‘The pain of being a woman is too severe!’ – The films of Roberta Findlay: Lurkers (1988)





New York City possesses quite an interesting facial layout in Roberta Findlay’s cinematic universe – cheeks blooming with the brightest red excitation can muster up, planted right between them a pallid nose frozen stiff by sorrow and social iciness and throning above this dichotomy a pair of eyes filled with the marvel of discovery, experimentation, the ability to combine all these emotional extremes on the silver screen. She really was one of the great chronists putting this lively, in the good as well as the bad, mega city to record – and yet it does not seem to exist in her up to this day final theatrically released feature. Sure, pinpointing single shooting locations is easy enough to do, even for someone who’s never taken a bite from the big apple (like me). But in the end they’d still remain nothing but peripheral driblets of reality trickling away in the only real fairytale she ever told. There was a potent grittyness about her post-porn work in horror cinema that is inexplicably absent here. Much rather coated from head to toe in a vague uneasyness highly remiscent of her pornographic magnus opum “From Holly With Love” (1978) it is quite fittingly another superb score by Walter E. Sear sounding the depths of human and beyond-human emotion in “Lurkers”.

They, our titular characters, are the boogeyman of little Kathy’s (Christine Moore) childhood, ingrained in a fragile mind by a non-caring mother, but beyond that something entirely different: Embodied notions of lifes lived and lost to the ages, of fast fading memories – a maelstrom of identities once filled with meaning by their contemporaries, but now defunct except as a walking reminder, in their quest to lure the living to premature doom even a cataclyst for the inevitable end of all existence. Separating them from the other ghostly non-entity that are Sear’s plainly anachronistic and, tying in with the architectual observations, misplaced compositions for small ensembles is not possible. Whenever they play up, these little chamber pieces inject some coy romanticist joy de vivre into the proceedings, be the designated concert hall Kathy’s comely flat or a modern day shopping center. As false friends to characters and viewers alike they put their collected minds at ease, blur every sense of time or urgency – even mere minutes after the dark days of childhood explored in the opening flashback drops us off in particularly pleasant vistas of present day NYC the sharp-edged ravine between Kathy’s emerging adult fear, her frantic conversations with friends and the aural cocoon framing it is already astronomically wide. In a striking interjection right out of the eighties romance flicks a significant portion of “Lurkers” shares its general feel with; music, pizza and Bob (Gary Warner) become her refuge amidst uncertain surroundings. A properly reenacted scene spells it out best: While in all other respects – gestures, backdrops, a deceitful clearing of heaven above – a carbon copy of an earlier foto session with Kathy, Bob’s shoot with another young woman is lacking one important part of the picture. Aural accompaniment. Right up until she finally falls for his – Findlay makes no secret of it – superficial charms. The deluding qualities of music are very much infective. From the life framing to the life governing – they all cheer, they all lie.

But there is a second, a more tactile plane to music, the one constructed by its higher up to reach right into the narritive confines at hand. Kathy is a cellist. We see her practicing, calming herself, even – in a surprising fracture of the fourth wall – visiting Sear Sound studio and its proprietor to participate in recordings. Her sole repertoire – the film’s romance theme. A clever ruse cementing the external influence on her thoughts, feelings and ultimately paths walked. Bearing all hallmarks of a leitmotif it turns our main character into another embodyment of a musical genre. Escalative Rock ‘n’ Roll for the destroying angels in “Snuff” (1976) and “Tenement” (1985) – fragile classical notes for a soul caught in the process of being destroyed. Other aspects of the production mimic this tender approach – most notably Findlay’s camerawork, which compared to her other mid-to-late eighties mainstream efforts seems far more removed, unusually uninvolved. The subjective perspectives favored most notably in “Tenement” and the opening sequence of “Blood Sisters” (1987) have to make way for tracking or pannings shots above all differing in their direction of impact. Instead of placing the viewer in an all but interactive role, in shoes bound straight for the action up ahead, they snap even the filmmaker out of it. Merely passing by people and their problems, non-responsively watching on daily life while strolling sideways along buildings – an aesthetic so profundly at odds with the romantic borrowings, it immediately demasks these projections, in that sets the stage for the twist inherent in the movie’s second half.

