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Sunday, March 10, 2024

Interview: Robert Morgan

Robert Morgan has been one of the most important filmmakers working in recent years. He is a master of the short stop motion animation film. He has directed such masterworks of the form as The Cat with Hands, The Separation, D is for Deloused, Bobby Yeah, and many others. You see his name mentioned in the same category as the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer. And now he has a feature-length film, Stopmotion, out from Wild Bunch and IFC Films. Playing in select theaters now and coming to streaming platforms in Spring 2024. Finally, he is getting the exposure he deserves. 

First off congratulations! I know we die hard Robert Morgan fans have been hoping for this moment! I think I am not alone in saying this is exciting seeing you get the chance to direct a feature film! I understand you won Best Director at Fantastic Fest and won the Special Jury Award at the  Sitges Film Festival! This being your first feature film, I am sure there is a lot of pressure and stress having so many eyes on your work and so many critics and reviewers talking about it! How are you dealing with the stress of having a feature-length film out there in the world?  

Thank you! I feel good about it. The most important thing is that the film exists and that it exists in a completely pure, uncompromised form. Stopmotion is exactly what it was intended to be. I can’t ask for more than that. Everything else is just noise. 

How did the idea behind your film Stopmotion originate? Was it a film that you have been wanting to make for years or was it an idea that came together after the possibility of making a feature length film presented itself to you?  

Yes, it’s been years in the planning. I first had the idea to make a film about the process of stop motion itself sometime after I finished Bobby Yeah (2011). My first idea was about a living organic camera, which ended up not really being a feature-length idea, so I made it into a short (Invocation, 2013, which ironically stars Stopmotion’s co-writer Robin King!). After that, I felt that the feature should be more of a character study, following around this stop-motion animator as she goes through a crisis. That was the starting point. And this idea married to a second idea that was inspired by the making of Bobby  Yeah, where I had the sensation that the film I was making had taken on a life of its own and I didn’t have much say in its direction. That’s really the core of what the film Stopmotion is about: creativity as a hostile entity that’s separate from its creator. 

Films that explore the obsessions of the filmmaker and/or the filmmaking process itself, self-reflective works such as HItchcock’s Vertigo, Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, Bergman’s  Persona, Powell’s Peeping Tom, are almost a genre in themselves. I think Stopmotion may fall into this tradition, with a filmmaker primarily known for making stopmotion animation films making a film about a stopmotion animator. What is it about using cinema as self-exploration, as confessional, that draws filmmakers to use cinema as a mirror? 

It’s just a world I know very well. I strongly feel that the process of stop-motion animation contains within it mysterious ritualistic aspects and occult energies that I wanted to explore. I wasn’t really trying to make a confessional film, I just thought it was a fascinating, unexplored subject. I was more conscious that the main character Ella was a “tortured artist” archetype if you like (as in Magic or Black Swan for example). Peeping Tom was an influence for sure, as was The Last House on Dead End Street, another horror film about filmmaking. 

I feel we are really seeing a revived era of horror cinema. There seems to be a renewed vitality to horror cinema that has finally escaped from the banal meta-humor of the 1990s or the lame 1970s nostalgia/retreads of say 2000 to 2010. Horror cinema has found its way again. What role do you feel horror cinema plays in our present reality of pandemics and political uncertainties?  

For me, horror is just a perfect way of exploring the hidden worlds that live inside people. I’m not so much interested in political or social influences in my films, my stuff is more internal and insular. I can’t really comment on how the current world would or should be reflected within horror. I suppose the films will inevitably reflect something of the world we live in, but for me at least, it’s not conscious. I like Edgar Allan Poe’s idea that terror is “of the soul” and that this is its legitimate source. You’re right though, horror cinema seems to be in a good place right now. I don’t know why that is.  

