Friday, June 4, 2010

Anguish (Bigas Luna, 1987)

It's a good thing that I like to sit way in the back whenever I find myself at the movies, or else I would have been extra paranoid about the prospect of a scalpel-wielding madman (one with intense mommy issues) sitting behind me waiting patiently for the opportunity to forcibly remove my eyes. Exploiting everyone's innate fear of having their eyes wrenched out in a public place, Anguish (a.k.a. Os Olhos da Cidade São Meus) is an expertly crafted slasher with a twist from Bigas Luna (a Spanish director mostly known for erotic comedies like, Jamón, jamón and Golden Balls). When I heard that there was going to be a special screening of this one-of-a-kind cinematic experience in my town, I thought: "Maybe I'll just buy the DVD. I mean, do I really need to see Zelda Rubinstein (Teen Witch) on the big screen?" Well, after seeing it in an actual movie theatre (one eerily similar to the two featured in the film), I can safely say that this deeply weird endeavour definitely needs to be seen at a proper movie theatre. Of course, I wouldn't go as far as to say that it is essential that one see it at an old timey movie house. But the amount of real life apprehension one feels cannot be discounted, as the temptation to gingerly look behind you to make sure Michael Lerner (Barton Fink) wasn't lurking back there with an alarming array of scalpels must have crept through the minds of at least a half the audience at one time or another. Sure, this particular group was a hardened collection of hardcore horror fans (the kind that wear black heavy metal t-shirts, sport goatees, and laugh at decapitations), but it's human nature to be concerned about what's plotting their demise in the darkness.

One of the most interactive horror films ever made, the overwhelming sense of dread the characters feel, especially the one's played by Talia Paul (It's My Party) and Clara Pastor, Anguish is two movies in one. You think you're watching a ghastly horror flick called "Anguish" (that's what it says on the marquee), but in fact, you're watching something called "The Mommy."

The morbidly straightforward–but no less odd–"The Mommy" is about an eye doctor named John (Michael Lerner) who has a bit of strange relationship with his mother Alice (Zelda Rubinstein). A dissatisfied patient (Isabel García Lorca) scolds the doctor for his uncaring demeanour while she suffers with a painful pair of contact lens. This dissatisfaction somehow gets back to John's fiercely protective mother (she can hear what John hears). Putting her son under hypnosis, Alice prepares his mind and body for a night of eye gauging restitution.

After the dissatisfied patient and her classical music loving boyfriend are rendered dead and eyeless, John returns for another session of mommy-based hypnosis in their modest apartment, which is overrun with snails and pigeons. Apparently the hospital has become dissatisfied with John's work. And you know what that means? More eyeballs are to be separated from the warm, gooey embrace of respective their sockets.

It's when John is returning home from his first eye job that we learn that we are actually watching Anguish, a movie about a couple of teens watching a movie called "The Mommy" in a crowded theatre full of popcorn munching matinee fans. While the faces of the audience all seem to be transfixed by the unseemliness that is transpiring up on the screen–they appear indifferent, almost desensitized by the violence (their cow-like chewing technique helps sell their blase attitude). However, the look on Patty's (Talia Paul) cute mug is one of pure terror. To say that "The Mommy" is causing her a shitload of distress would be an understatement. Her friend Linda (Clara Pastor) tries to placate her telling her, "it's only a movie," but that doesn't seem to help at all.

Things get worse for Patty when John decides to accumulate more eyeballs at the local movie theatre (their showing an old dinosaur movie). Encouraged by the demonic voice of his mother in his head, John goes systemically row by row dispatching audience members, and, of course, taking their eyes. The level of ocular violence that is occurring on-screen is so intense for Patty, that she goes to the room where ladies pee for a much needed break.

It's hard to believe, but things actually get even worse for the sensitive little scamp, as the line between entertainment and reality become so blurred, that Patty and Linda might have a killer in their movie theatre as well. Two movies, two killers with mommy issues, or is that three movies? Some of the fleeing scenes in the dinosaur movie seemed to mirror the action in "Anguish" and The Mommy."

I think might have let out a mild sigh of relief when the transition from "The Mommy" to "Anguish" was made. No offense to Zelda Rubinstein and Michael Lerner (who are both outstanding), but the idea watching an unhinged eye doctor, cheered on by his equally unhinged mother, collect the eyeballs of everyone in the city isn't that appealing.

Don't get me wrong, I loved watching their deranged antics. It's just that the introduction of Patty and Linda, while it didn't exactly soften the sense of menace (it actually ramped it up), it did give Anguish an added element that most horror films seem to lack: Originality.

video uploaded by Blue Underground, Inc



  1. Great post! I have this on vhs in my mom's attic. i haven't seen it in years. I have heard of a remake. Do you know if this is true?

  2. Love this movie! I first saw it on VHS, having never heard of it and knowing nothing about it. I watched it with about 10 friends while we were all on acid. A very intense experience!

  3. Kingwho?: According to Bigas's Imdb page, there is a remake in the works (it's listed as "In Development").

    Aylmer: That sounds like a pretty awesome way to watch Anguish, as I recall some of the scenes being quite trippy.

    Acid party... Let's have a party. Rave, rave, rave, murder.

  4. Wow this sounds awesome- I love Zelda Rubenstein and Michael Lerner. Watching it in a theater sounds extra-horrifying but quite appropriate!

    Also, just so you know, you got a mention on the most recent episode of The Dark of the Matinee podcast (we were discussing our favorite movie blogs).

  5. Cool. Would it be self-absorbed of me to give it a listen? ;)

  6. Havent seen this since it was released. Total surprise when they broke out of the initial film. Would love to see it again.

  7. Hello Yum-Yum, I'm a big fan of your blog. Have you seen Bigas Luna's Bilbao (1978) and Caniche (1979)? They're pretty great! He was so good during the 70s, blending dark humor, the required sleaziness and horror. I would also love to read your impressions if you ever watch Tras el Cristal (Agustí Villaronga, 1987).

    1. I haven't seen Bilbao or Caniche. But judging by the posters, they look amazing. I'm definitely adding them to my "to watch list," along with Tras el Cristal. Thanks for the recommendations.