity against their oppressors (i.e., through their sexual union).

Finally, she realizes what must be done. She understands the true nature of his desires, and just as he is touched by her vulnerability and suffering under her exploitation, so is she touched by his love for her: this is the only reason she could have for doing what she’s about to do. She has the tramps untie the mandarin. She lets him have her.

Now, she satisfies his desire, but it’s far too late: the injuries that the tramps have inflicted on him can’t be undone. His wounds open, and he finally dies, with lethargic, anticlimactic music playing as he collapses on the floor bleeding, her watching in horror. This ending relates to my allegory in the following way. There is a danger in not responding quickly enough to the call for revolution in today’s late stage capitalism. The global proletariat must unite, and they must do so…fast!

As with sex roles, racism and xenophobia are used by the ruling class to divide the people. Look at Trump’s “Build the wall!” nonsense to see my point. The excessive nationalism of fascism is used to prevent international solidarity.

The girl’s xenophobic prejudice against the mandarin is what makes her take so long to unite with him. Imagine if, instead, not only were she and the mandarin to unite immediately upon meeting each other, but if they, the shy young man, the old rake, and any other men potentially tempted by her dancing, were to combine their strengths against the tramps and end their exploitation and victimization once and for all?

Selfishness and alienation are inimical to the solidarity of the people against their ultimate enemy, the capitalist class. Now that the mandarin is dead, the girl is alone against the now-monied tramps. She is in an evil trap she cannot escape.

In composing The Miraculous Mandarin, Bartók was warning of the growing evils of the world. “Between 1919 and 1924, while working on this work, Bartók was experiencing a great sense of loneliness. He felt quite isolated in his efforts to warn society of the evils he could see. By setting the ‘elemental life force’ in opposition to ‘degraded emotion’, he cried ‘No!’ to the world of evil, and to the immorality of the dehumanized apaches. And as an example to those who had confidence and hope, he presented the figure of the mandarin who, like Bartók himself, is a constant reminder of courage in opposition, determination in thought and feeling–the very triumph of man.” (Gillies, pages 383-384)

Consider the evils of today’s world, the contemporary exacerbation of those Bartók had been aware of a century ago. Consider what might happen if we lack the “courage in opposition” and “determination in thought and feeling” needed to end those evils. Though the danger of nuclear war between the US on one side, and China and Russia on the other, is more than possible, all we need to do to end life on the Earth is to continue to be passive in the face of growing climate change. Then the moribund musical ending of the pantomime will express what TS Eliot once did: “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Malcolm Gillies, editor, The Bartók Companion, London, Faber and Faber, 1993

‘Sirens,’ a Horror Novella, Chapter Twelve

[SEXUAL CONTENT]

“You’re lucky I had this lying around,” Nancy said, returning to the living room with a bedpan from her bedroom closet. “About two months ago, a friend of mine who happens to be a nurse came here immediately after her shift in the hospital and slept over at my insistence, because I learned her boyfriend had been beating her. She brought the bedpan–I don’t know for sure why, maybe to fight back and hit him with later when she went back to her apartment with him. Anyway, when she left, after learning he’d been hospitalized because of a drunk-driving accident, she forgot to take the bedpan with her. I guess she figured she didn’t need it as a weapon anymore, because while he was recovering in hospital from two broken legs, she moved out and left town.”

Nancy slid the bedpan between Eddie’s legs and under his ass. “This is so stupid,” her brother said as he felt the stainless steel of the bedpan rub uncomfortably against his ass and legs, which just added to his discomfort from being tied up to her sofa. “I don’t have the right to use the bathroom and pee in private, do I?”

“You’re a rapist, Eddie,” she said, unzipping his pants and wincing in disgust. “You don’t deserve to have rights.” She gritted her teeth as she pulled his dick out of his open fly so he could pee in the bedpan. “Oh, this is so gross!”

“If you’d just untie me–“

“I’m not untying, tying, untying, and tying you up, again and again, for every little thing. Besides, if I untie you now, the way you’re acting, you’ll never consent to being tied up again, and that will raise the risk of the Sirens luring you out again to be killed.”

“You’re damned right I won’t consent to being tied up again!”

“And that’s why I’m not untying you, no matter how disgusting this is for me. Now, hurry up and piss. Get it over with!” She ran out of the living room to wash her hands. After that awful dream of experiencing Serena’s gang rape, the last thing I needed was to come close to my brother’s dick.

Eddie groaned in relief as he let it out. “Hey, I’m spraying some on my pants!”

“Not my problem, rapist,” she called from the bathroom. “This is all part of your bad karma.”

After a minute, he called out. “OK, I’m done.”

She came back into the living room and winced as she took away the bedpan. “I’ll be right back.”

“You realize that if you keep me tied up like this, you’re gonna have to do everything for me.”

“No, not everything,” she called out from the bathroom as she cleaned out the bedpan.

“Well, I can’t do anything for myself.”

“Then some things won’t get done,” she said as she returned.

“I need to be cleaned up. I need my dick put back in my pants.”

“No, you don’t, rapist.”

“What?!” Eddie yelled.

“You can stay like that,” Nancy said, always looking away from his open fly. “As disgusting as it is, I think it’s fitting for you to be stuck like that. It’ll remind you of your shame. I won’t let Serena use her magic to lure you away and kill you, but I will see to it that you’re punished in at least some way.”

“How long am I gonna have to stay like this?”

“Not too long, I imagine. When Serena realizes that she can’t lure you away with her Sirens, and that I refuse to untie you, no matter what disturbing things she exposes me to, she’ll have to come here if she wants to get her revenge on you for helping your friends gang rape her.”

“And what if you can’t fight this…witch?”

“My ace in the hole is that Deanna woman, who said she’d use magic of her own to keep Serena from killing you.”

“That isn’t very reassuring, Nancy.”

The doorbell rang.

“Maybe that’s her,” Nancy said as she began walking over to the door. “This might be over with sooner than you think.”

“So, you’re gonna let whoever that is see my dick hanging out?” Eddie asked with a frown of embarrassment.

“You had no problem letting Serena see it, asshole rapist,” Nancy said as she slowly turned the doorknob. “If this is her, she won’t see anything new. Where’s that singing coming from?”

Nancy opened the door.

No one was there.

“What the hell?” she said, then closed and locked the door and turned her head to see Eddie.

A blurry fog floated in front of her and Eddie’s eyes, a dizzying feeling, then it disappeared. His eyes were closed, as if in a dream, and his mouth was wide open in a grin.

He also had an erection pointing up at about a sixty-degree angle from the floor. He was grinding as if he were screwing a woman on top of him in the cowgirl position.

“Eww,” she said, wincing and looking away. The Sirens are back, obviously, she thought. Did one of my neighbours buy a new record? Is that what those vocal harmonies are?

He could feel six hands caressing his cheeks, head, arms, and chest. He felt a woman’s moist vaginal walls hugging his erection, going up and down on it. Fingers played with his hair and went inside his shirt, tickling his nipples. He opened his eyes and saw the blonde Siren riding him, while the brunette was on his left, and the redhead was on his right. As they continued caressing and stroking him, they took turns giving him pecks on the lips and cheeks. He heard their singing in his ears.

“Try to squirm out of the rope, honey,” the brunette said between kisses…and singing.

“I can’t,” he said between moans. “Nancy tied it…too tightly. Oh!

“If you free yourself, I’ll give you a blowjob,” the redhead purred between pecks on his right cheek…and singing.

“I’d love to, but I told you,” he sighed, “I can’t get myself…out of this. Ah!

“They aren’t real, Eddie,” Nancy said. “Don’t listen to them!” She went over to slap him out of it.

Just when she was raising her hand for the first slap, a loud pounding of fists was heard on the door.

“Holy shit!” she said with a jerk. “That scared me. Who is it?” Is it Serena? she wondered.

“Please, help me!” a woman’s voice screamed from out in the hallway. “My husband is after me. He’s gonna kill me!”

Nancy ran into the kitchen and got a knife, then ran to the door. If it’s Serena, I’ll still stab her, she thought. I wish my neighbour would turn the music down. She unlocked and opened the door.

Instead of seeing a woman, she saw a big, angry man barging in.

“Where is that bitch?” he shouted, shoving Nancy aside. “Who are you? Are you hiding her?”

“Who am I…who are you?” she shouted at him. “Get out of here, before I–” She raised the knife, but he pushed her to the floor. Then he looked over at Eddie.

“Oh, I see,” the man growled. “That guy over there’s fucking my wife. I’ll take care of him!” He stomped over to Eddie, who was still enjoying the charms of the Sirens and took no note of him.

Nancy got up and ran at the big man with the knife raised up high.

“Don’t you hurt my brother!” she shouted, making the man look back at her. She slashed the knife in the air to warn him. “You hurt him, and I’ll–“

“You’ll what?” he growled at her. “He’s fucking my wife!”

“What are you talking about? He isn’t fucking anybody! No woman is there, you moron…wait, is this another of Serena’s tricks?”

“Serena’s my wife’s name!” he shouted, then looked back at Eddie. “You are fucking her!” The man grabbed Eddie’s head. He pressed his hands on it as if he was about to crush it.

What will I do?” Nancy shouted, slashing with the knife again. “Serena or not, I’ll do this!” She lunged at the man and stabbed him in the lower back.

The man disappeared.

Instead of seeing his blood, she saw Eddie’s–a deep stab in his gut, just above his exposed penis.

His blood sprayed everywhere while his body slumped on the sofa, then just lay motionless.

The singing stopped.

Nancy screamed. Where was Deanna’s help? she wondered as tears ran down her cheeks.

“Serena, you bitch!

“Speak of the Devil, and she appears,” a female voice said from behind Nancy.

‘Sirens,’ a Horror Novella, Chapter Ten

[WARNING: SEXUAL CONTENT OF A TRIGGERING NATURE]

“There,” Nancy said after finishing tying Eddie’s arms and legs to her living room sofa. “That should hold you.”

“I’m saying this for the fiftieth time,” he said, squirming in discomfort at the rope fibres cutting into his skin. “This is ridiculous.”

“Would you rather be lured away to your death by those Sirens?” she asked. “This is the only way we can keep you safe…you know, from wandering off.”

“What if I need to use the bathroom?”

“I told you. I’ll untie you. Now, I’m really tired from all the stress of today. I’m going to sleep. I’ll leave the bedroom door open, so shout and wake me up if you need to use the bathroom.”

“What if you don’t wake up when I shout?”

“I will,” she said. “I’m a light sleeper.”

She left the living room, went into her bedroom, and collapsed on her bed without even bothering to undress. Within five minutes, she fell asleep.

In her dream, she found herself in a pub just a few blocks away from her apartment. She was sitting at the bar, drinking from a bottle of Molson Canadian.

A group of handsome young men in navy blue and black suits walked up to her.

