Night Hair Alley

Possibly THE GREATEST MOMENT EVER CAPTURED ON CELLULOID.

12-year-old Mark “OLIVER!” Lester throwing rocks at a dead dog in a swimming pool.

It doesn’t get much better than this, people!

“Corrupt voyeuristic weirdie which has to be seen to be believed.” ~ Halliwell’s Film Guide.

It’s called NIGHT HAIR CHILD (wtf?) A.K.A. NIGHT CHILD (better, but still weird) A.K.A. CHILD OF THE NIGHT (this is starting to make sense) A.K.A. DIABOLICA MALICIA (nice!) A.K.A. DIABOLISCH (too much like DIABOLIK) A.K.A. LA TUA PRESENZA NUDA (sounds kinda smutty) A.K.A. WHAT THE PEEPER SAW (rather declassé, don’t you think?) A.K.A. DER ZEUGE HINTER DER WAND (don’t know). Whew!

I’m calling it NIGHT HAIR CHILD because that’s the (inscrutable) title I always heard, and it’s the name of the novelisation by Mai Zetterling (!) I once saw in a second-hand bookshop. It maybe “has to be seen to be believed” but it’s quite hard to see, mainly due, I suspect, to the skin-crawlingly uncomfortable pedophile leanings of the script.

A moment Britt probably doesn’t talk about much these days.

This is not, I should stress, actual child porn. Really, it’s not. But this movie would certainly not be made in any English-speaking country today, not for reasons of legality but for reasons of taste. The tale of a perverted 12-year-old and his decidedly off-kilter family relations, it’s the kind of thing that could only happen in the ’70s, when the questioning of society’s traditional morals and mores had gone about as far as it was going to…

“Now, you’re going to be hearing a lot of talk about panties.”

Mark Lester, aged about twelve in real life and now no longer cute at all (“I always found Mark Lester creepy,” says my friend David Wingrove, and it’s like the scales have been lifted from my eyes) plays, ineptly, an eerie rich kid called Marcus who may have killed his mum and may be planning on killing his new stepmum, Britt Ekland, after he’s finished watching her bedroom “acrobatics” with Dad, Hardy Kruger. Britt finds her new charge somewhat alarming, especially when he grabs her britts as she’s on the phone to hubby. Investigating, she finds evidence of (1) his pathological lying (2) his thieving (3) his truancy (4) his peeping (5) his animal mutilation. To get him to tell her about his mother’s death, she agrees to strip for him. One has to question her parenting skills at this point.

The filmmakers appear to have stepped in here to protect their star’s innocence and replaced Mark Lester with either an older stand-in (a dwarf? Kenny Baker in a fright wig?) or possibly a mannequin.

This is all (1) strange (2) creepy, in a BAD way (3) somewhat badly put together, in a GOOD way. Since the dialogue is weak, and poor Britt is acting in a vacuum (Hardy is oddly disconnected, perhaps trying to mentally disassociate himself from the sleaze around him, Lester is simultaneously wooden and repellent, like a mahogany pustule), bizarre narrative leaps and ellipses and baffling unmotivated behaviour actually make it a lot more interesting to watch. At one point, the camera tilts up from Britt in bed and simply looks at the ceiling. Why? Cut to Britt going upstairs to the attic. “Ah, the camera was following her thoughts,” explained Fiona. “That seems a risky strategy, following Britt Ekland’s thoughts,” I mused. “I wonder how many cameras they lost.”

(But this is unfair as Britt is good in this film, with her odd Swedish line readings working quite well in the name of naturalism. For her more intimate scenes with Little Markie, she either deserves a medal for bravery or a short prison sentence.)

Even after it’s over, it’s not 100% clear what was going on some of the time, or why. The ending, a double-twist in the LES DIABOLIQUES tradition, is very nice, but that’s the only generic bit that works.

The other stuff is at its most effective when totally confusing, like the long psychiatric hospital sequence where Britt is trundled about in a wheelchair by a nurse who’s trying very hard not to look at the camera (Fiona says: “Yeah, she needs a wheelchair because when you’re mental you can’t walk, apparently.”) having visions — flashbacks? fantasies? delusions? — of attempted murder, attempted pedophilia, and attempted something-or-other involving a dog. I really wasn’t sure what I was seeing by now. She’s sent there, incidentally, by a very assured and well-preserved Lilli Palmer, one of those movie shrinks with an office full of primitive art. Or at least, I think that’s what the weird crash-test dummy in the corner must be. It’s giving a livelier performance than Mark Lester.

