Length: 69 minutes
Available formats: Digi-beta, beta, VHS
Release date: October 2003
A decade of horrifying news stories about repressed memories and
accusations of sexual abuse that turned out to be false, provided ample
evidence that a witch hunt of immense scale took place throughout American
society during the 1980s and early '90s. Its causes and components touch on
sexual politics, New Age therapeutic techniques, feminist and Christian
fundamentalist religious beliefs, the education of social workers and public
safety officers, and ill-conceived laws designed to protect children. False
accusations affected all social classes and ethnic groups, causing suffering,
misunderstanding, and anger. The "memory wars" strained the way our public
institutions are used to sanction individuals and families, producing many
different outcomes that often merely perpetuate or exacerbate injustices. This
film was conceived as a way to extract a detailed intimate documentation of a
single case from a cauldron of legendary injustice.
Production on Hungry for Monsters started in 1994 after many similar stories
were researched by producer/director George Csicsery and writer Richard
Brzustowicz, Jr. The last sequences were filmed in Pittsburgh in September
1998, allowing coverage of the history of litigation in the case, and Nicole's
more recent accusations of abuse against her high school teacher, Priscilla
Cinematography is by John Knoop and Leslie Asako Gladsjø. An original score
composed for the film by Edward Applebaum is interspersed with an
orchestration of his own earlier work, "Princess in the Garden." The film was
edited by George Csicsery on VHS, then completed on Media 100 with on-line
editor Skip Sweeney at Video Free America in San Francisco.
Hungry for Monsters was made with support from The Lynde and Harry Bradley
Foundation, Film Arts Foundation, The Eldorado Foundation, the Hugh M. Hefner
Foundation, the Fleishhacker Foundation, and donations from private
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George Csicsery, Director
John Koop, Cinematography
Leslie Asako Gladsjø, Cinematography
Richard Brzustowicz, Jr., Principal Researcher/Writer
Edward Applebaum, Composer
John Knoop is among the most prolific cinematographers in the San Francisco
Bay area, with 30 years of independent filmmaking experience. Prior to
shooting the 1994 sequences for Hungry for Monsters, he worked with director
George Csicsery as cinematographer on the feature-length Where the Heart Roams
(1987), and on N is a Number: A Portrait of Paul Erdös (1993).
An independent filmmaker since l967, John Knoop has also been an active
cinematographer whose documentary credits include: In the Light of Reverence,
Voices from Inside, Maria's Story; Poison in the Rockies, Cowboy Poets;
Louie-Bluie; Down Wind Down Stream, 1988 winner of the San Francisco Film
Festival's Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary; and The Highly Exalted,
1985 winner of the San Francisco Film Festival's Bronze Award. Among the films
Knoop has produced or directed are The Legacy of Argentina's Dirty War, River
out of Time, Report from Iraq, El Nuevo Amanecer, Cafe Nica and Thanh's War.
Other works include Mother, Shadow Master, Memories of the Hunt, Sea of
Cortez, Farm, and Dune. From l990 through 1996 he worked with correspondent
Elizabeth Farnsworth on sixty-two short documentary reports from Asia, Latin
America and the U.S. for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and The NewsHour with Jim
Leslie Asako Gladsjø shot the 1998 sequences for Hungry for Monsters. She had
worked as cinematographer on two other films with director George Csicsery,
including his documentary Troop 214. Better known for her own productions,
Gladsjø's recent credits include Les Turcs de Paris Xème. (2001), produced for
La 5ème and France 2; Djoloff (2001) a short documentary portraying a
Senegalese rap group in Paris; Reverend Al Sharpton(2000), a one-hour
documentary profile of the controversial activist minister produced for B.E.T.;
Of Screens, Mice and Men (2000), a one-hour documentary on the social
consequences of new technology through portraits of individuals in boom-era
Silicon Valley; Recherche Dieu Désespérément (1998), a half-hour documentary
depicting individuals whose lives have been changed by a new religion or
spiritual practice; J'ai deux papas, j'ai deux mamans (1998), a half-hour
documentary about children growing up with lesbian and gay parents; To Pray in
the City of Angels (1997), a one-long documentary portraying the diversity of
religious practices in contemporary Los Angeles; We are Family (1996), with
Nathalie Borgers, an hour-long documentary focusing on the strategies invented
by same-sex couples to have and raise their children, all produced by ARTE and
Doc en Stock Productions (Paris); Pandæmonium (1995) with Richard Curson
Smith, a one-hour documentary exploring the changing relationship between
humans and their machines through portraits of four artists working with
technology and the body, was produced for the BBC2 arts series TX. Truth Under
Siege (68 minutes, 1994), co-produced with Nathalie Borgers, is an
independently produced documentary portraying dissident journalists in the
wars of the Yugoslav succession. Stigmata: The Transfigured Body (1992), a
documentary, investigated women engaged in unusual forms of body modification.