“Hi!” one of them said to her. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“Well…” she said, then gulped down the rest of her beer. “OK.” The whole pub area was a blur to her, except for most of the men’s faces, which looked familiar to her.

“We come to this pub all the time, but we’ve never seen you here,” one of them said. “It must be because you’re so pretty, you don’t need to find a man to pick you up.”

She giggled and blushed.

“Yeah,” another of them said. “You must have a boyfriend.”

“No,” she said with another giggle and blush. “I’m not taken…yet.”

“Hoo-hoo!” all of the young men groaned.

“We have ourselves a contest for your charms,” the first of them said, getting another giggle out of her. They began singing Cole Porter’s “All of You.”

As they charmed her with their singing, one of them took her by the hands and danced with her. They all got to the door of the pub, one of them opened it, and all of them went outside, all the time singing the song and getting giggles out of her.

(Their tight, flawless five-part vocal harmony so enchanted Nancy that she couldn’t hear the voice of her brother calling her name and shouting, “Hey, where are you going? Come back! Untie me!” as she went out the door of her apartment.)

She danced out the front door of the apartment building, giggling as she heard the singing. She went several blocks down the sidewalk, past the actual pub of her dream, then a few blocks further until she saw one of the men open the door to an apartment building. She went in, still charmed by their singing.

Where have I seen their faces before? she wondered as they got into an elevator. In old photos? In the newspaper?

They reached the third floor, then got out. She saw one of them unlock the door to his apartment, and they all danced in together to the Cole Porter melody.

No sooner had she come into the living room than one of them grabbed her and began kissing her. With his face up close, she recognized it as Tor’s.

Wait a minute, she thought. He’s dead!

The other boys crowded around her, aggressively feeling her up and unbuttoning her shirt. Another hand unzipped her pants.

“No…no!” she said, trying to push them off.

Her shirt was torn off, and her pants were pulled down to her ankles. She kept trying to fight them off, but she couldn’t. Tor unclipped her bra, and he grabbed her exposed breasts.

“No!” she screamed. “Help!”

Tor slapped her hard. Someone pulled her panties down to her ankles, then removed them, along with her pants, shoes, and socks. She looked down and recognized the one undressing her as Ari.

She felt someone behind her removing the bra strap off her shoulders and arms. She looked back and saw Virgil tossing her bra across the living room.

Now completely naked, Nancy was laid on the floor on her back. The five young men unzipped their flies and exposed themselves. She turned her head away in disgust. One of the boys mounted her. It was Tor.

She tried to push him off, but he balled up his raised fist, so she stopped resisting.

“Good girl,” he said, then slid inside.

She screamed from the stabbing against her vaginal walls, then felt someone raise and spread her legs; then she felt him spit on her anus. She shuddered and looked down to see who he was: it was Ari, pushing in. She groaned from this next stabbing.

Chad sat on her chest. She squeezed her eyes shut the split second she saw him put his erection between her breasts. He squeezed them around it and began rocking back and forth, just like the stabbers in her vagina and anus. His zipper was scraping against her lower chest, cutting a bleeding mark there.

Now, someone sat on her shoulders. The foul smell of urine indicated his much-too-close erection. She looked up and saw the one face that, up until now, had been blurry.

Eddie was force-feeding his erection into her mouth.

She whined and squeezed her eyes shut. He pushed so far in, she gagged.

“When do I get a turn?” Virgil said.

“I’m…almost…done!” Ari grunted. “Oh!” He came.

Ari got out of the way and zipped himself up. Virgil took his place, ramming it in.

“Mmmph!” she screamed, with a full mouth, at the painful tearing of her anus and rectal walls. This can’t be real, she thought. My rapists are all dead, and Eddie would never do this to his own sister.

The ordeal continued for several more minutes.

This must be a nightmare, yet it feels so real, she thought. Is it the ghosts of Serena’s victims? Wait: is this all her doing?

Finally, the other four rapists orgasmed, Eddie having pulled out and come on her face.

She opened her eyes, but instead of seeing Eddie and his friends, she saw the three Sirens, all crouching around her.

Nancy had all of her clothes on: no ejaculate was dripping down her face. It was as if the rape hadn’t happened.

“That is what they did to me,” the brunette said.

“And that is why they must all die,” the blonde said, with the exact same voice as the brunette’s.

“Including Eddie,” the redhead said, also in the exact same voice.

“Serena?” Nancy asked in sighs. “Is that you?”

“Yes,” all three answered, but in only one voice. “Though I don’t look like any of these three.”

“Where am I?” Nancy asked, catching her breath.

“In Virgil’s apartment,” Serena said through the Sirens’ mouths. “It’s not so many blocks from yours. You’ll have no problem getting back home as soon as you’re outside. Eddie’s waiting, by the way.”

“Have you done anything to him?” Nancy asked in a tremulous voice.

“No, he’s safe, still tied to your sofa,” Serena said. “You’d better get back to him, though. He needs to pee.” She laughed to herself. “I’ll take care of him later.”

Nancy got up, still shaking. She was surprised to feel no vaginal or anal injuries, no cut from a zipper on her lower chest, and no foul, urinary, penile taste in her mouth.

But she couldn’t stop shaking.

The Sirens disappeared. Nancy waited for her heart to slow down.

“It wasn’t real,” she whispered breathily. “What just happened to me. It couldn’t have been real.”

“It was real for me, though,” Serena said, a buzzing intonation in Nancy’s ears. “I’m sorry I put you through that. I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy; but I had to get you to understand. What they did to me was unforgivable, and your brother was a part of it, not just the passive spectator you want to believe he was. You won’t like hearing this, but he must die with the others. Don’t try to stop me. You know what I can do to you. That bookstore owner won’t be able to help you, either.”

“You’re not the only one with power, Serena,” Nancy said, still shaking. “I’ll punish Eddie in my own way. Still, he’s my brother. Don’t you touch him!”

She listened for a reply, but got none.

I guess she’s gone, Nancy thought. “As for you, Eddie, you and I are going to have a little talk when I get home.”

She walked with staggering legs to the door and left the apartment building.

Analysis of ‘Black Sabbath’

I: Introduction and Quotes

Black Sabbath, or I tre volti della paura (“The Three Faces of Fear”), is a 1963 Italian horror film directed by Mario Bava and starring Boris Karloff. It’s an anthology of three horror stories loosely adapted (or so it claims in the Italian credits) from tales by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, ‘Ivan Chekhov,’ and Guy de Maupassant: “The Telephone” (‘F.G. Snyder,’ in all probability a pseudonym for Bava and fellow screenwriters Marcello Fondato and Alberto Bevilacqua; in any case, the story is vaguely influenced by “Le Horla,” by Maupassant), “The Wurdalak” (Tolstoy), and “The Drop of Water” (‘Chekhov,’ but probably based on a story by Franco Lucentini).

The American version of the film moved “The Drop of Water” to the front; I prefer the original Italian ordering, as it gives the film a kind of ABA, ternary form in terms of theme–statement, departure, return. Furthermore, the prudish Production Code, while waning, was still in effect enough to censor the American version of “The Telephone,” removing the hints at a lesbian relationship between Rosy and Mary, and at the fact that Rosy is a call girl, vengeful Frank being her former pimp.

Having seen people lined up at the local cinema to watch the movie back in the late 60s, the heavy metal pioneers decided to name themselves after it (this renaming in English being a fortuitous choice for them, since it bears no relation at all to the film; the renaming was just to lull movie-goers over to it after the success of Bava’s Black Sunday); the band marvelled at how people are willing to pay to be scared. As a result, the band invented heavy metal, with its doom-and-gloom sound, as a kind of rock version of horror movie music, in contrast to the ‘happier’ hard rock of the likes of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Van Halen.

The film didn’t do well commercially or critically on release, but it has since seen its reputation improve. “The Telephone” is an early Bava attempt at giallo in film.

Here are some quotes:

“Come closer, please! I’ve something to tell you. Ladies and gentlemen, how do you do? This is BLACK SABBATH. You are about to see three tales of terror… and the supernatural. I do hope you haven’t come alone. As you will see from one of our tales, vampires – wurdulaks – abound everywhere. Is that one, sitting behind you now? You can’t be too careful, you know. They look perfectly normal, and indeed they are. Except… they only drink the blood of those whom they love the best. Ah… there I go, talking shop again! Let’s get on with our first tale.” –Boris Karloff, first lines

“You have no reason to be afraid.” –Mary, to Rosy

“What’s the matter, woman? Can’t I fondle my own grandson? Give him to me!” –Gorca, to Ivan’s mother

II: Unifying the Stories

So, why did Bava choose these “three faces of fear” in particular? Why these three stores, as opposed to any other three? If they were merely chosen at random, such a choice would seem to detract from the overall quality of the movie, one which is now ranked #73 on a Time Out poll of the best horror films. Surely, these three specific choices, and how they were crafted, have a meaning in itself.

Since the three stories are separated in terms of plot, time, and setting (the first in early 60s France, the second in 19th century Russia, and the third in London in the 1910s), the link uniting them seems to be one of theme.

Indeed, there are several themes that I’ve found uniting the three stories, especially the first and last in this ABA structure. The main theme is the relationship between fear and desire.

Lacan said that desire is “the desire of the Other,” meaning that we desire to be what other people desire (what we think they desire), and that we desire recognition from others. As for fear, Lacan said that our anxieties spring from not knowing what others want–“the sensation of the desire of the Other…Anxiety is the feeling of the over-proximity of the desire of the Other.” Hence, the link between fear and desire.

Is the desire of others a wish to rape or kill us? Is it their wish to absorb our identity into them and to make us one of them? Is it their wish to take from us what they lack? These are “the three faces of fear” that confront us–sometimes literally, sometimes symbolically–in this film.

III: The Telephone

Though a telephone is a means of communication, of connection, it’s paradoxically also a cause of alienation, since we use it to converse from far distances, making face-to-face communication impossible. This is the central problem of Rosy (played by Michèle Mercier), a pretty young call girl who gets a series of threatening phone calls at home one night from a mysterious person.

She hears the voice of a man who claims to be watching her every move in her apartment: knowing when she’s changed into her dressing gown, when she’s exposing her pretty legs, when she’s hidden her valuables. This knowing is an erotic link between fear and desire; it’s Freud‘s Eros connected with Thanatos, for though the caller craves her beautiful body, it’s to kill her, not to caress her.

She learns from the newspaper that Frank (played by Milo Quesada), her former pimp against whom she testified, has broken out of prison, and she understands that it’s he who has been calling her, wanting to kill her in revenge. She calls her former friend, Mary (played by Lydia Alfonsi), to come over to her apartment to help her feel safe; immediately after hanging up, she gets another threatening call, her victimizer knowing she’s just chatted with Mary on the phone.

