Psychopathia Sexualis

Like his documentary HELL'S HIGHWAY: THE TRUE STORY OF HIGHWAY SAFETY FILMS (2003), Bret Wood's dramatically stylized visualization of cases from 19th-century Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing's notorious, groundbreaking taxonomy of sexual variation is a window into bygone morals and mores. Lurid though the material is, the film is scrupulously...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Like his documentary HELL'S HIGHWAY: THE TRUE STORY OF HIGHWAY SAFETY FILMS (2003), Bret Wood's dramatically stylized visualization of cases from 19th-century Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing's notorious, groundbreaking taxonomy of sexual variation is a window into bygone morals and mores. Lurid though the material is, the film is scrupulously anti-erotic; Wood alternates explicit but passionless vignettes depicting sadomasochistic rituals, vampirism, same-sex attraction, lust murder and fetishism with dramatizations of Krafft-Ebing (Ted Manson) interviewing patients and depictions of contemporary treatments for mental disorders. The atmosphere is consistently doom-haunted and depressed; as one would expect, Krafft-Ebing's patients, raised to suspect the most conventional sexual urges of incipient corruption, rarely derive pleasure from their erotic experimentation and are racked with guilt when they do. Patient Jonathan (Daniel May), a proper young man of some means, develops a blood fixation and abuses the family maid until his mother (Jane Bass) has him committed; after his release, she descends into paranoid madness precipitated by the onset of menopause. Xavier (Daniel Pettrow) is attracted to other men, but would like to get married and raise a family. Spinster Lydia (Lisa Paulsen), a paid companion, would rather spend her life alone than give in to her unnatural urges, even when her new charge, Annabel Lindstrom (Veronika Duerr), reciprocates enthusiastically. Their stories are bracketed by vignettes examining the depredations of notorious French sex killer Emile Fourquet (Patrick Parker) and the role of brothels and prostitutes in shaping desire, either as acceptable outlets for socially sanctioned drives or as hothouses of sexual excess where perversions take root and flourish. Despite the film's low budget, Wood's images are extraordinary and evocative, a sly cross between Andrew Repasky McElhinney's coldly pornographic GEORGES BATAILLE'S STORY OF THE EYE and the coyly suggestive illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Gorey. Wood seems fascinated by Krafft-Ebing's efforts to scientifically dissect and categorize the vagaries of carnal desire, but his larger point is elusive. Unless it's the same point made by a matter-of-fact madame (Sandra L. Hughes) who, after telling three fledgling tarts a long, dreadful tale about a gypsy puppeteer (Rob Nixon), a pair of perverted aristocrats (Shelby Hofer, Greg Thompson) and a child (Anne Marie Thomas) stripped of her innocence, brushes off their questions about the lesson they should take away by admonishing, "there's no moral, dearie, it's just a story."

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Like his documentary HELL'S HIGHWAY: THE TRUE STORY OF HIGHWAY SAFETY FILMS (2003), Bret Wood's dramatically stylized visualization of cases from 19th-century Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing's notorious, groundbreaking taxonomy of sexua… (more)

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