Wild Women With Steak Knives: Tina Krause's LIMBO

Described as "what might happen if David Lynch and Nine Inch Nails collaborated on a shot-on-video horror movie."

By Alexandra Heller-Nicholas · @suspirialex · March 8, 2023, 4:00 PM EST
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Editor's Note: In each Wild Women with Steak Knives entry, author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas examines a woman-directed horror film that's been largely overlooked or forgotten. Read them all here!


Oh, so you like independent films, huh? Nice, me too. Oh? What's that? You mean films made for around a million bucks outside of the big studios, but often with a comfortable foot in the door on the festival circuit with a reasonably good chance of being picked up by a streaming service somewhere? Sit down. This is not the independent cinema we're talking about here. I'm talking about the stuff that's made for next to nothing, on begged/borrowed/stolen gear, and more often than not, has friends and family subbing for cast and/or crew. These films are born from little more than luck, grit, and, most of all, a lot of favors. This is the kind of filmmaking that spits forth movies that those weaned on more polished cinematic fare might fool-heartedly dismiss as looking like "something I could have made myself". Oh, you could? Sure thing, Fucko - but you didn't. So again: sit down and listen up.

If there was ever a reason to remind you that we need to be regularly packing metaphorical bongs for the hardworking trash-elves at the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA), their Blu-ray release of Tina Krause's first and today still only directorial feature Limbo is Exhibit A. A familiar name to W.A.V.E Productions connoisseurs and admirers of other low-budget, lo-fi horror delicacies, Krause has 130+ credits as an actress alone. If her name is not familiar, then her face might be - in Limbo, she makes a brief, Hitchcock-inspired director cameo, playing a waitress in a bar.

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The AGFA website describes Limbo as "what might happen if David Lynch and Nine Inch Nails collaborated on a shot-on-video horror movie," and as far as a tantalizing hook goes, you'll find no better one than that. It's also very, very accurate. Krause conceived the project as a kind of arty long-form music video, and as a filmmaker, she seems to be far more interested in abstraction and the sensorium rather than pesky little things like plot and character. Here we find precisely how independent genre movies such as this intersect with more highbrow artistic traditions such as experimental and the avant-garde. Lynch is, therefore, useful shorthand here, but in Krause's case we could just as surely also trace Limbo's lineage back to feminist avant-garde pioneers such as Maya Deren and Germaine Dulac (two filmmakers who, like Krause, also shared a fascination with unstable, gendered bodies and identities that can fruitfully be explored through a horror lens).

For those keen on story, you won't find much of one here. Limbo follows Elizabeth (Jessica Krause) through a series of encounters in what reeks of the writer/director's hometown stomping ground of New York City. Through seedy bars where she must navigate surly pool-playing goths and sleazy barflies to dirty public bathrooms to busy city streets and a seemingly abandoned old building, Elizabeth drifts in and out of encounters that may or may not be real, finding herself entangled in increasingly more terrifying and satisfyingly gory set pieces.

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The footage is rough, and the sound is even rougher. But as much a marker of the film's punk rock, in-your-face approach to wearing its microbudget on its sleeve, it is the very roughness of Limbo that grants it its rich, dizzying and at times virtually effervescent textures. It is the raw, gritty quality of the sound in particular that, upon closer inspection, reveal just how savvy Krause is at turning perceived weaknesses into strengths. Somewhere underneath the surface of those tinny or echoey sound recordings, it's at times like something almost primitive is conjured from the white noise - something droning, growling, ever-present, and yet simultaneously hard to put your finger on.

The reference to Nine Inch Nails on the AGFA blurb, in this sense, claws then much deeper toward the heart of what makes Limbo tick. Across a schizophrenic soundtrack that includes everything from swing to prog rock, ominous piano to old-fashioned blues, at its core Limbo has a distinctly industrial spirit. Feeding furiously off the same '80s and '90s industrial teat that informed the illustrious Mr. Reznor's musical adventures, Limbo feels like it was spawned from Kollaps-era Einst├╝rzende Neubauten if it was caught throwing up in a neon-drenched pre-Giuliani New York City back alley. Not for everyone, and all the better for it, the dayglo white noise nightmare of Limbo is waiting just for you - if you dare.