Little does Rosy know that Mary, a lesbian admirer who’s had a falling-out with her, is the caller. Mary’s terrorizing of Rosy, to pressure her former lover to let her come back into her life–and into her home, which is symbolic of Rosy’s vagina–is a symbolic lesbian sexual assault. (I’ll return to this symbolism in “The Drop of Water,” the returning A of this ABA structure.)

So, the alienating effect of the telephone conversations, as opposed to Mary’s entering of Rosy’s apartment to talk to her face to face, represents the kind of object relations that WRD Fairbairn wrote about: the Central Ego/Ideal Object configuration (Mary and Rosy, when face to face), the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object configuration (Mary and Rosy when on the phone, with Mary’s desire to have Rosy again), and the Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object configuration (Mary’s threats to Rosy, when impersonating Frank on the phone).

Put another way, Mary is torn between feelings of love and desire (her Libidinal Ego) for Rosy (Mary’s Exciting Object), and feelings of hate and resentment (Mary’s Anti-libidinal Ego) for the ex-lover who spurned her (Mary’s Rejecting Object). Mary’s claim of bearing no grudge is thus an obvious example of denial.

Mary has resolved her conflict between the Eros wish to kiss Rosy, on the one hand, and her Thanatos wish to kill Rosy, on the other, by making the threatening calls. On the one hand, Mary enjoys terrorizing Rosy, and on the other, she is goading Rosy to let her come in [!] her home. Mary’s putting of a knife under Rosy’s pillow suggests that Mary knows Frank is really coming over.

There is the ever-so-slight influence of Guy de Maupassant’s horror short story, “Le Horla” on “The Telephone.” The American bowdlerization of “The Telephone,” not only removing the hints at lesbianism and prostitution, but also making Frank into a ghost who sends Rosy a self-writing letter, makes the story a little closer to Maupassant’s, with its sense of an evil presence encircling, watching, and ultimately controlling the protagonist (who at the end attempts to kill his/her tormentor, but ultimately fails); I must say, however, that this alteration comes off as contrived when compared with the vastly superior Italian original, which needed no supernatural trappings of any kind.

The link between the influence of The Horla (loosely translated, “[that thing] out there,” hors-là), who wants to possess the body of the narrator, and “The Telephone” reinforces my interpretation that the encroachment into Rosy’s apartment is a symbolic rape, especially since I see Frank as a projection of Mary; her impersonating of him on the phone represents a wish-fulfillment to attack Rosy.

Mary gives Rosy a tranquilizer. We see Rosy lying on her bed, towards the end of her sleep; and the light of dawn (by which time the threatened killing of her is supposed to have already happened) is coming through a window. Mary is at a nearby desk writing a letter to Rosy, confessing that she was, in fact, her terrorizer: this was the only way she could be with Rosy again. I wonder–while Rosy was out, did Mary enjoy her? It seems unlikely that Mary would have passed up such an opportunity.

Then, Frank comes in and, thinking it’s Rosy at the desk writing the letter of confession, strangles Mary with one of Rosy’s stockings. Since I see Frank as a projection of Mary’s aggressive feelings towards Rosy, this killing can be seen to symbolize Mary’s Anti-libidinal Ego momentarily triumphing over her Libidinal Ego, meaning that it’s Mary who has wanted to kill Rosy after all. Still, that part of Mary that still loves Rosy wins out in the end, for the knife Mary put under the pillow is used by Rosy to kill her attacker, that projection of Mary’s killer instincts onto Frank, which is once again rebuffed by Mary’s Rejecting Object.

IV: The Wurdalak

A wurdalak is a kind of Slavic vampire that feeds on the blood of those it especially loves–its family and close friends. Here again we see the meeting of fear and desire.

This story is the most faithful of the three to its purported literary sources, in this case, Aleksey Tolstoy’s Family of the Vourdalak. Here we see Boris Karloff doing his thing, and hearing his lines dubbed into Italian is the only drawback of Bava’s original version.

Travelling Vladimir Durfe (played by Mark Damon) stops when he sees a decapitated corpse with an unusual dagger stabbed in its chest. Later, he comes to the cottage of a family, having taken the dagger with him. He enters the cottage and sees an empty space on a wall where the dagger is meant to be hanging.

One of the men of the cottage, Giorgio (played by Glauco Onorato), points a rifle at Vladimir and demands he return the dagger to the family. The dagger is an obvious phallic symbol (as is the rifle), and its not being in the possession of Giorgio’s family is thus a symbolic castration, a Lacanian lack giving rise to desire.

The rest of the family present themselves to Vladimir: Giorgio’s wife (played by Rika Dialina) and their little boy, Ivan; Giorgio’s younger brother, Pietro (played by Massimo Righi), and the men’s sister, the breathtaking Sdenka (played by Susy Andersen), with whom Vladimir is immediately smitten. More desire emerges.

A terrible fear is consuming the family: their old patriarch, Gorca (Karloff), has gone off to destroy a wurdalak. If the old man doesn’t return until after five days (ten days in Tolstoy’s story), then he’s become a wurdalak himself, and he must be destroyed, an agonizing task for his family.

Gorca does return, at just about the last moment when such a return would be safe…or has it been just slightly too late? He looks ghastly and pale, and he’s irritable. He also has a gory wound on his chest, a yonic hole, another symbolic castration, a lack leading to desire.

Indeed, he does feel desire: the creepy old man wishes to “fondle” his grandson, Ivan; the family must indulge him. Here we come to the uncomfortable symbolism of the wurdalak‘s craving of the blood of family–it represents incest, both literal and psychological, leading to enmeshment.

Sexual perversity is at the core of Black Sabbath, the merging of fear and desire: lesbian rape (bear in mind that I am not the one making moral judgements against lesbianism here, the film is; in 1963, homosexuality was far less socially accepted–I’m just exploring theme here), the symbolic necrophilia that I see in “The Drop of Water” (see below), and the vampiric incest in this story.

Vampire stories are a form of erotic horror, with phallic fangs biting into flesh and sucking out blood, leaving pairs of yonic wounds. Such attacks can be seen as symbolic rapes, a taking possession of the victims. I demonstrated such forms of erotic perversity as these in my novel, Vamps, and in my analyses of Martin and ‘Salem’s Lot. From this reasoning, I can conclude that the families of wurdalaks, craving the blood of their kin, are incestuous.

This incestuous desire goes way beyond children’s Oedipal desires for their parents, but it shares the same Oedipal narcissism. One regards one’s whole family as a possession to gratify only one’s own desires, never an outsider’s desires, such as those Vladimir has for Sdenka. For this reason, she feels she cannot escape with him, for Gorca owns her.

Similarly, even before Ivan’s mother has been made a wurdalak, she is so attached to him that, knowing he’s a wurdalak, she won’t let Giorgio destroy Ivan; she would kill herself before allowing that to happen. She takes a knife and stabs Giorgio instead, then opens the door to let her vampire son (and Gorca) inside the house, risking the turning of her entire family into wurdalaks. Such extreme, irrational, overprotective love, going beyond even her love of her husband, suggests a Jocasta complex.

Vladimir’s love for Sdenka offers her the hope of escaping this narcissistic, emotionally abusive family. She runs away with him, stopping at an abandoned cathedral, but the wurdalak family–Gorca, bitten Giorgio and his wife–find her there and, biting her, force her to return with them.

The enmeshment of the abusive family is complete: they just have to ensnare Vladimir with a bite from Sdenka when he returns to their cottage.

V: The Drop of Water

This story is claimed to be based on one by ‘Ivan Chekhov,’ though the actual source is “Dalle tre alle tre e mezzo” (“Between Three and Three-thirty”), by Franco Lucentini, under the pseudonym of P. Kettridge. This third part of the movie shares enough thematic similarities, by my interpretation, to “The Telephone” to indicate a return to A in the film’s ternary form.

Helen Chester (played by Jacqueline Pierreux), a nurse in 1910s London, is in her flat one night; just as Rosy, in “The Telephone,” has returned to her apartment, in early 60s France, at night. In both stories, the protagonist is a woman in modern western Europe, at home at night. Both of them receive irritating phone calls at the beginning of the story.

The caller requires Helen immediately to go to the home of an old medium who has just died; the caller, the medium’s timid maid, needs Helen to dress the body and prepare it for burial. Annoyed, Helen goes over there.

The maid is too afraid to go near the body of a woman who has tampered with the spirit world, so Helen must do all the work unaided. The body has a grotesque, eerie grin on its face. On its finger is a sapphire ring that Helen covets.

Since the maid isn’t there to see Helen’s act of petty larceny, the nurse thinks she’s safe in pulling the ring off the corpse’s finger and stuffing it in her blouse. As soon as she wrests the ring off the dead medium’s finger, though, it falls on the floor; and when she goes down to find it, the corpse’s hand drops on her head, knocking over a glass of water and causing it to spill and drip water on a tray. Then a buzzing fly is seen on the finger where the ring was. It’s as if the medium’s soul has passed by metempsychosis from her body into the fly, so it can pester Helen in revenge for stealing the ring.

Now, to be sure, it is a nice ring, but is it nice enough to steal? I suppose; but would the ghost of the medium be so enraged with Helen’s theft as to want to torment her to the point of making her choke herself to death…over a ring?…over something the medium cannot take with her into the afterlife?

I believe the theft of the ring is symbolic of a far worse outrage, and the medium’s involvement with spirits, likely including evil ones, makes such an outrage plausible, if only symbolically expressed. I see the ring as a yonic symbol, the band representing the vaginal opening, and the sapphire representing either the clitoris or the hymen.

Helen’s theft of the ring, her having been under the demonic influence of one of the spirits with whom the medium has made a dangerous acquaintance, thus symbolizes a lesbian, necrophiliac rape. This symbolism would link this last story thematically with the first one (Mary’s presumed having of Rosy while the latter has been tranquilized), and such an outrage on the corpse would give the medium’s ghost sufficient motive for revenge against Helen.

The spilled glass of water, like those glasses of alcohol Helen drinks in her apartment, would thus also be yonic symbols of her sapphic, sapphire desires [!]. We also see in all of this the link between fear and desire; for right after she slips the ring on her finger and admires it, a symbolic vaginal fingering, she starts noting all the strange, frightening occurrences: the pesky fly having followed her home; the sound of dripping water, symbolic of vaginal discharge, heard everywhere; the power outage (indeed, that light outside her window, flashing on and off, can be seen to symbolize the bright fire of never-fulfilled desire when contrasted with the darkness of fear); and the medium ghost’s appearances, all to terrify Helen.

The link between fear and desire here is in Helen’s guilt over her theft of the medium’s symbolic yoni, her symbolic rape of the corpse. Helen goes mad with guilt, what she sees and hears being visual and auditory hallucinations, and in her madness, she chokes herself to death.

