Hungry for Monsters

Length: 69 minutes
Available formats: Digi-beta, beta, VHS
Release date: October 2003

ISBN: 0-9724588-0-8

Production History
Crew Biographies

Production History

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 Zappa. 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 individuals.

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Crew Biographies

George Csicsery, Director
John Koop, Cinematography
Leslie Asako Gladsjø, Cinematography
Richard Brzustowicz, Jr., Principal Researcher/Writer
Edward Applebaum, Composer

John Knoop

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 Lehrer.

Leslie Asako Gladsjø

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.
Principal Researcher/Writer

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

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
Video Librarian

WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio, Worldview (October 3, 2003)

Hungry for Monsters
by Milos Stehlik


Jerome McDonnell:
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.

Milos Stehlik:
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 story?

This is Milos Stehlik for Chicago Public Radio's Worldview.

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Video Librarian

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, 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. Pendergrast)

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George Paul Csicsery
Zala Films
PO Box 22833, Oakland, CA 94609 USA
Tel: +1 510 428-9284 / Fax: +1 510 428-9273

© 2004- George Csicsery