The use of surrealist and transgressive humor is a hallmark of your work. I feel that this kind of bizarre humor has become a subgenre unto itself and a lot of the most interesting work today is being done in this realm. I would point to artists and filmmakers from David Firth to Tim Heidecker as examples of people working in this genre. And I feel your works are a vital contribution, works such as Bobby Yeah and D is for Deloused are masterworks in this genre, This kind of ultra reality that satirizes our expectations of what we call the real. This immersion into body horror and laughing at what is found there in the abject and the charnel. There is a kind of unleashing of a primal chaos at the heart of surrealist humor. How do you feel the use of humor is intended in your work and what is it you are exploring? 

I think it’s about the absurdity of existence, and the horror of our inevitable decline and death.  We’re all heading there… You can only laugh at it. Underneath it all, we’re just writhing blobs of decaying meat that are trying not to acknowledge the fact that we’re writhing blobs of decaying meat. That’s pretty funny if you think about it haha. 

We have talked privately about our mutual love for the fiction of Thomas Ligotti. I am waiting, and certain that it will happen, that a wave of films based or influenced by Ligotti will hit theaters in much the same way H.P. Lovecraft became a cinematic trend in the 1960s and 1970s. It does seem that the best Lovecraftian films are works influenced by the work and not direct translations. Like Carpenter’s The Thing or Scott’s Alien. I think one of the films that I really don’t think is a direct adaptation but certainly captures the feel of a Ligotti tale is Kurosawa’s Cure with its hypnotized characters and its mysterious shadowy cityscapes. Was Ligotti and his malicious puppets in any way an influence on Stopmotion? And would you like to adapt a film based on his works and what works would interest you the most to adapt? 

Ligotti was certainly an influence - the puppet theme in particular, and the main character’s lack of agency against these malignant forces, plus the setting of the empty building. We did briefly discuss the idea of adapting The Red Tower as a stop-motion short, didn't we? I think that one would lend itself well to a semi-abstract film. The problem with directly adapting Ligotti into live-action features is that so much of his power comes from the prose. The characters are mostly ciphers and the plots are often barely there.  There are exceptions of course, like My Work is Not Yet Done and The Last Feast of Harlequin, maybe The Small People too, but often, the most powerful aspects of his stories come from their vagueness I think, which is tricky to translate into a 90-minute live-action narrative film. The prospect of a wave of  Ligotti-esque films is an exciting one though. The vibe is so strong in his work. I haven’t read the screenplays he co-wrote but I can’t wait to get my hands on Crampton and Michigan Basement that  Chiroptera Press are publishing.  

Lastly, what is next for you? Do you have any projects you are working on? What can we look forward to next from you?  

I’m always working on stuff, but I can’t really talk about them yet! Making films is so hard and unpredictable. Announcing things before they happen is never a good idea in my experience!

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Spanish Horror Part Two: Rise of The Blind Dead by Joe Zanetti.

By the early 1970s, Spanish horror was savagely tearing its way through silver screens, domestically and internationally. The Franco regime was also on its last legs, and things began to loosen up a bit in Spain. Censorship was diminishing, and directors weren’t faced with the rigid scrutiny they were accustomed to during previous years. It was this period that saw directors truly making a name for themselves, frightening and offending audiences with bloody and horrific films that would be forever carved in their memories! One director spawned a tetralogy of films that would brand its unholy mark on the horror genre. From the tenebrous depths of his mind, Amando de Ossorio conjured the Blind Dead. They were Templar knights who would return from their graves and crypts, eternally seeking victims to dismember with their old, rusted swords; to tear the flesh with their rotting teeth, drinking the blood to satisfy their infernal desires!


