Shatter Dead (1994)

Once upon a time, in a world far, far away, digital technology did not exist, or at least, was in its infancy. Thus, an obscene amount of a film’s budget would be spent on buying film stock, renting out heavy, clunky cameras, and having the film processed at a lab. In these dark times, often only the independently wealthy and very talented had a shot at making a half decent film outside of the studio system.

This does not mean, however, that the poor and untalented didn’t try.

Scooter McCrae’s Shatter Dead (and no, that’s not a typo) is, for the time it was made, a very ambitious zombie film with an intriguing premise but a lousy execution. The hermaphrodidic angel of death, for whatever reason, rapes and impregnates a human woman, and the resulting paradox – death creating life – results in a situation in which souls remain in their bodies after death (this interpretation is based on promotional material; all the film gives us is a scene of a big-titted butch woman doing something to a skanky petite woman from behind, and the resulting orgasm causing wings to emerge from the butch woman’s back).

Seventeen months later, the world has been divided between the living and the dead, with the sentient dead treated as second class citizens and forced to live on the street. Susan (Stark Raven), our heroine, is trying to navigate through a near abandoned town in order to get home to her boyfriend Dan (Daniel “Smalls” Johnston). Much of the film involves Susan trying to avoid the undead, who often appear as normal, friendly beings whose status can only be determined by catching the fog of their breath (or, rather, the lack thereof) on a reflective surface. There’s nothing generally malicious about these undead; they aren’t zombies in the traditional sense, and their only real crime is the belief that being dead is somehow preferable to life, despite the fact that they often have to resort to theft in order to provide for themselves. However, an uprising led by the preacher (Robert Wells) stirs them to kill off the living in order to perpetuate their numbers.

The majority of the film traces Susan trying to return home, including frequent run-ins with the preacher and his brood. In one instance, the undead swarm her after a breakdown, however, instead of eating her brains, they annex her car. In another, Susan finds shelter at a suburban house, which is later invaded by dead revolutionaries, who promptly kill off the family living there.

I’m not in the habit of giving spoilers, but since this is Necrophilia week, I can’t go without mentioning the film’s most controversial scene. After finally making it back to her apartment, Susan discovers that Dan has committed suicide. At first angry that hubby is now a member of the living dead, she gets over it quickly and insists the two of them have sex (all that surviving makes a girl horny). Unfortunately, a lack of blood pressure (after having slit his wrists and emptied the contents into a bathtub) means Dan can’t get his small Johnston up and working. Not to be deterred, Susan loops a cord through the trigger of her gun and around Dan’s waist, creating a makeshift strap-on. The resulting penetration by nozzle is pretty graphic, but not really erotic.

The lack of budget is painfully obvious. The acting is god awful, and names like ‘Stark Raven’ and ‘Flora Fauna’ suggest the cast isn’t used to working in an upright position. The shot on video (or, as the Cinema Snob would aptly put it, shot on shittio) doesn’t help. All this I can forgive – after all, these are often the elements that often make bad movies fun. What I can’t forgive are the scenes that run on way too long, the arty, pretentious shots of angels, et cetra that the director uses to pad out the running time, or the fact that the main character isn’t likeable or interesting, and by the end we don’t really care if she succeeds in her goals or not. All in all, its an intriguing concept that’s hampered by the limitations of it’s budget.

What I learned from Shatter Dead:

  • A gun is not only a fitting metaphor for a penis but an acceptable substitute as well
  • Selling your arm for medical experiments will leave you a little short-handed
  • Autopsies belong on prime time television
  • Undead fetuses take 17 months to gestate
  • The angel of death has a large rack
  • The undead revolution will be led by Howard Stern

Since I can’t find a trailer on Youtube, I’m showing the home invasion scenes instead:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDDIABn-Dhk/%5D
Advertisements

Haeckel’s Tale (2006)

After the death of his wife, a young man (Steve Bacic) seeks out Miz Carnation (Micki Maunsell), an elderly woman with a reputation as a necromancer. Declaring his love and devotion, the man begs Carnation to bring his lover back, but she refuses, on account of being “all used up.” However, after being further touched by his story, the old woman relents, on condition that she be allowed to tell her own story before he makes up his mind:

Medical student, athiest and skeptic Ernst Haeckel (Derek Cecil), inspired by the rumors of the equally ambitious Victor Frankenstien, decides to prove once and for all the non-existance of the spirit by bringing dead flesh to life. His first attempt to do so results in a charred corpse and scorn from his fellow students. At the suggestion of a grave robber, he seeks out Montesquino (Jon Polito) a self described necromancer who Ernst decides is a fraud.

