[review by JA Kerswell]
Pierre B. Reinhard’s (directing here as Peter B. Harsone) TRACKING is probably one of the most obscure movies reviewed on this site - and that’s really saying something. Also, full disclosure, it is probably incorrect to categorise it as a slasher movie, as such. However, it borrows so much from the subgenre that its inclusion feels right.
|Curious fashion choices initially make the film a little difficult to date.|
What makes Reinhard’s film so interesting off the bat is that it is clearly inspired by a fascinating mental condition called Folie à deux (which is French for "madness of two”) - or in this case three, or possibly even four. The Folie à deux is a shared psychosis, where delusional beliefs and sometimes even hallucinations are transmitted from one person to another. It seems that Reinhard was inspired by a real life French case. More of which later …
Lisa, Natalie and Stephanie are three teenage girls who are staying alone at a grand country house belonging to Lisa’s mother; who is due to be joining them in the next few days. Before this, her sister Aunt Christina keeps an eye on them, but does not stay at the house. From the off it is clear that something is amiss. The girls point a rifle from a window at Lisa’s Aunt; even going so far as to shoot out one of the tyres on her car, but stopping short at shooting her. One of them morosely says: “I can’t shoot her now. Everyone will know it was us.”
To start off with at least, the girls do what teenage girls often do: talk about boys and booze. They discuss sex, but that is mostly bravado; saying such things as “Condoms are out of style.” Breaking out the champagne, the girls sit at the kitchen table and recount the exploits of one of their father’s in the Algerian war and how, on return to France, he broke into the house of a woman and raped her. Confusingly at first, what we think is a visualisation of this tale (it happens at the same time the girls are talking) shows Lisa roused from her bed and violated with the end of a champagne bottle across the same kitchen table by someone dressed in army fatigues. The other girls are awoken and come to her aid. The next morning, Aunt Christina visits and admonishes the girls for drinking the champagne. Reinhard adds a perverse touch, with both Aunt Christina and the other girls touching and sniffing the bottle Lisa was raped with to, presumably, show that the event actually happened and was not a fantasy on Lisa’s part.
|Whilst TRACKING may not be a slasher film in the strictest sense, it does borrow many of the subgenre's trappings - including the heavy breather POV.|
Once Aunt Christina leaves, the girls become increasingly agitated and blame each other for ‘summoning’ this presence. They arm themselves with the rifle, but make the curious choice to dress as characters from the story they were telling the night before. They try and secure the house to prevent the return of the mysterious soldier, but disconnect the phone lines to isolate themselves further. Nothing they can do seems able to protect them and soon they are individually sexually menaced …
Reinhard teases the audience as to whether the ‘ghost soldier’ is a real flesh and blood man, a manifestation of the girls burgeoning sexuality or some supernatural force. Whilst it seems clear that this is a type of madness - a shared psychotic episode - the director throws in doubts at times, as one other character appears to witness the soldier, too. It is likely that Reinhard was inspired by the famous case of Christine and Léa Papin that scandalised France in 1933. They were two French sisters who murdered their employer's wife and daughter by beating them to death and gouging out their their eyes. They were found to be insane after one of the sister’s dominant personality absorbed the other’s completely.
The viewer never gets a good look at the soldier. He is represented in classic slasher movie style, through much use of heavy breathing POV and shots of his boots trampling through the woods. It seems that Reinhard was inspired the military assassin in Joe Zito’s THE PROWLER (1981). At first this appeared to be coincidental, as IMDB list the film as having a 1981 release. However, this date is clearly erroneous, as one of the girls’ bedrooms is adorned with posters for films such as CODE NAME: WILD GEESE and Chuck Norris’ MISSING IN ACTION (both 1984). This - and girl’s fashion sense - sets the film firmly in the mid-1980s. The copyright on the print is 1986. So that's the date I've gone with.
|The sexual politics of TRACKING are challenging to say the least ...|
Swiss born Reinhard is probably best known for his canon of hardcore adult movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Apparently he had a reputation for extreme kink and titles such as PENETRATIONS MULTIPLES (1978) and EXTASES ANALES (1984) need little translation. Whilst the worlds of hardcore porn and the slasher sometimes crossed - such as SEX EXPRESS (1975) and the hardcore inserts added to a number of gialli in the 1970s - Reinhard, perhaps surprisingly, does not take the same approach in TRACKING. However, whilst there is no explicit sex in the film it does include copious nudity and perverse touches - such as the violation with the champagne bottle and a scene where the girls become agressors themselves and tie up their Aunt. The sexual politics of the film - where the girls conversely try and avoid the attentions of the sex mad soldier and at the same time appear to invite and desire them - are troubling to say the least, but are at least thought provoking.
The film’s final third takes place months after the events at the mansion, with the teenage girls still obsessed with the soldier. A therapist for one of the girls tells her mother she is still deeply disturbed, but then goes on to attempt to seduce her. Although, again, it is left open to conjecture whether this is real or yet another fantasy. They finally attempt to vanquish the phantom figure, but ultimately it appears to be in vain.
Reinhard directs with ambiguity that sometimes borders on incoherence. It is difficult to know whether this is intentional or not, but the jumbled narrative perhaps suggests it’s not. Still, TRACKING is quite unlike anything else I’ve seen, so those with a taste for something different may find rewards here.
After TRACKING, Reinhard continued his career in adult film, but returned to the horror genre with the late entry in the 80s zombie genre REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD GIRLS (1987), which once again revolves around three female teenage protagonists.
female: 0 / male: 1