Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Return to the Planet of the Apes: "The Unearthly Prophecy" (October 4, 1975)

The third episode of the Saturday morning series Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975) introduces a critical element to the animated production: the Under Dwellers.

In “The Unearthly Prophecy,” human astronauts Jeff and Bill travel through the arid Forbidden Zone, and spy gorilla soldiers on the march.  Specifically, General Urko’s army is hunting an unknown enemy nearby. 

When a hatch suddenly opens up in the ground, Jeff and Bill travel through it and discover the secret of the apes’ nemesis.  Beneath the planet of the apes live cloaked human mutants, the aforementioned Under Dwellers.

And, making matters worse, these Under Dwellers are holding, Judy -- the third astronaut from the 20th century -- as their captive.   She seems to have amnesia, and the Under Dwellers revere her as some kind of God because she resembles a statue bust found in their subterranean caverns.  In a crazy twist of fate, that is actually a statue of Judy, a 20th century statue honoring one of the missing astronauts. On the bottom of the bust are inscribed the letters “U.S.A,” and the Under Dwellers pronounce it “Oosa.”  They believe “Oosa” is Judy’s name and that she is the answer to a dark prophecy.

This episode -- which creatively re-imagines elements of the saga spearheaded first in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) -- features some fantastic and very memorable post-apocalyptic imagery.  We see the ruins of the New York Library, Wall Street, the subway, and other New York sights, as well as scraps of twisted, half-melted metal.  Again, this kind of post-apocalyptic, post-nuclear war visual is hardly par for the course for a kid’s show, circa 1975, but the art-work is splendid, and wonderfully detailed. It may be true that the animation on this series is limited, but the background paintings and settings are beyond reproach.

When Jeff and Bill discover the Public Library ruins, they also get their Charlton Heston-Statue of Liberty moment.  The astronauts realize that they have returned to Earth, only in their own distant future.  What could have happened?” they wonder, but the ruins surely tell the story.  Man destroyed himself.

“The Unearthly Prophecy” also introduces the leader of the Under Dwellers, Krador, and much detail regarding Under Dweller Technology.  In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the mutants in New York City had the Alpha-Omega Bomb and the “defensive” weapon of mental telepathy, which could create illusions, but precious little in terms of advanced technology. 

Here, the Under Dwellers don’t actually create illusions, but can nonetheless move mountains up and down on the surface.  They also boast huge, high-tech, energy generators in their caverns, as well as control panels by the dozen.  The animated series seems to be setting-up the Under Dwellers as a highly technological race then, and a different kind of foe for the apes.

Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the installments ahead.

Next week: "Screaming Wings."

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost (1991): "Shung the Terrible" (September 21, 1991)

In the third episode of the 1991 Land of the Lost remake, the intrepid Porters go out scouting with Tasha, in hopes of finding a cave that will lead back home.  Instead, they discover three renegade creatures called Sleestak, led by a tyrant named Shung.

The Sleestak steal the family car and plan to eat Tasha for dinner.  The Porters are captured trying to rescue their dinosaur friend, leaving Christa and Stink to come to the rescue…

So this is “Shung the Terrible.”  Well, terrible is the right word at least.

The original Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977) is known for, among other things, the fact that the hissing, silent, dark-eyed Sleestak scared a generation of kids silly.  There are many episodes of the original series in which these seven-foot tall warriors stand dormant, in hibernation, and then suddenly burst to malevolent life, pursuing the Marshalls through dark caves. 

Even watching the series as an adult, those scenes carry a primal sense of terror.  It’s a bit of a miracle that such scary, well-designed monsters made it onto a Saturday morning TV program in 1974 in the first place.
“Shung the Terrible” introduces the new Sleestak race and, well, there is no way to say this nicely:  These creatures are a complete bust in terms of design and execution. 

Resembling giant horned toads with bulging eyes -- and wearing Samurai outfits to boot -- these creatures don’t inspire fear or dread in any sense.  In the first case, they talk in cartoonish voices, and their lips don’t move in synch with their dialogue. And in the second place, these three Sleestak are presented as comic bumblers…as hapless, scheming buffoons.  They are renegade and criminal Sleestak, but they are also dump as stumps.