Between 1987 and 1994 she produced and directed documentation for Survival
Research Laboratories, a controversial American machine performance group,
including six documentaries ranging from 13 to 52 minutes. Titles include The
Will to Provoke (1988); The Pleasures of Uninhibited Excess (1990); The
Continuous Evolution of a War Zone (1993); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Groundbreaking; and others.
Richard Brzustowicz, Jr. has an MA in the history of medicine, and vocational
master's degrees in librarianship and social work (all from the University of
Washington). He has done telephone and outreach crisis intervention work,
individual and family counseling, and emergency room psychiatric triage (he
prefers weekend nights) in a busy county hospital. He has also worked as a
freelance researcher, writer, and information broker, and has been a
university English instructor. He has a long-standing interest in the history
of psychological medicine and psychotherapy, and in the theoretical and
practical problems that arise when people do psychotherapy across cultural
boundaries. He is currently the coordinator for the University of Washington
ethics review committee that reviews behavioral research on human beings. He
describes himself as "a minor bureaucrat trying not to be a petty bureaucrat."
Edward Applebaum studied at UCLA and the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.
He has received awards from the national Endowment for the Arts, the Ford and
Rockefeller Foundations, the American-Scandinavian Foundation, the Australian
Research Council, and the National Institute of Mental Health. These awards
have been in a variety of disciplines, including the creative arts, humanities,
higher education and the neurosciences.
His music has been performed throughout the US, Europe, Japan, Israel and
Australia. The most prestigious music award he has received is the Kennedy
Center's Friedheim Award in Music Composition.
His academic career includes Professorships at the University of California in
Santa Barbara, Florida State University, Edith Cowan University in Australia,
and Rice University. He is currently working on a PhD in Clinical Psychology
at the Pacifica Graduate Institute.
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Worldview, WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio
WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio, Worldview (October 3, 2003)
Hungry for Monsters
by Milos Stehlik
Recovered memory therapy is a modern and controversial technique in psychiatry.
This week film commentator Milos Stehlik of Facets Multimedia talks about a
documentary that demonstrates how recovered memories can run amok.
Someone complained to me recently that this is not a good time
for films in theaters. The only new films seem to be either made for boys under
the age of 13 or they are extremely violent, like Robert Rodriguez's "Once Upon
a Time in Mexico." Here is one must-see:
"Hungry for Monsters," a new wonderfully spare, almost Bressonian feature
documentary by George Csicsery, is more riveting than 20 action films put
together. All of its violence is imagined, and it's all true to life. It's an
amazing bit of Americana as gothic as a tale by Ambrose Bierce--a sharp and
unrelenting portrait of the American system of justice run amok.
At the center of "Hungry for Monsters" is this tale: Rick and Renee Althaus are
a middle class couple who live in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. They have two kids:
a 15-year-old, beautiful young girl named Nicole, and Nicole's younger brother.
Nicole falls under the influence of her high school teacher Priscilla Zappa.
There is something very wrong with Priscilla and though the film never makes the
statement, she is one evil number. Priscilla gradually convinces Nicole that
Nicole has been abused. She studies medieval torture and Satanism with her.
Nicole imagines herself as Laura Palmer from David Lynch's "Twin Peaks." Based
on Nicole's revelations and Priscilla's contention that because Nicole doesn't
remember something, this is proof that something did happen--her father is
arrested. Nicole is quickly removed from the house, and in one of the film's
many bizarre twists, she begins to live with Priscilla. She goes with Priscilla
to a women's abuse program and begins therapy with a psychiatrist. No one ever
questions the possibility that Nicole's abuse memories could be total fantasy.
