Mar 19, 2011


In all honesty, Anguish (1987) tastes best as a blind leap of faith so if you have any conviction and wish to see this film with its intended effect, stop reading now. For those who have either seen it or just don't give a damn, allow me to divulge many of the visible secrets to Bigas Luna's only straight-laced horror film. Anguish is essentially a Spanish envisioning of classic Italian horror tropes, namely Stage Fright and Demons. Opening up with a black screen emblazoned with a warning, the screens threatens the possibility of being victim to subliminal messages or induced hypnosis. We then meet "the Mommy", Alice Pressman (Zelda Rubinstein), as she scolds her large son, John (played by Michael Lerner), for accidentally releasing a bird to flutter about the house. After the two stumble after and catch the flying rodent, Alice then puts on a spiral record and hypnotizes her son to kill and fetch eyeballs from victims. You see, poor John is far gone being myopic and his mother has hopes that stealing the eyes of the city will gift her son with new sight and vengeful sight. This is where the cord is pulled, so to speak. Anguish reveals its true(?) intentions by retreating the camera past the screen and revealing that these instances are a popular horror movie known as The Mommy being watched by a live audience; an audience that is equally disgusted of John's retina retribution.

I cannot deny the fact that cinema has largely impacted who I am today. Each and every viewing shapes new morality out of me and leaves impressions spanning from fetishes to general outlook. So it comes as no surprise that as I watch out of intrigue, I can understand, even embrace, Patti's nauseousness due to the horrors and blood-letting of the film. During the radical hypnosis spells that The Mommy volleys at the screen, Patti's hands clench her side and she surveys the auditorium begging for an exit. It is at this point when she notices she is not the only one reeling from the effects of the reel. Here is where Bigas Luna introduces a favorite among his career, Àngel Jové, reprising since Caniche and Bilbao. The surprise spills in rather unexpectedly. You watch the screen, playing sick voyeur to Patti's breakdown. It's easy to pass off as a case of paranoia inflated by fictitious slaughter. Once a madman within the theater begins systematically murdering the theater employees and guests to mimic the on-screen shenanigans, however, well, that's when fears are realized and Anguish dives into its own wonderful excess. The intricate rhythm of Anguish is reflected nicely with the gorgeous poster art. In a retro backdrop using Zelda Rubinstein as an instrument of fear, "The eyes of the city are mine!" scowls the poster. This, of course, is but a glimpse at the brilliance of Bigas Luna, a director who manhandles and breathes life into genres as often dull and formulaic as romance and horror - which also appear at the opposite ends of each other in the genre spectrum.

Inherently, Anguish is a film expressing the woes and sorrows of every mother whose children peep at objectionable material in the cinema. Anguish is worry incarnate. The very topic of sensitization is toppled as Anguish features not one, but several swayed by the effects of cinema and they are not all psychopathic. What Patti begins to succumb to may very well be the early symptoms of the sickness that has spread to Àngel Jové's killer character. As the concessionist exclaims right before she meets her fate, "Boy, you must know this picture by heart!", a seed is planted that which, upon further musing, sprouts a sapling of an idea. It is ultimately an idea that flourishes into what one can call fanaticism. Could someone like you or I be driven into madness as easily as some of the more susceptible viewers? I won't argue the case against fiction but Anguish hits all the right notes as it spirals into some bizarre, radical new demonstration of old concepts. The terror of Patti and her once-daft friend Linda turns tangible and I must comment on Àngel Jové's excellent performance, Comparing and contrasting his roles in Caniche and Anguish, I must express admiration for his daunting performances, as simple as they seem. Both characters express a degree of psychopathy but Anguish removes the compassion and replaces it with a terrible mother complex that begs to question his upbringing. Anguish cuts a swath right through the definition of meta and sutures the wound with tight-knit execution and minimalism within minimalism. For an even sweeter treat, stay through the credits and gasp when you realize that the "reality" is victim to another critical audience, who may or may not be stars in their own right.



jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its really strange to see Zelda Rubinstein in something other than Poltergeist, like seeing Peter Falk as someone other than Columbo.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I`m really looking forward to that reveiw of "The Beasts", it should be a classic.

Phantom of Pulp said...

I read this review with some sadness because Zelda passed away recently and I was a friend of hers. We didn't catch up on a weekly basis, but we caught up for some "dinner dates" and spoke regularly. This was a difficult film for her as playing such a character didn't come easy. I like the film, though. It's commentary on cinema is fascinating.