These Sleestak share almost nothing in common with their television ancestors.  As villains, they are absolutely ineffective, and so much of this episode simply doesn’t work at all.  In fact, this is the least successful episode of the series thus far because the Sleestak are so ineptly fashioned.  They don’t really pose a life and death threat to the Porters.  They’re more a nuisance, not unlike the Ferengi on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I must wonder why the Sleestak costumes for fifteen years earlier look more effective today, and why the producers in the 1970s knew enough to keep the Sleestak talking to a minimum (save for Enik or the Library of Skulls).  Yet the producers of this series don’t learn from that example.  Without their tell-tale hiss, without their aversion to daylight (which kept the creatures in the dark), and without their sleek look, the Sleestak are robbed of all their most imposing and memorable traits.  And to individualize them as Three Stooge-type characters, as this episode does, is the nail in the coffin.

I remember thinking, back in 1991, when I watched these episodes casually (and not with any kind of consistency) that the new Sleestak design was a creative failure, and inferior to what had already been created.  I feel that even more strongly now.

Next week: “Jungle Girl.”

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cult-Movie Review: The Fury (1978)

In terms of the science fiction cinema, 1978 was The Year of the Conspiracy.” 

NASA faked a Mars landing in ITC’s paranoid Capricorn One, Genevieve Bujold discovered a major metropolitan hospital’s plot to harvest the organs of comatose patients in Michael Crichton’s unsettling Coma, and alien pods infiltrated every level of government and commerce in San Francisco in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Brian De Palma’s The Fury fits in perfectly with this “The Year of The Conspiracy” label because the film, based on a novel by John Farris, depicts a covert government agency’s kidnapping of an American citizen, the attempted murder of that citizen’s father, and the agency’s efforts to transform the captive into a psychic assassin. 

The Fury brilliantly captures the unsettled and angry mood of the country with its very title.  The American people were indeed “fury”-ious with leaders in Washington D.C. at the time because of the Watergate Scandal, the dismissive pardoning of Nixon, the illegal bombing campaigns in Cambodia, the Energy Crisis, stagflation, and other economic issues.  Trust in government stood at its lowest ebb in this era…at least until present times.

The Fury “transmits” this righteous anger in, literally, explosive terms. 

Specifically, De Palma’s film about youngsters who possess psychic abilities tells the story of a passive “receiver,” Gillian -- played by Amy Irving -- who is transformed finally, into a potent “sender” because of  her ever-growing anger at the government, represented by Cassavete’s villainous character, Childress. 

The film culminates with the completion of Gillian’s transformation, and the ensuing total physical destruction of Childress, witnessed in loving-but-bloody detail from more than half—a-dozen angles.

Like virtually all of Brian De Palma’s films, The Fury is devilishly playful, and in this case, buoyed considerably by the director’s masterful orchestration of three stunning set-pieces.  One is a slow-motion escape from repressive authority, another is an expression of fury meted at an amusement park, and the last –and best -- is the bloody denouement, the final dispatch of Childress.

The result of all these moments  is a tense and extremely gory film that captures perfectly the Zeitgeist of its age, and continues to impress today on the basis of its almost completely unexpected emotional impact. 

In short, The Fury evokes rage and upset in the viewer as again and again the good guys lose, and the bad guys win. At least, that is, until the unspooling of the film’s cathartic last sequence, which is as sharp and spiky an exclamation point as has ever been used to punctuate a genre film.

“…what a culture can’t assimilate, it destroys…”

A powerful young psychic, Robin Sandza (Stevens) is made to believe that his father, a government agent, Peter (Douglas) has been killed in a terrorist attack.  Now in the care of Peter’s ruthless partner, Childress (Cassavetes), Robin is trained to be a psychic assassin, his powers held in check by Dr. Susan Charles (Lewis), also his lover.
For eleven months, Peter searches for his son with the help of a nurse, Hester (Snodgress), who works at the Paragon Institute, a school for psychically-gifted students.  There, a new arrival, a troubled young woman named Gillian (Irving) grapples with her powers, and comes to realize that she is “receiving” messages from a “sender,” Robin.
Peter and Hester break Gillian out of Paragon -- which is secretly allied with Childress -- and after Hester is killed, go in search of Robin. 

The duo finally finds Robin at a secret, wooded estate, but he is now almost totally devoid of humanity.  His psychic powers have grown to such an extent that he has become inhuman, and a murderer…

After Peter and Robin are killed, Childress captures Gillian, but the agent finds that her psychic powers are also very well-developed.

They’re always watching…”

Created in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate Scandal and the resignation of President Nixon (which followed not long after the resignation of Vice-President Agnew…), The Fury evidences a serious distrust of the United States government. 

