IMAGES Review – A Descent Into Madness

By Pat King
Images2 240x300 - IMAGES Review - A Descent Into Madness

Starring Susannah York, Rene Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi

Directed by Robert Altman

Distributed by Arrow Academy

Robert Altman’s Images (1972) is among his least known works, even though the film came out during his most celebrated period: the early to mid-’70s. In fact, the movie is so obscure that it was thought lost for a while until a print was finally found. This special edition Blu-ray from Arrow Academy is only the second time the film has been released, and the first new edition since 2003. As the New Hollywood director’s only foray into horror filmmaking, it certainly holds up well all these years later. It’s a shame the film is so under-recognized.

Adapted from a very bare-bones script from Altman, the film has a small, intimate cast. This is unusual for Altman, who is best known for big Hollywood spectacles like M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Nashville. Also unusual was the experimental nature of the narrative, which ultimately made the film a tough sell for the big Hollywood studios, even though Altman was an established director with several hit movies under his belt. And while he experimented with things like sound design, his previous films had much more narratively straightforward stories. Images was made like a small art house film, and really, that’s what it became.

Images stars Susannah York as Cathryn, a children’s book author and wife suffering from PTSD and schizophrenia. The schizophrenia is evident from the opening of the film when Cathryn receives a series of strange late-night phone calls. While talking to a gossipy friend, the voice on the other side of the phone suddenly morphs into that of a woman whom Cathryn doesn’t recognize. The stranger tells Cathryn that her husband Hugh (Rene Auberjonois) is at that moment having an affair.

Hugh eventually returns home, and during the course of the couple’s late-night conversation, he walks into a bathroom and emerges as Rene (Marcel Bozzuffi) an old (and deceased) lover that Cathryn had an affair with three years ago. Understandably, when she sees this she flips her lid. From there, Hugh and Cathryn decide that they need an immediate vacation, so they leave for Cathryn’s country cottage. And that’s when things really start to get weird.

Though the movie was shot in Ireland, no specific geographic locations are mentioned. Things are confused even further by the variety of mostly British and American accents. The setting is kind of nowhere, or everywhere, and so are the people.

Naturally, this vague sense of setting is another element of confusion. What is clear is that it’s up to the audience to guess what’s “real” and what’s “imagined.” This is an impossible question to answer, of course, since the film is told completely from Cathryn’s point of view, and she’s the ultimate unreliable narrator.

Cathryn’s point of view is that of a schizophrenic, but it also comes from the mind of a woman who has been horribly mistreated by the men in her life. It doesn’t help that Hugh is a complete narcissist, not to mention terribly condescending to his wife. The villains of the film are the three men who torment Cathryn, who objectify her, who think of her only as something for them to possess, especially sexually. This is why they are completely interchangeable, morphing from one person to another arbitrarily.

Susannah York does the emotional heavy lifting, as you might expect, and she’s undeniably the centerpiece of the ensemble. She conveys a wide range of emotions that sometimes change drastically from one moment to the next, and is always completely believable. But the supporting cast is also very solid. Rene Auberjonois plays a pretentious, selfish twit perfectly. I’d be surprised if there are many viewers who don’t come away from this film with a complete loathing of the character.

Images is one of those films where the location is a kind of character in itself. The cottage is creepy old place in the middle of nowhere. It’s also not hooked up to any power, so the nighttime lights have to come from candles. The colors are muted, almost monochromatically grey. Things are so colorless that the bright red of blood spatter sometimes comes as a welcome relief. Director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond is responsible for the gritty, raw look of so many great New Hollywood films. Movies like Deer Hunter and Deliverance. He knows how to use color and shadow to help create a tense mood.

Damn, though, madness is such a primal fear, isn’t it? I wonder all the time what it would be like if I started losing my grip and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. Therein lies much of the horror of this film, at least on a personal level. Seeing the world through Cathryn’s eyes shook me to the core.

The special features on this special edition are more than adequate for anyone who wants to delve further into the making of the film, and its rather strange history. There’s an old interview with Altman ported over from an old DVD version, as well as scene specific commentary from the director. Most of the people involved with the production, including the director, are dead, so there wasn’t a lot to work with in terms of new interview material, though there is a very nice in-depth interview with Cathryn Harrison, who played Susannah, Cathryn’s 12 year old doppelganger. (The cast switched names with each other, making things even more shattered and confusing.) The appreciation featurette with Stephen Thrower is a bit dry at times, though it’s quite informative. The best new special feature is the audio commentary by Diabolique Magazine’s Samm Deighan and editor-in-chief Kat Ellinger. It’s great to have two women commenting on such a female-centric movie, and their commentary is quite insightful, too.

If you’re into the art house side of horror, this Arrow Academy special edition is a must-have.

Special Features:

  • Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original English mono audio (uncompressed LPCM) soundtracks
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Audio commentary by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger
  • Scene-select commentary by writer/director Robert Altman
  • Imagining Images, an archive featurette with Altman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond
  • Brand new interview with actor Cathryn Harrison
  • An appreciation by musician and author Stephen Thrower
  •  Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Carmen Gray and an extract from Altman on Altman
  • Images
  • Special Features


Robert Altman’s only foray into horror filmmaking is a tense psychological drama that is finally available on Blu-ray in a definitive special edition from Arrow Academy. Fans of horror and 70’s cinema alike will find in it a lot to enjoy and think about.