Over the weekend, I was sent video of a filmmaker panel which took place at HorrorHound Weekend that was intended to be about filmmaking and distribution in the indie film community, and in all fairness, that was how it seemed to start out. Over the course of the next hour, however, I watched as producer/writer G.R. Claveria slowly changed the tone and direction of the panel into a spotlight on his own film The Miranda Murders: Lost Tapes of Leonard Lake and Charles Ng.
For those unaware, in the early 1980s Lake and Ng were responsible for the kidnapping, torture, rape, and murder of at least 20 women in a bid to create the perfect female slave object.
Claveria, along with co-writer and director Matthew Rosvally, decided to re-create some of the infamous pair’s video recordings of their crimes while filling in the gaps with their own take on just what might have happened in the California woods between 1983 and 1985 before the murderers were arrested on charges of shoplifting and were finally exposed.
This, in and of itself, is not a new concept in the genre. We’ve certainly seen our fair share of films about serial killers, both real and imaginary, who committed horrendous acts against women. The Silence of the Lambs, Copycat, and a whole host of films about the crimes of Jack the Ripper spring to mind immediately.
Still there was something that just did not feel right about watching and listening to these two men talk about their film. It all seemed to be a joke to them, and even more disturbing, there are times when Claveria, in particular, seems to relish the subject matter.
There is an almost wistful, gleeful tone in his voice when he says he “gets to rape a girl” on film. Later on, after winning an award for the film (a fact that after seeing it still astonishes me), that maliciously gleeful tone is back when he says their film “is about sexual abduction and instructions on how to rape women” followed by a smirking “whoops!” when his audience finally began to cheer in a way that said they weren’t quite sure what their reactions should be.
You can see video of their remarks below, followed by the panel in its entirety to give further proof that the edited remarks were not made in a way so as to change the tone of what Claveria and Rosvally did and said during the panel.
With all of this in mind, I decided I needed to set aside time to watch the film, which is available to rent on Amazon, to see exactly what these two men had made. What I found made their remarks even more sinister and their flippancy about the subject matter anything but funny.
The Miranda Tapes is, in many ways, just what they described it to be. The film focuses on the exploits of Lake and Ng as they try, fail, and try again, to create their perfectly submissive ideal of a woman. One who is pliant, subservient, and completely broken so that she can no longer protest her treatment and fears the strict punishments she has been conditioned to expect for misbehaving.
Their journey is peppered with bad acting, multiple implied rape and torture scenes (some of which take place on camera while others happen with audio to give clues as to what is going on behind closed doors), a scene where Ng puts one of the women’s children into a pot and prepares to stick him in the oven while announcing “dinner will be ready soon,” and more bad acting until I wondered how the film had even been considered for programming at a festival, much less nominated and awarded at said festival.
I am still confounded by that fact.
In the other films I mentioned before, there are clear steps taken to avoid glorification of the crimes committed. Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs may be over the top and his methods brutal but there is never a sense that he is not the villain. He is a terrible person committing horrendous crimes against women and as such he must be stopped.
In The Miranda Murders, there is simply no counterpoint to the pair’s actions. Lake is confident in his actions and his training plan, and Ng, the submissive half of the serial killer pairing, is all too willing to follow the former’s orders to reap the benefits of greater access to the women they have captured.
In the absence of an opposing view, outside the protestations of their victims, Lake and Ng’s actions become the only focal point and thus the only lens by which we can view their activities. It certainly makes the film an unflinching look at violence against women, and yet there is no commentary on the subject within the construct of the film.
In the day and age of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, when serious conversations about violence against women are at an all time high and social change seems to actually be happening on the subject, these two men have seemingly chosen, by their comments, their actions, and their film, to instead be a shining example of everything these movements are trying to end.
When we further consider that many of the victims of these crimes may still have living family who could be subjected to questions about the film and its portrayal of the killers and killings, the enormity of their tone-deaf attitude comes front and center.
Never mind the fact that they hijacked a panel to spend an hour promoting their own film and repeatedly talked over the two women on the panel who looked more and more uncomfortable as the hour waned. Never mind that they say they didn’t set out to make a film that glorifies the subject matter or becomes material for sexual deviants to sate their desires late at night when no one is looking.
The fact is that what they created is a torture porn, rape fantasy, faux snuff film that has no place in 2018. The further fact that they seem blissfully unaware of what they created is proof of just how dangerous and insidiously subversive unconscious misogyny still is in our current environment and that it is as alive and well in the indie film industry as it is in the shining studios of Hollywood.
If further proof is needed, at this point, of just how they feel about those who have spoken against their film and how ridiculous they feel those claims to be, take a look at their holiday greetings video below which their production company posted at the end of 2017.
If Rosvally and Claveria and those who have supported their attitudes do not wish to join the conversation or for whatever reason are unable to, then let their film and their remarks be the subject of said conversations, and a lesson for men of what not to do.
After all, it is far more productive to take the embodiment of what offends or disturbs or diminishes us and use it as a rung to climb toward our goals than to let those things become a quagmire from which we cannot hope to escape.