It Follows (2014) – the hidden meaning of It

What is this monstrous It from this movie? Can it be that it symbolizes something more than what we see on screen? I think so. And let me say this first: for me It doesn’t stand for any physical disease.

I’m going to serve you spoiler avalanche/movie analysis here. If you really want to see It Follows, an independent American horror that both critics and viewers admire, watch it first and then return here for my take on its meaning. But if you’ve seen it or are only mildly interested in it, read the rest of this post.

This special edition poster is the best one.

My first impression wasn’t positive. The movie left me indifferent. “Good idea, but weak execution, and please, enough with these nostalgic shots,” I thought. But I kept thinking about this movie for days afterwards. It is visible that its director, David Robert Mitchell, knows the horror genre and his craft. The cinematography and the script both suggest the depth that reaches behind the simple tale of survival. Then it hit me and I invented my own theory of It. “Meh? More like brilliant!”, were my second thoughts. I’m going to divide them into sections.

Sex is deadly – but not immediately

The movie seemingly follows the familiar horror pattern: everyone who has sex, dies. Jay, a pretty and fragile-looking college student, leads a boring but seemingly satisfactory life in the suburbs of Detroit. Her days seem to consist of sitting around with her sister and close friends, drifting in a small swimming pool, and going out from time to time. Her new boyfriend, Hugh, takes her to the local vintage theater and then starts to act strangely, apparently seeing people that aren’t there. Another night they have sex and then Jay finds out about her boyfriend’s true intentions – he wanted to pass something on to her.

Hugh kidnaps her, straps her to the wheelchair and explains to the terrified girl that she wouldn’t believe him if she didn’t see It with her own eyes. They wait till a naked woman suddenly appears, heading straight towards immobile Jay. Hugh takes her from the spot and says she must sleep with someone else to pass it further, otherwise It will kill her and then return to kill him and the persons before him. This deadly chain cannot be stopped. It walks, instead of running, so you can escape. It can look like anybody, including someone you know.

Time doesn’t matter

The characters seem to exist in the strange world between different eras. We get the objects, clothes, and even hairstyles from 70s, 80s and 90s mixed with mobile devices and talk of the present. This premise isn’t explained. We don’t get to know that the main characters are, for example, collectors of vintage objects. We just have to accept this modern world as realistic when it obviously isn’t. All those time inconsistencies can be seen as tributes to horrors. Especially, Halloween (1978) keeps getting mentioned in reviews. During the interviews the director said he had wanted the movie to be difficult to place in time. My conclusion is that time doesn’t matter – It follows in the same manner in every decade.

A curious mobile device that looks like a compact mirror. The girl is reading “The Idiot” by Dostoyevsky.
A curious mobile device that looks like a compact mirror. The girl is reading “The Idiot” by Dostoyevsky.

Intentionally unrealistic

The movie begins with a familiar “we don’t know what’s happening but it’s creepy” take. I will describe it because it keeps getting omitted in other reviews, even though it sends some important clues right away. A frightened out of her wits girl runs out of her house wearing silk shorts and tank top pajamas. The scenery is a quiet suburban neighborhood in the early morning. She dismisses a neighbor’s and her father’s offers of help and looks desperately around. She runs back to her house, only to return again with car keys, jump in the car and drive ahead. When it’s dark we see her phoning her father on the desolate beach, crying and telling him that she loves him. Cut to the next morning: her mutilated corpse is lying on the same beach. Later we learn about It and may deduct that the girl knew It was chasing her and was going to kill her.

My first choice for shoewear, too.
My first choice for shoewear, too.

OK, it all sounds probable within the horror genre. Now look at her shoes. Not only are they high heels, they are stilettos (about 5 inches high at least). She would be better off running barefoot. Yes, they are very flattering. But they are also any woman’s last choice when it comes to running. Now the question remains, do we believe the director is an idiot for deciding such an outfit was appropriate? Or do we witness another objectification of female body which must look flattering at all times? I would answer “no” to both these suggestions.

Although in the movie there are numerous shots that dwell upon the beauty of Jay or her teenage sister, the camera never seems predatory. Later in the movie the director got a wonderful opportunity for exploitative shots of the protagonist, as she decides to have sex with three men on the boat she sees in the distance. Jay gets into the water. Cut: she drives a car and her hair is wet. Only this subtle clue tells us what happened. Many directors would jump on the opportunity to show a foursome, but here it is unnecessary and I’m glad Mitchell recognized that.

So if the director isn’t just objectifying the female bodies, why the high heels? Notice the color. Red. They sexualize the girl’s appearance and create a stark contrast with the suburbs, her white sleepwear and daddy’s girl image. You can read this scholarly article about red shoes. The shoes point to the facts that: a) we shouldn’t trust the decorations and think rationally about the characters’ behavior (e.g. wonder who would run in high heels or try to shoot at the invisible monster) and b) the whole movie is about the conflict between characters’ personalities and their repressed subconscious feelings.

Who do you see as It? Those you don’t want to.

The whole reason I’m dealing with this movie here is the monster’s appearance which is always very grotesque and dissociated from the surroundings. Let’s look at the forms that It takes and where they appear.

  • A naked woman in the deserted building.
  • An elderly woman wearing a nightgown resembling a hospital gown in Jay’s college.
  • Jay’s best female friend, Yara, on the beach that Jay and her friends (including Yara) were enjoying themselves.
  • A woman who looks like a rape victim, with breasts half-exposed and bruised face, who pees on the floor of Jay’s kitchen.
  • A naked middle-aged man on the roof of Jay’s home.
  • An extremely tall man in Jay’s bedroom.
  • A screaming malnourished kid on the aforementioned beach.
  • A girl in a nightgown (that is probably the girl from the beginning of the movie) on the road from the beach.
  • And finally, Jay’s dad (whom we spotted previously only in a photograph) near the swimming pool.

These are the forms that It takes for Jay (these may not be all, as I could forget some of them).

One of the most terrifying scenes.
One of the most terrifying scenes.

When Jay decides to sleep with Greg to pass the curse, a few days later she witnesses two forms of It following Greg. One is Greg himself in pajamas going into his house. The second is Greg’s mother in an undone nightgown, exposing one of her breasts, knocking violently on the door of Greg’s bedroom. Greg was shown throughout the movie as a womanizer. Jay admits later on she already slept with him in high school. But we can be sure that there was one woman he wouldn’t want to see storming his bedroom at night – his mother. Jay looks mortified as It in form of Greg’s mother kills him while rubbing her crotch against his.

