By the late 80s, it was pretty clear to most people, and especially the more “radical,” intellectual youth (yah, I’m speaking from my own experience), that the ideals and revolutionary techniques of the “hippy generation,” and the political activists associated with them (rightly or not), were mostly a failure. Current critiques are more kind. The social changes that the upheavals of the 60s initiated have certainly had positive, persisting consequences. However, by the 80s and early 90s, many of the “yippies” and “hippies” of the early 70s had either been transformed into “yuppies” or were appropriated into a socially conservative, cynical mass of defensive, disenfranchised blue-collar workers seduced by the populism of Reagan’s individualistic, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” campaign. Which group they fell into depended entirely on how much money they had.
Those who managed to hang on to their youthful idealism seemed defeated and tired: living anachronisms struggling to align their worldview with a world that was no longer recognizable. The more powerful among them, those who had “followers” or political clout, ironically resorted to authoritarian means for realizing their dwindling, anti-authoritarian dreams.
Some embraced political compromise while others devoted themselves to the much easier task of changing the symbols of reality – language and images – in hope of a trickle down effect: the Reaganomics of Ethics. Students of the latter would-be radicals collectively formed the “political correctness” movement which has flourished like a virus within academia and has internally compromised most of the potentially counter-cultural trends that would follow in its wake. Their puritanical ideologies and rules for proper etiquette, a continuation of the Marxist obsession with purity that characterized the political rebellions of the 60s, still contributes to the infighting and blatant disregard of facts, political necessity, or human psychology that hobbles and marginalizes contemporary activism.
Those who embraced political compromise, like Bill Clinton, could at least point to direct socio-political changes that they had enacted through government. However, productive political compromise is built upon a balance of power with one’s enemy and any change in that balance means that positive social change, once initiated, cannot be controlled and maintained. As a result, so many of the “positive changes” that politicians like Clinton attempted to create were thereafter appropriated and transformed into serving the status quo. The paranoia and resentment this created has pushed many political representatives of the”Left” further and further into an authoritarian thirst for power and control that has made them hardly discernible from their stated “enemies.”
This basic cycle of “return of the repressed,” played out at the social level, is pretty easily diagnosed…and yet we all seem trapped into repeating it like automatons. One could argue that there is something more than artificial social structures and their enforcement of relations of power that keep this troubling cycle going. It all seems like so much theatrical, ritualistic enactment of a deeper, more primal aspect of human consciousness: the part of ourselves that undermines our own desires.
In the late 60s, into the 70s, there were a lot of horror movies that are sometimes, because of their themes and style, referred to as hippy horror. Often these films attempt to reproduce the experience of a “bad trip” and feature elliptical plots that make them similar to more elevated art films that were also produced during this period (see THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM).
To some degree, manifestations of the “return of the repressed” were always a recognized part of the hippy subculture. Stories have emerged of how the “free love” philosophy, for example, was used by self-described “enlightened” individuals to justify sexual exploitation and rape. In 1969, the gruesome story of Charlie Manson and his cult highlighted the barely obscured horrors that lay just beneath the utopian ideals of an entire generation of rebels and social dropouts. Fear of this simmering underbelly of the “hippy revolution,” unleashed by drugs and a thousand different kinds of amateur psychological experimentations, was used by mainstream media, and even independent horror films, in service of a conservative, reactionary media response to popular forms of social resistance. At the same time, many horror films addressed this issue more straightforwardly, without clear ideological intent, with a focus on the subjective, existential experience of embracing “freedom” while also being trapped by psychological and social conditioning that is out of one’s control.
MONKEYS IN THE ATTIC is one such film. It depicts the increasingly strange behavior of a group of tripping pseudo-radicals as they spiral ever more dangerously into a ritualistic, psycho-dramatic, and ultimately cathartic (for better or worse) enactment of their most dangerous, corruptive “hang ups.” Whether their obvious, desperate pursuit of catharsis is a radical expression of liberation or a distorted, perverted recreation of status quo power dynamics is up to the viewer to decide, although it is quite clear that this is not an entirely happy, loving, entirely positive experience for anyone involved.
This is not intended to promote the legitimacy of “trigger warnings” as an ethical obligation, but I feel the need to warn potential viewers that MONKEYS IN THE ATTIC features a great deal of sexualized violence. The extent to which this “violence” is depicted as a kind of empowering sadomasochistic play or straight-out rape is open to debate. I have my opinions, but I will refrain from providing them here. Considering that MONKEYS IN THE ATTIC was described by one internet reviewer as “WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF on mushrooms,” you can pretty much assume that, where sadomasochism is involved, no “safe words” are being used. This is not a depiction of “responsible” sadomasochistic roleplaying as practiced by most people who are involved in that sexual subculture.
The director of MONKEYS IN THE ATTIC, Morley Markson, was not incredibly prolific. His best known work is the documentary GROWING UP IN AMERICA. This 1988 documentary depicts some of the most famous, influential radicals of the 60s and 70s, now grown and more experienced, viewing footage of their old selves on a television set and commenting on how both they and the world have changed over the years. I’m including it here as I believe it shares themes with MONKEYS IN THE ATTIC and is an important film in its own right if viewed from the perspective of the horror genre.
MONKEYS IN THE ATTIC is another incredibly rare film, the final one this year, that I have edited and “fixed” in order to share with you here (for the first time) in a watchable form.
There had previously only been one streaming copy available and its soundtrack was a full five or six seconds out of synch. I’ve come across that before. Who does that? Who uploads a rare film with the sound out of synch and then leaves it there for years? What is the point? In any case…I downloaded it, synched it, and re-uploaded it to my Youtube channel. Enjoy…
MONKEYS IN THE ATTIC (1974):
GROWING UP IN AMERICA (1988):