BOOK REVIEW: The House of Psychotic Women – Expanded Edition (2022)

writer. Kier-La Janisse

Originally published in 2012, Kier-La Janisse’s beloved, seminal horror memoir celebrates its tenth anniversary this year with a new, expanded edition.

An analysis of exploitation and horror films which intersects with descriptions of Janisse’s own life events, this is a personal – rather than academic – account, one which is extensive but not exhaustive in its exploration of genre films. Many horror fans relate events in movies to their own lives, so it makes sense that the films we connect with could be used in autobiographical descriptions.

Here Janisse excels, her writing flowing in a conversational style. As she tells the story of her life she weaves in film analyses, reviews and editorials, making clear connections between cinema and her life. It’s easy to follow, and Janisse provides enough detail that – even if you’ve not seen the films in question – you never feel lost.

Covering personal topics such as addiction, mental illness and trauma, Janisse describes how she has been able to overcome these barriers to achieve some impressive accomplishments, from directing folk-horror doc Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021), to opening a theatre and running several film festivals.

The structure of the book is simple but compelling, each chapter laying out a theme and affiliated movies, and then tying these back to events in her life. Janisse is a fascinating person, and there’s a deep vulnerability throughout: many photos are from the films referenced, but some are personal, such as her wedding invitation and a business card she made for herself as a child.

With the book being originally published in 2012, Janisse was ahead of the horror trend that was about to kick off a few years later. The themes here fit perfectly with the current movement of exploring pain in horror, which has been going on for nearly a decade now: she references Paranormal Activity (2007) to describe the way hauntings can return like patterns of trauma in real life; Let’s Scare Jessica to Death  (1971) as an example of guilt and shame around not feeling “normal”; and In My Skin (2002) to explore self-harm. Several personal accounts in the book also leave a lasting impression, including stories of stalkers giving her strange gifts (such as teeth) and an appeal to a film board to show Neromantik (1987). And there are dozens more films referenced that explore examples of friendship, romance, familial relationships, substance abuse, psychology, self-esteem, and abuse. It’s safe to say that every reader will connect with something. 

Finally the last section of the book is an appendix, helping bolster the understanding of the films covered. Janisse calls this the “Compendium of Female Neuroses”, and lists many films not previously mentioned: anyone looking to explore the themes deeper could use this as a watch list. 

Whether you’re passionate about film analysis, exploring “women’s issues”, and/or autobiographies, readers will be rewarded by a trip to the House of Psychotic Women, with this expanded version offering the perfect way to celebrate its tenth anniversary.

Ariel Powers-Schaub


House of Psychotic Women: Expanded Edition is available to order via FAB Press, Amazon and all good retailers.

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