From these images I draw the following conclusion: what Hugh told Jay is not true (just as his name was false), It doesn’t just look like anybody. It personifies one’s deepest fears and repressed sexual desires. Truth be told, if I’m right, it can be seen as the movie’s weakness – Jay shouldn’t just be afraid of anybody passing by, only people that look familiar or/and out of place. Hugh messes up the picture because he keeps seeing girls in normal clothes (yellow dress in the theater), but that can also be a part of his fears and desires.

No one in the movie wants to tell the others what he or she sees as It. The characters subconsciously understand that this would reveal too much about themselves, about the parts of their minds that they don’t want others to know. When Jay’s sister asks “What do you see?”, Jay answers “I don’t want to tell you” while looking at their father trying to attack her.

Greg's death
Greg and It in a form of his mother. I tried to find the least graphic shot.

As to It appearing as Yara – at this moment Jay is looking at this very friend in a swim-suit. Could this mean that there exists an unwanted repressed desire on Jay’s part that It feels and feeds upon?

My interpretation is very Freudian, thus some people may reject it. But as my American Literature Professor used to say, “Freud’s ideas are dated and proved to be untrue. But they are excellent when it comes to analyzing literature and they can still be applied as a literary theory device.” I will stretch it to movies as well. It doesn’t matter if we agree with Freud, we can still spot his ideas in the works of art.

But not all forms of It are sexual. Sexual danger and rape associations appear around Jay’s home (we see both predator and victim figures). But what about the elderly lady? Does she symbolize something sexual? For me no, she is a personification of even deeper fears: the fear of aging, disease and death. No young girl wants to be reminded while wasting hours of her precious youth in the classroom that one day she may look like this. The lady appears crazy walking in a hospital-like gown. She also has knee pads. What kind of scary ghost wears knee pads? Only the one inside your head.

The only It form that I don’t know what to make of is the scary kid on the beach. I hope someone can give a possible explanation of his appearance (other than, well, failure of the script). Edit: thanks to this interesting video I found out that the boy is the kid that regularly spies on Jay. Kudos to the author for close watching, although I disagree with his main idea that It is a demon.

If It is a collection of a person’s repressed fears, one cannot escape It. You can run but It will always find you. Dare I say that the movie could be entitled “Id Follows”?”*

Jeff pointing It to Jay
Look at this jokester. Aren’t you a clever blogger?

To quote the trivia section of IMDb, the director clarified that “the ‘monster’ could potentially board a plane in order to follow the cursed person” and “neither a condom nor same-gender sex would stop the monster and the curse would still be passed.” It suits my theory well.

If the curse is your own mind, you obviously cannot escape it.

What others think

One interpretation I found (read here) is close to mine, but it states that Jay’s father and Greg’s mother appearances suggest previous sexual abuse of their children. While it is possible (Greg recognizes the angry knocking as his mother’s!), I would say that imaginative fear can be as strong as real trauma.

I see others interpreting It as STD (come on, so simple?), fear of sex, reminder of sexual abuse or even adulthood that the movie characters fear (interesting thought). Others see It as simply the personification of death or rather Death that follows us all. Many think that It takes its form after its own victims. That’s why they are often wearing sleepwear – they got attacked at night.


I think it shows the movie strength that we are allowed numerous interpretations that may not even contradict each other. Maybe It is a demon that takes form of one’s subconscious fears and desires? Or maybe It stands just for STD and I am writing the longest post on my blog about the movie that just warns teenagers against sex with strangers? Even if the director is a skillful manipulator that tricked me into believing that his artsy movie is something more, I would still recommend seeing the film.

Any movie that forces you to think and wonder is worth your time. Even if I have to stand another cinematography based mostly on wide-angle camera lenses or another electronic score that “builds an atmosphere” (what it really does for me: it precedes It with basses just like The Imperial March signalized Darth Vader’s appearance)**, I would still watch something similar to It Follows just because it made me think so much about its premise.

*Muahahaha! … *cough* You know, just like Freud’s concept of Id? *exits smoothly*
** Half-serious appeal to filmmakers: there is only one “Drive.” Only one.

Nothing Bad Can Happen (2013)

Nothing Bad Can Happen 2013_ Tore tanzt_Benno_ Tore

Nothing bad can happen to him who carries the shield of faith.

Tore tanzt_Nothing Bad Can Happen 2013 poster
Interesting poster

I have a soft spot for titles that form complete sentences. A strong title very often provides a memorable plot and powerful characters. Such is the case with the German movie “Nothing Bad Can Happen” (original title “Tore tanzt”) from 2013.

The plot bears similarities to many recent torture movies that told stories of domestic abuse and horrible deeds done behind closed doors. Yet it is strikingly different because of its protagonist, Tore, who is a Jesus freak, a punk, and a modern saint. Or is he?

To quote IMDb plot summary (written by the movie first-time director Katrin Gebbe herself!):

The young Tore seeks in Hamburg a new life among the religious group called The Jesus Freaks. When he by accident meets a family and helps them to repair their car, he believes that a heavenly wonder has helped him. He starts a friendship with the father of the family, Benno. Soon he moves in with them at their garden plot, not knowing what cruelty is there to come.

I admit I watched the movie just because of its title, so I didn’t know even that. And I would add EXTREME cruelty in this description.

I like movies that break stereotypes. Here seeing two young men in punk clothes, smiling and talking about their faith in Jesus, calling themselves Jesus freaks, I immediately assumed them to be the bad ones. “Yep, we know such young believers. Soon they will kill someone with these fanatic smiles on their faces,” I thought.

Nothing Bad Can Happen 2013_ Tore_Benno devil horns_Tore tanzt
Ultimate good and ultimate evil. I detect a parable here.

No, the most crystal clear character in the whole movie is Tore, one of the youngsters. Angelic, blue-eyed, blonde-haired and slim, he has a pure soul and honest intentions.

It’s rare to see such strong, pure faith depicted in modern cinema. The movie proves why. As the punk preacher (Jesus Freaks commune consists only of such individuals) reminds the audience in the beginning, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, but it is very difficult to do so. The problem is that Tore is really capable of doing so. He strongly believes that because of this and his faith “nothing bad can happen” to him. This sounds fascinating to me. What if one person was truly capable of always turning the other cheek? Would we call it masochism or martyrdom? In today’s culture which perceives one’s well-being as an important value, Tore appears to be an imbecile. Who, in the age of “healthy egoism” and assertiveness, would willingly suffer if one can avoid it?

