It’s Hallowe’en which here means my local arts cinema put on a marathon selection of horror movies for young and old. It was organised by the local film society and they really went to town on the decorations and associated activities. There were six films on all together, though I only went to see the latter three. I mistakenly thought it was all kids films in the first half when actually most of them were just PG rated due to being old (Bride of Frankenstein and The Mummy) which I was disappointed to miss. I went along intending to see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (I tried to see it at the Glasgow Film Festival, but the timings didn’t work) and Häxan but it turned out that the special ticket they were doing meant I could see Rosemary’s Baby for free. (Which nicely circumvented my desire to not give Roman Polanski money.) It was a thoroughly entertaining evening all round and definitely one of the better – and cosier – ways to spend Hallowe’en.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
First up it’s an Iranian Vampire film. Which, lets be honest, is a description that will either make your ears prick up with interest or decide to run away right now. And that’s probably for the best, because if it’s your kind of film then you’ll really enjoy it, but if its not you’re going to be really confused. Because the other thing that it is, is heavily influenced – in terms of style, imagery, set design and music – by Spaghetti Westerns. The film is set in a mysterious ghost town of a city called Bad Town. It feels very much like a Western, but in that way that watching Seven Samurai feels like watching a Western, it’s a Western filtered through Iranian culture.
Our nominal hero Arash, looks like James Dean and drives a beautiful classic American car that is his prize possession. He fights against circumstances and somehow gets out alive. The girl (she is the vampire with no name) on the other hand looks like she stepped out of a Nouvelle Vague film, dancing to records in her room like a 60s Parisian teenager. It’s fascinating the way her Chador gives her freedom, makes her untouchable yet alluring. (Somehow the skateboard only adds to the effect, making her seem childlike and implacably ancient all at once.) There’s an innocence to their chaste courtship that feels like it stepped out of another era, and they both move through the strange world of the film like aliens, never quite blending in, using that to their advantage. They both have a strong sense of justice and fairness that does not necessarily line up with legalities of their time and place. Kindred spirits despite their almost insurmountable differences.
The film has a dreamlike quality, compelling and strange and wonderful. I haven’t seen anything quite like it. See it if you can.
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages
Officially, it’s a fictionalised documentary. Which was fairly standard for documentaries of the time. It was filmed in Denmark and funded by Swedish backers. It looks at the history of magic and witchcraft from pagan times up to the then present (1921). Amusingly, the director, Benjamin Christensen, intended to make the film much more fully researched with historical advisors, but it turned out that most of the experts on the subject he wanted to consult were opposed to the film being made.
Unofficially, it’s just really strange. (Apparently there’s a version available with a narration by William S. Burroughs, having seen the film that honestly doesn’t surprise me and I’m not entirely sure that that would make it any weirder.) It’s an interesting and entertaining experience but it’s certainly not a documentary that you would recommend to anyone wanting to seriously learn about the subject.
The thing I most enjoyed about Haxan, honestly, was the accompaniment. The two guys providing the accompaniment had gone the full hog in terms of ‘authentic’ accompaniment, by using a whole host of instruments to create the score and do all the sound effects. Often to great comic effect. Their efforts really brought the film to life and mitigated what might otherwise have been a just plain bizarre viewing experience.
Classic old school psychological horror. It’s one of those classic horror movies from the 60s that makes people say ‘they don’t make them like the used to’ and well, honestly having grown up when J-Horror was breaking upon English speaking audience the response is generally ‘no they don’t, they’re scarier now.’ Personally when I say I like my horror movies old school I mean, monster movies from Universal in the 1930s or Hammer in the 60s and 70s. But I digress. I don’t actually think that Rosemary’s Baby is supposed to be conventionally scary, its more about the creeping sense of unease and dread, as events unfold and we struggle to decide whether to believe the ‘innocent’ explanation for what the neighbours are up to or whether the not so innocent but highly unlikely one is actually the truth.
Spoilers ahoy. I was actually surprised when they turned out to really be devil worshippers. I was fairly certain there was something terrible going on, but I thought devil worship was just Rosemary’s fevered imagination and the real threat would be something more mundanely evil. (I never thought it was all in her mind, not after the party and Guy’s blatant gas-lighting of her. Certainly not after Hutch’s visit. Cutting her off from her friends, controlling whom she sees and what she eats and drinks, actively preventing her from going to a different Doctor? All classic abusive behaviours.) Admittedly, the coven is in fact, terribly mundane in their evilness. With their society manners, refinement and busybodyness, they’re a sort of chintzy evil. There’s something terribly surreal about them all in their posh clothes with their china teacups crying out ‘hail Satan’. Honestly I was a bit disappointed she didn’t get to go after anyone with that knife of hers, but mostly I just spent the last 15 minutes of the film internally shouting ‘run away! Run away!’ at Rosemary.