In fact, the film portrays Childress and his secretive agency as a malevolent shadow lurking, vulture-like over the American family, bent on separating family members, harassing citizens, and creating monsters for a secret agenda and other dark purposes.

The apparent protagonist of the film, Peter (Kirk Douglas) expresses fear and dislike of the government at several junctures in the film.  “They needed him,” he explains about Peter, “and they took him.  They just took him.” 

At another juncture, Peter notes that “They” (meaning Childress’s agents) “are always watching.”  What he expresses hear is a fear directly borne of Watergate: of government spying, and intrusion in the private lives of families. 

Peter also fears for his lover, Hester’s, because she “takes too much for granted.”  She trusts “too many people.”  In the mid-to-late 1970s, the government had lost the trust of many Americans, and that’s the idea being expressed in The Fury.  This was not a time for optimism or idealism.

Early in The Fury, Peter hides out in an apartment belonging to a blue-collar family.  He meets a character named “Mother Nuckalls,” and it turns out she wants to help him evade capture.  She tells him flat out that if he encounters “Feds,” Peter should “kill them.”   Again, the idea expressed is absolute contempt towards and hate for the government.

Today, the right wing tends be the most vehemently anti-government demographic, but in the 1970s that title went to the left side of the political spectrum, and indeed, the government agency depicted here is seen as a dangerous international aggressor, a son of Nixon.  Childress wants to possess Robin -- a psychic assassin – because, explicitly “the Chinese don’t have one,” and “The Soviets don’t have one” like him. 

In other words, Robin represents the latest achievement in Cold War one-upmanship.

In keeping with the idea of a malevolent but also bungling or incompetent government, De Palma stages his action scenes with a fine sense of the chaotic, or the random.  In the film’s most stirring action scene  -- Gillian’s escape from the Paragon Institute -- an innocent woman, Hester, is killed, when the government gives chase in a car, and Peter, also a government agent, remember, opens fire.  Caught between opposing (partisan?) enemies, Hester is violently and accidentally killed, in slow-motion no less, and the idea transmitted is one of events spiraling absolutely out-of-control.

This particular scene works so brilliantly because De Palma rivets our attention with the slow-motion photography, and also with the total lack of sound-effects we might expect, such as gunshots or screams. Instead, we simply get John Williams’ gorgeous, Hitchcock-ian score as the scene’s soundtrack, and the pulse absolutely quickens. 

Why approach the material this way?  On one hand, it’s an application of formalist film technique.  But on the other, if you’ve ever been in a car accident, you might remember how time seems to slow-down, and you are aware of every event, every instant, every reflex, ever move.  The escape scene here, rendered in compelling slow-motion photography, very adroitly recreates that feeling of a catastrophic event happening around you, and event after event overwhelming the senses.

Late in the film, Peter also fails to rescue Robin, and Robin -- again, the “transmitter” or “sender” -- dies, but not before passing on his finely-developed rage to Gillian, who has witnessed all the bungling, all the violence, and has had a stomach full of it.  In the film’s last scene, Gillian’s eyes go blue (like Robin’s), and she lets loose, overcoming her passivity as a receiver.  She blows Childress apart. 

Long story short: the only appropriate response to how things were going in America of the mid-1970s was…the fury.

Indeed, throughout the film, De Palma links psychic expression or outbursts directly to feelings of rage.  Another of The Fury’s great set-pieces occurs at an indoor amusement park.  Robin first feels jealousy regarding Susan Charles when he sees her with two other men. 

And then, he sees innocent Middle-Eastern men boarding a tilt-a-whirl.  But, Robin remembers their (stereotypically) Arab garb from the terrorist attack that he believes killed his father, and so he lets his rage -- his fury -- take over.   He causes the tilt-a-whirl roller-coaster car to break loose from its moorings, and sends the Arab passengers hurtling into another party of unsuspecting Middle-Easterners.  Again, the impetus for such an outburst is explicitly anger.

The idea that fury builds psychic power to a boiling point can be explored in relation to Carrie (1976), De Palma's previous film involving telekinesis.  There, the director utilized a split-screen image to suggest the cause-and-instantaneous-effect nature of Carrie's anger.  There was no built up...telekinesis was simultaneous.  In The Fury, by contrast, the psychic power builds and builds.  We see this explicitly during a scene in which Gillian uses the power of her mind to move a toy train faster and faster around a track.  Her abilities reach a fever pitch as the train spins around the track, and then we get a vision from the future.   In The Fury, it takes time for psychic powers to reach full capacity.  And range and anger augment those powers.

