Movie Review: The Strangler’s Wife

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Director: Michael Allosso
IMDB | Official Website

If there’s any genre and archetype that has been done, pardon the pun, to death in the last 10 or 15 years of cinema and fiction, it’s the serial killer.

Starting with psychos and slashers, moving through cannibals and their copycats, the serial killer has so dominated the landscape of modern horror as to become nearly neutered.

And yet they just keep on coming, no hope for a respite in sight.

There’s something to be said for some serial killer works – certainly no one can deny the merits of Silence of the Lambs. But for the most part, the serial killer is as exhausted as the vampire.

Another tired genre is the erotic thriller. No doubt a vital and exciting change of pace when films like Body Heat were released, the erotic thriller had faded over the years into an excuse to throw some heaving breasts into particular peril, usually at the hands of a sharp, metallic phallus stand in.

So a film that marries serial killers and the erotic thriller is not likely to please, something The Strangler’s Wife unfortunately excels at.

A serial killer film depicting the deeds of “The Son of the Strangler,” a Boston-area serial killer whose nickname is taken from the more famous, and real-life, serial killer The Boston Strangler, The Strangler’s Wife takes the somewhat novel approach of following the strangler not only through his crimes but also through his strange and difficult relationship with his wife.

The relationship between the strangler, Kevin, and his wife, Mae, is made more difficult than you’d expect with a serial killer in the house due to their shared dysfunctions. Both are possessed of sexual dysfunctions, Kevin plagued by unwanted sexual fantasies and a virgin/whore complex, and Mae haunted by memories of her childhood sexual abuse at her father’s hands. Additionally, Kevin dominates Mae (usurping her father’s role) and keeps her in a state of virtual servitude, rendering her nearly helpless to fend for herself.

Into this scenario comes Mae’s growing suspicion that something is wrong with Kevin and their relationship. At first she suspects him of having an affair, but after her increasingly erratic behavior and finding a pair of nylons – the murder weapon used by the strangler – in his laundry, she begins too suspect something else.

The last half of this short (sub-90 minute) film is taken up with Mae’s growing suspicion, Kevin’s increasingly frequent murders (he’s a bit of a silly serial killer, seemingly killing anyone who looks cross-eyed at him), and their dance around the truth.

It’s largely a stock plot and you can imagine where it goes. That’s not what bears commenting on about the film. What’s interesting – in the sense of disturbing – is the film’s relationship to sexuality and nudity.

It’s no secret that horror is largely a conservative genre, with slasher and serial killer films playing perhaps the most egregious role as maintainers of now-antiquated values. After all, what’s punished most in these films than those who practice teenaged, and therefore unmarried, sex? But in addition to the conservatism of the genre, a disturbing corollary exists: the sexualization and fetishization of the dead female body.

In its role as an erotic thriller, The Strangler’s Wife is thrilled to displayed a lot of breasts, a lot of killing, and not much else.

A result of this is that we frequently see a woman gets naked just prior to her getting killed. In the aftermath of her murder, the camera often sweeps across or focuses on her dead body, breasts protruding. This mixture of sexuality and death is not only odd (please, let’s not trot out the old saw of the tight bond between sex and death in this case), but it is also part of a larger trend in media that can be seen on cop shows like NYPD Blue and CSI.

This trend fetishizes dead bodies and uses murder as an excuse for, on TV, risque legs and butt shots, and in film, a revealing breast shot.

Some filmmakers (and writers) will claim that they’re trying to depict the dark, sexually twisted worlds of serial killers. Perhaps they are. This claim does allow the creators some cover, a plausible deniability they can use to make these movies without worrying about such issues.

However, the line between hard truth and sordid exploitation is sometimes hard to see and it can be harder still to see which side of the line a film falls on.

The repeated shots of breasts, both before and after the murder, in The Strangler’s Wife reads like fetishization. After all, for what other reason than titillation are these shots included? We can have murders without heaving breasts, and vice versa.

And furthermore, if the goal is not the audience’s titillation, then why do most serial killers in these movies only target women in crimes based on sex?

Frankly, the whole obsession with seeing naked dead women borders on necrophilia (as noted in an article, written be me and published in Bitch #24, on a particularly repugnant CSI ad campaign).

Some might dispute my reading of the movie, pointing to Mae’s “development” as a character, arguing that her character arc actually show her to be a strong, empowered women (the production website even mentions the word feminism in relation to the film!). This argument is as fallacious here as it is in comic books that claim their superhumanly busty and scantily clad “bad girls” are somehow strong women characters and even role models for young girls.

The Mae who ends the film is, I’ll grant, a different Mae than begins it. But her transformation is simply not credible.

After a lifetime of being beaten down,undercut, and cowed, suddenly she develops the gumption to follow her serial killer husband, confront him, and eventually attempt to kill him? Sorry, there’s just nothing in the film to let this make sense.

To make things worse, the role reversal implied at the end of the film, where a not-dead, but paralyzed Kevin is dominated and commanded in his wheelchair by the newly empowered Mae indicates that Mae has learned nothing, transformed not at all, and is only perpetrating the same kinds of oppression that ruined her for so long.

Kind of like films and books that claim to be about powerful women but are really just elaborate set pieces to add a festishized, sexual sheen violence.

Oh, the irony.

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