Here we have an extremely passive young male who consciously chooses this strategy because of his religious belief. This movie can be challenging because being so passive is usually connected to female characters. And even young female characters nowadays are meant to be assertive and able to fight for their own.

Nothing Bad Can Happen 2013_ Tore tanzt_Benno_ Tore
Tore (Julius Feldmeier) and Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak)

Without my faith I would have nothing.

Benno, the force of total nihilism and evil in the movie, at once recognizes Tore’s good nature. We are surprised that he allows him so readily into his life, providing him food and place to sleep. But soon we realize that Benno is like the proverbial devil, he cannot exist without his opposition.

The movie features extreme humiliation, violence, and harm, both physical and psychological. Tore’s goodness brings to life the worst human instincts possible – extreme sadism and perversion. He provokes the seemingly good citizens to become beasts. Step by step, they treat him like a slave, an animal, and then an object that can be destroyed.

I’m abused and yet not killed. I’m dying, and yet I live on. I own nothing, and yet possess everything.

At the same time, the movie is not a horror, all events are shown in a realistic, down-to-earth way. Even the religious vision of the protagonist gets a logical explanation, being only a sickly hallucination.

An interesting character is Benno’s wife who at first appears to be a victim who allows abuse of others because she is terrorized herself. While her passiveness wouldn’t make her less guilty, but would be partly justified, later we find out that at times she enjoys sadistic tortures just as much as Benno. She is fully aware of what’s happening and decides to either ignore or take part in it when she pleases. She is as evil as Benno, but even more hypocritical. The actress playing her, Annika Kuhl, portrays her nature in a very subtle way.

Nothing Bad Can Happen 2013_ Benno_ Astrid
Benno and Astrid, the monstrous couple

Yet the power of this movie lies in the fact that I never felt even for one moment that Tore deserves any of it, that he somehow provoked his abusers with his passive behavior. It would be very easy to shrug the movie with a simple “if you are weak, the strong will use you” Darwinist statement. But the movie makes me believe that Tore has good intentions and pure heart. He decides to turn the other cheek not because he enjoys suffering or is afraid, but because his faith is the only thing that keeps him alive. He prays desperately “I understand that Benno is the test for me, ” but he does not enjoy his victim status. The only time he stands up against Benno it is not for himself but for Sanny, Benno’s daughter and the only person Tore has romantic feelings for.

othing Bad Can Happen 2013_rain_ Tore and Sanny

The bond between Sanny and Tore is a truly beautiful concept in this extremely dark world. At first hostile towards “a religious freak,” the girl learns to trust him and rely on him. Their time spent together shows child-like, joyful possibilities. Sanny always tries to protect Tore, even though he realizes that he should be the one to defend her. Their inability to ultimately help each other constitutes a tragedy. Rarely a relationship of unhappy lovers (here Platonic) moved me so much.

For me it’s a Southern Gothic movie that was made in Germany – this shows that some genres exceed the boundaries that literary theory and history invented. The whole plot could be Flannery O’Connor’s story. In fact, I’m almost certain that the creators of this film had to know some of her works. Or at least William Faulkner.

I think that this movie can be very easily misunderstood if one is not familiar with Southern Gothic aesthetic. Certain ideological bias, delusional and strong-minded characters are the core of this genre. Therefore even if the plot seems realistic and the characters’ behavior doesn’t, it all fits perfectly well into the convention.

I enjoyed the movie very much (even though it’s a heartbreaking stuff!), but as someone who ate her teeth on Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote, I can be a bit biased.

Parker's Back Flannery O'Connor
Parker’s tatoo from Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back”
Nothing Bad Can Happen 2013_ Tore_tattoo_ Teach Me Lord_Tore tanzt
Tore’s tattoo: “Teach Me Lord”

The film ends with an optimistic note that not everything is lost and there is still hope. Just like the three parts of the movie: “Faith”, “Love” and “Faith” state. The order is not accidental. There is always hope even in the darkest place, however cliché it sounds. But why do the good ones have to suffer?

The very end is extremely powerful, no matter how we interpret it. Every viewer interprets himself who won the battle.

I think that this movie can be interesting to both believers and non-believers, not because it presents a standard view at faith, but because it challenges it.

But the very last image destroyed me completely. A simple caption: “Based on true events.”

So much for unrealistic characters.

The movie was criticized by many when it first appeared at Cannes. I’m not surprised, but I’m not following the crowd in this instance. At the same time it won a few awards for its young director, Katrin Gebbe. It’s a brave work, better than most Southern Gothic movies (even if Gebbe didn’t try to make one). As a lover of grotesque, I was delighted. But this time the grotesque is not funny. This is the very dark side of grotesque, similarly important, but harder to swallow.


I’m back with new theme design. How do you like it? I have some fresh ideas. More posts soon!

Borgman (2013)

There are obviously symbolic movies. There are realistic movies. And there is Borgman.

borgman-poster 2013
Included on Indiewire best 2014 posters list. You can also find out about the artist behind the deisgn here.

This is a weird and complex film. Shot with a stunning precision, it puzzles and asks for explanations. I wholeheartedly recommend it but only if you dare to see something new. I can safely say that I’ve watched a lot of movies in my lifetime, but I can think of few movies to compare Borgman with. I realize it can be a daring experience.

The storyline presented on IMDb already signalizes problems with describing what the movie is about.

„A vagrant enters the lives of an arrogant upper-class family, turning their lives into a psychological nightmare in the process.”

On the one hand it is true, that’s what happens in the movie. On the other hand, it’s like saying Moby Dick is about hunting one white whale. It’s true, right? And every American literature scholar would tear you to pieces for saying so.

"Outside Satan" protagonist.
“Outside Satan” protagonist.

The only similar movie that comes to my mind is a French movie Hors Satan (Outside Satan) from 2011 which is the movie that I watched with awe, not comprehending fully what was going on. I was like “meh” when it ended, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Yet while the protagonist of Hors Satan can be interpreted as the force of good, the title character of Borgman is definitely the force of evil.

The movie that I cannot compare Borgman with and which should immediately come to one’s mind after reading that IMDb synopsis is Funny Games (I watched both versions). Funny Games also tells a story of a privileged white family who is terrorized by unexpected, at first gentle, guests. And their house is also surrounded by the woods. But while Haneke’s movie(s) are naturalistic visions (with grotesque overtones), Borgman is all about grotesque.

