Shadows of the Mind: The Roger Watkins Series // Essay

The guilty will die in shallow ponds of blood splattered in streaks on wet grass. I’ll paint my face: red lines, black rot smeared messy, and a field of memory like a morning snowfall blotting out a flute’s hollow simmer at dawn. I’ve been released to live among thought.

These are the conditions of deception when I don’t want to live with the smudge of who I once was or will be.


The therapeutics of expiation didn’t work.

I’ve seen him drown.

Not being able to save father from choking on water.

I’m wearing a white dress.

The struggling immobility of a riverbank.

I’ll grate on your ears.

And the haunt of family blood.

How much am I worth?

A mind consumed by its own propensity to slay and smiling, slay and smile.

I’ll slit your throat.


Roger Watkins, directing under pseudonym, disowned this film. The husband of the lead actress, in an attempt to salvage a faltering relationship, cast his wife as the lead in the film. She helped pen the film, too.

Shadows of the Mind is about Elise, a young woman, institutionalized for years after suffering the trauma of being unable to save her mother and father from drowning in a small body of water near their secluded mansion home. Now, released by her doctor, she confronts the past of her estate, but is soon visited by her greed-stricken step-brother, who tries to drive her mad, only to fall prey to her blade when she is pushed over the edge. She was never healed. Memories burst to violence. She murders everyone in the film.


This film is not only about guilt, but what happens when deception escalates to a state of chaotic paranoia; it is the true enactment of how Evil wells up, overtakes, and blots out rationality under duress, under the throes of manipulation. This is a melodramatic slash of the scythe in which the violation is the consequence of torment, of what happens when trauma is restimulated in an unstable individual with no network of support.


Affix electrodes to the cranial vortex. Release and breathe in sputters. Become black tar expanding to a zone. The drip surfaces the longer I stare at the fluttering specks of dark red pulsating under clenched eyeballs. Unclench. The drip swells to a wall of stabbing heat. There are no walls in this room. All thoughts are dark circulations. This is the face of our emptiness.


Now, you’re ready to leave this place.


Shadows of the Mind GrefeA mother and father, arms flailing in water, this room of the mind stained in sepia tones. A screaming child, the patient. The lush gray of autumn. The creaking of a swing. The father pushes and smiles. Now, the doctor says, you’re ready to leave this place. She’s been pushing herself needlessly for all these years. That’s the diagnosis. Years of learning how to remember. With clarity. Through tears. You can see the past if you leave your eyes open in the dark. Shut your eyes. There is a lawn. A piano. A flute. And when she enters the house of her youth, she must move slowly and listen as if she can hear the dead sing through the walls: a birthday party, a stepmother, a framed photograph. Elise, please help us. This is how the dead speak. These are the shadows of her mind. Perhaps the photograph acts as a hypnotic trigger. And the phone rings, the groundskeeper lingering in the doorway. He laughs and it’s wrong to laugh. He doesn’t sound right. His room is filled with cut-out images of naked women, an assemblage of pornographic pictures. Later, the groundskeeper sharpens his knife in the backyard and smiles and stares at Elise. He watches her walk. She walks to the riverbank. If she can just get through the next few days. Giggling inside. And the doctor. The doctor can’t stop thinking about his patient. The therapeutic properties of Thorazine. A blue dress slipping to the floor. I could use a little therapy myself. The sound of a scythe slashing weeds in the backyard. It’s morning. The voices trickle through her mind. That sepia toned vortex overtaking her thoughts in the moments before waking. She’s crouched in the corner by an air vent. She’s running to the backyard, stumbling. She’s at the riverbank watching the boat tip. A white hat floats in the water.


The brother: a murderer. Brother, will you murder me? You’re not my real brother.


Am I treading on sacred ground? Elise and her stepbrother debate the validity of her therapy in the basement. I don’t need anybody’s help. Elise’s voice cracks. The basement as lucidity. The basement as the unconscious made conscious misery. The brother’s plan is to escalate his sister’s insanity with the purpose of having her committed. The groundskeeper shines his scythe with a rag. He strokes the scythe. A windowpane. A greenhouse full of dead plants, leaves, and dirt. Elise studies an empty pot that sings Happy Birthday. She sees herself as a woman in white. A young daughter. The ghost of who she once was. She drops the pot, dusts cobwebs from a window. The groundskeeper stands outside the window, screams at her. A maniac, she pulls his hair and shrieks. The brother watches her madness from afar. Later, the groundskeeper is slain by his own scythe, but not by his own hand. Blood gushes from his throat. He dies, lies down in the leaves, clutching shut his wound. His inability to scream further. Blood thick like jellied camouflage.


Doctors should never arrive at night with women who arrive uninvited to secluded mansions in the woods with women who look like stepmothers.

Doctor, you shouldn’t have, says the stepbrother.

Elise listens from a darkened stairwell somewhere in the house. She wears red slacks, red blouse, and scarf. She doesn’t speak when introduced, doesn’t look at the doctor’s fiance, doesn’t want to confront the feeling of envisioning the fiance for the stepmother, her object of hate.

There’s someone, somehwere, for everybody.

But a storm’s been summoned; the doctor’s car won’t start, thus locking the four into the secluded mansion for the night.

The fiance undresses in the white bathroom. The bedroom walls are flecked with black flowers. She slips down her slacks. Panties and heels. Shut the door. Lock the door. Lie on the bed. Make love in the house of the patient. Elise watches from the doorway, the brutal nest of passion unfolding as a sepia nightmare.


And the groundskeeper’s body hangs in the elevator. Grey walls. Hallways and the blue reflection of the moon on white doors. Elise wears a white gown, make-up and pigtails. She stabs her stepbrother in the eye. One should never wander down the halls of such a house at night. Beige walls. Walls with no paintings. Stark as if this is the new becoming. Open the door. Switch on the lamp. There is a bedroom with a dead body. There are curtains lit by white. The doctor is suddenly small in a house that is too big for therapy. Open the black door. White slats in the pantry. Elise locks the doctor in room, thus severing any possibility of healing. The only healing this night offers is the redemptive power of murder. And the fiance. She wanders the halls in search of her lover, the doctor. The frame is black. She comes upon a room with a bed. A lamp lit softly. Elise slashes her across the chest with a kitchen knife, drags the body through the hall as if smearing a poem made of blood. The doctor pounds on the door of his locked room. Elise drags the fiance outside to the dirt and the grass. Toward the water where her family died. Elise’s face is painted like a doll. Like a clown. Like this is all some kind of performance therapeutics. She screams at the fiance. Never seeing her for who she is, but for the stepmother. And this is her release. She douses the fiance’s body in gasoline and laughs. The gasoline is a metaphor for water. She burns the fiance, cleansing herself in the fire of her memories. The flames purge the hate, the jealousy, the guilt of never having been able to save her family. To marry her father. And now, she’s alone with the doctor. Now, she is back at the hospital. Barred windows. White sheets in a bare room. She weeps as the memory of her family’s death plays out with truth. The truth is that she murdered her family, that it was she who caused their death on that fateful day. This is why she weeps. This is her delusion. A trap unfixable.

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