The sentient wig in Mausoleum (1983)

Updated: Feb 8

This film is a) about curses b) demons and c) bad murders. And it has an iconic Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray release.


I'm in!


But why should you care?


Because....


Aunt Cora's grey wig is fooling no-one, slithering away down the back of her neck. Maybe Cora's wig has discovered the terrible truth, that the director managed to break the 180 degree rule in the first five minutes of Mausoleum. The wig is now making a bid for freedom, so it can ring its agent and get off this shoot.


Aunt Cora is here to tell this tired beard dude, psychiatrist Dr Andrews, about Susan. Cora gives Andrew this book about Susan's family history which explains the whole plot of the film and how to make everything OK. But Andrews isn't into reading it. Obvs. It takes him the whole film to read it and then he goes and sorts shit out. Film ends.


The original story and screenplay is by Katherine Rosenwink, but she doesn't get writing credits on this film. I wonder what her script was like.


Side note: it's so nice that this family history is a nicely bound hardback; that's just what the Peirse family history looks like too.


The next important plot point: Elsie is Susan's maid. Elsie is six foot tall, has the wildest dress sense, and the bluest eyeshadow. She also takes no prisoners when it comes to the pronunciation of cantaloupe.



LaWanda Page is magnificent in the minor role of Elsie; she has a screen presence that demonstrates the very limited range of Bobbie Bresee, as Susan. Page exemplifies what James Baldwin describes in The Devil Makes Work as 'moments' that a black actor can offer: 'indelible moments, created, miraculously, beyond the confines of the script: hints of reality, smuggled like contraband into a maudlin tale, and with enough force, if unleashed, to shatter the tale to fragments'.


And the 'hints of reality' are particularly pertinent here. When Susan goes full possession, Elsie is out of there. She is the only black character in the film, and the only one with a modicum of sense.


Elsie confirms the infamous Eddie Murphy 1983 stand-up special 'Delirious' in which he points out 'Why don't the people just get the hell out of the house? You can't make a horror movie with black people in it cause the movie'd stop'. Murphy's routine was, of course, the jumping off point for Jordan Peele's Get Out, Peele musing over the question, how do you get a black guy to stay in a house from which he should certainly be fleeing long enough to get him into real trouble?


And below... this is Susan's gardener. Yes, they have given him some incoherent "ethnicity" to make him appear dubious. Ouch. Susan is white and blonde and skinny and doesn't have a job and owns a massive house and loads of servants to support her white privilege. He's a nasty sex pest though, so Susan is going to sort him out, now she's possessed by a demon.



This is how you know Susan is possessed:



Susan goes full Phyllis Dietrichson to start with seducing the sex pest gardener.

This is early on. When she's making more of an effort. By the end of the film she's just putting some suds on her tits in the bath.


Post-coital death by gardening fork.


Susan's married now, to Oliver. Oliver didn't get the PALINDROMIC PLOT FORESHADOWING of marrying a woman with the surname NOMED. This scene only has Susan and Oliver in right at the end, as they raise a toast to their night out. But it is has been included for the **quality dialogue** between the bad shiny mullet man (who Susan burns alive) and his highly perceptive partner.


Susan levitates the people who displease her. Remember this fact.

Bye Aunt Cora! May you and your wig live to act another day!



Analogue.


It's safe to assume that in this next sequence the filmmakers are referring to controversial feminist Dutch classic De stilte rond Christine M. (1982). Susan goes to the mall to do some shopping, she goes in this art shop and steal a painting, and the male store owner pursues her...

Where Mausoleum diverts in its homage, though, is that Susan chooses to employ her supernatural powers to deal with patriarchy and capitalism. Susan levitates the shop man, strangles him, then drops him down four floors of the shopping mall. From the direction, photography and editing on this film, I'm completely sure the male filmmakers are ardent feminists and that my analysis is spot-on.


Plus: bonus filmmaking points for actually dropping a real stunt man from the mall roof.



My two absolute, most favourite moments of Mausoleum, are moments of intimacy between Oliver and Susan. They are navigated with those famous love metaphors of the porcine and piscine.


And then, check out, some lovely....

FRAMING



So, you've been to see your hot wife's shrink, who explains she is possessed by a demon and is dangerous, and when you get home you find your hot wife naked in the bath. She's amorous. She's possessed. She's got the aforementioned suds on her tits. What's a man going to do?

Oliver obviously gets it on with her.


This scene is emblematic of the total lack of chemistry between the two actors. Which somehow adds to the tone of the whole thing.


Of course, Olive pays, in the end. His dying moments in close up, truly demonstrating Marjoe Gortner's range.



On their website, Vinegar Syndrome explain the meaning of their name: 'a chemical reaction that deteriorates motion picture film over time. Film preservation is a race against time, especially with long-neglected genres and underground films'.


As we dwell on Marjoe Gortner's rictus grin, in this instance, we can be entirely thankful for their sterling work.


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