Although Kirk Douglas is the star of The Fury, in many ways, the film really dramatizes the story of Gillian, played by Irving.  She starts out as a virtual innocent.  She’s just a kid living her life without much thought for much beyond herself.  But very soon Gillian finds that her “gifts” are coveted by Childress and his murky agency, and that atrocities have been committed by the government against those just like her. 

At first, all Gillian can do is empathize with Robin,  witnessing the visions of his torture and subjugation.  But by film’s end, Gillian reverses her role and becomes an active player in her own destiny.  In brief then, the film depicts the process of how an activist is born, first by witnessing the pain of others, and then, finally, by taking a stand against corruption or malfeasance.

The last scene in The Fury, in which Gillian takes a personal stand,  is one for the ages.  Gillian summons all her “fury” and literally rips apart Childress with her psychic powers.  He explodes into several pieces, and we see his utter de-construction in view-after-view, in the most loving, exhaustive detail imaginable.  When severed Childress’s head – eyes still open -- hits the white carpet on the floor (and the viewer’s jaw simultaneously hits the ground in disbelief…), the movie merely goes to black without comment.

De Palma has built up to this amazing catharsis from the film’s first moments.  A family is separated, a beautiful nurse is killed, a father loses his son, and then commits suicide.  And through it all, the forces of Childress and a dark government win.  But finally, the tables are turned, and all the rage of the day is released in a magnificent explosion of blood and guts, a flower coaxed to bloom.

Some critics thought The Fury’s ending was over-the-top.  Others felt that it had been a long time coming…

Movie Trailer: The Fury (1978)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Theme Song of the Week: Starsky and Hutch (1975 - 1979)

More Starsky and Hutch Collectibles

Collectible of the Week: The Starsky and Hutch Collection (Mego 1977 - 1978)

One of the most popular cop or "crime" TV shows of the 1970s -- other than Charlie's Angels -- was Starsky and Hutch (1975 - 1979).  

This series ran for four seasons and ninety-two episodes on ABC, and starred David Soul as Kenneth "Hutch" Hutchison, and Paul Michael Glaser as Starsky.  

These good-looking cops patrolled Bay City California in their (awesome...) 1974 Ford Gran Torino, and universally angered their superior, Captain Dobey (Bernie Hamilton), who threatened to take their badges away.

In 1978, Mego offered a line of 8-inch action figures from Starsky and Hutch, and urged children to "collect this action crime-fighting team and create your own adventure."  

Along with Starsky and Hutch, Mego produced an action figure of Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas), the cops' "street" contact (and the series' break-out character...), Captain Dobey, and also a random criminal called "Chopper."

But the piece de resistance was definitely a large-scale mock-up of the partners' beloved red car: a "twist-out action" Gran Torino which could accommodate the large figures.  

The toy car also came with flashing siren and headlights, and siren noises.  Even better, it was packaged with objects the cops could knock over during a car chase, like a street lamp or garbage can.

Ah, the 1970s...

Below, you'll find a commercial for the ultra-rare, and therefore ultra-expensive toy vehicle:

Lunch Box of the Week: Starsky and Hutch

Board Game of the Week: Starsky and Hutch Detective Game (Milton Bradley)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cult-Movie Review: Passion (2013)

Brian De Palma’s new film, Passion (2013) is a remake of Love Crime (2010), a French movie about the cruel milieu of big business, and the rivalry/attraction between two women locked in that cut-throat world. 

As one might expect, however, De Palma corkscrews the whole affair, and in the process creates a work of art totally of his own design, one that focuses intently on the ideas of narcissism and voyeurism in the Web 2.0 Age.
If you’re a long-time fan of Brian De Palma’s films you will no doubt remember the director’s twin fascinations with gadgets and voyeurism.  Many of his movies from the 1970s and 1980s involve vans secretly filled with bulky surveillance equipment (Sisters [1973], The Fury [1978]) and protagonists who develop special cameras or other devices designed exclusively to watch or listen to unwitting quarry (Dressed to Kill [1980], Blow Out [1982]).

Well, I suspect Mr. De Palma must be a happy camper these days, because in 2013 we have finally arrived in a world in which these obsessions with “seeing” others have been made exponentially easier  and more mainstream by iPhone Cameras, web-cams, the Internet, and other technological innovations.
Accordingly, Passion is a thriller about blackmail, extortion, and one-upmanship in the epoch of the “Send Button,” when one flick of a finger can ruin a career, destroy a life, or send someone to jail for murder. 