Who is Borgman? His name is Camiel, but firstly he presents himself as Anton to the rich couple. The husband, Richard, becomes aggressive on the spot and the wife becomes attached to a strange man. The wife hides him in the gardener’s house. The children accept “the magician” without any protest. The woman, Marina, gradually lets him come nearer and nearer herself and the children.

It is apparent from the first scenes that Borgman is neither a common bum, nor an illusion. I will try to explain why by describing a very European first few minutes (I use European as a compliment here). A man is dressing up, gun included, eating a herring straight from a jar, and fetching his dog; a priest is saying mass; another man is sharpening a long metal stick. The three man meet, the priest also has a gun. Then we see a wild-looking man sleeping in the dark. This is Borgman. He hears something. He gets up and uses the periscope to see the three men walking through the forest with the dog. Now we know he sleeps in the hole in the woods. He uses his cellphone (I’m already laughing at this moment) but no one picks up. He starts packing his things quickly. But the man with the stick already starts to ruin Borgman’s hideout. The priest takes an axe and starts chopping the ground. But Borgman already escaped, because he obviously knows the forest best. He runs to warn two other vagrants, also sleeping in single beds hidden underground, that they are in danger. He is angry at one of them, Ludwig, that he didn’t pick up the phone. He walks out of the forest.

Priest forest Borgman 2013
The priest pursuing Borgman. Notice the colors and brilliant composition.

Seeing Borgman walking to the gas station, trying to pretend he is a perfectly normal citizen, I already knew I will love this movie.

Borgman operates smoothly with a band of similarly odd individuals. They are all masters of disguise and deceit. But we don’t know much about them, except the fact that they like to watch TV silently in each house they have taken over. They form a group that could be a successful gang, having in mind its potential members’ inclination to murder and corpse hiding.

Ludwig_Alex van Warmerdam_Borgman 2013_Why don't you answer the phone
The director Alex van Warmerdam plays the role of Ludwig

The movie is very funny at times, but it’s a laugh at the absurdity of things happening, not because we enjoy the suffering of the couple (or maybe we do?).

It’s also a satire on xenophobia, middle-class hypocrisy, hidden sexism.

– I feel so guilty. We have it so good. We are fortunate. And the fortunate must be punished.

– Marina darling, that is nonsense. We were born in the West and the West happens to be affluent. We can’t help it.

The wilderness takes over the house. The father reads fairy tales to his children from the book. The magician tells them a scary fairy tale which he knows by heart. Their father tells them a fantasy, Borgman tells them about his world.

The movie plays with tribal and Biblical motifs. Borgman is a Christian demon (or angel – Samiel could mean Samael, the Angel of Death), a beast from his story or a pagan shaman.

I won’t tell you how this spectacle of ridiculous violence and terror ends, you have to see it for yourself. My only complaint is that the story drags in the middle, but I can forgive that, given the movie’s slow nature.

Jan Bijvoet as Borgman is totally fascinating to watch. He shows his power in almost every scene he appears. I also liked Jeroen Perceval whose task of playing the sordid Richard was more difficult. He managed to add depth to his character.

Some people say Borgman is a horror movie. According to Noël Carroll, a horror is a movie with the monster, the Other which is a) scary b) disgusting and c) fascinating.

  • I’ve read Carroll’s Philosophy of Horror for my studies recently, and it certainly influenced my thinking about the horror genre for a moment.

If Borgman, with his superhuman abilities, is not human, I think that even Carroll would agree he is a monster.

Is the couple guilty? The wife feels guilty, the husband doesn’t, the children are innocent. And Borgman does what he does best and probably did before the existence of nice comfortable houses and TV. He brings chaos, anarchy and destruction.

Borgman 2013 houseNature vs. man is the main conflict in the movie in my opinion. Notice how the couple tries to tame the wilderness with their tidy garden while the forest is just a few steps away.

Naivety of men is another. It’s often hard to tell whether this is stupidity or goodness, but the problem is that Borgman and his companions gain trust easily when they should never be trusted. All it takes is a smooth lie, a clean shave and a set of decent clothes to be taken for “one of us”.

I liked the movie very much, as you can tell. It was Dutch candidate for the Oscars, it didn’t get nominated. I cannot tell I’m surprised. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or instead. It didn’t get it. Again, I’m not surprised. The awards rarely go to movies that dare to be different, to have an unspecified genre, to feature protagonists whose motifs are not understandable. I don’t give awards, I just run this humble blog about grotesque. I’ve got a feeling Borgman will be on my 2015 best-watched list.


This review was inspired by Texas’s Frisco Kid’s post. He gives really interesting insights about the movie. You can read his post here:

I also found out a great interpretation by Nafees Speaks if you want to learn more about the film’s possible symbolism:

2014 summary (with lots of pictures)

Grotesque Ground summary 2014

Calm down, it’s not another summary of what happened in 2014. I want to share with you a few lists of movies and books that I found important in the previous year. I don’t care about keeping up-to-date with new releases, so it’s going to be the summary of what I actually saw and read in 2014. I think it’s not so much about creating such a post, but about revealing your interests and taste in the process.

I never used so many pictures on this blog. And there are two embedded videos. Let the visual craziness begin!

I also decided to keep things chronologically unless you see numbers. The numbers matter then.

Honorable mentions

Movie that surprised me the most

  • Gösta Berlings saga (1924)
Greta Garbo Saga of Gosta Berling 1924
Stunning Greta Garbo in “Gösta Berlings saga”

I expected a boring but necessary for my movie education experience. I watched a gripping and extremely entertaining historical romance that does not stop its pace for 185 minutes. I cannot recommend it enough for every silent movie fan.

Movie that every blogger seems to rave over and I couldn’t stand

  • Frank (2014)

It totally did not appeal to my taste. It’s not grotesque, but quirky. Nothing bad with quirky, just don’t expect me to like it. Let’s leave it at that because I have only bad things to say about “Frank”.

Three masterpieces that prove Japanese movies are simply fearless

  • "Ichi the Killer' poster. Don't google this film if you cannot stand gore. The movie has plenty of guts (pun intended).
    “Ichi the Killer’ poster. Don’t google this film if you cannot stand gore. The movie has plenty of guts (pun intended).