After recieving word that his ailing father has taken a turn for the worse, Ernst journeys to see him. Stopping by a graveyard to rest, he meets Wolfram (Tom McBeath) who offers him food and a place to stay. There he is introduced to the beautiful Elise (Leela Savasta), Wolfram’s arm candy wife. However, it turns out Elise’s passions lie not with Wolfram but with her late husband, the one whose remains lie in the graveyard, and who Montisquino is paid to revive late at night…

Of the Masters of Horror episodes, this wasn’t my favorite (that would be Cigarette Burns, which I mentioned in a previous article) but I still found it entertaining enough to hold my interest. The plot is a satire on moral outrage and heteronormative crusades. While Ernst takes no issue with ogling the wife of the man who took him in (or, for that matter, desecrating stolen remains to prove a point), when he discovers Elise’s fetish he is disgusted and even attempts to ‘rescue’ her from it (okay, so she fucked zombies, but still). Likewise, Ralston claims his love for his wife is so great that he must have her back immediately, but is forced to eat his words when he realizes what that would entail. It would have been nice to see what George Romero (the original choice for director before John McNaughton was brought on board) would have done with the material, but  McNaughton’s direction is adequate, if not actually scary.

What I learned from Haeckel’s Tale:

  • Zombie infants drink milk but are not opposed to human flesh
  • Gay marriage is the new zombie fucking
  • Corpses are highly flammable
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uq3fGkvtBM/%5D

Zombie Honeymoon (2005)

Newlyweds Danny (Graham Sibley) and Denise (Tracy Coogan) spend their Honeymoon at the Jersey Shore. The two are madly in love and planning one day to move to Portugal, where surfer Danny hopes to catch some serious waves. While lounging on the beach, Denise notices a strange figure energe from the ocean. The mysterious being attacks Danny, who ends up getting a mouthful of the creature’s black vomit. Rushed to the emergency room, he goes onto cardiac arrest and dies. Denise is devistated, until Danny awakes ten minutes later in seemingly perfect health. After staying in the hospital for observation (during which time, one would assume, somebody would have noticed that his heart wasn’t beating, or that he had no pulse, or the below 80 temperature, but no), the couple return home. Unfortunately, Danny’s hospital roommate has vanished, a nosy police officer has come by to investigate, and the vegetarian Danny has begun craving meat, particularly human flesh…

This was a movie I had caught the end of on cable a while back, with the intention of seeing in full later on, only to forget and end up tracking down on DVD years later. The title would have you believe that the film is a wacky romantic comedy with horror elements; in fact, it’s a romantic drama that deconstructs the Zombie Apocalypse trope by focusing on the elements of an isolated incident. Unlike Night of the Living Dead and other films of it’s ilk, there is no outer chaos, no mass statistic that allows the viewer to write off the deaths of millions as exposition, only the internal destruction of a human life and the future that might have been. Likewise, unlike the classic Romero Zombie, Danny is much closer to the Death Becomes Her living dead, in that he remains sentient and the decomposition happens on a more gradual level, mimicking a terminal illnes, although the cannibalism remains (according to the commentary, director David Gebroe based the film on his brother-in-law Danny, who was killed in a surfing accident just before moving to Portugal, with the zombification representing the stages of grief). There is no hint or clue provided as to why the infection occurs, although one of the benefits of setting your story in Jersey is that any mutation or horrible abomination is pretty much self explanatory.

Aspects of the film need work. The acting, in particular of the supporting characters, is not exactly Oscar worthy, and certain scenes run on longer than they should. Effects-wise, the film manages to do what it can within the limited made-for-cable budget it had to work with. Also, the romance/drama aspect may put off those expecting either straight up horror or comedy, though the audience does come to care enough about the main couple that it doesn’t come off as forced. Altogether, an interesting if somewhat flawed entry in the canon of zombie lore.  Recommended as a stay at home date movie for horrorphiles whose significant others need to be eased into the genre.

