Mascara (1987)

An incestuous brother-sister duo! A psychotic killer who stalks transsexuals! An underground S&M club called Mister Butterfly! An opera gown with a fluorescent red heart! In its irresistible mix of outre artiness and commercial sleaze, Mascara plays as if Werner Schroeter had set out to direct an erotic thriller in the style of Joe Eszterhas.

Unthinkable in any normal universe, but Mascara is most defiantly NOT a normal film. A box-office catastrophe on its release, and still barely known outside a small clique of twisted souls, this is a cult movie waiting to happen. As deliciously warped as anything by Almodovar or John Waters, it’s all the more campily compelling for being played with a straight face.

In a queer inversion of the Orpheus myth, it is Woman (a smoulderingly beautiful Charlotte Rampling) who inhabits a sunlit above-ground world of music, art and ‘healthy’ sexuality. (All three summed up by her affair with a hunky opera designer, Derek de Lint.) It is Man (Michael Sarrazin as her deranged sibling) who wallows in a subterranean sexual Hell of his own making.

Brief but surprisingly graphic shots treat us to leather bondage gear, chain-mail masks and the scariest Tina Turner drag act you are ever likely to see. The subtle androgyny of Rampling’s persona becomes an eerie reflection of the real-life transsexuals (Berlin cabaret legend Romy Haag and Italian beauty Ewa Robins) who round out the film’s cast.”

And to make it that wee bit more perverse, the lurid goings-on are set to some serenely lyrical opera excerpts by Gluck, Bellini and Strauss. You’ll either adore or loathe Mascara – there’s no middle ground – but guaranteed you’ve never seen anything quite like it. “