    Hana-Bi (1997)

  • Koroshiya 1 (Ichi the Killer) (2001)
  • Tetsuo (Tetsuo, the Iron Man ) (1989)

  Movies I have to see again to fully appreciate

  • Pafekuto buru (Perfect Blue) (1997)
  • Papurika (Paprika) (2006)

If you want to know why, just listen to this great song from Paprika soundtrack and try not to go crazy in the process.

Sometimes too much awesomeness is too much to handle. By the way, Inception is said to be an imperfect copy of Paprika.

Movies I recommend

  • Teorema (1968)
  • Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Crime and Punishment) (1970)
  • The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
  • Dreams (1990)
  • Nothing Is Private (2007)
  • Geoul sok euro (Into the Mirror) (2008)
  • Prisoners (2013)
Martin Sheen creeps up on Jodie Foster in"The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" 1976
Martin Sheen creeps up on Jodie Foster in “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane” (1976)

 Movies that evoked mixed feelings

  • Shame (2011)
  • Interstellar (2014)

The best documentaryDune_The Emperor's Palace_ Chris Foss

  • Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) – read my review here


 The best movie I watched in cinema

  • Nightcrawler (2014) – read my review here

Nightcrawler 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal

The worst movie I watched in cinema

  • Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Movies you may be surprised I really enjoyed

john-carter-city 2012
“John Carter”. I regret nothing.
  •     Charlotte’s Web (2006)
  •     John Carter (2012)
  •     We’re the Millers (2013)

The fan favorite I agree with

  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Like I wrote on my twitter in August, as a lover of grotesque I always support talking raccoons as badass characters.

The Grand Ones

The best movies I watched in 2014

1. Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) (1960)

2. The Holy Mountain (1973)

The Holy Mountain Alejandro Jodorowsky hat two women
“The world seems crazy to Jodorowsky and I think that he deliberately shocks to make us notice it.” (my review)

3. Peeping Tom (1960)

Peeping Tom 1960 Karlheinz Böhm kisses camera
The British masterpiece which shows ambiguous portrait of the serial killer. Karlheinz Böhm, here shown kissing the camera, gives an extremely strong performance.

4. Ichi the Killer (2001)

Ichi the Killer 2001 - Tadanobu Asano Kakihara smoke
Tadanobu Asano as Kakihara is the best psychotic antagonist in recent cinema history.

5. Stoker (2013)

Stoker 2013 Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker
Every shot in this movie is perfect . All performances are superb. Here Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker.

6. Ugetsu monogatari (Ugetsu) (1953)

Ugetsu Monogatari 1953
Beautiful fantasy about old Japan when ghosts walked among people.

7. Gösta Berlings saga (1924)

Gosta Berlings Saga 1924 Lars Hanson Greta Garbo
Lars Hanson and Greta Garbo expressing great emotions. Today’s romances and adventure movies could learn a lot from The Saga of Gosta Berling.

8. Accattone (1961)

Accattone 1961  Franco Citti
Can a movie about a pimp be beautiful and fascinating? Of course, if Pier Paolo Pasolini is directing.

9. La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) (2013)

La grande bellezza The Great Beauty 2013 Toni Servillo
Accused of being Fellini’s copycat, I see this movie as a distinct and very interesting voice.

10. Tetsuo (1989)

Tetsuo 1989 lovers faces
This movie is insane! David Cronenberg’s fans will love it. But I don’t recommend it to unprepared viewers. A movie that deserves R rating.

Grotesque involved

Grotesque masterpieces

  • The Holy Mountain (1973) – my review here
  • The Day of the Locust (1975) – my review here

Grotesque movies I should also review

  • Tetsuo (Tetsuo, the Iron Man ) (1989)

  • Koroshiya 1 (Ichi the Killer) (2001)

  • Ubu król (King Ubu) (2003)

  • Den brysomme mannen (The Bothersome Man) (2006)

  • Papurika (Paprika) (2006)

  • La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) (2013)


2014 Reading list

Grotesque favorites

  • Saki – The Best of Saki – read my review hereMiss Lonelyhearts The Day of the Locust Nathanael West cover
  • Nathanael West – Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)
  • Nathanael West – The Day of the Locust (1939)
  • Flannery O’Connor – The Violent Bear It Away (1960)
  • Thomas Pynchon – The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

Bestsellers I recommend

  • Kathryn Stockett – The Help (2009)
  • Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (2012)

The most entertaining book

  • Boris Akunin – The Winter Queen (1998)The Winter Queen Azazel Boris Akunin cover

A skillfully crafted mystery novel that successfully imitates 19th-century style of writing. Very funny at times. And full of surprises. I think I will read more of Erast Fandorin’s adventures soon.

The best fantasy series

  • Michael J. Sullivan – The Riyria Revelations (2008-2012)

I just ended “The Emerald Storm” (which is book #4 out of 6). I hope for even more action and drama in two last books. And if I won’t have enough of the adventures of two rogues who always end up in troubles (and political intrigues), the author also wrote two prequels.

Riyria Revelations covers Michael J. Sullivan
Six books of sheer fun in three volumes.

The best gritty books

  • Robert Penn Warren – All the King’s Men (1946)
  • Hubert Selby, Jr. – Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964)
  • James Dickey – Deliverance (1970)

The best academic read

  • Noël Carroll – The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart (1990)

I think it deserves a post on its own.

 Ultimate choice

The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon cover
So much going on in such a short book. I had read it before and will read it again in the future.

The best books I read in 2014

  1. Thomas Pynchon – The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
  2. Saul Bellow – Herzog (1964)
  3. E. L. Doctorow – Ragtime (1975)
  4. Hubert Selby, Jr. – Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964)
  5. Flannery O’Connor – The Violent Bear It Away (1960)

These five books are so good, no short descriptions could give them justice. They all happen to be classics now, so I think you will find them in your local library. All are worth your time. I own three copies out of five at this point.

Herzog_Ragtime_Last Exit to Brooklyn_The Violent Bear It Away_covers

You may notice the discrepancy between movies and books in this post. What can I say? I read 60 books in 2014, but many of these are simply OK, neither so good I can recommend them, nor so bad I should warn you against them.


I drew a few conclusions after writing this post.