        The first of Ossorio’s four-film undead cycle was Tombs of the Blind Dead, aka La noche del terror ciego (The Night of the Blind Terror) in Spain. Released in April of 1972, Ossorio’s film was a box-office hit, attracting over 500,000 spectators, and generating over 100,000 euros. More importantly, it gave rise to the Spanish zombie boom, pre-dating the Italian zombie boom that wouldn’t start until the end of the ‘70s! Ossorio took gothic horror elements such as beautiful sweeping landscapes and ancient, dilapidated churches, graveyards, and abbeys, combining them with adult themes and modernity. Audiences were treated to something new and different. The undead knights with their ragged, dirt-covered hooded cloaks and warrior's clothing; skeletal hands and rotting faces with the eyes missing, showing only hollow orbital sockets that look like endless pits; bits of facial hair still remaining, and the phantom horses they ride on. You can smell the stench of death and decay emanating from the screen. They can’t see you, but they can hear your every step, your every breath, heightening the dread! Mixed with these walking cadavers, their gloomy ruins, and archaic, fiendish ways are bikini-clad women, macho and horny dudes, big hotels with giant swimming pools, flash, and pizzazz. This combination of old and modern was a formula not seen in horror cinema. The success of Tombs of the Blind Dead would birth three more films, each one being quite different from the other. Return of the Evil Dead (1973), The Ghost Galleon (1974), and Night of the Seagulls (1975). Where did Amando de Ossorio get this idea, though? What prompted him to make a series of films about Templar knights returning from their hellish slumber to massacre the living and drink their blood?

        Before directing horror films, Ossorio was putting out comedies and spaghetti westerns. In 1965, Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina) approached him with his idea of making a werewolf film. Ossorio actually turned him down! Seems crazy, but horror just hadn’t quite yet dug its claws in. It was only a matter of time, though, before Ossorio caught on and made his debut horror film Malenka, the Vampire’s Niece (1969). He would also direct The Night of the Sorcerers (1974) and The Loreley’s Grasp (1974). It was his Blind Dead cycle, however, that would put his name on the map! He was influenced by an 1861 gothic horror story titled El Monte de las Animas (The Spirit’s Mountain). In short, it’s about two cousins who go on a hunting expedition with their parents in the Spanish countryside. To pass the time while riding their horses, a tale is told about a nearby hill that is haunted by the spirits of the Knights Templar, and one of the cousins will come face-to-face with the evil. Another influence was George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). You cannot talk about zombies without mentioning Romero’s classic! The film played in Spain and was considered to be an arthouse work, becoming popular with the underground. It didn’t influence only  Ossorio, but other directors like Jorge Grau and León Klimovsky (born in Argentina, but settled in Spain during the ‘50s). Ossorio would begin the zombie boom in Spain and have his cycle of films out before Romero’s Dawn of the Dead came out in ‘78. It shows that the Spanish were capitalizing on the zombie trend before Romero could even get his second film out and before the Italians as well! Ossorio is careful to make a clear distinction, though, between his undead Templars and Romero’s slow-moving, mindless hordes who are driven to feed on human flesh. He describes them as being mummies who ride on horseback. Every night, they emerge from their tombs to search for victims and their blood, which also puts them in the category of vampires. They aren’t mindless, they know exactly what they want! They also wield swords that they use to stab, slash, and sever! Audiences were treated to scenes of decapitation; limbs being hacked off; women having their hearts removed as they were being fed upon! It’s also worth noting that Ossorio initially received some resistance from producers. The Templars had no cinematic precedent, and producers argued that audiences were only familiar with classic monsters. Ossorio would create his own artwork, showing producers designs and illustrations depicting his vision. These illustrations would be featured in the first film, where a librarian recounts the tale of the knights. It’s this backstory that adds layers to the film.