The next morning, a pathologist and doctor discuss Helen’s discovered corpse with her landlady (played by Harriet White Medin), who the night before had to break open the door to discover what Helen’s screaming was all about. Just as Mary pays with her life for Rosy’s symbolic rape, the forced entry into her apartment, and her projection of Frank trying to kill Rosy, so has Helen paid with her life for her symbolic rape of the dead medium.

A cut, or bruise, on Helen’s ring finger indicates that the ring has been pulled off. One may assume that the medium’s ghost has taken it back; but as I said above, the ghost has no use for a ring in the afterlife. I suspect that the landlady, having an agitated look on her face when hearing the sound of dripping water, has stolen the ring.

After all, Helen’s corpse now has an eerie grin just like that of the dead medium. A fresh, white dress is laid out on her bed, just as the maid left one out for the medium. All of these observations suggest a passing-on of the evil from victim to victim, suggesting in turn that, while alive, the medium outraged a previous female corpse, taking the sapphire ring while under the influence of an evil spirit; and now the landlady will be terrorized by Helen’s ghost, and when the landlady dies with an evil grin of her own, yet another woman will snatch the ring [!], and so on, leaving a bruise on the landlady’s finger, symbolic of the injured vaginal walls of a rape victim.

Such passings-on of evil have been observed in the other two stories: Mary’s resentment against Rosy is passed, projected onto Frank, and their aggression is passed on to Rosy, who kills him, with his own killing of Mary being symbolic of her self-destructive lust; the evil of the wurdalak is passed onto Gorca, then to Ivan, to Giorgio and his wife, and finally to Sdenka and Vladimir. Finally, the ghoulish lust for the yonic ring is passed on from woman to woman.

All violent forms of sexuality, three faces of fear, merged with three faces of desire.

‘Sirens,’ a Horror Novella, Chapter Five

[WARNING: sexual and violent content]

The electronic beat was pounding in their ears, and pink, green, and white lights were flashing in their eyes. Eddie was making progress with a pretty, curvaceous blonde that he was dirty dancing with; then he noticed one of his friends, Virgil, was dancing off on his own. Virgil was acting as if he were dancing with several girls.

Eddie tapped on the shoulder of one of his friends dancing nearby. “Hey, what the fuck is Virgil doing over there?” he asked, gesturing over to Virgil’s loneliness at the side of the dance floor.

All of Eddie’s friends looked over at Virgil and laughed.

“Hey, Virgil!” Eddie shouted. “What the fuck, man?!”

Virgil seemed deaf to him. He also seemed to be talking to himself.

Eddie’s friend tapped him on the shoulder. “Did Virgil take a half-pill of powerful ecstasy, or something? He must be too high to know what he’s doing.”

“I’d say he took a whole pill,” Eddie said. “He must be hallucinating. He’s acting like he’s with a bunch of hot chicks.”

“It looks that way,” the friend said.

A few seconds later, it looked as though some invisible person were holding Virgil by the hands and leading him off the dance floor. The boys saw an ear-to-ear grin on his face, as well as sparkling, hypnotized eyes. As he walked towards the door out of the dance bar, he had both arms around invisible waists.

“Holy shit,” Eddie said, wide-eyed. “He must be really, really wasted.”

************

Virgil was driving his car, feeling the redhead blowing him. (His hard-on was poking out of his open fly, doing nothing but getting harder.)

“So, where…are we going, girls?” he panted. “Oh!

“Just keep going straight,” the brunette said. “We’re almost there.”

He kept driving for several more minutes, hypnotized by the three girls’ singing and the lips and tongue he felt going up and down on his cock. Oddly, he heard three-part, not two-part, vocal harmony.

“Oh, you girls…are talented,” he moaned. “You suck…while singing, but don’t…suck at singing. Oh!

He looked all around his surroundings, seeing flat fields of grass, airstrips, and parked airplanes.

“You wanna screw…in an airfield?” he grunted.

“Yes,” the brunette said, then resumed singing with the other two.

“Why here?” he panted.

“It’s sexy,” the blonde said. “In a public place, we might get caught.” She resumed singing.

“Don’t you think that’s exciting?” the brunette asked, then sang again.

“Yeah, I guess,” he sighed. “Unh!

They approached a big plane, one with a huge propellor.

“Stop here,” the brunette said.

“OK,” he sighed, then parked his car by the plane.

He got out, hearing the girls’ singing as his full erection was still pointing out of his zipper. The redhead took him by the hands and led him just in front of the propellor, a few steps to the left of the centre. Then she knelt before him and resumed her sucking…or so he imagined.

At the same time, he imagined the brunette behind him, kissing him on the neck and fingering his nipples. The blonde was facing him, her legs spread out and on either side of the squatting redhead. He was French-kissing the blonde while her hands were on his buttocks, squeezing them and pressing them with her fingers.

The girls were singing the whole time, even while French-kissing and blowing him, and while the brunette nibbled on his neck. They didn’t need their mouths to be free, since they weren’t physical. Virgil heard what sounded like the words of a foreign language in their singing; he couldn’t recognize what language it was, let alone understand its meaning…not that he cared.

He was in sensual heaven.

Then, the engine of the airplane started, though no one was in the cockpit. The wind blowing on him, the rumbling of the engine–he barely noticed them. It was as if the mild breeze and hum of a large fan were cooling him. He was too busy screwing his illusions.

The wheels of the plane were moving it slowly forward.

He, still with his hard-on pointing towards the propellor, was still standing a few feet to the left of its centre. All he saw, though, were the mesmerizing eyes of the blonde he seemed to be kissing.

“Hey!” called out a female voice he didn’t notice at all. “What are you doing here? Who is in that plane…? Oh!” She was now close enough to him to notice his dick was out; she quickly looked away. “What are you, some kind of pervert? All alone with your…?”

Since her head was still turned away, it was his blood spraying all over her that made her realize the propellor had already begun slicing him up.

She looked back at him and screamed from all the red she saw splashing everywhere. She quickly backed away.

Oddly, he didn’t seem to notice what was happening to him. No pain at all.

Armless, with only half of his dick left at the moment, and thoroughly bloody, he just kept French-kissing that invisible blonde.

‘Sirens,’ A Horror Novella, Chapter One

The three beauties just appeared out of nowhere. Ari couldn’t believe his luck. He was standing at the bar of the dance club, waiting for the bartender to give him his beer, when the three young women walked up to him, all three of them grinning. Then they asked his name.

And now he had all three of them on his motorcycle. He was taking them on a highway towards his apartment. His bike was big enough to fit all three of them on it.

Ari couldn’t believe his luck.

All three women had wavy, shoulder-length hair: a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. All three wore tight, sleeveless dresses that showed plenty of cleavage and went only half-way down their upper legs. The blonde wore black, the brunette wore red, and the redhead wore gold. Their high heels matched the colour of their dresses. The brunette wore black fishnet stockings.

And now they were all on his bike. Unbelievable luck.

They hadn’t said much to each other in the dance club. Though he’d drunk only the one beer, he was feeling a kind of intoxication the whole time he was with the girls.

It was strange, but why would he have cared? He was about to get the most amazing lay of his life. As he looked up at the starry, moonlit night, he imagined how the reverse gang-bang was going to be: him fucking one pussy, licking the second pussy, and fingering the third? Or would he fuck one of them while watching the other two do each other, then they’d all switch positions?

He felt a strange, buzzing, tingling vibration with those girls all around him. It felt amazingly good, too good to be suspicious about. It was like swimming in a sea of pleasure, the wavy ‘water’ soothing his whole body.

And those girls, with their curves, round asses, and huge tits! Their faces brightly painted to perfection! And they wanted him! He didn’t even have to do much work to take them home with him. It was more like them pursuing him than the traditional vice versa.

As he’d danced with them on the crowded dance floor, their hips grinding together, he could hear them singing in his ears, a beautiful, perfect three-part vocal harmony with the techno music and its pounding rhythms surrounding him. The other people dancing around him were looking at him strangely, as if he were making a fool of himself.

What’s their problem? he wondered as he felt the blonde’s ass rubbing against his pointy crotch. Haven’t they ever seen a guy dirty dancing with three hot chicks before? I’ll bet they’re just envious.

Now, all three of them were with him on his bike, the blonde in front, her ass grinding on his hard lap again. The brunette was immediately behind him, her arms around his chest, her fingers tickling his nipples. The redhead was behind her, of course, and as he could see from his rear-view mirrors, she had her arms around the brunette, her hands cupping her tits.

As he raced down the highway, on a lonely, open road, he could hear them singing again. It was odd that they would sing like that, but it was such pretty, seductive music. Hearing it made him feel as if he were high on ecstasy.

I’m still driving OK, he reassured himself.

He felt those intoxicating, wave-like vibes going around and through his body, undulating to the cadence of the three women’s singing. Sometimes the bike veered a little to the left–to the lane for oncoming traffic–or to the right shoulder of the road, near a ditch, but he generally kept control.

“What’s with all the singing, girls?” he shouted out.

“Don’t you like it?” the brunette asked.

“Well, yeah, but…” he began.

“Go faster!” the blonde shouted. “It gets me hot! Faster!

“OK.” He sped up.

“How much longer till we get to your place?” the redhead shouted.

“Oh, about another twenty minutes or so,” he said.

Faster!” the blonde shouted again. He went faster.

“You sure live far away from the city,” the redhead said.

“Yeah, I do,” he said.

Faster!” the blonde shouted. He sped up again, and the girls resumed their singing.

There’s that beautiful singing again, he thought, not noticing the huge truck that was approaching in the opposing lane. Oh, those good vibrations…

He veered into the truck’s lane, so charmed was he by the singing that he was oblivious to what he had done. Those undulating, blurry vibes moving before his eyes and massaging every muscle in his body made him forget everything that was actually happening around him.

The singing continued.

That truck was getting closer.

The driver gave several urgent honks of his horn, but Ari didn’t hear them at all. The girls’ singing was drowning out every other sound in the area.

He was grinning to the beautiful harmony of their singing, as were the girls. His eyes were closed…as were the girls’.

“What the fuck is wrong with that guy?” the truck driver said, still honking his horn. “He must be stoned!”

He tried to slow the truck down and swerve out of Ari’s way, but it was too late: the bike skidded and tipped to the right, for only at the last split-second did Ari finally see what danger he was in. The very last thing he felt was his pelvis being crushed under the wheels of the truck.

And the three beauties just disappeared into nowhere.

Analysis of ‘Salò’

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma) is a 1975 art horror film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The screenplay, written by Sergio Citti and Pasolini, was based on the Marquis de Sade‘s unfinished pornographic novel of the same name (sans Salò, or). Pasolini updated the story, moving it from the Château de Silling in 18th century France to the final years of WWII, in fascist Italy, during the time of the fascist Republic of Salò.

