Posts Tagged ‘Art-Horror’

White God (2014) | Bfi Player

Dir/Wri: Kornél Mundruczó | Cast: Zsofia Psotta, Sandor Zsoter, Lili Horvath, Szabolcs Thuroczy, Lili Momori, Gergely Banki, Karoly Ascher | 119min  Drama/Thriller  Hungary

Hungarian director, Kornél Mundruczó’s art house thriller is also a revenge flick with a touch of the “Pied Piper of Hamlin’ about it. Serving as an elusive parable on human supremacy, it scratches the edges of fantasy with some bizarre and brutal elements.

Dogs, or more correctly, mutts are the stars of the story which opens with a little girl cycling through the mysteriously empty streets of Budapest, followed by a pack of barking beasts. With is canine cast of Alsations to Labradors, Rottweilers and even little terriers, WHITE GOD also brings to mind The Incredible Journey with a darkly sinister twist. Is she escaping a virus, or a human enemy?

These dogs are clearly well-trained and credit goes to the Mundruczo for his ambitious undertaking, but then Magyars have a reputation for their horsemanship and this clearly extends to the canine species. It transpires that Lilli (Zsofia Psotta) the girl on the bike, has adopted a large street dog called Hagen. Lilli’s mum is off on a business trip with her new boyfriend, leaving her in the care of her emotionally distant but rather sensitive father who ironically works as an abattoir inspector.

Their relationship is not a close one and Lilli becomes even more distant from him when he insists on her getting rid of her loveable pet. Budapest is a city full of street dogs and the Hungarians appear to be a great deal less keen on animal welfare than most European countries. Hagen is soon picked up by a new owner, an unscrupulous dog fighter, who sets about turning him into a savage warrior-dog, before he escapes and ends up in the Police dog pound, where he stages a mass canine uprising. The transformation is both sad and frightening but there are also poignant moments as Hagen as his ‘mate,’ a sweet Jack Russell, desperately try to evade re-capture by their enemies – human beings. And it is this balance of power that underpins Mundruczó’s unique drama transforming it from an animal adventure to a satire with universal appeal. WHITE DOG is quite literally, a tale of the ‘underdog’ rising up and claiming his rightful place in society: on a more sinister level it could represent the masses over-taking society. A captivating and provocative piece of filmmaking. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | Dedicated to the late Miklós Jancsó, WHITE GOD won PRIX UN CERTAIN REGARD in Cannes 2014.

Tumbbad (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Critics’ Week

Dirs: Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, Anand Ghandi | Horror Fantasy | 104′

This 19th Century set fantasy thriller is the first Indian feature (out of competition) to open Critics’ Week at Venice Film Festival, the arthouse sidebar that this year features nine films by first time directors from across the world.

TUMBBAD is a mythical story that has its roots back in Hindu folklore where the ‘Puranas’ (told primarily in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages) were often linked to deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi.  Six years in the making and directed by Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad the stunning Pune-set parable story revolves around three generations of a Brahmin family exploring the roots of human greed. 

Blue-eyed mega star Sohum Shah is impressive as the stubbornly conniving bastard son of the village lord in the dank backwater of Tumbbad where he lives with his long-suffering wife and family. Obsessed with a mythical ancestral treasure, he suspects the secret of its whereabouts lies with his great-grandmother, a cursed witch who has been comotose for centuries in a damp underground sewer. Confronting her in this foul sunken pit puts him face to face with the guardian of the treasure, an evil fallen god. What starts with his lust for a few gold coins, quickly spirals into a reckless, perpetual yearning, spanning decades. Vinayak’s greed escalates until he unearths the biggest secret of all, something more valuable than the treasure itself.

This fast-paced parable contrasts elegant 1920s settings with ghastly, spine-chilling scenes that unravel in the remote monsoon-drenched location imbuing in its characters a sense of quiet desperation and tortured misery as they fight for survival spurred on by their quest. Jesper Kyd’s ominous orchestral score adds depth to this magical horror mystery. Kyd composed the music for Assassin’s Creed and Darksiders series.

TUMBBAD is one of a new generation of arthouse titles coming out of India. With its spookily crafted set pieces, convincing performances and imaginatively scripted folklore-based narrative it easily competes with the best titles currently on the fantasy drama stage. MT


Dance of the Vampires aka The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

 Director: Roman Polanski

Writers: Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach
Cast: Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski, Alfie Bass, Sharon Tate, Ferdy Mayne, Iain Quarrier, Terry Downes | 108 mins  Comedy Horror

An old professor and his apprentice hunt down vampires and rescue a damsel in distress in a remote part of Transylvania.

Dance of the Vampires is a stylish antidote to the regular slew of vampire films. Hilarious, grotesque and weirdly compelling, it was Polanski’s first real acting performance (as Alfred, the apprentice) and his first outing in Panavision colour. Douglas Slocombe’s expert camerawork compliments the fabulous sets inspired by Eastern European folklore and, in particular, Jewish folklore showcased in the heightened performances of Alfie Bass and Jessica Robins as the Innkeepers, Mr and Mrs Shagal.

There are also some lewd moments keeping the tone light, but occasionally running the risk of it drifting into Carry On territory. The first half of this horror spoof set in a Transylvanian boarding house is uneven and slightly jumpy.  It also suffered from being heavily edited down from 148mins to 91 mins but the film improves dramatically once the Professor and Alfred move on to the Vampire’s castle.

Polanski was a keen painter and echoes of Marc Chagall’s surrealism can be seen in the costumes and imagery. In fact, the film explores the lightless of tone in Polish folkloric culture that we don’t get to hear about in baroque folklore and is actually a far cry from the style of Hammer House of Horror.

There is a fairytale quality to the film that comes through in the enchanting set pieces reminscent of the Polish Avantgarde.  And an absurdist aspect: the main characters of Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and Mr Shetal are ridiculous in a cleverly stylised way.  And the Midnight Ball scene has a surreal edge to it that’s extremely funny in parts.  There’s even a kinky vignette featuring Alfred with Count Von Krolock’s Herbert (Iain Quarrier) with homosexual undertones.

Krzysztof Komeda’s needling original score is delicately composed to be spine-chilling and light-hearted to leaven some of the more frightening scenes. And there are horrific moments particularly in the opening sequence. Ferdy Mayne manages to be both comical and sinister as the Count. Sharon Tate gives an inspired turn as Sarah Shetal, the damsel in distress. The part was originally intended for Jill St John but Sharon took over in a role that was to change the course of her life: she went on to marry Polanski.

Many disregard this film as unimportant largely due to its billing as a comedy spoof of heightened melodrama.  But it really belongs to a specialised horror genre and draws on the deviant strains of sixties art-horror such as the Castle of the LIving Dead (1960) or even the Polish film The Hour Glass Sanatorium (1973).  If you’re interested in Polanski and his ingenious work, then this film is one you absolutely have to see. MT


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