Friday, October 12, 2012
When I was around ten years old my father rented Anguish. One weekend every month I stayed with him and we watched scary movies, just like many other kids with divorced parents. The Swedish title was, apparently, Nakna Ögon ("Naked Eyes") and it seemed like a normal thriller... but it wasn't. At all. I have no memory of us watching the whole movie, but the dark atmosphere and depressing story stayed with me for my whole life... so I felt it was time to get the movie an watch it again, now uncut and on DVD!
John (Michael Lerner) is eye care professional who lives with his dominating mother (Zelda Rubinstein), a twisted old woman who's obsessed with snails and birds! She's hypnotizes him and somehow, real or not, she's communicating with him telepathically through a seashell! Eager to make his mother happy he goes out and kills people and gouge out their eyes in a cinema... until we understand what we're watching is a horror movie being shown in a real cinema! The story jumps to two teenage girls and the appearance of yet another, real, killer entering the cinema to find new victims! The stories on the screen and in the real cinema gets even more mixed up and sure not even the characters are sure what's real or not...
I can imagine how Anguish confused the audiences at the time, those who probably was expecting just another slasher or a normal thriller. What we have here is maybe the ultimate meta-movie, a movie about a movie... or are we watching a movie about people watching a movie about people watching a movie? In a way this reminds me of Giuliano Montaldo's highly original Italian TV-thriller Closed Circuit from 1978, about murders inside a cinema - conducted by one of the characters on the screen! Anguish is both a tribute to the horror films as a deconstruction of fictional horror vs real horror - and what the darn IS real anyway? Who can we trust? Media? Movies? Cops? Our fellow humans? Or are we all in a movie someone else is watching?
There's been a lot of movies-within-movies in genre cinema, for example in Brian De Palma's Blow Out (check my example here), but more or less all of them are parodies, satires, spoofs of horror. Made to make people laugh and not be taken so seriously. In Anguish we have a movie-within-movie who actually is extremely good, and well-made, like it was meant to be its own movie at one point, but then director and writer Bigas Luna decided to turn it all around. Michael Lerner is another one of those brilliant character actors that never became a huge star, but in this film - like everything else he's done - he delivers a perfect performance. Zelda Rubinstein is playing the same character she always played, but she's awesome... and odd. And weird. And really fucked-up. Brilliant casting. They are also the stars of the film, and outshines those in the other wraparound film. A small bonus is American veteran actor Craig Hill in a very small part towards the end, as a doctor. Odd part for a one time very famous actor, but I guess everyone needs to make a living...
As a horror/thriller it works very fine and delivers a lot of nasty scares and blood and some gore. But what makes it unique is the twisted storyline and the even more twisted characters. Also watch out for clues everywhere, not especially hidden ones: for example, the movie they're watching is called The Mommy and is directed by Anul Sagib, which sounds like an Egyptian or something but is just the real directors name backwards. End credits is rolling over the screen at a third cinema, with another audience watching and walking away one by one. Which makes us wonder if everything we've seen was movie within a movie, which goes really mind-fuck when we're watching it ourselves. I would have loved to see this in a cinema!
Anguish is a masterpiece of Spanish horror. An original treat for us who demands a little bit more and still wants our blood and violence on unhealthy doses!