The story behind Ossorio’s fictionalized Templars is slightly different in each film, but one aspect that remains the same is they came back from the Crusades as practitioners of black magic, engaging in ritual sacrifices of young virgin women to appease a supernatural force of evil origins, granting them immortality. The films never truly state what they worship, but that’s not exactly an important part. Ossorio would draw these ideas from the historical Knights Templar and the charges brought against them by King Philip IV of France (he really wanted to free himself of his debts to them). The knights were arrested and accused of idol worship, having recruits spit on the cross and deny Christ, engaging in homosexual activity, financial corruption, and other charges. In Tombs of the Blind Dead, we are given a flashback scene that shows the Templars tying a woman to a torture rack, and two of them proceed to ride up and down with their horses, slashing at her with their swords. The knights begin to drink the blood flowing from her wounds. The story goes that they were arrested and tried by the King of Spain, hung from trees and their eyes pecked out by crows, hence them being blind. Return of the Evil Dead has a slightly altered story where a scene shows the knights cutting the heart from a woman and eating it. They are captured by villagers and have their eyes burned out and then burned alive, but not before swearing they will return. The Ghost Galleon features a phantom ship that exists in its own dimension, drawing small boats to it so the bloodthirsty knights can feast on whoever is aboard! The navigational log found on board merely mentions the knights and their captain, “The Dutchman,” returning from the east and ex-communicated by the pope for practicing black magic. Night of the Seagulls takes a rather different approach. It takes place in a coastal village. The opening scene shows the knights worshiping a statue of what looks like a sea deity or demon, adding a bit of a Lovecraftian touch. They cut the heart from a woman and place it in the mouth of the statue. An aesthetic that never changes is the symbol of the knights: a red ankh on their tattered wardrobe, with what looks like a flaming circle around it. The ankh, in conjunction with the sacrifices, symbolizes eternal life through death; they will always come back for blood and sacrifices! With such different stories, locations, and scenarios, it’s easy to think of each film as its own entity; more a reimagining rather than being true sequels, adding an air of mystery and intrigue to Ossorio’s cycle, like mythical tales being retold over time. The actual quality of the subsequent films, though, is an entirely different matter.


        With the release of Tombs of the Blind Dead, Ossorio faced very little censorship. As stated before, the regime had dialed down their restrictions for matters of exporting these films outside Spain. Still, though, the films could not be political; however, that doesn’t mean they didn’t contain political commentary! The Blind Dead films, most notably the first film, offered veiled criticism of the Franco regime and its ideologies. The undead knights with their tattered clothing and dreary colors represent a not-so-distant past. The regime was crumbling and would last only a few more years, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t come back! The knights served as a warning for a Spain that was experiencing a shift in ideologies and values. When riding on their phantom steeds, they are slowed down to add a greater sense of menace and fear. It also acts as a sort of time/space displacement; they exist between the past and present; they shouldn’t be here, but they are! The first film begins with scenes of an abandoned village; buildings hollowed out, filled with cobwebs and dirt-covered floors, weeds and vines taking over. Eerie Gregorian chants mixed with a cacophony of creepy sounds emphasize the past and old ways. It immediately cuts to modern living, where men and women are shown swimming in pools, drinking and conversing, and wearing the latest fashion trends. Everything is bright and colorful. This juxtaposition tells you of a collision that will soon happen. The original artwork for the poster shows four knights; two in the foreground holding a terrified woman, and two in the background with one holding a sword with a hilt and blade facing down. The sword acts as both weapon and cross, conveying violence and the divine. They represent a threat to sexual freedoms and identity, an extension of the fascist ideals that embody the masculine in the form of the monk-warrior that was perpetuated by Nationalist propaganda going back to the Spanish Civil War. General Franco was portrayed as a religious and military hero, given names like “general-priest,” “Sword of the Highest,” or “Captain of the Vessel.” This fusion of the religious and military was a symbol of oppression for mainly women, as shown in the films with the knights sacrificing virgin women, or any woman in general. 

The first film also features a brief flashback scene, showing a lesbian romance between two of the main characters, Virginia and Betty. They attended a religious school together, sharing a room. Both are dancing around and wearing white see-through gowns. Betty kisses Virginia with a cross clearly visible on the back wall, a reminder that, despite the changes Spain was experiencing, the regime was still there, lurking in the distance, waiting to oppress and terrorize! The following films didn’t contain the layers of the first film. Return of the Evil Dead did feature some small political commentary in the form of Mayor Duncan, a selfish man who cared little for the people of the village he was governing. Night of the Seagulls focused more on the superstitions of villagers, and it was these superstitions that prompted them to offer young women as sacrifices to the undead knights every seven years, for seven consecutive nights. With so much to discuss about these films, does that mean they are cinematic masterpieces? Absolutely not. 

