Cryptic Double Feature: These Eyes That Have Witnessed Madness
0 comment Friday, May 9, 2014 |

It's that time again. We must don our ceremonial cloaks and head into the dank, eldritch recesses of the forbidden Film Crypt. But the horrors have only increased this time! For in my dastardly pursuit of insidious experimentation, I have created a new format that deviates deliciously from my regular stand-alone reviews. Like the drive-in terrors of years past, what better way to wring the fear from my expectant readers than to slam them with TWO, count 'em, TWO ferocious films?! It's brilliant! It's genius! It's the dawning of a new intellectual millennium!
It's also an easy and lazy way for me to keep up with all these damned movies I watch. Not to mention being capsule size overviews that might be smoother reading compared to my by-far wordier and at times unnecessarily descriptive full reviews. But if you enjoy those as well, do not fear. Full reviews will still make their appearances within the shadowed and forsaken walls of the Film Crypt. I'll save those for films that I can really go on for days about, and then you'll be sorry.
For our first installment of the Cryptic Double Feature, we'll be focusing on two foreign films nearly 70 years apart but that are close in their desire to display insane, captivating, and intense images to force their viewers through (by the by, most of the Cryptic Double Features will have some type of theme or bond, even if I have to make one up). The films are vignette-like, containing stories and segments that both give us the shivers and boggle our minds. A winning combination. The films brought to you for this Cryptic Double Feature are Un Chien Andalou and Three... Extremes. Without further ado, let the curtain rise and the show begin...
Directed by Luis Bunuel
Written by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel
Starring Simone Mareuil and Pierre Batcheff
There is one image that everyone remembers this film for: that of a smoking man (played by Luis Bunuel) sharpening a straight razor on a strop and then nonchalantly using it to slice a woman's eye in half as she calmly sits on a moonlit balcony. Indeed, that sequence alone is enough to be burned into one's memory for quite some time. But that is only one of many unforgettable and downright bizarre pictures that fill this experimental and fascinating film. Almost every still of the film could serve as the subject of a stand alone painting. This makes sense when you take into account that Salvador Dali, a master of surreal art, was the other creative force behind this picture alongside Luis Bunuel, a filmmaker who would later go on to make beautifully strange movies such as The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Un Chien Andalou is really just a fragmented set of slightly related pieces filled with mesmerizing images. Some of these include ants crawling out a hole in a man's hand and a street walker poking at a dismembered hand with his cane. There's also a moment that I personally found hilarious when the male lead, enraged at his woman companion, drags a piano not only carrying a dead donkey but also two priestly-looking gents who talk to each other in an absurdly mundane way.

My personal belief is that in most works of art, whether they be film or literature, the shorter it is, the more profound the experience. This is just solely based on my experience with both, and this film is surely a testament to that belief. At only 16 minutes long, Un Chien Andalou succeeds in putting the viewer through an experience almost like no other. You feel as if you're watching a dream that has actually been put to celluloid, events happening just because they can and making little to absolutely no logical sense in the process. The tango music that accompanies the film is a lovely complement to the outlandish proceedings. It gives it the feel of a mad dance, the steps being completely random and the end of the lunatic song no where in sight.

Directed by Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, and Takashi Miike
Written by Lilian Lee, Chan-wook Park, and Haruko Fukushima & Bun Saikou
Starring Ling Bai, Meme Tian, Byung-hun Lee, Won-hie Lim, Kyoko Hasegawa, and Mitsuru Akaboshi
I really love anthology horror films. You can attribute that to my love for a good ol' short terror tale or an extreme case of ADD (bunny!). Whatever the case may be, I usually dig anthology flicks, no matter how terrible or uninspired the material may be. I can appreciate the filmmakers' attempts to give the viewer a fine sampling of all of the genre's diverse subjects and subgenres. It's like a great big buffet (something I'm also a huge fan of), albeit filled with vampires and serial killers instead of General Tso's chicken. With this mind set, I was bound to enjoy Three Extremes. The film itself was very exceptional and the expertise of all three directors truly shined in each of their segments. Going along with the food metaphor, the first story, called "Dumplings" serves up a bowl of terror when an aging actress uses a rather nasty remedy to clear up her wrinkles and make the chest a little perkier for her cheating husband. Too bad the remedy is unborn fetuses cooked into yummy dumplings! The first segment is simple and straightforward, enough to entertain you for its duration and get you hungry for Chinese.
The second story, "Cut" is probably the most intriguing segment of the piece. A horror film director is held captive by a mad stuntman who is punishing the filmmaker for having a perfect and charming life. And the fact that the director is a really nice guy only enrages the psycho even more! Although containing a few comedic elements, "Cut" never lets up on the dread and has some really stunning and shocking scenes (check out the director's wife a.k.a. "the piano puppet"). Not only does it deliver with the gore and viciousness, but it'll leave you thinking and pondering on the morality of all the characters involved, and it's all capped off with a great downbeat ending. The best segment for sure.

The final tale, "Box", is helmed by Takashi Miike, a man whose films I've become acquainted with. Miike's work seems to be an acquired taste, but I did enjoy Audition very much and liked Ichi the Killer well enough (even if my 15 year old eyes were completely traumatized by the things I'd seen). This story, however, was just kind of confusing. A young writer begins seeing images of her sister (a ghost?), her twin whom she left to burn to death in a box at the circus where they both performed as children. She keeps having dreams of being buried alive in the box and an old shadow from the past returns to have his vengeance. Or does he? Sound complicated? Well that's what it certainly was for me. Perhaps the story was meant to be on a more psychological level (the story's ending appears to imply that anyway), a level that I couldn't quite grasp. Maybe, like Un Chien Andalou, it was just meant to be nothing more than a chain of weird events held loosely together by a wraparound story. Since it was preceded by two fairly linear narratives, "Box" pops out of the blue and is a bit of a jarring transition. However, I will say that it has some of the most gorgeous cinematography I have yet to see in any film. That shot of Kyoko kneeling in the snow before the twisted, gnarled tree? Beautiful. Makes me want to live in Alaska.
Overall, Three Extremes is an enjoyable film. It's got enough blood and icky moments (bathtub abortion!) to please the gore hounds out there and the stories are generally engaging and entertaining. I think this would serve as a great way to introduce a cinema-wary friend to the joys of Eastern filmmaking. For the rest of us horrorphiles, it is what it is and that's not all that bad.

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