Specifically, Passion is veritably obsessed with the vindictive release of private or guarded information into the public arena, and the catastrophic fall-out and public humiliation that occurs in its aftermath.  It is this public humiliation, and fear of such humiliation, that leads to the film’s double murders.

Stylish, brutal and at times quite funny, Passion re-asserts De Palma’s total mastery of technique and style.  The reviews have been poisonous, however, perhaps in part because many audiences and critics are simply out of practice reading the film grammar Palma punctuates his film with.  In an age of CGI comic-book movies, De Palma’s thrillers -- with their twists and turns, mirrors and facades -- require active engagement, and that’s an art disappearing nearly as fast as De Palma’s visually-canny brand of filmmaking.

The fun thing about a movie like Passion is watching it once, trying to get a handle on it, and then watching it again, this time for all the little details and connections you may have missed on a first viewing.

“There’s no back-stabbing here…”

At a multi-national advertising  company,  Koch Image International, headquartered in Europe, a manipulative executive, Christine Stanford (Rachel McAdams) brazenly steals credit for her subordinate Isabelle’s (Noomi Rapace) new marketing advertisement, all while claiming it’s “nothing personal, just business.” 

It may be very personal, however, since Isabelle has had an affair with Dirk Harriman (Paul Anderson), Christine’s lover, and this could be the boss’s idea of payback.
On the advice of her assistant, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), Isabelle releases her advertising commercial directly on YouTube and it goes viral, racking up 10 million hits in one night and making her a super-star in the company. 
When Isabelle is awarded with a posting to New York which Christine had coveted, Christine responds by humiliating her subordinate second time, this time at a company party.  Specifically, Christine shows the partygoer’s CCTV footage of Isabelle having a nervous breakdown in her car.

When Christine is brutally murdered in her apartment by a masked assailant, the police immediately suspect Isabelle, and -- loopy on sleeping medicine -- she confesses to the crime. 

When her head is clear, however, Isabelle attempts to prove her alibi: her attendance at the ballet Afternoon of a Faun on the night of the murder. 

Soon, the evidence supports Isabelle’s assertion of innocence, and she is able to go free.

Sometime later, after Dirk is identified as Christine’s apparent killer, Isabelle meets with Dani, and learns that her assistant knows something about the crime in question, and also about the fine art of manipulation.

“I watched you.  I did exactly what you would do.”

The key to understanding Passion rests with Christine, the character played to icy perfection by Rachel McAdams.  

Early in the film, she recounts to Isabelle a story about her twin-sister, Clarissa.  Specifically Clarissa was killed because of Christine’s actions.  Christine was riding a bike when she was distracted by the bike’s mirror, and an oncoming truck hit the girls. Only Christine survived. 

I just wanted to see myself…and I saw my reflection,” Christine reports of the tragedy. 

Another scene reveals that Christine keeps a creepy white mask -- one that is molded to resemble her facial features -- because, again, she wants to “see” herself. 

And in the absence of her twin, that is not always easy.

Accordingly, Christine goes through the film and through her life attempting to re-make others in the image she wants to see: her own.  In particular, this means that Christine creates “users” and “manipulators” like herself, and indeed, that’s the journey Isabelle takes in the film.  She goes from being a relatively normal person to a competitive player, to a monster who becomes Christine’s “double” and equal. By film’s end, she has been re-fashioned in Christine’s desired image, but she is not able to handle it, perhaps because she possesses the conscience Christine abundantly lacks.

Isabelle’s journey is reflected in the film specifically by De Palma’s book-end visuals.

As the film starts, Christine and Isabelle are seen in tight two-shot together, gazing into a computer screen.  This shot links them as friends and co-workers, and Christine is effusive in her praise for Isabelle.  Christine tells Isabelle how well they work together and how much she loves her.  Christine treats Isabelle a little like a sister, a little like a lover.

Near the end of the film, when Christine is long dead and therefore out-of-the-picture (or apparently out-of-the-picture), De Palma deliberately stages the same two-shot, only this time populated with Isabelle and Dani. 

Again, the duo gazes at a computer screen together, joined in some form of camaraderie and affection. But this time, Isabelle is positioned in the frame where Christine had been, and Dani takes her former position, as the apprentice or student. 

In other words, Isabelle has graduated to the role of Christine through her (bad) behaviors. 

Master and Student.

Master and Student, Redux.