Spurred by Kathy’s and Bob’s visit to her former Bronx neighborhood many directorial techniques are contorted as a confrontation with past and present alike comes knocking. Clear-cut divider: The all-embracing darkness now drenching the ever prominent residental blocks in a sinister black. Like in Eckhart Schmidt’s opulent Berlin film “Alpha City” (1985) an unseen forcefield seems to delay sunrise over and over again – the hours might race on, but there is no distinguishable difference in nightly gradation from the moment the couple arrives at a dreaded birthday party to its unforeseen disbandment. It’s a sequence lacking an end, foreshadowed and set in motion by the film’s heartpiece: Waiting for Bob to deliver a convincing excuse for their non-attendance upstairs Kathy grows timid amidst the hostile soundscape in front of the appartment building. Soon the appearance of a sledge hammer wielding lunatic and Findlay’s own past works (and early life in a similiar neighborhood alike!) in form of a lurid street gang cameo forces her to pace the block in panic. Tightly squeezed between close ups of phone booths out of working order and hectic – now powered by violin infused synth beat modernity – sideways strolls alongside the same front this sequence becomes a long lost sibling to the famous timeloop scene in Mario Bava’s “Operazione paura” (1966). (A particularly close kin anyway in the mutual portrayal of a ghost realm hellbent on drawing a grim fate upon the living.)

Running about the same block for all eternity – a fitting summary for the multitude of visual and narrative cues equivalent to the feeling generally condensed into the phrase “haunted by the past”. A certain, very gentle discouraging quality inherent in quite a few of Findlay’s films is perhaps most persistenly explored in her (in lack of a theatrical – or any at all – release for “Banned” [1989]) final feature – one can only wonder how much of it should be considered autobiographic? In the end there is no escape from your upbringing, your origins; the Lurkers are simply those who went on before you, trapped in the Bronx, their lifes – a distorted mirroring of the still vigorous they prey upon. Our past eats everything, the stylized close ups of gloomy mouths are a telling sign. There is a perfectly inconspicuous moment, in which the reflection finally cracks: Around the edges of the frames holding Kathy’s first encounter with her boyfriend’s creative partner in all its mundane small talk glory accompanying musical notes begin to act up, growing strangely distant, as if filtered through a recording device before consumption. A jarring disparity of filmic layers sending Kathy on her final stumble through an odd debris field of restaged movie scenes hidden behind every door she unbolts – people in the act of various normally explicit porno encounters, a gang of villains brooding over a “Kiss Me Deadly”-esque suitcase, their McGuffin induced meltdown never happening. It’s not a pleasant picture Roberta Findlay paints here, the lingering hunch of regret you can’t quite put your finger on places it right next to the other still vastly underrated endeavor in eighties horror: Lucio Fulci’s late work, “Voci dal profondo” (1991) with its focus on the desire of righting your wrongs from beyond the grave in particular. Just like with Fulci it boggles the mind how Findlay could succeed in selling this as horror or, looking at the the time of creation, presumably even an outright splatter film, but on the other hand that’s quite in character. Being the epitome of her deceptive qualities “Lurkers” is a big, sordid realization plastered over and over with post-it notes containing nothing but best wishes. You peel one of just to find another one and another one … till they run out and darkness readies a sucker punch.


Lurkers – USA 1988 – 90 minutes – Direction: Roberta Findlay – Production: Roberta Findlay, Walter E. Sear – Screenplay: Ed Kelleher, Harriette Vidal – Cinematography: Roberta Findlay – Editing: Roberta Findlay, Walter E. Sear – Music: Walter E. Sear – Cast: Christine Moore, Gary Warner, Marina Taylor, Roy MacArthur, Nancy Groff and many more


Dieser Beitrag wurde am Dienstag, April 30th, 2019 in den Kategorien Ältere Texte, André Malberg, Blog, Blogautoren, English, Essays, Filmbesprechungen, Filmschaffende, other languages veröffentlicht. Sie können alle Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag über den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können diesen Beitrag kommentieren, oder einen Trackback von ihrer eigenen Seite setzen.

Eine Antwort zu “‘The pain of being a woman is too severe!’ – The films of Roberta Findlay: Lurkers (1988)”

  1. Filmforum Bremen » Das Bloggen der Anderen (06-05-19) on Mai 6th, 2019 at 19:04

    […] André Malberg schreibt (auf Englisch. Warum eigentlich?) auf Eskalierende Träume über Roberta Findlays Spätwerk „Lurkers“. Und er empfiehlt William Hellfires “Upsidedown Cross“, den er als “wild crossbreed […]

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