The film stars Paolo Bonacelli (who also played Cassius Chaerea in the Penthouse Caligula film), Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto Paolo Quintavalle, and Aldo Valletti as four wealthy libertines who abduct, sexually abuse, torture, and ultimately murder a group of teenage boys and girls. The cast also includes Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, and Hélène Surgère as three middle-aged prostitutes who tell erotic stories to inflame the lust of the libertines and inspire them to acts of depravity.

Salò was and still is controversial for its shocking depiction of sexual violence against the teenaged boys and girls, at least some of whom are believed to have been underage at the time of filming, though they all look as though they could be 18 or 19 years of age. For these reasons, Salò is considered one of the most disturbing films ever made. It has been banned in many countries.

As a gay communist, Pasolini was trying to make some harsh social critiques in the making of this movie, especially as a critique of capitalism and the atrocities of fascism. He was murdered by bitter anti-communists, who allegedly had in their possession stolen rolls of film from the movie, just after its completion. Still, despite the unsettling subject matter of the film (or rather, because of it), Salò has been highly praised by many critics.

Here are some quotes, in English translation:

[first lines: four men, sitting at a table, each sign a booklet] The Duke: Your Excellency.
The Magistrate: Mr. President.
The President: My lord.
The Bishop: All’s good if it’s excessive.

“Dear friends, marrying each other’s daughters will unite our destinies for ever.” –the Duke

“Within a budding grove, the girls think but of love. Hear the radio, drinking tea and to hell with being free. They’ve no idea the bourgeoisie has never hesitated to kill its children.” –the Duke

“Signora Vaccari is sure to soon turn them into first class whores. Nothing is more contagious than evil.” –the Magistrate

“I was nine when my sister took me to Milan to meet Signora Calzetti. She examined me and asked if I wanted to work for her. I said I would, if the pay was good. My first client, a stout man named Vaccari, looked me over carefully. At once, I showed him my pussy, which I thought was very special. He covered his eyes: “Out of the question. I’m not interested in your vagina, cover it up.” He covered me, making me lie down, and said “All these little whores know is to flaunt their vaginas. Now I shall have to recover from that disgusting sight.” –Signora Vaccari

“Homage to the rear temple is often more fervent than the other.” –the President

“On the bridge of Perati, there flies a black flag, the mourning of the Julian regiment that goes to war. On the bridge of Perati, there flies a black flag. The best young men lie under the earth.” –the Duke, singing

“We Fascists are the only true anarchists, naturally, once we’re masters of the state. In fact, the one true anarchy is that of power.” –the Duke

“It is when I see others degraded that I rejoice knowing it is better to be me than the scum of “the people”. Whenever men are equal, without that difference, happiness cannot exist. So you wouldn’t aid the humble, the unhappy. In all the world no voluptuousness flatters the senses more than social privilege.” –the Duke

“I remember I once had a mother too, who aroused similar feelings in me. As soon as I could, I sent her to the next world. I have never known such subtle pleasure as when she closed her eyes for the last time.” –the Duke

The Duke: [Renata is crying] Are you crying for your mama? Come, I’ll console you! Come here to me!
The President: [singing] Come, little darling to your good daddy / He’ll sing you a lullaby
The Duke: Heavens, what an opportunity you offer me. Sra. Maggi’s tale must be acted upon at once.
Female Victim: Sir, Sir. Pity. Respect my grief. I’m suffering so, at my mother’s fate. She died for me and I’ll never see her again.
The Duke: Undress her.
Female Victim: Kill me! At least God, whom I implore, will pity me. Kill me, but don’t dishonour me.
The Duke: This whining’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard.

The President: [while eating a meal of faeces] Carlo, do this with your fingers. [the President sticks two fingers in his mouth] And say, “I can’t eat rice with my fingers like this.”
Male Victim: [with fingers in his mouth] I can’t eat rice.
The President: Then eat shit.

“It is not enough to kill the same person over and over again. It is far more recommendable to kill as many beings as possible.” –Signora Castelli

“Idiot, did you really think we would kill you? Don’t you see we want to kill you a thousand times, to the limits of eternity, if eternity could have limits?” –the Bishop

“The principle of all greatness on earth has long been totally bathed in blood. And, my friends, if my memory does not betray me – yes, that’s it: without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness. Without bloodshed. Baudelaire.” –the Magistrate

[last lines: two young male guards are dancing with each other] Guard: What’s your girlfriend’s name?
Guard: Marguerita.

Four wealthy and politically powerful libertines–a duke (Bonacelli), a president (Valletti), a bishop (Cataldi), and a magistrate (Quintavalle)–discuss plans to marry each other’s daughters (without their consent, of course), as well as to abduct youths and maidens to abuse sexually and torture physically and mentally (and even kill some of them) over a period of four months.

These four libertines obviously represent the ruling class, though in the context of late fascist Italy (i.e., Mussolini and Hitler are about to lose the war), we can see their sadism as representing capitalism in crisis (fascism, properly understood, is a kind of hyper-capitalism). When such a crisis occurs, the gentle, smiling face of the liberal is revealed to be a mask covering the scowling face of fascism. Hence, the four men’s cruelty.

The victims, frequently if not always naked, represent the proletariat: exploited, brutalized, vulnerable, humiliated, and lacking the means to live freely. Recall Hamlet’s use of the word naked (‘stripped of all belongings, without means’ [Crystal and Crystal, page 292], as used in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vii, lines 43-51), to understand the symbolic meaning of the victims’ nakedness.

The studs, or fouteurs (“fuckers”) in Sade’s story (Sade, page 80), as well as the young male collaborators, or guards (dressed in the uniforms of the Decima Flottiglia MAS) represent the police and standing army of the bourgeois state. They are comparable to the militarized police of today. Without them, the four libertines would have no power, and the same, of course, goes for the state.

These young men are all rounded up to work for the four libertines, and only one of them, Ezio, is reluctant to do so. Indeed, when the guards apprehend the libertines’ daughters, all as members of the bourgeoisie who normally would be used to much better treatment (apart from their fathers’ previous rapes of them, as understood in Sade’s novel), Ezio apologizes to the women, saying he must obey orders. If only all of these thugs could understand that some orders shouldn’t be obeyed, such horrors as those seen in this movie wouldn’t happen.

But how does one get through to class collaborators?

Since capitalism is sheer hell for the poor–as I observed in my analysis of American Psycho, another story involving brutal violence inflicted by the rich–it is appropriate that Salò be divided into sections reminding us of Dante‘s Inferno: Anteinferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit, and Circle of Blood. Abandon all hope, ye proletarians who enter here.

None of the four libertines are named, and the studs and collaborators aren’t often called by name. The three middle-aged prostitute storytellers are named, but the piano player isn’t; and of the victims who are named, most have names equal or approximate to those of the actors portraying them, as if naming them was an afterthought by Pasolini. Thus, we aren’t very conscious of the names of many of the characters. This near-anonymity reinforces the sense of emotional distance, the alienation, felt not just between all the characters, but between them and us, the audience.

Indeed, one of the many reasons that this film is so disturbing to viewers, as has been noted by critics, is how we cannot get close to any of the characters, there being too many of them to focus on any; so it is difficult to empathize with, to care for, any of them individually (except for shit-eating, motherless Renata and the daughter who is tripped and raped at dinner, and these are only a few incidents, not plot points drawn out for the full length of the film), and the ability to empathize with individual characters is crucial for grounding in the story, for being able to enjoy it.

We pity the victims in a general sense, we pity them en masse, but we can’t follow any individual character arcs. There is no sense of anyone growing, developing, or changing; it’s just victims entering a sea of trauma and swimming through undifferentiated torment from beginning to end.

We know the victims are doomed, and that their depraved masters are irredeemable. There’s nothing anybody can do to help the victims, so all that there is here is a sadistic stasis throughout. Lasciate ogne speranza,…

In Sade’s novel, the characters are grouped and categorized in a manner almost like taxonomy: the four libertines, the prostitute storytellers, the libertines’ daughters, the huit fouteurs, the four elderly, ugly women, etc. The numbers of characters are often reduced (e.g., four studs instead of eight) in the film, and Sade generally names the characters, but this sense of ‘taxonomy’ is retained in Salò.

This categorizing of characters is significant in terms of the Italian fascist context of the film, since Mussolini wanted his fascist society to be broken up into corporate groups of people according to the functions they were meant to perform in society (syndicates). When Mussolini spoke of “corporatism,” this is what he meant, not the corporatocracy that we see today, the unholy alliance of business corporations with the state, which is really just the logical extreme that capitalism comes to.

The fact that the libertines allow their daughters to be abused and killed doesn’t in any way detract from them also being symbolic of the bourgeoisie. The daughters are every bit as representative of capitalists–that is, the less fortunate ones–as their fathers are. Recall Marx’s words: “One capitalist always strikes down many others.” (Marx, page 929)

Apart from the fact that their fathers’ cruelty to them is a reflection of the patriarchal family, especially cruel in a fascist context, the daughters as victims can be seen as representative of, for example, the Jewish petite bourgeoisie up until the Nazis stripped them of their rights with the Nuremberg Laws. Hence, the daughters being stripped naked and forced to stay naked throughout the four months, humiliated, made to serve everyone’s meals and to endure being spat on by the guards and raped by the studs.

Indeed, the first scene in which the daughters appear as naked waitresses is one that I find to be among the most painful to watch. What we see here is the essence of fascism: the guards and studs, as class collaborators instead of joining in solidarity to overthrow the ruling class, would rather target and bully a select portion of the petite bourgeoisie, symbolized by the daughters.

That poor daughter who is tripped and raped by one of the studs, while the others watch and laugh at her–the bourgeois fathers would rather sing a song together than help the girl. This is the essence of the bourgeois family: being more concerned with maintaining power and prestige than even with helping their own children.

Marx, in The Communist Manifesto, wrote of how there is no meaningful sense of family among the proletariat: “On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution…Do you charge us [communists] with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty.” (II: Proletarians and Communists)

Indeed, with all the teen victims snatched away from their parents (and Renata actually having witnessed the murder of her own mother, who tried to save her), we can see the truth of Marx’s observation. To make matters worse, though, we see this injustice to the family extended to that of the bourgeoisie itself, in the form of the libertines’ abuse of their daughters. The psychopathic and narcissistic libertines have no qualms at all about abusing their own flesh and blood.

The prostitutes, catering on the one hand to libertine lust with their erotic storytelling, and on the other hand being far less vicious to the victims, can be seen to represent the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie. The ruling class maintains its power over us with a kind of one-two punch: the liberal jab, and the conservative right-cross.

When liberals are elected, they give the people the false hope that all will be well with their modest reforms, which don’t really help the people in any meaningful way, but rather exist as concessions that keep us at bay and stave off revolution. Then, when we’re comfortable and complacent, conservatives get elected and create harsher legislation, which we hate but ultimately get used to, so no attempt is ever made, when liberals get reelected, to reverse the hated new laws. One-two punch.

