Archive for the Mythology Category

The Day of the Dead Intertitle: Famous Monsters of Finland

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , on November 2, 2014 by dcairns

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NOIDAN KIROT (THE CURSE OF THE WITCH) is a Finnish melo from 1927, with clear connections to the kinds of man-versus-nature drama that were popular in Sweden during the silent era. A couple move to an isolated house where an ancient curse is rumoured to assail inhabitants, according to local legend. And indeed, the couple have a pretty rough time of it — she is raped by rogue lumberjacks and gives birth to a child which her husband comes to suspect is not his. It’s grim, and it takes a while to get going, but it builds nicely once underway and it doesn’t leave you feeling suicidal (always a risk with Scandinavia).

The above title (in Finnish and Swedish and with English subs) allows the husband to learn that the lumberjack/rapist he thought was dead is actually still alive and obnoxious — the speaker is a hard-boiled arctic cop, hence the sardonic tone.

The film’s strangest, most delightful-disturbing moment, is after the scene where the heroine is chased into the woods by the villains. The scene discretely fades out, and we go to the husband, asleep in bed miles away, but tormented by nightmares — in the form of this little guy ~

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As in HAXAN, the Scandinavian insistence on full-body makeup is appreciated. He is never explained, and connects to nothing else in the movie, though I guess he may be a reference to some nordic changeling myth and anticipates the child born who will seem like a cuckoo in the nest. This happy, waving bedside Ewok is distinctly unsettling precisely because he is devoid of a context. A single intertitle or a clear reference to fuzzy children in the witchcraft myth would set our minds at rest and allow us to process the indigestible little homunculus but NO.

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UNEARTHED AND UNEARTHLY

On a related note, another old Finnish flick, NOITA PALAA ELAMAAN (aka THE WITCH, 1952) features an enticing nude sorceress, disappointingly revealed to be an amnesiac swimmer in the postscript. The film, which is hilariously inept in construction, purports to examine mass hysteria in a light-hearted way — the appearance of the unclad, unearthly brunette, in a pit in a peat bog where a 300-year-old witch’s remains have recently been exhumed, throws all the characters into erotic obsession or witch-hunting madness, but the social point, though spelled out for us repeatedly, never catches fire (nor does the non-witch, fortunately) since ALL the behaviour in the film, from the most casual conversation to the exciting climax (which is all a dream) is so woodenly improbable. Make no mistake, this is a film with a message, and the message is PEOPLE ARE STUPID, to which the audience feels compelled to shout back YES BUT NOT THIS STUPID.

Still, Mirja Mane makes a decorous faux-wiccan. Her witchy laugh is annoying, but I think I could force myself to overlook it ~

Walpurgisnackte

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , on November 1, 2014 by dcairns

Sabbat from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Surprisingly raunchy witches’ sabbat from LA LE DESTIN EXECRABLE DE GUILLEMETTE BABIN (1948).

Sadly, I am forced to reflect that a black mass or sabbat would not be as much fun in real life as the IDEA of one is. I can’t even see myself enjoying it as an onlooker. Uncomfortable, draughty, mainly.

An idea: William Shatner must and should record a spoken word album rendering of Rabbie Burns’ immortal witch poem Tam O’Shanter, said product to be called, inevitably but attractively, TAM O’SHATNER.

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Happy Day of the Dead!

Dark Continent

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , on October 31, 2014 by dcairns

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THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (1945) sounds like it ought to be terrible, to match its title — it’s a low-budget horror from Republic, it’s devoid of stars, it has Lesley Selander as director, who has little reputation that I’m aware of… But it’s quite diverting. The script is co-written by Leigh Brackett of THE BIG SLEEP and THE LONG GOODBYE fame, and one is tempted to assign most of its interesting qualities to her influence. Though not a horror author, her literary works included pulp noir and sci-fi, so she could turn her hand to a variety of genres.

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The movie is set in a sound stage Africa and authenticity isn’t exactly a priority. Still, it’s probably less racist than most Tarzan type adventures. The worst moment, when a group of white characters complain that the recent spate of vampiric killings have so spooked the natives that they aren’t doing any work, could almost be a critical commentary of the colonial mindset, though perhaps I’m giving the film too much credit here. Still, there are a few black characters who actually ARE characters. A shame to see Theresa Harris (I *think* — she’s uncredited) wordlessly wasted in the opening scene, though she does make a seductive scream queen.

Not many horror movies are narrated by the vampire — this one is! And we begin with a subjective camera bloodsucking, so we’re preconditioned to take his point of view, and when he turns up, played by gaunt, gimlet-eyed John Abbott, he’s easily the most appealing character n the film. Even after he announces his intention to destroy the virtuous hero and heroine, hypnotizing her and plotting some kind of “destruction” for her — seemingly he wants her to REIGN THROUGH ETERNITY AS HIS BRIDE or something — we still kind of like him. Brackett has saddled him with the name Webb Fallon — a heavy burden to carry through the centuries — and made him a survivor from the first Elizabethan age — he carries the soil from his grave in a box gifted to him by the Queen. The noir-corny name and the historic backstory (had any vampire save Dracula boasted such a heritage at this point in the movies?) suggest to me that the writer had in mind a more handsome, Byronic type of vampire — plus he runs a gambling house in Africa so he should be a tough guy — but budgetary considerations evidently prevented Cary Grant from receiving the fateful call. A more on-the-nose casting choice — make him sepulchral, corpse-like — resulted in the bulb-headed Abbott being handed probably his best-ever role, a leading man role of sorts, something

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Like Wesley Snipes, Fallon is a daywalker, though he needs sunglasses in the African glare. This kind of imaginative detail, simple in itself, just wasn’t being seen in Hollywood B-pictures. Even Val Lewton, who made films immeasurably superior to this one, didn’t explore his genre elements in this practical way, because he was more interested in using a mythic pretext to get to a thematic subtext. Good Hawksian that she was, Brackett was interested in what you might get up to as an immortal with superpowers. (But I doubt even she could tell you why there’s a statue of Kali, shorn of half her arms, in an African temple.)

Abbott/Fallon is persistently glum, seeming to take no pleasure in his role of corruptor. This makes the victory of the good guys — achieved through a combination of religious iconography and murderous violence — ring more hollow than usual, especially since Abbott has prophesied that those he has bitten will rise from their graves. The prospect of a sequel with a fanged Theresa H and lusty Adele Mara rampaging across the Gold Coast is positively mouth-watering, but it was not to be.

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