  1. I seem to cherish great movies with serial killers/murderers/troubled people as main characters.
  2. I breathe the 1960s air. At least in terms of books.
  3. I respect Japanese cinema immensely.
  4. Only TWO movies on my best list are in English. And Peeping Tom is British while Stoker is UK/US coproduction. American cinema, although I watch it most frequently, failed to impress me in 2014. Even Nightcrawler couldn’t be included on the list, as I regard each film on the list a better one than Jake-Gyllenhaal-fest.
  5. All the grotesque movies I could review are not in English. *sigh* As I get the most readers from the United States, it seems I try to sabotage my own efforts. :D On the other hand, I cannot hide the fact that I consider cinema as international art and I watch movies from all around the world. And to be honest, the blog stats are unpredictable. Most popular post on my blog is The Holy Mountain one (this one).
  6. This year Pier Paolo Pasolini became one of my favorite directors (in this post you could spot Accattone and Teorema).
  7. I read way too many fantasy books that I didn’t include here.
  8. Weirdness and great script/plot are not incompatible.


 I hope you liked this lengthy sum-up of my very subjective pursues. I certainly enjoyed creating all these categories. If you have similar posts or want to share your favorites/least favorites picks of 2014, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments below. I would love to hear about them!

“Nightcrawler” (2014)

ightcrawler 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal cafe scene

Finally I get to write about the movie that is so recent it may still be playing next to you. And it uses grotesque successfully! Yay!

I don’t know if “Nightcrawler” is a perfect movie. But it’s the best movie I saw in cinema this year. This doesn’t actually say much as I watched few movies in theater and most of them were disappointments. So let me put it differently. I compared it in my mind to great American movies of the 1970s (which is my favorite decade of cinema in general). It belongs to a different era and I love it.

Both Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom and Riz Ahmed as Rick give very believable performances.
Both Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom and Riz Ahmed as Rick give very believable performances.

In one sentence: Lou Bloom is a scumbag. He steals, robs and deceives. He proves throughout the movie that he respects no moral boundaries. Nothing can stop him from getting what he wants. He lives in L.A., so it seems he is in the right place. His lack of empathy is greatly appreciated as he becomes a self-employed freelance filmmaker who films accidents, shootings and fires that break out at nighttime. Nina (Rene Russo), a TV-news veteran, pays him for each material that he brings to her TV station. His shots usually get broadcasted in the morning. The anchormen always warn the audience that viewer discretion is advised. Lou Bloom watches it happily while ironing his cheap shirts. He is persistent.

Now I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe is that good things come to those who work their asses off. And that, good people, who reach the top of the mountain, didn’t just fall there.

Imagine this told by a person with piercing puppy eyes on a starving but smiling face.

Nightcrawler 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal
“My motto is if you want to win the lottery you’ve got to make money to get a ticket.”

Honestly, Lou Bloom’s English is so polished that it is terrifying in itself. Even the first sentence he utters is meaningful: “I’m under the opinion that this is a detour.”

Obviously the movie is a satire on newsroom/capitalism/today’s job market crisis/ideology of success (which Lou Bloom knows by heart). Choose what you like, you will find all of that.

It is also grotesque. This movie made the audience in my theater quiet at one moment and laughing at another. There are lots of funny scenes in this gripping film! Lou Bloom’s pep talks are highlights of the movie. When we contrast their pomposity and naïve optimism with the harsh reality the only reaction can be laughter. Especially when these “pursuit of happiness” words are spoken by the most despicable person in the movie. Pure grotesque.

Lou Bloom gets compared by reviewers to Norman Bates, but I’m getting Alex DeLarge vibe here. To be more specific, Malcolm McDowell as Alex in “A Clockwork Orange”. These piercing blue eyes! Another, less-known, actor who sports this look is Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes in “Wise Blood” (extremely underrated actor in an underrated movie adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel). What all these three characters have in common is their alienation from those that surround them and, partly, from the audience. We do not sympathize with them, but we watch them performing all these weird and drastic actions with constant fascination. All the time having in mind these innocent-looking blue eyes.

Malcolm McDowell A Clockwork Orange Alex eyes
Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in “A Clockwork Orange”
Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes in "Wise Blood"
Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes in “Wise Blood”

Jake Gyllenhaal really did a great job transforming for this movie. It’s not all about the weight loss. His face totally changed. We no longer see this adorable lost depressed boyish man from “Donnie Darko”. Here we observe a total creep who we would likely avoid in real life but on the cinematic screen he captivates our attention more than the aforementioned pretty boy.

ightcrawler 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal cafe scene
I’m not exaggerating the eyes motif.

During his developing career Lou realizes that cinematography matters. That’s why I described him as a filmmaker, not a news videographer. He discovers the relation between the right shots and the desirable emotional reaction from future TV viewers. He starts to direct the scene, does not just roll with it. Therefore I would suggest that “Nightcrawler” is all about making movies. Filmmakers know tricks that will sell their product to the audience. Rene Russo’s character symbolizes a producer who is both in power and powerless. My theory can be perhaps more easily applied to horror genre (the more blood, the better; the same goes for accidents), but I would say that the whole cinema works this way. Maybe even the whole art? Lou Bloom is creepy? What about artists who know how to appeal to the audience? He is creepy? What about us, the viewers, who enjoy being entertained that way?

Source of the grotesque?
Source of the grotesque?

I just realized it’s the fifth time that I blog about the movie/novel which takes place in Los Angeles or nearby. Either this city (or, more often, Hollywood) attracts grotesque or artists working there are more prone to noticing it. I suppose both options can be correct.

Returning to the 1970s feel I just searched for interviews with the director Dan Gilroy and I found out one where he comments on it. His comment is worth reading:

One of the things about the ’70s films I love—the films Nightcrawler is being compared to, like Taxi Driver—is that they never put their flawed characters into any one box. To call someone a sociopath or a psychopath is misrepresentative. On one level, yes, their behavior makes them diagnostically and accurately sociopathic, but a sociopath is not just black-and-white. You can’t see them from far away; they’re not rare creatures. All of us have a bit of a sociopath inside of us, and it’s wrong to think that somebody is just clearly sociopathic, because they’re not. It’s interesting to explore the shadings and nuances within a person. Those feelings exist within more human beings than people may want to acknowledge.

You can read the whole interview here (it contains some spoilers though).

As you may have noticed, I tried not to spoil much in this review, so my analysis is rather general. However, the point I am trying to prove is that such a thought-provoking movie  doesn’t happen often. Go see it. It’s not just a movie about a sociopath/psychopath. Or about L.A. Or about television. It’s about all that and more.

What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)

Really good movie ruined by its promotional campaign. Don’t search for the poster (if you can) as it spoils the fun. Who allows such a thing? Why? Even the title gives a big hint which is not known from the start. The very sentence appears exactly in the middle of the movie… Very bad marketing.

