Saturday Night Spotlight #24: Roberta Findlay

In earlier posts I took a look at the careers of Doris Wishman, Stephanie Rothman and Jackie Kong, women who incorporated sexuality and horror into their films during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. One of their contemporaries was Roberta Findlay, who worked not only as a director but also in the capacities of actress, camera operator, cinematographer, composer, editor, lighting technician, producer, screenwriter and sound crew. Findlay began her career photographing and co-directing films with her husband, Michael Findlay, including such titles as Take Me Naked (1966), The Touch of Her Flesh (1967) and The Ultimate Degenerate (1969). After splitting from her husband both professionally and personally, Roberta Findlay embarked on a truly independent career, taking on all of the previously listed technical roles in a filmography built on graphic sex and bloody violence. Although she stopped working a quarter-century ago, the “Queen of Snuff” responds to interviews every so often, like in this New York Press write-up from 2005. Her low-budget oeuvre may be considered the trashiest of the trashy, but the films are as identifiable as New York products as the repertoires of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese.

Angel on Fire (aka Angel Number 9) (1974) – Billed as “the first erotically explicit film ever made by a woman” (which was not actually true since Findlay had been directing adult films for years), this pornographic film has the more markedly cinematic touches of Findlay’s accomplished cinematography. Findlay also wrote, edited and produced the film. It is a gender-bending tale of a male chauvinist who impregnates his girlfriend (played by Judy Craven, seen above); shortly afterward, our protagonist is killed by a van and he is subsequently reincarnated as a beautiful blonde woman who must navigate a new life and sexual experiences. If “feminist porn” can exist with these representations of the female body (and seen through Findlay’s “female gaze,” as opposed to the viewpoints of male directors), then perhaps this narrative of shifting identities is a prime example.

The Oracle (1985) – A young woman (played by Caroline Capers Powers) moves into an apartment and her body is soon possessed by the ghost of the previous occupant, who was murdered. Sounding like a reversed-sex version of Roman Polanski’s The Tenant – although it is possibly more inspired by what Findlay has described as the only good horror movie she knows, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby – Findlay’s film was also photographed and edited by her. The Oracle may be “jam-packed with bad performances, goofy attempts at spook horror, lousy gore effects and a lethargic pace,” as described in a DVD Drive-In review, but it’s also probably a lot of fun.

Blood Sisters (1987) – This gory horror-thriller is an oversexed haunted-house story in which young women have to spend the night in a former brothel in order to earn entry into a sorority. Findlay directed, wrote, photographed and co-edited (with Walter E. Sear) the film, which was also released under the title Slash.

Lurkers (1988) – Another New York horror story involving a woman and spiritual possession, here the leading lady (Christine Moore, who also starred in Findlay’s Prime Evil the same year) is visited by the specter of her murdered mother, as well as by zombified individuals called “lurkers.” As in Blood Sisters, Findlay photographed Lurkers and co-edited it with Walter E. Sear. One IMDb reviewer describes the movie as “without doubt, the worst film ever made,” but another reviewer considers it a “nicely quirky fright flick,” so there may be some merit after all.

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