*. This movie is usually lumped in with Stereo as Cronenberg’s apprentice work, and the similarities are pretty obvious. It has the same use of voiceover, the same near-futuristic setting, a lot of the same cast, the same absent but still presiding genius (Luther Stringfellow in Stereo, Antoine Rouge here), and the same fascination with depopulated Modernist architecture.
*. Stereo was shot at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, but here Cronenberg seems to have moved downtown. The House of Skin is Massey College and the hotel for transients we visit at the end is New College. I had classes in both buildings. But that was before 1997 (the year this movie is set) and there were still women around. Though if I remember correctly there was some question about women being allowed in Massey in the old days. It was that kind of a place. Very stuffy and introverted. Perhaps life was imitating art.
*. It’s interesting that while these early films introduce what will become abiding themes in Cronenberg’s work, neither is really a horror film. This one is creepy, but adopts such a distant attitude toward the material — the detached narrator, the anthropological curiosity in human sexuality — that nothing about it feels threatening or scary. That little girl at the end looks like she could probably beat the hell out of Tripod. As will become usual with Cronenberg, the greater threat comes from within: “creative cancers” and other excrescences. The Brood, in particular, would build on this foundation.
*. Something is not right. I quite enjoyed Stereo, but find this movie to be an incredible drag. The business of sorting the laundry is particularly tedious (though I got a kick out of seeing Brian Linehan going through the delicates). Kim Newman’s verdict, that the film shows that “it’s possible to be boring and interesting at the same time,” doesn’t quite wash. A lot of the time it isn’t even interesting.
*. Indeed, it’s remarkable that a movie this bizarre and this short (only 62 minutes) could be so dull. But narrative never came naturally to Cronenberg; he always had to work at it. I think this is what’s behind Newman’s other observation that the synopses to some of Cronenberg’s films are more interesting than the films themselves. He comes up with some great ideas, but he’s not a storyteller.
*. Is it worth trying to sort out? I don’t think so. The narration sounds like the usual psychobabble, and the only point seems to be a warning about how easily introversion can go septic. Still, few artists have confronted so frankly the aesthetic pleasure of the car wreck, or the car-wreck quality of the aesthetic experience.