But even if you saw the poster or photos while looking for this film, still watch it. It’s a surprisingly good, though literally unknown, gem with great acting, costumes and atmosphere of the 1930s. There is something in this decade that attracts the grotesque! (“The Day of the Locust”).

Helen (Shelley Winters) and Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) are two women whose sons commited a gruesome murder. The case is widely known, their faces appear in the media. After two young men’s conviction, the women move to Hollywood, change their names and open a dance school for girls. Pretty standard for anyone who wants to start anew: move to Hollywood or Las Vegas. At least that’s what American movies taught us.

Both women share similar names, but they personalities and appearances differ. Helen is calm, religious, anxious, and superstitious while Adelle is energetic, free-spirited and practical. One looks like an average, overweight middle-aged woman while the other is a slim and sexy dancer who is still in her prime. The two become friends because of their dark secret. While Adelle decides to move on, Helen is stuck in the past. Moreover, there seem to be a stalker nearby who wants the women to pay for their sons’ crime.

Whats the Matter with Helen_Debbie Reynolds___
Debbie Reynolds looks fabulous as a platinum blonde. Notice the costumes (nominated for an Oscar).

What’s the matter with the grotesque here, you may ask.

Firstly, 1930s child stars. “Toddlers and Tiaras” is nothing new. The appeal for child stars actually started with the growing popularity of cinema. With megastars like Jackie Coogan or Shirley Temple (and their small fortunes), the need for child actors increased. And so did the ambitions of many children’s parents. As shown in many satires of the time (again, “The Day of the Locust”), the past show business did not really differ much from the present one. Most of the children taught by Adelle are as untalented and oversexualized as contestants of today’s reality TV shows.

Whats the Matter with Helen_Mother and daughter
“Remember, the Warner Brothers are in the front row.”

A girl (pictured above on the right) is stylized as Mae West and sings “Oh, you nasty man!” and “Shame”! while wearing full makeup and a padded adult dress. All the time her moves are mimicked by her mother behind the scenes.

Secondly, the violence is shown in a grotesque way. Helen gets more and more disturbed. Every sharp object reminds her of the way her husband died.

“We were going to have a ride on the plow. And we started out. And then the harness seemed to come loose. And he got off to fix it. And something frightened the horses. And I couldn’t hold them. And the blades of the plow, they’re big and much sharper than they look. He fell. He fell. And Lenny saw it. He saw all of it and blamed me ever afterwards for not being able to save his father.”

The scene actually shows the bloody body and Winters’ delivery is memorable.

Whats the Matter with Helen_Debbie Reynolds_Shelley Winters
Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen (Shelley Winters).

If you remember my review of a Christmas movie “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo” (link here), you know how great Shelley Winters is when it comes to horror. “What’s the Matter…” came in the double DVD box together with “Whoever…” and they are an amazing double feature for any Winters fan. She plays two totally different, though undoubtedly troubled, characters. It’s worth noting that both movies had the same director, Curtis Harrington, who seemed to work exceptionally well with Winters.

This is a very female-centered movie: you’ve got two female protagonists and a bunch of mother and daughters are constantly at the background. What is more, two boys murdered a woman and were sentenced for this crime.

Women are always portrayed as victims. Victims of circumstances and of their (failed) roles as mothers. Victims of early sexualization. Victims of seductive men, stalkers and murderers. Finally, victims of madness and unfulfilled desires.

There appears a very strange scene when the handsome father of one of the girls, Linc Palmer (played with ease by Dennis Weaver), takes Adelle on a date. They are sitting in the club and the orchestra starts playing tango. She obviously wants to dance, but he says that he cannot. He spots a gigolo nearby and gestures him to come over. Then he pretends to agree upon the man asking her out to dance. They dance very passionately (it’s tango, after all), all the other guests stop and watch them. Linc observes it with a big smile as Adelle ends the dance in the contrived, semi-violent pose. I smell a connection with the pose of her son’s victim, who also has arms stretched out and actually looks like she is dancing. Given the fact that Adelle’s son blamed her for focusing on her dancing career rather than fulfilling her duties as a mother, these associations may not be accidental.

Whats the Matter with Helen_murder_victim
The murder victim.


Whats the Matter with Helen_Debbie Reynolds_tango
The creepy tango scene.







At the same time, I would not say that this movie is biased against either men or women. It just presents a coherent vision of reality that is psychologically, socially and historically justified. It also loves to throw a bunch of red herrings here and there. Not bad for a horror movie not many heard about.

Third grotesque aspect is religion represented by Sister Alma. She appears in flesh, but more often as a voice from the radio that Helen constantly listens to. She is judgmental and condemning while running a strictly commercial organization. An almost identical character appears in Day of the Locust. I found out both characters were actually based on a real person, Aimee Semple McPherson (also known as Sister Aimee), an evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s who was active in Los Angeles at that time. For those interested in this topic more, here is a good website dedicated to her (controversies included):

The last grotesque aspect is the twisted ending. I won’t spoil it as I’m not a member of the marketing team of the movie and it seems it was their job to do. Let’s just say the ending remains as creepy as it was over 40 years ago.


P.S. I hate to start anything with apology, so let me apologize you for my absence at the end of this post. I was gone for three months partly because a lot happened in my life recently (PhD studies, here I come!), but also partly because blogging turned out to be more demanding than I expected.

There is also this feeling of writing “into the wild”, that no one is reading this (even though I see that the stats are improving). Well, I chose to write about the topic that is not very popular, but I feel strongly about it. So I have to do my best. I won’t be blogging about lifestyle, cooking or fashion. So I cannot expect a huge readership.

At the same time, I feel responsible for what I write since literally no one blogs exclusively about the grotesque. It paralyzes me so much that I have a few posts that I never finished because I felt I had not done those movies or books the justice they deserve.

Still, I hope you can stay with me and come here from time to time to see what movies and books I recommend and what’s the matter with the grotesque. :) I thank you for reading, subscribing and commenting, it means a lot to me. I respect several real followers more than a thousand fake ones, especially since I write about such a narrow subject. Thank you for staying!

“The Day of the Locust” (1975)

“The Day of the Locust” is an edgy take on lust, greed, fame and Hollywood. It takes place in the 1930s, but remains relevant today. It is also a successful adaptation of an accomplished novel of the same name by Nathanel West (named one of TIME’s “the 100 best English-language novels 1923-2005”).