But one has to feel sorry for the lad. This is one disturbing film. Either it destroyed his career, or he made it because his career was already destroyed. Either way, what a horrible way to make a living. No wonder he’s now befriended Michael Jackson…

I suppose there’s nothing in this film as questionable as the child sexuality in THE TIN DRUM (which I doubt you could make nowadays, without changing a few scenes) but this seems much more upsetting and sleazy. It’s just a big, brimming flagon of wrong. While the filmmakers undoubtedly know that this stuff is taboo, and that it’ll make the audience uncomfortable, it’s not clear whether they’re aware HOW taboo it is, or why they’re even doing it. Just when things are getting TOO WEIRD TO LIVE, there’ll be some new piece of terrifying ’70s leisurewear modelled by Mr. Kruger, or some new lounge version of the (great) theme tune by Stelvio Cipriani, or Britt will disrobe again in a new and ever more uncomfortable scenario (she’s at her skinniest here, yet looking impossibly sexy when clothed) or there’ll be an abrupt scene change before we’ve worked out what the last scene was about, and somebody will be doing something unexplained.

Ah, the ’70s! Age of loud shirts and kiddie-fiddling.

Just about worth seeing, but be warned, there may be moments when your eyeballs start singing “La la la, I’m not looking!” and your brain tries to shut itself down by scraping itself raw against the inside of your skull. Other than that, it’s quite diverting.

Make it a Fever Dream Double Feature with: BABY LOVE, in which a fifteen-year-old Linda Hayden infiltrates and then shags her way through Keith Barron’s entire family.

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16 Responses to “Night Hair Alley”

  1. Christoph Huber Says:

    Very promising stuff. For the record: Zeuge hinter der Wand means Witness Behind the Wall, which sounds peep enough. And instantly reminds me of a film which sounds like may induce even more self-defensive brain-scraping: L’occhio dietro la parete aka The Crystal Man aka Eyes Behind the Wall, a sex giallo with the late John Philip Law and Fernando Rey (just check the imdb user comments for jaw-dropping wonder). If anyone knows how to get hold of that one he shall be worshipped till the end of days.

  2. In light of Swimming Pool this sounds ripe to be remade by Francois Ozon.

  3. I guess Ozon could probably get away with something like this, yeah. Nobody in Britain would be allowed near it. When TV iconoclast Chris Morris made a one-off special of his news spoof Brass Eye satirising media hysteria around the issue of pedophilia, tabloid papers published his address and phone number so “concerned readers” could harrass/assassinate him.

    Lots of people seem to have seen Eyes Behind the Wall, but I can’t find a trace of it to buy anywhere. Will watch out for it, sounds like a distillation of every giallo unpleasantness ever conceived.

    I spoke too soon: http://wtfdvds.com/all-dvds-1/the-eye-behind-the-wall-1977-dvd-192.html
    The aptly named WTF DVDs seem to be fairly reliable merchants…

  4. Our collective discomfort with child sexuality seems to me to have spiked at an all-time high. Certainly the 60s and 70s were a significantly different environment for this sort of thing.

    I think our internal and external censorship adjusts to prohibit or permit thoughts that are more or less risky. At the moment we seem to think that exposed brains in Frankenstein movies won’t threaten the social fabric so much, even though this action is surely a more serious offense against society than the worst sexual deviation. In recent decades we saw rape get reevaluated on this scale, becoming a less permissible subject for cheap cinematic thrills; and this happened at the same time that society was reevaluating how much of a risk real-life rape was. All this to say: I wonder whether our current four-alarm squick about pedophilia doesn’t go hand in hand with an elevated reverence for children and childhood in recent years? Maybe we unconsciously recognize the danger in our doting on the little ones so much, and have erected walls to contain our own excesses.

  5. Well, there are accepted situations in which exposing a brain might be considered reasonable, ie brain surgery.

    But for the first time we seem to be in an era in which the same does not apply to a child’s body, which is taboo at all times, hence we get parents reported to the police for holiday snaps of kids on the beach.

    I wonder if this panic at the thought of children’s bodies, which reaches furious proportions when the child starts to mature, is contributing to the preponderance of anorexia and body dismorphia in modern society, or if these things are just being diagnosed more? At any rate it’s a taboo that seems unhealthy, and it’s there partly because socitety has evolved to consider nudity as inherently sexual.