Ossorio was always given a small budget to work with, along with a short timeframe. With the success of Tombs of the Blind Dead, producers were demanding him to quickly make more films. He had to use exploitation production methods to get the films out when the producers wanted them. In the second and fourth films, he reuses footage from Tombs. He cast relatively unknown actors and actresses. The first film’s open ending had to conclude with screams off screen and a freeze frame. For far-away shots in The Ghost Galleon, the ship was a plastic toy shot in a bathtub. The film was Ossorio’s biggest disappointment and most ambitious. This was the case for the other films as well. He stated he never truly got to make the films he wanted because he didn’t have the budget and wasn’t allotted the time he needed. Don’t expect any award-winning performances either. The acting leaves much to be desired, and the dialog, especially in the third film, is laughable at times. Many characters make the most idiotic decisions, and some are so annoying, you want to strangle them! In the U.S., Tombs of the Blind Dead was severely watered down. Nudity and scenes of sexual violence and gore were removed to maintain an “R” rating. Even a scene towards the end where the knights are tearing into a woman, and her blood is pouring down on her daughter’s face, her eyes wide with fear! It’s a truly unsettling scene. In one instance, sketchy distributors altered the opening scene to capitalize on Planet of the Apes (1968). A ridiculous narration was added that talks about the conflict between man and ultra-intelligent apes 3,000 years ago. Humans conquered the apes, capturing and torturing them by piercing their eyes with burning hot pokers. The leader of the apes swore they would come back for revenge! Then the title appears: Revenge from Planet Ape. After that, the rest of the movie remains the same! Ossorio’s last horror film was The Sea Serpent (1984). It was a huge disappointment for him because of the small budget he was given, forced to use cheap special effects. It was his dream project, and its failure led to his retirement in filmmaking in the same year. He was 66 years old. Despite the flaws and gross lack of character development, Ossorio’s Blind Dead cycle makes up for it with spine-chilling atmosphere, violence, gore, and nudity! The films are available on either Blu-ray or DVD, with varying degrees of quality. A definitive copy of Tombs of the Blind Dead was released by Synapse Films, with a gorgeous restoration. It’s packed with special features that give you more insight into his films and Spanish horror in general! With The Blind Dead, Ossorio cemented his legacy, and the unforgettable, unholy knights in the halls of horror history, are still viewed and talked about today! 


Spanish Horror Part One: An Introduction To Spanish Horror Cinema by Joe Zanetti.


If you were to ask horror fans about what European films come to mind from the 1960s and ‘70s, the responses would more than likely be what came out of Western Europe, particularly the U.K., and Italy. From Italy, you’d probably hear about the gothic horror films of Mario Bava, such as Black Sunday (1960), Black Sabbath (1963), or Blood and Black Lace (1965). It would be blasphemous to not mention Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), or some of his giallo films, mainly Deep Red (1975). Lucio Fulci would be mentioned, too, especially Zombie (1979). The U.K. has always been synonymous with Hammer Horror, along with numerous folk horror films that include The Wicker Man (1973), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and Witchfinder General (1968). During this period, however, another country in Western Europe was experiencing a phenomenon, rediscovering itself through the lens of horror: Spain! We don’t often hear much discussion about Spanish horror, despite its hefty catalog of films. With the success and popularity of horror films from other countries (this also includes the United States), Spanish horror was often overshadowed, with many films left forgotten. However, Spain is responsible for putting out some of the best (and original) horror films, and Spanish audiences couldn’t get enough of the haunting, bone-chilling visuals; the sex, death, gore, and carnage playing before their very eyes! Viewers were enthralled, thrilled, terrified, and shocked at seeing horrors they NEVER would’ve imagined appearing in Spanish theatres! 


