Hey, remember this? It’s back. Need to catch up on how this union works? Check out the first post here.
For the rest of you, welcome back, please close your eyes and open your mouth.
Something Old: Lunacy (2005)
There is no anniversary or notable callback to Jan Svankmajer’s Lunacy, but it’s this month’s Something Old because I said so, which seems like a very Nightmotherly thing to say.
“What you are about to see is a horror film,” Svankmajer’s introduction begins, a moment of clarity to hold onto as the rest of the movie unwinds quite fittingly to its name. It is horror but not in a traditional or expected sense, and that makes it even more valuable. If you’re the type who likes to examine the horror of the human condition, heap your plate with Svankmajer’s work. The introduction goes on to explain that some may find this movie an “infantile tribute to Edgar Allen Poe… and Marquis de Sade” and it is, to some degree. Svankmajer doesn’t seem to mind, since art is dead today and has been replaced with “a kind of trailer for the reflection of the face of Narcissus.” This is the kind of discourse I’m into, so I tipped my hat to the man and made a mental note to pry open his mind at my earliest convenience.
Lunacy also pries open the mind. Jean (Pavel Liska) suffers from violent hallucinations following the death of his mother, a ward of an insane asylum. He accepts the charity of a strange marquis (Jan Triska) who, while showering him with accommodations, also plays with him like a cat who takes special pleasure in torturing its prey. When he witnesses a sexy sacrilegious scene and tries to leave, he stumbles upon the stunning Charlota (Anna Geislerova) who reveals a secret that keeps him committed until he can rescue her.
This was my first Svankmajer film, and I found myself inspired by his playful imagination and devilish bend towards unmentionable content. The DVD “Making Of” extras showed charming shots of him behind the scenes, mouthing words along with as much emotion as he demanded from those who played the part. Interesting people make interesting work and the strength of Svankmajer’s is his reach toward fantasy and creativity.
The scenes that make this a must-watch are quick moments of stop animation: cuts of meat and dismembered tongues crawling along interacting with the bizarre world we find ourselves in. Any time my mind wandered from the story at hand it was brought back to attention by the sick slithering tongues, licking up beer, tracking through mud, eyeless witnesses to the madness at hand.
If each of these tableaus were combined to make a feature, I’m convinced it would be as horrific and entertaining as the rest all on its own. In fact, I was so convinced, I immediately sat down to watch Svankmajer’s short films and was proven correct. These pieces are where his creativity and depth really shine. It was nearly impossible to tear my eyes away from the screen, and I look forward to devouring the rest of his filmography.
Fans of Poe will appreciate several dramatic nods to his work, especially since the plot is loosely based on two of Poe’s short stories: The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, which we see from Svankmajer’s perspective as Jean is taken to a mental institution for people who “may be” mentally ill in the future. It is an overwhelming portion of the film that, strangely, made me wish I was involved in the production. The other reference to Poe’s work, The Premature Burial, is an unsettling take on being buried alive. You don’t need to know much more than that.
Those familiar with de Sade will appreciate the hefty quotations thrown around by the Marquis who fancies himself a french aristocrat of the 1800s instead of just a weird rich Czech guy in 2005. The juxtaposition of his lifestyle and the reality around him is hysterical, at times, like when his horse-drawn buggy passes a fiery car crash and only we seem to notice. The black comedy that some will find in Salo: 120 Days of Sodom can also be found here, somehow less stomach-churning despite our advancements in film since the infamous blasphemy of Pier Paolo Pasolini. You know I’m talking about the parallel of the cake scene in Lunacy vs. the shit-eating scene in Salo.
If you’re looking to step into a surreal world with a tinge of horror and insanity, and you’ve missed this, then Lunacy should be next on your list.
Something New: The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
After her career retrospective, I’m still getting Nicole Kidman out of my system. I’d overdosed on her films (not that I’m complaining) and just as I turned around, faced a tsunami of her on the horizon. One of my most anticipated roles is that of Anna Murphy in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Lanthimos stunned and disturbed with Dogtooth in 2009, so I trust him completely to make me uncomfortable in this psychological horror journey.
The details are still vague, but IMDB summarizes it as, “A teenager’s attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon into his dysfunctional family take an unexpected turn.” I’m already onboard. Where are you?
There’s no official trailer yet, but here’s one of 2 clips from Cannes to make you feel weird about seeing Colin Farrell’s armpit hair.
Here’s the other, if you just cannot get enough of that lilting salt and pepper dream. Farrell and Kidman recently worked together in The Beguiled, and I’m hoping this second round goes better than the first.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer hits theatres on November 3, 2017.