Things I learned from Zombie Honeymoon:

  • Zombie drool is black
  • Making plans for a trip is a lot harder when you eat your agent
  • Zombification isn’t sexually transmitted, for some reason
  • St Christopher is the patron of surfers (as long as your wear his medallion, otherwise you’re screwed)
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iS7B2YANFs/%5D

Kissed (1996)

Obcessed with death since childhood, Sandra Larson (Molly Parker) takes a job at a local morgue, where she learns the art of embalming. She also learns the secret of “crossing over” by molesting/raping the young male corpses that pass her way. Later on, she hooks up with Matt (Peter Outerbridge), a guy with a pulse whose deck isn’t much more full than hers. Rather than being jealous of Sandra’s lucky stiffs, Matt becomes obcessed, wanting to know every detail of the act and even taking notes. This puts a major strain on the already twisted relationship, in turn leading to an equally twisted conclusion.

What surprised me about this film is how simple the plot was, and how it managed to be stretched out into a feature length film without feeling padded or slowed. Yes, the characters are disturbed, and what Sandra’s doing raises all kind of ethical questions (were she male, and the corpses female, the character would be villified) but she isn’t really hurting anyone, and the matter-of-fact way the issue is handled has her coming off more quirky than deranged. The central conflict doesen’t show up until the latter half, with most of the rest dedicated to slightly quirky characters with odd behaviors, in a “Lucid Pixie Necrophiliac” sort of way. Altogether, the film seems to lack a central point or message (other than “necrophilia is way cool and a ticket to self-actualization”) but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not really a horror movie, but  not recommended for people who get easily disturbed by blood, guts or the idea of having your body desecrated after death. Otherwise, worth a look for the morbidly curious.

What I learned by watching Kissed:

  • John Edwards (the psychic, not the politician) would have more success if he kept a corpse in his bedroom
  • Pulses, heartbeats and erections are highly overrated
  • Your boyfriend keeping tabs on your every move is a minor annoyance at best
  • Dancing is a form of necrotic foreplay
  • Chipmunk funerals are a type of witchcraft
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fA1Vr4OdhlU/%5D

Return to Oz (1985)

Shortly after the release of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, the Disney Company bought up the rights to L Frank Baum’s Oz series of books, both to capitalize on the success of the film and, presumably, to cockblock MGM from making any sequels. While during the 1950s there was talk of filming some of the stories as specials with the Mouseketeers, nothing ever came of the idea, and the books were set aside.

Skip ahead to the 1980s. A group of filmmakers known collectively as the Film School Generation, who included among their ranks the likes of George Lucas, Brian DePalma, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg, had risen to prominence during the New Hollywood era, which lasted from the late 60s and into the 80s. Although the films made during this period had challenged the conventional rules of Hollywood with an independent and rebellious sensibility, by the 80s the movement was being crushed under it’s own weight. Excessive, overbugeted pet projects such as Heaven’s Gate (1980) and One from the Heart (1982) failed at the box office, serving to undermine the independent vision on which the movement was based. At the same time, the lesson taught to studio executives by the successes of films such as Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977) and the Indiana Jones series was that big budget, mass appeal spectacles, which could be heavily marketed and provide revinue far beyond the film itself, were the way of the future, thus ensuring the birth of the blockbuster.

One member of the Film School Generation, despite being a very important and well respected part of the industry, had not yet managed to become a household name: Walter Murch. A prolific sound designer and film editor, Murch has worked with sound in such films as The Godfather Part II (1974), The Conversation (1974), and most famously Apocalypse Now (1979), for which he won an Academy Award. For working on The English Patient (1996), Murch won Oscars for both sound design and editing (the first ever Oscar for electronic editing, on Avid), and was the subject of Patient author Michael Ondaatje’s book The Conversations (2002). He was also chiefly responsible for setting the Final Cut editing software as the industry standard (which can be good or bad, depending on how you feel about Final Cut).

Scounting new talent in 1980, Disney production chief Tom Wilhite questioned Murch about projects he would like to helm. Murch said “Oz,” and Wilhite, knowing that Disney owned the rights to the Oz books and wanted to do something with them before they expired, agreed. However, Murch’s depiction of Oz would be a radical departure from the 1939 musical. Much closer in tone to the Oz books, the film was a dark, more realistic and sometimes scary look into the world over the rainbow.