        Why Spanish horror, though? Besides being something new for Spanish audiences, why discuss these films when you could see all the sex, violence, and death you want in horror films from Italy, the U.S., or even France? Spanish filmmakers not only drew from the films they were seeing put out elsewhere, but they took those concepts and made something wholly fresh and original. Some of the most iconic monsters in horror film history CAME from Spain. So, now, you have these creatures and madmen slashing, clawing, and biting their way through the silver screens of not just Spain, but other European countries as well, leaving a bloody trail of severed heads, mutilated bodies, and viscera! Appetites for sex, violence, the weird and macabre were MORE than satiated. Undead knights on horseback; mad scientists conducting horrifying experiments; resurrected noblemen; the werewolf who is forever cursed, never to experience love; naked vampire women, and more! Insane jazz sequences, gregorian chants, ambient sounds that creep under the skin and haunt you for days. Evocative and saturnine landscapes speckled with abandoned villages and dilapidated monasteries, captivating audiences. All-girl boarding schools run by authoritarian headmistresses. Not to mention all the flesh-ripping, gore, and nudity you could handle! Spanish horror films offered something unique and exotic, creating a legacy that would forever cement Spain in the annals of horror history. The Spanish horror boom didn’t truly begin until the late 1960s, but at the beginning of the decade, Spanish Cinema was ripe for change, and the groundwork for horror was laid. 


           The early 1960s brought major changes for Spanish Cinema. Originally, Spanish films were made for domestic consumption, and for Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. Spanish companies were the only financers, and only Spanish actors and actresses were used. Additionally, there was little-to-no distribution outside Spain, so countries across Europe were never exposed to these films. This meant that very particular films were made for the intended audience, which mainly were comedies and dramas. In 1962, the Francoist government wanted to make serious financial changes to Spanish Cinema and wanted to compete with European New Wave Cinema. This was also prompted by contemporary foreign films being featured more frequently at Spanish theatres. These films would expose Spanish filmmakers to different ways of filming cinema. Some Spanish films did receive acclaim outside Spain, making the government aware of the positives that can come from distributing more films beyond its borders. This also meant collaborating with other European countries and making co-productions. This promotion of what was called Nuevo Cine Español (New Spanish Cinema) (NCE for short) was not without its flaws, however, and unfortunately, numerous caveats came with it. By 1968, the new production system was quite costly, and led to delayed payments of government subsidies, causing the NCE to be an economic failure. One of the only film-types to survive this crash was the horror genre, and directors found ways to continue putting them out while working around heavy restrictions. 


          Rigid censorship rules were enforced, determining what was acceptable to be made as a film. Scripts had to be officially examined, and anything that went against the ideologies and values of the regime (political, social, sexual, and cultural) had to be removed. Directors were subjected to a plethora of re-edits (this would sometimes include reshoots) if they wanted their films to appear on the screen. This forced many directors to develop strategies to work around the limitations set upon them. The origins of Spanish horror were BORN from these constraints, as evidenced in what is widely regarded as the earliest Spanish horror film, Jess Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orlof. Released in 1962, The Awful Dr. Orlof was vastly different from what Spanish audiences were accustomed to viewing; it deviated from the normal conventions and ideals of Spanish filmmaking, subverting gender roles and combining gothic horror with detective tropes. It featured darkly-lit streets and shadows at every possible corner, hiding the horrific and unknown! Franco took the mad scientist genre and made it his own, creating something truly bizarre and ghastly! It was a co-production between Spain and France, and while it was shot in Madrid, Franco set the story in France, because, according to the regime, evil could never exist in Spain. This is a tactic that other directors would utilize in their films, like Pedro L. Ramirez’s School of Death (1975), set in Victorian London, or Miguel Madrid’s The Killer of Dolls (1974), set in France. To pass the rules of the censorship board, Paul Naschy’s famous werewolf, Waldemar Daninsky, came from Poland, because the regime said there were no werewolves and lycanthropy in Spain, as they went against Catholic doctrine. Other Spanish directors decided to make some of their films outside of Spain. José Luis Madrid filmed The Horrible Sexy Vampire (1971) in Germany. Jess Franco shot multiple films in different countries. José Ramón Larraz shot some of his films in the U.K., such as Symptoms (1974) and Vampyres (1974). Directors would also use foreign actors like Jack Taylor, Wal Davis, or Howard Vern, or even using Spanish actors who hardly worked outside the genre, and their voices dubbed so the average viewer couldn’t identify them. Double versions of films also had to be made, one for domestic viewing, and one for international viewing. Spanish audiences would get the edited version that would have nudity edited out, while international audiences would get the fully unedited versions (The Awful Dr. Orlof is an example of this). The first half of the 1960s didn’t see too many horror releases, but the seeds were planted, and the second half would experience an enormous boom! 