We can see such a situation as symbolized by how, for example, Signora Vaccari holds naked Renata in her arms as a mother would her child. Yet it isn’t long after that that the trembling, traumatized girl is forced into a mock marriage with Sergio during the ceremony of which the Duke fondles a number of the male and female victims; then the boy and girl are pressured to fondle each other, then they are raped by the libertines to stop them from consummating their own ‘marriage.’

Later, at the beginning of the Circle of Blood, the duke, president, and magistrate, all in women’s clothes, growl at the weeping victims, demanding that they smile and laugh during this ‘joyous’ occasion of a mock wedding between the libertine ‘brides’ and the stud grooms. Vaccari and the piano player (played by Sonia Saviange) improvise jokes to make the victims laugh. We all know, however, that this is only a brief respite from the teens’ endless frowning.

Another way that the prostitute storytellers can be seen as symbolic of liberals is in how their lewd stories parody, and thus can represent, our permissive pop culture, with its gratuitous swearing in Hollywood movies and sexually suggestive pop and rock songs. We seem to be liberated with such indulgences, but in our growing poverty, we aren’t.

The scene in which the libertines have the victims, including their daughters, crawl naked on all fours and bark like dogs to be fed is significant. I suspect they have been starved, and the only way they can hope to be fed is to degrade themselves in this way. It makes me think of how capitalists use charity to create the illusion that their philanthropy is generosity rather than just good public relations. Poverty is solved by a socialist reorganizing of society, providing guaranteed housing, healthcare, employment, education, etc., not giving occasional ‘charitable’ dollars to the poor.

When the poor are given alms out of pity, that pity is really condescension coming from the ruling class. And in Salò, when one of the male victims (Lamberto) refuses to be so degraded, the magistrate whips him until he passes out. Later, the magistrate hides nails in some food and feeds it to one of the daughters, who screams in pain on having the nails stab into her mouth. Some charity.

From the Circle of Manias we go to an even more torturous one, the Circle of Shit. It is appropriate that this one be in the middle of the movie, for as film scholar Stephen Barber has observed, Salò is centred around the anus. This is true not only because of the revolting coprophagia that we see, but also in all the sodomy, that is, all the gay sex.

On one level, the coprophagia–at the dinner table in particular–represents our society’s overindulgence in junk food. When you see a fork or a spoon raising a turd from a plate up to one’s ever-so-reluctant mouth, think of a McDonald’s hamburger.

On a deeper level, though–and this is especially evident in the notorious scene in which the Duke defecates on the floor and forces Renata to eat it–the coprophagia can be seen to represent the splitting-off and projection of hated aspects of oneself (understood as internal objects of the negative aspects of one’s parents), to be introjected by others. Melanie Klein observed that a baby, experiencing what she called the paranoid-schizoid position, would engage in projective identification, ejecting unwanted parts of itself and making its mother receive those projections, which in unconscious phantasy often come in the forms of faeces or urine.

Wilfred Bion took Klein’s notion of projective identification further, stating that babies and psychotics use it as a primitive, pre-verbal form of communication. Bion‘s theory of containment is normally applied to a mother’s soothing of her distressed, agitated baby, or to a therapist dealing with a deeply disturbed patient. Negative containment (see Bion, pages 97-99), however, results when a narcissistic or psychopathic parent, or therapist–or in the case of Salò, the four libertines–do the opposite of soothing, worsening the agitation of the baby, patient, or Salò victims, so that the distress changes into a nameless dread.

The container, or receiver of the stressful emotions (the parent or therapist), is given a feminine symbol, implying a yoni; the contained, or projection of those emotions (those of the baby or patient), is given a masculine symbol, implying a phallus. So the process of containment can, in turn, be symbolized by the notion of making love. In Salò, however, the container isn’t symbolized by the yoni, but by the anus.

The soothing of containment as symbolized by lovemaking, therefore, has relevance in Salò only in the context of homosexual sex, hence the homoeroticism in the film shouldn’t be surprising. The only mutually pleasurable sex in this film is between libertines and their willing gay partners (symbolic class collaborators), i.e., the bishop and his stud, and the duke and his catamite (Rino), one of the few boys among the victims who, because of his willing submission, isn’t brutalized. Apart from these oases from abuse (including some lesbian sex among the female victims), there is only rape.

This rape, be it penile/vaginal or anal rape, is all a symbol of the negative containment described above. The libertines, studs, and guards project their viciousness onto their victims, either in the form of rapes, or, using their shit as the contained, they project their cruelty into their victims’ mouths, another container.

The resulting trauma is the victims’ nameless dread. The introjectively identified cruelty is then manifested in the victims when they later betray other victims, or when Umberto, a victim promoted to guard/collaborator to replace Ezio, calls the boy victims “culattoni!” (faggots!)

One doesn’t have to accept Freud‘s theory of anal expulsiveness (i.e., drive theory) to see its symbolic resonance as applied to Salò. Two noteworthy traits associated with anal expulsiveness are cruelty and emotional outbursts, as are seen plentifully among the libertines in this film. Psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissism are understood to be caused to a great extent by childhood trauma, which is then projected onto others in the negative container/contained way described above. It’s easy to believe that the four libertines were abused as children, then grew up to be abusers themselves; the same goes for the studs and guards.

At the beginning of the Circle of Blood, we shouldn’t mistake the libertines’ cross-dressing for transgenderism. If anything, their transvestitism and gay marriage to the studs is a fascist mockery of the LGBT community. These are the kind of men who would put muscular transwomen into sporting competitions with cis-women to ensure that the latter lose every time. It’s a typical divide-and-conquer tactic that the ruling class uses to keep the people distracted from revolution.

Fascists and Nazis, of course, have never tolerated the LGBT community. Even Ernst Röhm, the gay leader of the SA, was an exception proving the rule. He was only grudgingly tolerated by Hitler until the Night of the Long Knives, when the Nazis eliminated all of their potential political enemies, using the very politically powerful Röhm’s homosexuality as a rationale to have him killed (apart from an unsubstantiated claim that he was trying to wrest Hitler from power, the so-called “Röhm Putsch”). So when we see any gay sex or cross-dressing among the libertines, none of it should be understood as an affirmation of LGBT rights: it’s just that those four men can do anything they like, because they can, because they have the power.

The mounting suffering of the victims, and their powerlessness, causes their alienation to grow, meaning–apart from the occasional lesbian sex we see–they never feel any sense of solidarity, togetherness, or mutual aid. So when the bishop comes into their sleeping areas and threatens them with punishment for breaking any of their little rules, the victims promptly betray their fellow sufferers so they can save their own skins. This culminates in the betrayal of Ezio, the only guard who obeys the libertines with reluctance.

He is found making love with a black servant girl, offending not only the libertines’ disgust at the sight of penile-vaginal sex (and the implication that the boy and girl are fucking because they love each other, like the husbands and wives they lampoon with their mock marriages), but also arousing their abhorrence of interracial sex. And Ezio’s final offence is his raised fist: the two naked lovers are then shot.

The lovers’ nakedness shows their proletarian identification with the victims. His bold standing there, frontally nude (before four men with lecherous desires for young male bodies) and raising his fist, emphasizes his defiance of their hegemony.

They hesitate before killing him. Is it their lustful reluctance to waste a beautiful body they haven’t taken the opportunity to enjoy? Is it awe at his boldness, when he has absolutely no means to defend himself or fight back (refer above to Hamlet’s use of the word naked)? Is it shock at his unexpected socialist salute, indicating their unwitting employment of one they’d deem a traitor?

The only other reluctant collaborator among them is the piano player, who upon realizing the full extent of her employers’ murderous designs, jumps out of a window and kills herself. Such is the despair that so aggravated a form of right-wing hegemony can arouse in those who love freedom.

Finally, the libertines choose those victims they’ll have murdered, including all their daughters. Wearing blue ribbons around their arms, they await their doom, the daughters sitting in a large bin filled with shit. The daughter who was tripped and raped by the stud at dinner, imitating Christ on the Cross, shouts, “God, God, why have you abandoned us?” When a parent frustrates his or her children (or in this case, abuses them), their oft-used defence mechanism is splitting the parent into absolute good and bad, with a wish to expel the bad parent and keep the good one near; in this case, God as the good father is gone, while the libertines as all-too-bad fathers are all-too-present.

Not only are these victims murdered, they are killed in the most agonizing, sadistic, and drawn-out of ways. The boy Sergio is branded on the nipple. The daughters are raped one last time, one of them killed by hanging. The boy Franco has his tongue cut out. Renata’s breasts are burned, as is a boy’s penis, and a girl is scalped.

The libertines, studs, and guards are the gleefully willing perpetrators, of course, but each libertine goes inside the house to take a turn to watch the murders, which occur outside, from a window, viewing the cruelty through small binoculars. This voyeurism is comparable to our watching of violence in movies and on TV: we’ve seen so much of it that we’re desensitized to it; the voyeurs’ watching of the violence from farther away symbolizes our emotional distance from such violence when we see it on TV and in film.

The two guards we see at the end of the film, two boys dancing to music–can be seen as another fascist mockery of the LGBT community. One of them has a girlfriend named Marguerita–I don’t think he is bisexual.

The horrors seen in this film should be understood as prophetic, a dire warning of a reality that is more and more apparent each coming year. The film’s sadism only symbolizes that reality, but it’s no less of a reality just because of symbolism. Neoliberal capitalism hadn’t yet come into its own as of the mid-Seventies, but Pasolini knew that all of the imperialist ingredients were already on the table. The fascist shit dishes were going to be made and eaten, and quite soon: he could smell them.

Analysis of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’

Eyes Wide Shut is a 1999 erotic thriller produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, his last film before he died. It was also written by him and Frederic Raphael, based on the novella Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler. It stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (actually married at the time), who play Bill and Alice Harford, a doctor and his wife who, just before Christmas, struggle with jealousy and temptations to adultery.

The film follows Schnitzler’s novella closely, changing only the setting (from early 20th century Vienna, during the Carnival, to late 20th century New York City, pre-Christmas) and characters’ names (Fridolin to Bill Harford, Albertina/Albertine to Alice, Nachtigall to Nick Nightingale [played by Todd Field], Mizzi to Domino, etc.), and adding more erotic or quasi-erotic content (i.e., more nude scenes). A 1969 German TV movie, with English subtitles, of Traumnovelle can be found here.

Here are some quotes:

“Don’t you think one of the charms of marriage is that it makes deception a necessity for both parties?” –Sandor, the Hungarian dancing with Alice

“Sex is the last thing on my mind when I’m with a patient.” –Bill, to Alice

Bill: Uh… look… women don’t… They basically, just don’t think like that.
Alice: Millions of years of evolution, right? Right!? Men have to stick it in every place they can, but for women it’s just about security, and commitment, and- and whatever the fuck else!
Bill: A little oversimplified, Alice, but yes, something like that.
Alice: If you men only knew.