Eventually the accusations get wilder. Nicole claims that her father has abused
her since she was six years old. He forced her to have sex with strangers in
exchange for money. She then claims that she had given birth by C-section and
that she had two abortions. One of her babies, she says, was sacrificed in a
Satanic ritual and then fed to a pack of dogs. She had witnessed two murders,
including one at a couple's house, where she was forced into an orgy by her
parents. When she identifies the couple, George and Heidi Stipetich, they are
arrested along with both of Nicole's parents. As George Csicsery follows the
unbelievable story of "Hungry for Monsters," the film becomes the American
equivalent of a modern day medieval witch hunt.
Finally, the witch hunt begins to unravel. Nicole could not have given birth by
C-section; she has no scars. On top of it, she's a virgin. George and Heidi
Stipetich were identified by Nicole after a county investigator with an ax to
grind against the Stipetich family, drove Nicole by their house and prompted her
to identify it as the house where she had been forced to participate in the
orgy. As the case comes to trial, a psychiatrist for the defense unmasks
Nicole's therapist as someone whose assumption that Nicole's abuse as a given
fact only served to reinforce her false memories. Private detectives begin to
find evidence that contradicts the allegations. A child abused is a powerful
political issue and the revelations do not dissuade the district attorney from
going on with the prosecution. It is only when the pre-trial judge orders
competency hearings for Nicole, and after a spirited battle between three
psychiatrists, that the charges are finally dropped. After almost two years,
Nicole returns home to her parents. But the amazing story does not end there.
Nicole Althaus and her parents file a lawsuit against Nicole's psychiatrist. At
her trial, the therapist, whose name is Dr. Cohen, argues that as Nicole's
psychiatrist, she was not responsible for making a diagnosis of Nicole's
illness. She is found guilty of malpractice.
All is well that ends well--for some. Dr. Cohen is now medical director of the
Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents. Nicole's teacher,
Priscilla Zappa, whose wild fantasy life began the horrors, remains a popular
teacher at the same high school. Can fiction be more terrifying than this real
This is Milos Stehlik for Chicago Public Radio's Worldview.
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Hungry for Monsters: A Tale from a New Age Witch Hunt. 3.5 stars. (2002). 69
min. VHS: $195 for institutions; $37 for home video plus shipping. George Paul
Csicsery, P. O. Box 22833, Oakland, CA 94609. 510-428-9284,
firstname.lastname@example.org. Color cover. ISBN: 0-9724588-0-8.
This chilling documentary tells the story of Rick and Renee Althaus, a normal
middle-class couple raising two children in Mt. Lebanon, PA. In 1990, at the age
of 15, naïve, impressionable Nicole Althaus fell under the spell of high school
teacher Priscilla Zappa, who became obsessed with Nicole and eventually helped
to convince her that her parents had sexually abused her in grotesque ways. "She
said that the fact that I didn't remember is proof that something did happen,"
Nicole recalls, "and I started staying awake all night and thinking, Well, if I
don't remember during the day, maybe it happened in the nighttime." Eventually,
with the additional help of psychiatrist Judith Cohen, Nicole came to believe
that her father had impregnated her three times and that she had given birth by
Caesarian section. Also, Nicole claimed that knives had been stuck down her
throat, her body doused with lighter fluid and set on fire, her veins pulled to
the surface and her blood sucked, and that she had witnessed several murders.
Despite the implausibility of these increasingly bizarre stories -- Nicole was a
medical virgin with no incision scar on her stomach -- Nicole's teacher, her
therapist, the police, the prosecuting attorney, and the media all believed her.
Hence, the name of this documentary -- they were all voyeuristically hungry to
perceive monsters where there were none. During the late 1980s and early 1990s,
thousands of such cases involving so-called "repressed memories" of sexual abuse
destroyed lives and families. Remarkably, Nicole came back to her family and
realized that her fantasies were untrue, but she remains an enigma -- a
beautiful young woman with flawless skin who takes virtually no responsibility
for what happened. She is perhaps the most frightening character in this
fascinating video. Nicole won a $58,000 judgment against Dr. Cohen, while her
parents received nothing. Mrs. Zappa continued to teach at Mt. Lebanon High
School, and Judith Cohen is currently the medical director of the Center for
Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in
Pittsburgh. Featuring compelling interviews with the Althauses, attorneys,
police, and psychiatrists, this portrait of a legal and mental health system
gone mad in the late 20th century is highly recommended. Aud: H, C, P. (M.
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