Something Borrowed: Shark (1969 – nice)
Shark Week is coming up this month so my eyes grazed the shelves with the finned monster in mind. While Black Dog’s horror section is large and impressive, even more gems can be found in the director’s section–and that’s where I found Samuel Fuller’s Shark hiding, with Burt Reynolds in a wetsuit just waiting to be ogled by mine eyes. With a tagline like “The deadliest sharks aren’t always in the water,” how could anyone resist?
Little did I know, this Troma release has a biting history (I’m going for it, folks). Originally titled Caine, and re-released as Man-Eater in 2003, its title of Shark is a bit of a misleading tag. There are sharks, of course, but the movie is largely about con-artistry and treasure hunting. It was only renamed after the squalene emperor after a stuntman was killed while filming, and the film’s producers used his death to market the movie. Time magazine also featured images from the attack. 1969 was wild.
This was the last straw for Fuller, who was already in contentious relationship with the team for other reasons. But it’s this marketing in bad taste that finally led to his departure from the production. They put together what little they had and edited it so poorly that Fuller eventually asked to have his name removed from the movie altogether. No dice, it still lives in his section, and really, it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you ask me.
Shark tells the story of Caine, a “road bum” who ends up stranded in a port on the Red Sea and then tries to evade the local law to swindle the townspeople and escape on his merry way. When his methods fall flat, his last ditch attempt is to join the Professor (Barry Sullivan) and his seductive assistant, Anna (Silvia Pinal) who are diving for “scienti
fic research” off the coast.
Most of the movie doesn’t involve sharks, but it does involve a very sweaty Reynolds squinting at the sun smoking cigarettes and dropping lines that only he could pull off. “How much do you know about diesel engines?” Anna asks, lips inches apart from Caine’s. “About as much as I know about women,” he replies. I think I actually said “Whoa,” but reading it now I’m like, “Wait, what does that mean?”
Besides the steamy romance, one of the most charming relationships in Shark is the one between Caine and his protege, a thieving, cigarette-smoking child (Carlos Barry) who Caine takes under his wing to teach how to steal properly. They become partners at swindling the town and build a sweet little friendship that is the sole platform for Caine’s heart.
Shark is reminiscent of those gems you find flicking through late-night television. It might not be for you. Need some recommendations on what else to watch for this year’s Shark Week? Check out this list by my friend, and Shark-Expert over at The Bloodlust Podcast, Jamie Stamp! Rumour has it she’s making another list for you all, so bookmark it!
Something Bleu: Alleluia (2014)
Fabrice du Welz’s Alleluia is one of those rare movies that I loved so much, sub-par reviews feel personally painful. It’s a bold and raw loose interpretation of the Lonely Hearts killers, one of the most sensationalized serial-killing couples in America. The first time I watched it, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that it was top-quality lovesick horror with leads that blew my mind.
If you don’t know by now, I love hysteria. Nothing is more entertaining and powerful to me than seeing people lose it all on film in complete freedom. du Welz gives it in ample portion, and forces us to through close, tight shots to look insanity in the eye at all times. Michel is a man with a gift, a gift for giving pleasure. He uses his captivating charm to woo women, sleeping with them and then taking their money to disappear without a trace. Laurent Lucas is working this role to an astonishing degree, and both he and his character will meet their match in Gloria, played by Lola Dueñas. Gloria, already on the tipping point of sanity, will drown in desire for Michel, ultimately giving up her daughter, her home, and her mind to be with him. Deciding to assist him in his scamming ways, Gloria becomes committed but she is in no way prepared to deal with her violent jealousy.
Dueñas is 100% flammable here. The look in her eyes is unreal, even chilling, as she gazes at Michel in obsession, or loses her mind in a rage. Even Michel’s quiet black magic and suave charm cannot calm her at times. The next second she is smiling, hard at work, declaring her love. Anything could set her off at any waking moment. She becomes a presence that makes you hold your breath.
There is a strange moment as Gloria stands straight as a rod next to an equally-stretched out body and begins to quietly sing an ominous love song before continuing her “work”. It comes unexpectedly; for a brief moment it feels like the hysteria may have transcended the screen as you blink and think, “Is this happening?” It might knock you off the horse, but it’s your choice if you decide to get back on. At this point, both of them have gone too far with each other, and they will stick it out to the end.
The story is told in three parts, but there is no de-escalation or relief in sight of any of them. Instead they are the stories of three women, each of them caught in a spider’s web. Sometimes thoughtful and slow, sometimes colourful and intense, Gloria and Michel’s sick relationship will spiral so out of both of their control that by the end you’ll be grateful to step out of their whirlwind. But you’ll never forget you were in there, that’s for damn sure.
Are you still hungry? Here’s what you may have missed around here on the horror front this month:
Thanks for coming back! See you next month.
Featured Image: Music Box Films (Alleluia)