Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Bigas Luna
Written by: Bigas Luna
Starring: Zelda Rubinstein, Michael Lerner, Talia Paul, Angel Jove, Clara Pastor, Isabel Garcia Lorca
During the 1980’s, it seemed like everybody and their dog were directing slasher films. Some of them stand out (FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET). Others have a somewhat undeserved cult following (THE BURNING, THE PROWLER). A lot of them were just plain terrible though (SCREAM from 1981, HUMONGOUS). Through this massive amount of psycho-killer films, it was bound that one or two good ones would go overlooked. ANGUISH is an original take on the slasher film that was passed up by many in the 1980’s and has since become a cult film. I guarantee that most people turned the movie off before the first 20 minutes were over, but this is because they fell for the elaborate prank being pulled on the viewer. They wound up dismissing it as a bad B-flick. To dive into the plot gives away the revelation that comes 20 minutes in, so there’s a minor spoiler ahead.
A socially awkward man and his domineering mother live together in an apartment in New York City. After an incident at his work, the mother hypnotizes the man into killing those who have wronged him. He also enjoys ripping out their eyes. 20 minutes into a silly plot with bad acting and worse effects, it turns out that we’ve been watching a film-within-the-film (titled THE MOMMY). A group of others are watching in a packed movie theater and we are introduced to the new cast of characters. There’s the guy on a date with his girlfriend. The best friend who’s dragged her squeamish reluctant buddy to see the movie. Then there’s the strange man in the back muttering to himself and quietly talking to the screen. It appears that life is imitating art and then things get even more paradoxical. It’s a delightful trip into utter madness…
ANGUISH could have passed off as a mere gimmick, but the movie keeps finding ways to keep it’s convoluted plot interesting. The story frequently cuts between the film-within-a-film and the film itself (confused yet?). The events happening in both mirror each other in cool ways. For example, when the movie decides to take THE MOMMY’s slasher into a movie theater. So we get some really neat shots of a movie screen within a movie screen within a movie screen. It’s pretty crazy. Self referential to the point of being considered ahead of its time.
At points, the movie becomes a little too confusing and we struggle to figure out exactly which movie theater that we are looking at (the one in THE MOMMY or the one in ANGUISH). THE MOMMY also begins to have serious effects on a few of the movie theater patrons and a psychopath in the theater begins to reenact the film’s violence in reality. While some could see this as a mere statement about how violence in the media is a precursor to violence in the world (an argument which I believe to be utter nonsense), I saw it as merely a craftily constructed slasher flick with some original ideas on how to execute (by that point) a well-known theme.
ANGUISH frequently blurs the lines between what’s reality and what’s merely contained in the film. It’s a cinematic psychedelic trip in the weirdest possible way. Though sometimes it can drag on for a little too long and the acting isn’t rock solid, the film winds up being a really clever slasher that is far more comparable to something like SCREAM or THE HILLS RUN RED than it is to the usual fare from the 80’s slasher boom. It’s not perfect, but there’s a certain charm about it. The plot is intriguing and it’s clear that Bigas Luna enjoys toying with his viewers. This one is well worth a watch, especially with a group of film-loving friends.