Taking place six months after the tornado that set off the events of the first film, Dorothy (Fairuza Balk, in a much younger and book accurate depiction) has been having nightmares about her experiences in Oz. Her Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) and Uncle Henry (Matt Clark) are worried about her mental state, already dealing with financial troubles related to the reconstruction of their house and keeping their farm running in order. In order to cure her of these delusions, they decide to take her to Dr. Worley (Nicol Williamson) a medical quack specializing in a new kind of “electric healing” (what we know today as shock therapy). Left in the care of Worley and his nurse (Jean Marsh), Dorothy is saved from her fate by a mysterious young girl (Emma Ridley) who warns her that she is in danger. The two are chased out into a storm at night, where Dorothy tries to escape down river on a floating crate.

Awakening in Oz, Dorothy discovers that the enchanted land she once knew is gone. The munchkins have disappeared, the yellow brick road has been torn to shreds, and the emerald city lies in ruins, its inhabitants having been turned to stone. The city streets are patrolled by a gang of Wheelers, Cirque de Solei rejects with wheels instead of hands and feet, and who are footsoldiers of the wicked Princess Mombi (Marsh), a vain witch with a collection of 30 heads that she can exchange with her own at will. On her journey Dorothy meets Tik Tok, a rotund clockwork man who is equal parts R2D2 and Robby the Robot; Jack Pumpkinhead, a Jack Skellington-esque being made of sticks and straw; and The Gump, a sofa-creature made by Dorothy herself as part of an escape plan. The four travel to the lair of the Nome King (Williamson) to discover the fate of the Scarecrow and return Oz to its rightful state.

The production was a troubled one, running way over budget. At one point, Disney execs were ready to fire Murch over dissatisfaction with the dailies they were seeing, only staying their hand at the insistence of George Lucas, a good friend of Murch who had developed sizeable clout due to the Star Wars franchise. To make matters worse, during this period the Disney Company had a change of regime, with Michael Eisner taking over as president and CEO. While the new regime’s disinterest in the project meant that Murch had final cut, it also meant that little to no studio effort was put into the film’s advertising and distribution, heavily compounding the eventual failure at the box office. Widely decried as being both inferior to the original musical (which it was never really intended to be a direct sequel to) and way too frightening for children, the film was panned by critics, and though it was nominated for an Oscar for “Best Visual Effects,” overall was considered a failure. Along with a single episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2011), this is Walter Murch’s only directing credit to date.

So, is the film really as terrible and inappropriate as the critics of the time would have you believe? In this critic’s humble opinion, absolutely not. There is a reason why Return to Oz, with the advent of home video, endured as a cult classic: childhood is full of ghosts and goblins, witches living in candy houses or peddling poison apples, monsters living in closets, evil step-parents, and other horrors. It is those stories that refuse to talk down to children, that give them a taste of the dark side, which are the ones they most adore, for the greatest adventures are the ones that face the darkest of foes and ultimately reap the greatest of rewards. The care and attention to detail in this film is immaculate, from the sound direction and editing, to the use of color and scenery, eye-popping special effects, and the incredible music score by David Shire, all a love letter to the L Frank Baum book series from which it began.

In the past decade, there have been numerous re-imaginings of Baum’s stories, most recently Disney’s to-be-released second outing in the land over the rainbow, Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), suggesting that audiences are now willing to accept a non-MGM musical version of the tale on it’s own terms. Hopefully this will bring about a new appreciation of Return to Oz and those who labored to bring it to life.

Antichrist (2009)

After my Le Fin Absolue Du Monde article, in which I listed hard-to-find transgressive art films, I was informed that I’d missed one, Lars Von Trier’s  Antichrist. Though I’d heard of the film, I decided not to include it, only because unlike the other films I listed, Antichrist was and is currently available on Netflix streaming, in an unrated and apparently uncut form. Now, having seen it I can honestly say that it does fit every other qualification I had, being surreal, disturbing, and certainly transgressive.

After the death of their son (who had crawled out a window while the two were making love) a nameless couple, credited only as “He” (Willem Dafoe) and “She” (Charlotte Gainsbourg) fall into a severe depression, in particular the wife, who suffers what I can only describe as a nervous breakdown. Despite not being a doctor, not to mention the obvious lack of objectivity involved, He decides to take over her psychological rehabilitation, forcing her to confront her fears and anxieties. When She confesses to fearing Eden, the wooded area she had retreated to as part of her study on witch hunts and Gynocide, He in his infinite wisdom decides this is the ideal place for them to return to continue her treatment. What follows is a trip into nightmarish imagery, sexual mutilation, biblical plagues, and foreboding forest creatures.