        1966 saw the release of the television series Historias para no dormir (Tales to Keep You Awake), from Uruguayan-born Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Similar to series like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, Serrador’s episodic show adapted stories from writers like Ray Bradbury, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, and many others! From ‘66 to ‘68, he sent shockwaves throughout Spain! The release of his first horror film, La Residencia (1969) is what catapulted the horror genre in Spain. It was the first commercial horror film to come out of Spain, intentionally made to break through the international market. It also was the first Spanish film produced with English dialogue. Even more, it’s one of the earliest examples of a proto-slasher! It featured both English and Spanish actors/actresses and was a box office hit. It was the highest-grossing film in Spain at the time. The film would pave the way for a multitude of horror films over the following years. Directors like Amando de Ossorio, Pedro Olea, Jorge Grau, Eloy de la Iglesia, Raúl Artigot, and others would leave their mark on Spanish horror. Some of these filmmakers put out multiple films, while others only one or two. Over the following months, we will take a deeper look into these directors and their films, exploring their impact on the genre, and discussing the themes and symbolism, along with the socio-cultural and political commentary found in those films. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Somnambulist

Do you know who Caligari is? You hear the name in the ether. Images of a pale face blankly staring into the night come to you in your deep slumber. You find yourself in a cityscape of crooked angles and wrong shadows. An obsession you have had since childhood. You find these cinematic visions are the only things that represent your life. You can only find meaning, find comfort, in these nighttime visions. You are up late. After a long day at work, you are trying to zone out and watch something. You watch Jason Voorhees slaughtering teenagers at the whim of his murderous mother. A dead mother who still speaks to him. A blank stare coming from his mask he does as his mother wills. You watch Max Renn, programmed and reprogrammed, a subconscious agent for other powers' insidious agenda. Max’s abdominal vagina opening for whoever wants to control him. He fights against it, but he does keep finding himself open and receptive does he not? 

The puppets seethe. The moonlight reflects in their blank eyes. We are all driven by unknown motivations. Hardwired by forces unseen and unknowable. We come into this story halfway through and don’t understand the part we play. But play it we still do. We see the shadow of Caligari in our sexual attractions and our self-destructive behaviors. Like Ceaser, we walk through this life disoriented and confused. Driven by a master who whispers we can not fully understand. We find ourselves mute, unable to express our panic and our fear at the life we are forced to live, the strange passions and desires that consume us. We want to be taken over. Is this the secret voice of art? Art isn't so innocent, it is an invasive thing, insidious. To fill us up, take us over, as empty vessels with someone else's dreams. We don't want to have to live. We want the burden of living in our flesh cages to be lifted, for our lives to be taken over by our most secret and obsessive dreams. 

Kafka wrote about sons turned into bugs, so alienated from themselves they don't even know what species they are. But they do know that they are late for work and they don't want to let their family down. Bellmer made puppets that were unliving victims of his sexual appetites, made to be shaped and molded into whatever form he desired. Ligotti wrote of puppets becoming self-aware, the ultimate horror. All three celebrated the nightmares that infected and corrupted them. The horror genre whispers its secrets to us and few can understand what it is saying. The giving up of control and being submerged in someone else's nightmares, forever. Maybe our deepest secret desire is to be acted upon, to be manipulated and used, a puppet who comes to love their strings. To be lulled, to be drugged, to be mindwashed and controlled. To give in to forces more powerful than us. 

We, some of us, probably more than would be willing to admit, are Ceaser looking for their Caligari, Master of Nightmare. We hand over our puppet strings, our backs bent and our feet heavy. We want to fall into, to drown, in delicious nightmare. We watch Jason Vorhees stalk in the dark woods, an insane unalive thing. We watch Max Renn be penetrated over and over, flesh malleable and giving. We lose ourselves in these visions. The flickering screen whispering to our secret selves. You want this. You want this. You want this. And do we keep going back for ever fresh ever new nightmares, don’t we?