September 5, 2014

Movie Review: Anguish (1986)

So, the other night I was in the mood to watch a movie. Not just any movie, mind you. I was looking for something a little bit older, something I hadn't seen before, and something with the potential to be a little weird. My search stumbled across a little movie from 1986 that I had never heard of that might fit the bill. The movie is called Anguish, seems like a winner based on the name alone, right? It is a thriller/horror oddity that features Zelda Rubenstein (Poltergeist) and was written and directed by Spanish director Bigas Luna. It is one of those movies that probably would not get a theatrical release today, and one that makes me wish I saw more like this theatrically.

Anguish is a twisted, bizarre feature that turns in and folds upon itself in a way that confounds the audience and almost assures their continued involvement in what is happening on the screen. It is somewhat low brow in its execution, but it does it with some lofty ideas and style. This is the movie that seems to be channeling Demons, if it were made by Alfred Hitchcock suffering from a massive blow to the head. I do not mean that in a bad way. It brings those two different aspects of splatter horror and classy horror and smashes them into each other allowing them to bleed together, with an outcome that is wholly unpredictable.

As the movie begins, a man with thick glasses, John (Michael Lerner), is tending to his caged pet birds. One of them gets out and is flying around the room. While he tries to corral the wayward bird, his mother (Rubenstein) is shrieking in the background to catch it. It is a curious introduction to the weird relationship between mother and son. It is revealed that John has issues relating to people and is rather sensitive, demonstrated by his being berated by a patient at the ophthalmologist office he works at. His mother learning of this puts John under hypnosis and together they will have their revenge on those who have wronged them.

John goes to the woman's house, kills her and scoops out her eyes, even taking the time to wash them off. On one hand, it sounds like a pretty straight forward little oddity, but it is acted in a deliciously over the top fashion by everyone involved. Zelda Rubenstein takes her role of mommy to the edge and then leaps right into the abyss. She hypnotizes her son and describes the flow of blood, telling him it gives him strength.

Well, with the eye gouging moment, the movie begins to take a turn. It is revealed that what we are watching is actually a movie. Yes, I know it is a movie, but it is not its own reality, it is a movie being watched by another audience inside the movie we are watching. Trippy, right? We watch them react to what is happening, as we react to everything that is happening. It is kind of a movie inception. Things get even stranger as we watch our eyeball collecting son enter a movie theater to continue his rampage. At the same time, the moviegoers watching that movie have a killer in their midst.

Anguish takes on a “through the looking glass” quality as events on their screen and on our screen begin to appear eerily the same. It is truly a bizarre film that keeps you off balance by moving rather seamlessly from the movie within the movie to the moviegoers in the movie and then back again. It is a surreal experience that forces you to work at keeping it straight who you are watching, as well as noticing the synchronicity at play between the two halves.

There is something about this movie that is very involving. It has some great ideas about art imitating life, the effects of visual medium on the audience, as well as just being genuinely creepy and disconcerting. It was not a movie I really expected much from, going in knowing nothing. I left with a feeling of being let in on a secret. It is really great discovering a movie like this and I am left here to recommend it to you, as well as a recommendation to go searching for the lesser known titles, search for the gems hiding, waiting to be discovered.


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