A while back, I wrote a lengthy paper for a rhetorical criticism class on the subject of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy (a subject I happen to get really nerdy about). Using Julia Kristeva and Barbara Creed‘s theories on abjection, I argued that the trilogy set up a battle between masculine logic and feminine nature (or supernature, in Argento’s case), citing instances such as the pervasively feminine, flowery architecture of the Tanz Akademie as a substitute for nature, or the flooded, corpse polluted basement in Inferno as a barren womb metaphor, or the fact that the only male characters that pop up are either controlled by women or happen to be skeptics. While I’ve since grown to reject certain elements of feminist film theories (in particular, the notions of patriarchal heroines, feminized villains, and the basic idea that all slasher films are inherently sexist), I can still recognize certain subtextual themes that feminists would point to. In the case of Antichrist, however, the “sub” part is nearly non-existent. The war between logic and nature  (read man and woman) is open and blatant.

The “Woman” is an abject mother, one who not only tried to limit the freedom of her child (the mismatched shoes may have been less a sign of neglect than a deliberate attempt to keep the boy from leaving her, foreshadowing what she would later do to her husband) but who, with the loss of her child, has been stripped of her role of caregiver, in the way that a corpse (the ultimate abjection) has been stripped of its soul. While her husband, the “Man,” tries to use logic to get her to see past her emotional turmoil, she strikes back by turning her abject behavior on to him – dominating him, making him into an object over which she has complete control, preventing him from having any identity besides his relationship with her, his cold, calculating, but ultimately ineffectual logic being no match for her wild, emotional nature. The film is an exploration of misogyny through a sort of role reversal; by adopting the attributes of “evil” women that were the topic of her study on gynocide – witches, temptresses and yes, dominating mothers, she becomes the abusive husband, and he the put-upon wife. In other words, men have always feared in women the very horrors that they themselves are capable of.

 In the case of the Three Beggars, I can’t help but find another paralell with The Three Mothers – not Argento’s version, but that of the Thomas DeQuincey poem from which they were derived. Like the Beggars, the Mothers each personify the emotions that follow death; Grief personified by Mater Lachrmarum/the Fawn, Despair by Mater Suspiriorum/the Crow, and Pain, in particular emotional pain, by Mater Tenebrarum/the Fox. Though Tenebrarum is usually interpereted as “insanity” (“She is also the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides,“) pain is as good a noun as any to describe it; as the Fox said, “chaos reigns.” Both trios represent the theological need to incarnate the abstract concepts that dominate our lives into beings who can be blamed or bargained with. Had von Trier kept the Sorrows (DeQuincey’s name for them) as women, it would have fit more clearly into the theme of masculine logic being threatened, and ultimately undone, by feminine emotion.

(It’s worth noting that several people are listed in the credits as doing research for the film on specific topics, such as misogyny, mythology, evil and horror movies, so its entirely possible these themes did not emerge organically from the story but vice-versa.)

To conclude, Antichrist, for all its shocking imagery and disturbing thematic elements, can be distilled to its bare essence, a commentary on the duality between male and female, and all the friction that this duality creates.

…But then again, what the hell do I know? I could mention that the film is beautifully shot, ingeniously constructed, and incredibly acted, but there are hundreds of reviews that would tell you the same. Highly recommended for those willing to see past the gore and sex.

Dark Waters (1994)

Not to be confused with the 2002 Japanese film Dark Water, or its subsequent 2005 American remake, Mariano Baino’s Dark Waters, along with Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man, stood as the dying breaths of the Italian Horror wave that flourished throughout the 70’s and 80’s. While Dark Waters did not play with genre expectations the way that Soavi’s masterpiece had, being, all in all, a straightforward nunsploitation flick, the film nevertheless stands as a major achievement (albeit a grossly underappreciated one) with much to recommend it.

Elizabeth (Louise Salter) travels to a convent on a remote island, the place of her birth, to discover why her late father had been making payments to a secretive order of nuns. After a few colorful experiences with the degenerate locals, Liz arrives to discover that her friend Teresa (Anna Rose Phipps), who had gone on ahead to study what she could about the order and it’s practices, has vanished. Assisted by Sarah (Venera Simmons) , a young nun in training, Liz quickly deduces that Teresa was killed, and she herself may be next. Her suspicions worsen as she spies the nun’s bizarre rituals, less devoted to the worship of one deity, and more an effort to keep another at bay.