“I first saw him that morning in the lobby. He was- he was checking into the hotel and he was following the bellboy with his luggage… to the elevator. He… he glanced at me as he walked past; just a glance. Nothing more. And I… could hardly… move. That afternoon, Helena went to the movie with her friend and… you and I made love. And we made plans about our future. And we talked about Helena. And yet, at no time, was he ever out of my mind. And I thought that if he wanted me, even if it was only… for one night… I was ready to give up everything. You. Helena. My whole fucking future. Everything. And yet it was weird because at the same time, you were dearer to me than ever. And… and at that moment, my love for you was both… tender… and sad. I… I barely slept that night. And I woke up the next morning in a panic. I don’t know if I was afraid that he had left or that he might still be there. But by dinner… I realized he was gone. And I was relieved.” –Alice, telling Bill about the naval officer she was tempted to have an affair with during the family vacation at Cape Cod

Mysterious Woman: [at the masked orgy] I don’t know who you are or what you think you’re doing, but you obviously don’t belong here.
Dr. Bill Harford: I’m sorry. I think you must have me mistaken for someone else.
Mysterious Woman: [whispering] Don’t be crazy. You are in great danger.

Red Cloak: [pleasantly] Please, come forward. May I have the password?
Bill: Fidelio.
Red Cloak: That’s correct, sir! That is the password… for admittance. But may I ask, what is the password for the house?
Bill: The password for the house…
Red Cloak: Yes?
Bill: I’m sorry. I… seem to have… forgotten it.
Red Cloak: That’s unfortunate! Because here, it makes no difference whether you have forgotten it, or whether you never knew it. You will kindly remove your mask. [Bill removes mask] Now, get undressed.
Bill: [nervously] Get… undressed?
Red Cloak: [sternly] Remove your clothes.
Bill: Uh… gentlemen…
Red Cloak: Remove your clothes. Or would you like us to do it for you?

“If the good doctor himself should ever want anything again… anything at all… it needn’t be a costume.” –Mr. Milich

“Listen, Bill, I don’t think you realize what kind of trouble you were in last night. Who do you think those people were? Those were not just ordinary people there. If I told you their names… I’m not gonna tell you their names, but if I did, I don’t think you’ll sleep so well.” –Ziegler

Bill: There was a… there was a… there was, uh, a woman there. Who, uh… tried to warn me.
Ziegler: I know.
Bill: Do you know who she was?
Ziegler: Yes. She was… she was a hooker. Sorry, but… that’s what she was.
Bill: A hooker?
Ziegler: Bill, suppose I told you that… that everything that happened to you there… the threats, the- the girl’s warnings, her last minute intervention, suppose I said that all of that… was staged. That it was a kind of charade. That it was fake.
Bill: Fake?
Ziegler: Yes, fake.
Bill: Why would they do that?
Ziegler: Why? In plain words… to scare the living shit out of you. To keep you quiet about where you’d been and what you’d seen.

Bill: The woman lying dead in the morgue was the woman at the party.
Ziegler: Yes.
Bill: Well, Victor, maybe I’m missing something here. You call it fake, a charade… Do you mind telling me what kind of fucking charade ends up with somebody turning up dead!?
Ziegler: Okay, Bill, let’s cut the bullshit, alright? You’ve been way out of your depth for the last twenty-four hours. You want to know what kind of charade? I’ll tell you exactly what kind. That whole play-acted “take me” sacrifice that you’ve been jerking off with had nothing to do with her real death. Nothing happened after you left that hadn’t happened to her before. She got her brains fucked out. Period.

“And no dream is ever just a dream.” –Bill

Themes pervading both Eyes Wide Shut and Traumnovelle include jealousy, temptation, and the blurry distinction between dream/fantasy and reality. Also, there’s a close relationship between sex and death, between Eros and Thanatos.

One night, Dr. Bill Harford and his wife, Alice, go to a Christmas party hosted by his wealthy friend and patient, Victor Ziegler (played by Sydney Pollack). Both husband and wife are assailed with temptations almost from their arrival: a handsome Hungarian named Sandor makes moves on her, while Bill has two beautiful young models charming him. Already tipsy Alice, while dancing with Sandor, sees Bill with the two women and feels a pang of jealousy.

Soon after, Bill is to be subjected potentially to more temptation when Ziegler needs him upstairs to take care of a beautiful and naked prostitute who has overdosed on speedball. Now, Bill can easily resist thoughts of lust for her, since his love and commitment to Alice is…so far…unshaken by any fears of unfaithfulness from her.

Indeed, the whole time Bill is examining the nude prostitute, he looks only at her face, asking her to open her eyes and look at him. He never gives in to the temptation of looking down at her body. He asks what her name is (Mandy, played by Julienne Davis), showing further that he, as a responsible doctor and family man, has no interest at all in treating her like a sex object.

He tells her that she’s lucky she hasn’t died…this time, but she mustn’t do these kinds of dangerous drugs ever again. To Bill, she’s a human being, though to Ziegler, her rich client, she’s a human commodity to be enjoyed. In this scene, we see the first example of sex juxtaposed with death, or at least the danger of death.

Bill, as a middle class bourgeois, is content with what he has, since he feels no threat of losing it. But when Alice, stoned with him on marijuana the night after the party, tells him of the temptation she had of having an affair with a naval officer while she and Bill were on vacation in Cape Cod the year before, he wonders if she’s told him the whole truth, or if she’s concealing an actual affair she’s had with the man.

Bill’s fear of having been cuckolded is a symbolic castration of him, an unmanning. The resulting lack gives rise to a desire for other women he hitherto hasn’t had. A further unmanning occurs when Bill is walking the streets of New York that night, after making a sudden house call (during which a woman, the daughter of a man who has just died, declares her love to Bill…more temptation for him). A group of college-age men, one of whom bumps into Bill, taunts him with homophobic slurs. Like Fridolin in Traumnovelle, Bill feels like a coward for not challenging them to a fight.

Soon after, as he continues walking the streets, moping, and ruminating about Alice’s suspected adultery, a pretty young prostitute named Domino (played by Vinessa Shaw) comes up to him and invites him up to her apartment. Here we see how his symbolic castration, his wounded sense of manhood, his lack, gives rise to his desire.

Though he doesn’t go through with having sex with Domino (a phone call from Alice ruins the mood), the point is that he has seriously considered the sex. He even pays her the full amount.

Bourgeois, middle class Bill is liberal in his thinking: smoking pot with Alice, respectful to women when they are undressed, and therefore repressing his darker desires. But when the security of his world is threatened, those darker impulses of his start to come to the surface.

In The Liberal Mindset, I described the psychological conflict the liberal has between his id impulses towards pleasure (sex, drugs, etc.) and his superego-influenced sense of morality about responsibility to social justice issues. Since Schnitzler and Freud thought very similarly about sex and psychology (they even exchanged correspondence), it seems appropriate to apply Freudian psychoanalysis to my interpretation of this movie.

Bill, as a doctor and devoted husband (and as a bourgeois liberal), has a strong superego that normally prevents him from indulging in any temptations to adultery or to objectifying women. As long as all that is his is secure, he will be a good boy; but if the security of what is his is threatened, his superego will no longer restrain his id.

Similarly with the liberal, as long as his or her class privileges are safe, he or she will be generous and have a kind attitude towards the disadvantaged. He or she will make endless pleas for peace, and will speak out against such problems as income inequality; but elect the wrong presidential candidate, and the liberal will bang the war drums against any country accused–without a shred of evidence–of having aided said candidate to win, and he or she will have no qualms about voting in a candidate equally right-wing as this wrongfully elected incumbent, no matter how unsympathetic this new, desired candidate is to millennials or to the plight of the poor…as long as he is a Democrat.

The mask of the superego slips off, and we see the face of the id. Speaking of masks…

After the failed encounter with Domino (already proof of Bill’s willingness to exploit the poverty of prostitutes to satisfy his desires), Bill finds a night club where he knows his old friend, Nick Nightingale, is playing jazz piano. The two men chat after the end of the gig, and Bill learns of Nick’s next, far more exciting one: in the mansion of a secret society whose members are masked and cloaked, and where there will also be a bevy of beautiful, nude women!

By the end of the movie, we learn that Ziegler is one of the masked men in the mansion, as is Mandy, according to him, anyway (though she, also masked, and the one who warns Bill to leave immediately, is played by a different actress–Abigail Good). These nude, masked women are obviously prostitutes meant to satisfy the lust of the men of the secret society, men of wealth, power, and influence. By an interesting irony, the men’s masks give them their power, the power of anonymity; the prostitutes’ masks strip them of their power, by making them faceless, robbing them of their individuality, making them mere commodities instead of letting them be human beings.

Bill–the man whose superego kept him from objectifying women before, kept him from ever dreaming [!] of exploiting prostitutes, now, with his suspicions of Alice’s infidelity (and the password to the house is Fidelio!)–is letting his id run wild. He eagerly insists that Nightingale give him the password and address to the mansion.

Given the outrageous nature of the goings-on in the mansion, the pagan, seemingly near-Satanic rituals, and the orgies, as well as how unlikely the members of the secret society would just let Bill in, him having arrived in a taxi cab instead of in a limo, it seems less likely that Bill has really experienced the orgy scene than that he has just dreamed it, or at least fantasized about it.

Traumnovelle means “Dream Story”; Eyes Wide Shut seems to mean “eyes wide open while seeing a dream” (i.e., with one’s eyes shut), or it could mean refusing to see reality, preferring to see one’s fantasies. In other words, one is so preoccupied with seeing the fantasies used to gratify the pleasure principle (id), and is so preoccupied with the accompanying guilt (superego), that one’s eyes are shut to the reality principle (ego).

Along with the controversy of the sexual material in much of Schnitzler’s writing, he was also known to have been a highly sexed man, given to many a dalliance with women. Added to this was his chauvinistic attitude, most prevalent at the time, of course, that his female lovers ought to have been virgins. Only he was permitted to have a multitude of lovers.

There is much of Schnitzler in Fridolin (and therefore also in Bill, though in a more muted form, thanks to Kubrick’s and Raphael’s rewrites), and so his sexual double standards are reflected in the protagonist’s attitude; though, to be fair, Fridolin and Bill have their share of guilt over their sexual venturings. Indeed, on some level, Traumnovelle seems to have been Schnitzler’s purging of his own voracious sexual appetite.

So, has the whole, wild night really happened, is it just Bill’s imagination, or is it somewhere in between? A dream is the fulfillment of a wish, as Freud originally observed; or, as he observed two decades later in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, with his theories of the death drive and repetition compulsion, sometimes one engages in patterns of self-injury, or acts out unpleasant experiences over and over again. In other words, sometimes one has self-destructive urges, as Bill’s refusal to heed the Mysterious Woman’s warnings of the danger that the secret society poses to him–were it all a dream dramatized in his mind–would seem to indicate.

