Monday, April 21, 2014

Down to the Cellar / Do pivnice (1983)

Down to the Cellar is a short film from Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer that I’ve grown fond of. I remember feeling a little underwhelmed when I first watched it, but it stayed with me, for some reason, and now it’s one of my favorite short films (I wonder if there’s a name for that kind of art). It was the same with Svankmajer’s Alice (Neco Z Alenky), a creepy vision of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland complete with Svankmajer’s disturbing but fascinating characteristics. For me, the last quarter of Alice became a battle to stay awake. I thought Alice just wasn’t the film for me, but that couldn’t have been more untrue. Alice ended up planting itself in my mind before slowly taking its hold on me, and, as if a bug had just bit me, I spontaneously ordered off for the DVD and, on a whim, read for the first time Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. As those of you that follow my At the Mansion of Madness fan page on Facebook might have noticed, I have endeavored to watch as many AIW movies as I can slowly but surely come across. This is all primarily thanks to Jan Svankmajer’s vision of AIW. Not bad for a movie that I struggled to stay awake during on first viewing.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Morgiana (1972)

Morgiana, by Slovak director Juraj Herz, is a seldom spoken of curio from the Czechoslovak New Wave that’s heavily stylized with regards to its visuals and mood but is straightforward with its story and might feel a little influenced by the ‘Grand Dame Guignol’ horror of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Much like Poe’s The Black Cat, there is an escalating sense of guilt in its protagonist, aristocratic villainess Viktorie (Iva Janzurová), that’s not particularly out of remorse or regret for her crime, but from paranoia, constant annoying reminders of her misdeed, and fear of being found out, which is where I think a lot of the suspense comes from.

I like that there is a lot of appeal to its detestable, unsympathetic villain. Viktorie (Viki) is probably one of my new favorite villains. She emanates a wicked aura, primarily due to her excessively evil gothic look that pretty much gives away the nature of her game at first glance. Janzurová's performance is frightening, stellar, and versatile. I say versatile because she also plays Viki’s sister, Klára. The personalities and appearances between the sisters are like night and day, and I don’t know if I was a bit naïve at the time, but after watching the whole movie for the first time, I had no idea the same actress played both sisters.