    Meanwhile children emulate pop stars and carry Playboy-branded merchandise, proving basically that society is incredible schizoid.

    ARE we more reverant towards children now? I haven’t noticed a big change, but the pedophile as boogieman thing seems to have grown massively. If this was to keep our doting in check, wouldn’t it focus on abuse within the family, rather than the far less common assault by strangers?

  6. I’m not sure that we’re really more reverent toward children – I was just speculating. It’s an impression that many people have, but one has to watch out for good-old-days syndrome (“My father beat me twice a week with a rod, and I turned out all right.”) Certainly children have always been an emotional hot spot.

    Our extreme fear of child abuse is expressed in a diffuse fashion, but it does, among other things, police internal family affairs, as in the case of the holiday snaps reported to the authorities. Parents who raise a hand to their children in public are often discouraged by passers-by. Maybe the prohibition doesn’t have to operate with pinpoint precision, as long as it’s functional.

  7. I don’t think we’re reverent towards children at all, and what you call our “extreme fear of child abuse” is also a desire for it. Witness NBC’s notorious To Catch a Predator seriesd which came to an end when one potential perp, caught wind of the con went home and because he was being pursued by NBC cameras went into his house and immediately blew his brains out.

    Michael Jackson is another example of the spectacle of pedophilia being regurgitated through a voyeuristic “celebrity” mirror. And then to top it all off there’s Mylie Cyrus of “Hannah Montana” fame, claiming the shots taken of her by Susan Sontag’s last girlfriend were “exploiting” her — thus trying to pull a con on millions. Those shots were approved by her and her pimp father. Putting on an act of disapproal only helped further disseminate them and provide her with a rhetorical disavowal of the fact that she’s in the business of selling her pre-pubescent ass every bit as much as Jodie Foster’s “Iris” in Taxi Driver

  8. The prohibition has gotten so far from pinpoint-precise as to become an all-consuming phobia about anything that connects children and sex, so that kids have been arrested for age-appropriate exploration (ie, playing “doctors and nurses”), and yet stuff on the fringes of child abuse, the “barely legal”, gets fetishised. It’s all just WEIRD, to the point where I have trouble imaging a stance on any of it that would be any less weird.

  9. The overwhelming and constant message this culture sends out is “Be sexy but DON’T DO IT!!! — unless of course we can all watch.”

  10. That is pretty damn creepy.

  11. It seems to me that ‘stranger danger’ must be emphasised and women taught that the world outside the home is dangerous for extremly sinister reasons. I’m continually bringing up the statistic that as a single woman I’m a lot safer walking the streets at night (even in EVIL LEITH) than a woman in a relationship. Currently 25 % of our health costs are being eaten up by domestic violence… moving briskly on I find Britts hair style most … creepy…

  12. There’s also the fact that every family considers itself a haven of safety, so the threat MUSt lurk “out there”. When Gitta Sereny was writing about the Bulger case she asked one boy’s mother if he could possibly have been abused by his now-absent father. “Oh, he’d never do anything like that,” she avowed, “Unless he was drunk, I suppose. He was capable of anything then.” Needless to say, the man was frequently drunk.

    Britt’s hair suggests a sequel, Shite Hair Woman.

  13. I find it compelling that as women took up the benefits of feminism ie ‘being allowed to work’ outside the home the prevailing culture is to tell them that the only safe place is to be in the home. Don’t get me onto the Suzi Lampleugh Trust. And as women appeared on the one had to throw off the legal shackles took on mental shackles particularly about appearance, size, weight. A woman continually worried about her appearance and obsessed with altering it (a mental form of foot binding) will NEVER take on society as it is.

  14. So I found a Mark Lester Fan Club page on Facebook, and they listed some of his movies. I had never seen this one so I checked it out on YouTube…and watched all 9 parts. it’s one of those times you cover your eyes with your hand but HAVE to watch through your fingers. Say what you want about Mark’s general performance, but in the “exchange” scene, I found little Markie to be disturbingly good at the “up and down leer”…YIKES…”Oliver!” will never be the same.

  15. It’s a mind-blowingly creepy film, even worse than its counterpart, Baby Love, which has an underage Linda Hayden seducing her way through her foster family…

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