Recall that Bill has just smoked weed with Alice before going out for the house call. I don’t think his being stoned has detracted from the fantastic aspects of his experiences that night. He could easily have nodded off in his cab a couple of times–the ride to the house call and back–and he could thus have dreamt all, or at least part, of the more extreme experiences.

Certainly his encounter at the costume rental, with Mr. Milich (played by Rade Serbedžija) and his sex-kitten teen daughter (played by Leelee Sobieski), her being caught undressed with two Asian men in that awkward incident, seems wild enough to have been part of a dream. Then again, maybe much of it really did happen, for such is the blurred line between fantasy and reality in this film.

So, when Bill arrives at the mansion, we can interpret the meaning of the ritualistic, orgiastic goings-on inside in two ways: as having really happened, or as a dream/fantasy of his. Let’s consider the former interpretation first.

Like the authoritarian power of priests in ancient religion, we can see the ritualistic elements in the mansion as symbolic of the religious awe one might feel in the presence of such powerful people. In Traumnovelle, the masked men wear monks’ hoods and cloaks, and the masked prostitutes wear nuns’ habits.

As for the orgiastic aspect, the prostitutes’ nudity represents their powerlessness as have-nots (consider Shakespeare’s use of naked, as meaning ‘stripped of all belongings, without means’ [Crystal and Crystal, page 292], as used in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vii, lines 43-51), as contrasted with the clothed men, the haves, the rich and powerful. Their threat to strip Bill of his clothes is thus to deprive him of his power, too. The women’s powerlessness is a lack of their own, giving rise to the desire for such things as drugs (i.e., Mandy’s speedball), a manic defence against the depression they must feel from always being sexually exploited.

The secret society’s exploitation of the prostitutes reminds us of Jeffrey Epstein‘s and Ghislaine Maxwell‘s prostituting of underage girls to satisfy the hebephilia and ephebophilia of all those implicated in the scandal. Their gargantuan amounts of wealth buy them the power needed to silence or kill anyone who may squeal, just as Bill is threatened by the Red Cloak (played by Leon Vitali).

So much for the interpretation that the mansion scene really happened. Now let’s interpret the scene from the point of view that Bill has imagined, or dreamed, the whole thing. Now, the goings-on in the house are a dramatization of the thought processes of Bill’s unconscious.

What we have here is a dream that is a wish-fulfillment of Bill’s desires (an orgy of anonymous sex), as well as a fulfillment, on some level at least, of his self-destructive urges (the threats). Sex meets death.

Many of the goings-on represent unconscious ego defence mechanisms: denial (Bill’s mask; his pretence that he’s a member of the secret society), projection (the members of the secret society indulging in the naughtiness instead of him), reaction formation (in Traumnovelle, the monks’ and nuns’ clothes, symbolizing the secret society’s wish to seem virtuous rather than sinful; in the original script, they were supposed to be monks’ cloaks, and actually, the cloaks and hoods we see are still rather similar to those of monks), and turning against oneself (Bill is threatened, though he hasn’t indulged in any of the sex: he’s only been watching).

Since much of the ego and superego are unconscious, the defence mechanisms tend to be activated unconsciously, too: “…the ego also contains complex unconscious defensive arrangements that have evolved to satisfy the demands of neurotic compromise, ways of thinking that keep repressed impulses out of conscious awareness in an ongoing way. Unlike unconscious id impulses that respond with enthusiasm to the prospect of liberation in making their presence felt in the analytic hour, unconscious ego defenses gain nothing from being exposed…The ego, charged with the daunting task of keeping the peace between warring internal parties and ensuring socially acceptable functioning, works more effectively if it works undercover.” (Mitchell and Black, page 26)

The password, Fidelio, represents Bill’s wish that his wife be faithful to him, even though he, like Schnitzler, wishes he could get away with being unfaithful to her. The fact that he is tricked into thinking there’s a second password means that his id is fulfilled by being allowed in the house, while his superego‘s unconscious wish to be punished for his thoughts of infidelity is also satisfied.

If the mansion scene is all a dream, the Mysterious Woman can easily be Mandy, who can also know that he is Bill, the doctor who helped her get through her OD ordeal, which she can see as him having saved her life. (In his narcissistic imagination, Bill can then think that this nude beauty likes him.)

Her offer “to redeem him,” a perversely Christ-like moment amidst orgiastic activity that some may deem Satanic, can be seen thus as Mandy wishing to repay Bill for having helped her at Ziegler’s Christmas party. If the mansion scene has really happened, though, her willingness to take the punishment (presumably death) for a man she apparently doesn’t know could come from her hatred of her life as an exploited prostitute, a kind of suicide.

As the focal point of Bill’s dream, the secret society is, on the one hand, an intimidatingly powerful, wealthy, influential group, and on the other hand, an envied group whose indulgence in forbidden pleasures is something Bill would love to join. They could, in this sense, be seen to represent the NWO of the conspiracy theorists (many have tried unconvincingly to associate the secret society with such things as the Illuminati), that is, in his imagination, in his dreams, as opposed to reality.

The secret society could also represent–again, in Bill’s imagination only–the “corporatists” that the right-wing libertarians accuse of perverting the “free market.” The corporatist NWO is both feared and unconsciously admired and envied, since they have a power and influence that their detractors would gladly wield, were the detractors as rich and successful.

Bill is conflicted between his id wanting to join the big club we aren’t in and participating in their lewd indulgence, and his superego‘s moral condemnation of their wickedness, hence his leaving the house unscathed and sexually unfulfilled, with a prostitute dying for him. The right-wing libertarian similarly condemns the corruption of the bourgeois state and its super-rich beneficiaries, imagining that this corruption has nothing to do with “real capitalism,” when it is easy to believe that, were he to rise up to the level of the elite, he too would be defending his and their opulence, claiming they’d got there through ‘hard work, gumption, and talent,’ rather than through the merciless exploitation of the working class. Just look at the libertarian Koch brothers to see what I mean.

The liberal has similar repressed desires, including his wish to preserve his class privileges, though his loftier ego ideal would have him pretend to care for the exploited, as Bill consciously does Mandy.

So, a combination of Bill’s jealousy over Alice’s suspected infidelity, his smoking of weed intensifying that jealousy and fogging his mind, his fatigue throughout the night, his presumed napping in the cabs, and his own guilt over his near-succumbing to temptation has all blurred the boundary between fantasy and reality for him.

The stress he has felt–Was the Mysterious Woman murdered by the secret society? Was she Mandy? Did she just OD one too many times? Will the secret society have him and his family killed? Did he just dream/imagine it all?–is at least to a large extent just a dramatization of his own conflict.

Projecting onto a murderous, rich elite helps Bill to forget that he, too, has at least wanted, and has the money, to exploit prostitutes, just as Milich, the owner of the small costuming business, prostitutes his own daughter. Whether petite or grande, bourgeois are still bourgeois.

Bill has the same desires as Alice, who definitely dreams of being in an orgy with men and laughs while dreaming, then weeps about it after waking up. Here we see the difference between the indulgent unconscious and the censorious conscious mind. Bill also has the same desires as Ziegler, whose Christmas party, with the constant flirtation among the guests, is a double of the mansion orgy, as well as its inspiration for Bill’s dream. Alice’s orgy dream is also a double of the mansion orgy dream.

If the mansion orgy is a dream, so is every following scene associated with it. These scenes include Bill’s return to the house gates to receive the warning letter, his fortuitous discovery of a newspaper article about Mandy’s death by drug overdose, his seeing her body at the morgue (his id ogling her nude body like a necrophile, though his superego mourns her death and his ego fears for his and his family’s lives), and Ziegler’s explanation that her “sacrifice” was staged. All of these scenes thus are unconscious wish-fulfillments, expressions of Eros, as well as expressions of the death drive.

Finally, Bill breaks down and cries in his bedroom, waking Alice up, because he sees his mask on the pillow beside her. Is this because the secret society’s muscle have been following him everywhere, or has he, because of all the stress he’s been enduring, hallucinated it? (Alice doesn’t seem to notice it.)

After all, he returned to Domino’s apartment with a gift, hoping to finish what he started the last time; and since she wasn’t home, but her pretty roommate was there instead, he was tempted to cheat with her. The news of Domino being HIV-positive reinforces the sex/death link. Domino’s bedroom walls are also covered in masks, inspiring the mansion dream as well as linking his guilt feelings with seeing (or hallucinating) his mask lying on his pillow.

He tearfully confesses everything to Alice, and the last scene shows them Christmas shopping with their daughter in the toy section of a department store. Their discussion of the matter doesn’t seem to be so much about the threats of a secret society as about his guilt feelings. This would explain why, as a solution, their focus is on loving each other, and why Alice says that, as soon as possible, they should “Fuck.” It’s all about dealing with their temptations to adultery, not a fear of being murdered.

Meanwhile, Christmas lights and decorations have been seen throughout the movie, except for the ‘Satanic’ mansion scene, of course. Christmas in this context should not in any way be confused with the Christmas spirit. In line with the commodification of women (symbolic of the exploitation of the working class in general) seen from beginning to end, Christmas here should be understood only in terms of consumerism, the fetishization of commodities, hence the final scene of the Harfords doing their Christmas shopping.

The point is that ending the elite’s exploitation of prostitutes, and of all of the working class, must include those lower-level bourgeois, like Bill, also no longer exploiting other people. One cannot stop at overthrowing those at the very top; one must overturn the entire capitalist system, and those among the petite bourgeoisie can be a great help, provided they join the workers’ cause. As Mao once said, “Our closest friends are the entire semi-proletariat and petty bourgeoisie.” (Mao, page 7)

Consider the opening of Traumnovelle, when the daughter of Fridolin and Albertine is reading the story in which “brown slaves” row a prince’s galley to a caliph’s palace. The narration’s concern is with the prince meeting the princess once he reaches the shore; the slaves, however, are as faceless, as anonymously disposable, as the nude masked women in the mansion.

Bill has shown all that concern for Mandy, but he has done so from the hypocritical point of view of a liberal. As with his condolences for Domino over her having tested HIV-positive, his empathy for Mandy is a thin disguise–a mask–covering his desire to have both women in bed.

The proletariat is always “ready to redeem” the bourgeoisie, suffering and dying so the rich can continue to live well. “Someone died,” Ziegler says to Bill, referring to Mandy. “It happens all the time. Life goes on. It always does, until it doesn’t.” The eyes of the bourgeoisie are wide open to the pleasures they can see, but shut to the suffering of those they pay to give them that pleasure. Life is a dream story for the wealthy, but a nightmare, a trauma novella, for the poor.