The film’s obvious inspiration, aside from the likes of Argento, and Bava, is the work of HP Lovecraft. The spectral meilu, facilitated by the Ukrainian locations and excellent cinematography, is pure Lovecraft, a world of strange villagers (no doubt a reflection of the Call-Of-Cthulu author’s extreme xenophobia), secret conspiracies, mystical objects, and aquatic horrors. Admittedly, the story takes a back seat to the gorgeous visuals (by no means an uncommon issue when judging italian horror), and leaves many issues seemingly unaddressed, however, attentive viewers familiar with The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Lovecraft in general can put together what’s going on based on thematic hints and visual cues (my own interpretation, with spoilers, can be found below).

While it’s easy to write off Dark Waters as being way too generic in terms of story and set-up, in particular when compared to what had come before (Lucio Fulci’s Demonia comes to mind), it manages to work surprisingly well with what it has, and is nothing if not an homage to the Italian Horror genre it copies, as much a love letter to the past as Cemetery Man was a promise for the (sadly unrealized) future. For many years only available in a barely watchable VHS/DVD bootleg under the alternate title Dead Waters, it was later re-released in 2007 as a fully restored Director’s cut. Highly recommended for a least a rental, copies of the 2007 version are, to my knowledge, available from Netflix (though as of this writing, not available for streaming).

SPOILER ALERT…

So what was really going on? (please note that this is just my interpretation, based on a few somewhat educated guesses, and intended only for those who have already seen the film)

Centuries prior to the beginning of the film, Catholic missionaries came upon the island and found it inhabited by worshippers of an aquatic demon. Not having any of that, the missionaries captured the demon, shattering the amulet which stood as the source of its powers and burying the separate pieces. The missionaries then build the convent, in fact a prison to hold the now weakened creature, and presumably convert the locals.

27 years prior to the main setting of the film, a male in the vicinity of the convent, possibly a priest, is somehow seduced by the demon and impregnates it (it sounds weird, but then the third vow of membership to Lovecraft’s Esoteric Order of Dagon was to marry and bear/sire a child of an old one, so it wouldn’t be out-of-place here), producing a pair of twin girls, Elizabeth and Sarah. Whoever the father was, it couldn’t have been the man who took Elizabeth to London, since he would have been cursed with blindness/second sight after seeing the demon; the most likely candidate for the twin’s bio-dad is probably the painter in the pit. The twins are placed in the care of a couple in the village, and the now blind father is shut up in the pit, his psychic predictions taking the forms of elaborate paintings.

20 years prior to the main setting, the girls are 7 years old and beginning to act out in bizarre ways that betray their true natures. One of the girls manages to dig up the pieces of the amulet and fits them together, causing the amulet to fuse and become whole (we aren’t shown this actually happening, presumably to save money on special effects, however, it is implied mise-en-scene). Its powers temporarily restored, the demon destroys part of the convent during a storm and kills off a priest. A nun finds the amulet and runs off with it, only to be hunted down by the demon in the form of a spectral presence. The nun is killed, but the amulet breaks apart in the process. The twin’s adoptive mother is also killed; the father takes the only one of the two who could pass for normal, Elizabeth, to London, in order to keep her safe. Sarah is put back in the custody of the convent. Meanwhile the nuns manage to find the pieces of the amulet and hide them away again, this time within the convent walls.

Present day, Elizabeth, disobeying the wishes of her late adoptive father, returns to the island intent on discovering why he donated money to the convent, remembering nothing of her past and unaware the gratuities were being used to ensure the creature’s continued imprisonment. The nuns, fearing what might occur if the creature were ever released, or what would happen if the outside world were to discover the order’s habits (no pun intended), kill off any who try to interfere with what they see as their divine purpose, including Teresa, and almost Elizabeth herself.

Eventually Elizabeth realizes the truth: she murdered her own mother, not in childbirth but by eating her. Sarah, who had been masquerading as a lowly, innocuous assistant, and having more than a little resentment against the long-lost sister who got to have an actual life off the island, reveals herself and their real mother. Both attempt to lure her into their ways, but fail; Elizabeth manages to escape them both as the prison collapses around them, but is left blinded, having seen the true horror of the beast.