Isabelle also makes the outline of her journey (or character arc…) plain when she tells Christine “I watched you…I did exactly what you would do.”  And later, Isabelle dons Christine’s mask, the one molded in the image of Christine, thus literally taking on her boss’s persona.

But here’s the rub: Isabelle is not Christine. 

If anything, she is less stable than Christine, and when humiliated and abused by Christine, Isabelle’s world starts to disintegrate. 

Almost immediately after the public embarrassment at the company party, the very color palette of the film is altered radically, going from what we would consider a “realistic” canvas to a de-saturated, steely one rich in blues and silvers. 

Furthermore, horizontal “slats” dissect the frame into lines - a sign of Isabelle’s new, fractured sense of reality.  In the course of just one scene, then, her life has gone from normal to something akin to a film noir, dominated by deceit, murder and intrigue.

The world gone crazy.

Again, this visual of Isabelle in a harsher, de-saturated world cues us in to the fact that Christine has done her job too well.  In her effort to become Christine, Isabelle has crossed a border of morality or even sanity, and the change in the film’s visualization suggests this transgression. 
A crucial piece of Isabelle’s breakdown is no doubt the public nature of her humiliation.  She is forced to watch a phone video of herself having sex with Dirk, while Christine watches.  She is forced to relive -- in front of all her co-workers -- her nervous breakdown in the parking garage.  She is forced to account to the police for a lunatic e-mail she apparently sent Christine (but which Christine actually sent to herself). 
Again and again, Isabelle’s failures and her secrets are literally thrown-up in her face using the auspices of contemporary technology.  The final straw occurs when Isabelle is blackmailed by Dani, and her very freedom hangs in the balance.  Dani need only hit the button marked “Send” and the police will receive several videos demonstrating Isabelle’s culpability in Christine’s murder.  But by this point, Isabelle is around the bend, and won’t let herself be manipulated again.  She has learned the lessons of Christine too well.
There’s an intriguing “live by the sword/die by the sword” aspect to this leitmotif in Passion.  Isabelle escalated the tension with Christine by releasing (or again, “sending”) her viral video to YouTube.  That act was a transgression that could not be taken back, and set the two women on their collision course of mutually assured destruction.
So much of Passion plays out on the innovative tools of modern business and the modern world, on “screen-within-screens.” 

As viewers, we are watching a story unfold within the rectangular movie frame while simultaneously, Isabelle watches her life unfold, movie-like within a series of smaller frames, either on smart phones, on televisions, or on computer video conferences like Skype. 

Accordingly, many crucial shots in the film “box” the protagonists within technological frames, within a screen-within-a-screen, as it were.

At one point, the boxing-in becomes so pervasive a composition that it almost becomes comical, as we see characters within a frame, and another frame, and another frame, thus suggesting their ever-constricting maneuvering space in the on-going game of brinkmanship.

Finally, the full reckoning of Isabelle’s embarrassment is almost too much to take, and so she snaps, a fact made abundantly plain in the film’s last half, in which reality seems re-shaped, and she seems to be unstuck from it, bouncing from jail cell to interrogation, to her apartment, back to the jail cell, and finally to a climactic nightmare.
The idea here is that Isabelle has been manipulated and re-shaped, perhaps against her will, on at least two occasions by different woman -- Dani and Christine.  That notion is reflected in Passion by the prominent role of a modern ballet called Afternoon of a Faun. 

That ballet, first performed in 1912, is based on a poem by Stephane Mallarme which involved a faun (a rustic forest god) awaking from a dream-filled slumber and recalling his erotic encounters with several wood nymphs.  In this case, Isabelle awakes from her troubled slumber and remembers her interactions with Christine and Dani…two “nymphs” that troubled her sanity.
Passion’s major set-piece involves Afternoon of a Faun and is a De Palma classic. He stages Christine’s murder to the music and visuals of Afternoon of a Faun, and in split screen duality.  In the left frame is the modern ballet.  In the right frame is Christine, preparing for a night-time visitor, an unspecified sexual partner.
Occasionally here, Isabelle’s eyes appear on screen in extreme close-up, in the left-frame, and so the question becomes:  which scene is she witnessing? 

The ballet or the murder?   

As Passion hurtles towards its conclusion, the specter of Christine -- or is it Clarissa? -- returns, the film reaches its zenith of intrigue and nightmarish visualization, and we get our answer about poor, mad Isabelle.
We also get the answer to a very specific question about Brian De Palma, and whether the director still has what it takes to capture the imagination and dazzle the senses.   
He does indeed, and with a passion.