Boxing Helena

10/17/2016 20:32

Film: Boxing Helena

Year: 1993

Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch

Writer: Jennifer Chambers Lynch

Starring: Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn and Bill Paxton



This film is one that I learned about when working through the Horror Show Guide encyclopedia. It is one that I found streaming on YouTube. I watched this years ago when working through the letter B. I’ve now come back to this as it was a Traverse through the Threes rewatch. What I remembered was that this featured Julian Sands and it was odd.

Synopsis: a surgeon becomes obsessed with the seductive woman he once was in an affair with. Refusing to accept that she has moved on, he amputates her limbs and holds her captive in his mansion.

This starts at a party. There’s a little boy wandering around. We learn that his name is Nick Cavanaugh (Matt Berry). We overhear two people talking about him and we learn that the host of the party is his mother, Marion (Meg Register). She does not seem to be too thrilled that she has a son. We then see that his mother is promiscuous and she comes out of the bedroom naked. A man came out just before her. She accuses her son of watching.

The boy then grows up to be a doctor and portrayed by Sands. He is at her funeral and leaves before it is over. He goes to his car and makes a phone call. He’s the chief surgeon at a local hospital. He goes into work and upsets Dr. Alan Harrison (Kurtwood Smith). He was performing surgery and was taken out of the room so Nick could finish. It was successful and saved the boy’s arm.

Nick then goes out to meet a friend, who is also a doctor. His friend is Dr. Lawrence Augustine (Art Garfunkel). They meet at a local bar, but Nick wants to leave when he sees Helena (Sherilyn Fenn). They hooked up one night and she seems to have forgotten about him completely. Nick is still in love with her though. Larry tells Nick to let it go, knowing the last time it sent him into a depression. He is still obsessed with her.

He then goes home to his girlfriend, Anne Garrett (Betsy Clark). She is preparing dinner for them. Nick tells her that he is going to go for a run first. He ends up stopping when he sees a car parked alongside the road. He goes to the door and thinks better of it. Instead, he climbs a tree. It turns out that the apartment belongs to Helena. She doesn’t have a shirt on and she walks around in her bra. Nick watches her and realizes she’s not alone. Ray O’Malley (Bill Paxton) is over. They make love and that is all Nick can think about when he is running. He ends up at the local flower shop. He writes a different variations of the message before deciding on the right message. He is sending them to Helena. This isn’t the first time.

When he finally comes home, Anne is asleep. He apologizes to her and they continue like nothing happened. Nick comes up with the idea to throw a party. He invites all his friends as well as Helena. She shows up, talks briefly to Nick, while also ignoring him. Nick’s friend then approaches her while she makes a scene. She undresses to her underwear and climbs into the fountain. Anne learns that Nick invited her to the party and is upset.

The next day, Helena needs to make a flight. She realizes that she left her purse at Nick’s. When she goes to leave, she realizes that he took an item from her purse and he shows up late, causing her to miss her flight. This gets her over to his house, reluctantly. She tries to leave in a hurry and ends up getting hit by a truck. She wakes up in one of Nick’s rooms, missing both of her legs. This is just the start of what Nick will do to keep her. There is also a back and forth, Helena insulting her host and a development of an odd relationship of dependency.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. I’ll bring back up that this is an odd movie. I’m not sure that I fully understand everything that I saw so I was wondering what a rewatch would do. The gist of what we got was something that I remembered, but that was about it.

Looking at the descriptions of this movie, it is listed first as an erotic thriller. That fits perfectly with what we get here. The Internet Movie Database and Letterboxd doesn’t list this as horror. Having seen this twice, I’m not sure that I fully would put it in the genre either. This did come out at an odd time in the 1990s where if this came out in the 80s, they probably would have. Since this was in the later decade, they classify this as a thriller. I’m including it since the encyclopedia does and it is horrific what Nick does to Helena. She also goes through Stockholm syndrome as she starts to feel for her captor.

Let me then shift a bit more into the story. Nick has a bit of an Oedipus complex. His mother was promiscuous and it has made him a voyeur. He now sees Helena as his mother and he wants her. He watches her with Ray. She is a strong, independent, modern woman. She mocks him like his mother did. It is through her that he grows into a great lover. We see that play out with a character played by Nicolette Scorsese. What is interesting there is that Helena then becomes a voyeur, seeing Nick with this woman and Anne. Now I do have an issue here with the end. I hate this troupe in movies. I’m glad for Helena, but I think it weakens everything that we saw here.

What does work though is the acting. Sands is great as this amazing doctor. We see that he has no confidence sexually. There are issues with climaxing too early. Anne coddles him where Helena mocks. Seeing that she acts like his mother makes Nick want her more. I do like Clark and Fenn in both roles. They fit what was needed. It is also fun to see Paxton, Smith and Garfunkel here. Paxton fits in as this tough guy who is seeing Helena. He is a toxic person though who is overconfident. Paxton brings that to life for what was needed. Smith is good as this doctor who is the opposite of Garfunkel. Both work as people that guide Nick. Other than that, we do see Scorsese nude. She is from Christmas Vacation, so there is that. We also see Fenn and I believe Clark nude if you are interested there.

All that is left then is filmmaking. I do think this is well made. This is the feature film debut of Jennifer Lynch. She works in television and she brings a bit of a vibe of what her father, David, brings with the surreal. She captures that dreamlike atmosphere of this movie. The cinematography is good. I love the framing with the voyeur stuff. We have limited effects, but it isn’t that type of movie. They use practical with the missing limbs for Helena which was good. I also thought that soundtrack fit, giving almost an ethereal feel. That makes sense to the reveal of what we have here as well.

In conclusion, I think there are good aspects here. This falls short though with execution for me. I thought the acting was good though. Sands and Fenn work as the leads. The rest of the cast is solid to push them where they end up. This is also well made from the cinematography to the framing and soundtrack. My issue though is that I don’t like the reveal as it cheapens what the movie did. I get why it goes there though. Not a great movie, but a solid debut for Lynch. If you like erotic thrillers of the early 90s, I think you’ll enjoy this well enough. Not one I’d necessarily recommend to horror fans as I don’t think it goes far enough into the genre.


My Rating: 6 out of 10