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ANGUISH (1987)

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Finally, after many decades, I have caught up with this cult classic and while I must admit I wasn’t overly impressed and thought the film a bit uneven and silly at times, there is certainly some cleverness here, as well as, some disturbing and spooky moments.

The film starts out warning of subliminal hypnotic messages and that if we start to feel effected while watching, we are to exit the theater. The film then opens with the story of strange medical orderly John (a creepy Michael Lerner) who lives with his even stranger mother Alice (Zelda Rubenstein). John is loosing his eyesight slowly and his mother uses hypnosis to send him out and murder people for their eyes. We soon realize that this is a movie called The Mommy being watched by a theater audience including friends Patty (Talia Paul) and Linda (Clara Pastor). But, as the film progresses, the subliminal hypnotic messages actually start to have a negative reaction on the movie’s audience. And as the on-screen maniac, John enters a theater to start a vicious killing spree, a real killer traps Patti, Linda and the rest of the audience inside the theater they are in, for a killing spree of his own. Are the hypnotic messages in The Mommy too effective and will any of them live to see the movie’s end and the light of day?

Written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Bigas Luna, there is definitely some clever touches here especially when the movie and the events in the theater showing it begin to synch up. The idea of a film being so effective it manipulates it’s audience is not new today but, was a bit more novel in 1987 and I’ll admit Luna uses the convention effectively here. There are some very creepy moments especially involving the actual film and to be honest, what the audience is watching is far creepier and more disturbing then what actually happens in the theater. That’s where the film falters somewhat… I’d rather be watching the gory over-the-top The Mommy, then the more routine ‘nut with a gun’ storyline that occurs in the theater. The stuff with Lerner and Rubenstein can get campy at times but, it is still very disturbing and gives you the creeps where the parallel storyline with Patti and Linda just evolves into a routine hostage situation with a madman with a gun. It’s rather ho-hum when compared to Luna’s movie playing within the movie. The scenes of Lerner creeping from patron to patron in the movie theater killing them quietly and surgically removing their eyes while the audience remains completely unaware, is far more effective then a gunman blowing people away and being surrounded by a SWAT team. Again the synching of the two films is very clever but, the film within the film is far better than the one we are actually watching. The Mommy sequences also have some nice atmosphere and an Argento-ish look as shot by Joseph M. Civit but, the movie theater sequences are, again, rather bland. It all makes the film rather uneven.

The cast go from really creepy and effective to bland with leads Lerner and Rubenstein doing a really good job at giving us goosebumps… though Rubenstein does overdo it at times.But, then the players become far more mundane when we meet Patti, Linda and the real killer (Angel Jove). It’s not all the actors’ faults, the characters are just not written as interestingly or over-the-top creepy as The Mommy’s characters. Paul and Pastor are simply playing bland teens watching a movie and Jove is just a nut with a gun. Their characters are not nearly as fleshed out as John and his mother Alice. This makes the film as uneven as the events of the movie being watched, are far more interesting then the events in the theater, with it’s patrons and the characters of that movie far more interesting then the people watching it.

So, while I found Anguish interesting, clever and sometimes very creepy, I also found that the film within the film was far more interesting and would rather have watched that, then split time with the theater patrons’ POV. The characters in The Mommy are far more effective than the characters in the theater and the disturbing horror in the movie within a movie is far more effective then what was occurring in the theater watching it. An interesting and entertaining movie but, a sadly uneven one. I can see why many would consider this a classic and it was far more original when first released but, having seen it for the first time decades later, it didn’t quite impress or grab me like it’s reputation suggested it would. I still recommend taking a look at it, if you haven’t seen it.

2 and 1/2 eyeballs.

anguish rating

The trailer is in Spanish with subtitles but, the actual disc comes with English dub if you prefer.



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