Poster_of_the_movie_The_Day_of_the_LocustI cannot say I remember many “grand” novels who were turned into amazing movies. It is an even rarer case when I like a movie more than the famous original (and I read the book first). This is such an exception.

Because of the overabundance of masterpieces in 1970s American cinema, some great movies are a bit forgotten nowadays. Let’s look at the movies of 1975. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jaws. Dog Day Afternoon. Three Days of the Condor. Nashville. 1975. Just one year. Can you wonder why “The Day of the Locust” could feel a bit outdated compared to those movies, taking place in 1930s?

Why West’s novel should matter today?

“By paying homage to the Hollywood machine and its invisible workers, West was able to illuminate the film business from the bottom up. There is not much beauty to be found in what he called the ‘Dream Dump,’ or in his chronicle of American life in the Thirties. It’s all violence all the time, with sickening scenes that still retain the power to shock. W.H. Auden would call West’s people ‘cripples.’ They weren’t cripples to West, who lovingly described his excitable characters as ‘screwballs and screwboxes.’ His original title for the book, The Cheated, accurately reflected their frustration”

(read the whole review by Marion Meade here).

The novel’s protagonist is a young man named Tod Hackett. I think many young people could identify with him: a true artist compromising himself for money. A Yale graduate could starve as a painter or earn some money as a designer in Hollywood. He chooses the second option, but remains aware of vanities and emotional void that surrounds him. Todd is an outsider and an artist which gives him a unique perspective to see what’s going on. He becomes infatuated with Faye Greener, an attractive starlet without talent but with high aspirations.

rathaus in munich gargoyle
I just felt like contrasting these two images. Here we see the gargoyle in Munich.
scream mirror day of the locust 1975
And here the desperation recreated by Tod when observing himself. Art and commerce meet in this shot.







Many grotesque figures appear in the book, the most important ones are: Homer Simpson, a lonely and inhibited businessman exploited by Faye; Faye’s father, an ex-vaudeville clown who sells homemade silver polish door-to-door; and Adore Loomis, a cruel young boy whose mother has been stylizing as a child star.

Jackie Earle Haley as Adore day of the locust
Jackie Earle Haley plays Adore. He will be known much later for his roles as Rorschach and Freddy Krueger. This is what dressing as Shirley Temple does to a young actor.

The movie was directed by John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy,” “Marathon Man,” “Billy Liar”) and follows the book closely. It is actually extremely faithful towards the book. Paradoxically, it is to its disadvantage at times. Although the novel is very short, it drags for its first one third. As the movie does not skip anything, it repeats this mistake. I feel that at least a few episodes could be cut for the sake of brevity (total 144 minutes is too long in this case).

But the acting is without a miss. Karen Black and Donald Sutherland are perfect in their roles. Jackie Earle Haley is amazingly creepy in his early role as Adore. But it is William Atherton’s acting that impressed me most, as you can just read Tod’s thoughts on his face (instead of hearing voice-over). You see that he realizes how phony Faye is but he falls for her anyway. And it’s acted with just a slight change in his facial expression. It’s a shame I never paid any attention to William Atherton before.

Tod Hackett  coffin mirror day of the locust 1975
Tod Hackett (William Atherton) getting ready. There is no such coffin-like mirror in the book, but it suits Tod’s obsession with self-destruction.

1970s. You have no CGI, but stunts, make-up, fake blood, real fire. And real crowd, not multiplied individuals which were created at movie studios. Very risky movie to fund as it looks very expensive. It is a shame no such risk would probably be taken today.

The movie depicts people pursuing dreams and fantasies. They fool themselves and ignore reality. Everything in Hollywood is attractive for the crowd. A place of somebody’s suicide is a tourist attraction. A funeral house is a great hideout when waiting for Clark Gable to arrive at the cemetery.
It’s far more interesting to see members of this crowd than attractions they are waiting for. In any other job they could be happy if they could pay their rent, etc. But everybody desires something more. Their need of power, success, money and sex is killing them.

It is not a film about some wannabe actress/actual prostitute and all the fools that want to sleep with her. Nor it is a movie about failed actors, performers and filmmakers. It rips the covers of human beings and shows what hides underneath: human desires, animalistic forces, the utter need to either copulate or destroy. It is not only a movie about Hollywood but about the mob mentality and the repressed individuality.

The last moments will reward you for your patience with some unforgettable images.

Just to give you the glimpse of what a ride the ending is I give you two pictures.

people at bus stop day of the locust 1975
People at a bus stop during the day, in the middle of the movie.
mob people at bus stop day of the locust 1975
People at a bus stop during the night riot at the end of the movie.

I cannot remember reading so many comments/reviews/etc. such as “this movie was the scariest movie I’ve ever seen” about a non-horror movie before. Consider yourself warned. And invited to see this movie.

“Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those peepers?

Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those eyes?”

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” (2013)

Jodorowsky's_Dune_PosterThe movie “Jodorowsky’s Dune” tells a story of the great quest. Imagine people whose works you always admired that gather, inspired by a charismatic leader, to make a movie that will make your brain explode from the amount of excessive awesomeness! Feeling excited already?

Well, this movie never got made. The quest did not succeed. Or did it?

The story about making the film and the storyboard (all scenes drawn in one big book) survived.

H.R. Giger (Alien monster creator), Chris Foss (s-f illustrator), Dan O’Bannon (Alien screenwriter, Star Wars special computer effects), Salvador Dali, Jodorowsky’s teenage son (trained in martial arts exclusively for the movie), David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Jean Giraud “Moebius,” Pink Floyd, Orson Welles, Udo Kier, Amanda Lear (“It’s so confusing!”), Magma band… I couldn’t even rank these wonderful people in some kind of order, as their talents cannot be compared and measured. All are named Spiritual Warriors by Jodorowsky himself.

Dune_The Emperor's Palace_ Chris Foss
Artwork by Chris Foss – The Emperor’s Palace

The movie “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is a captivating movie experience that should be obligatory for all movie fans. It makes you question your motifs not only when it comes to movie watching but also your career choices and fulfilling the expectations of others.

While it is based mainly on talks with people involved in the project, including Jodorowsky himself, it also combines the storyboard clips together with mesmerizing art concepts and music. This way we can almost see how the finished movie could look like.

Artwork by H.R. Giger – Entrance to the Harkonnen Castle

To better understand the concept by Giger (1940-2014), read what he said about this particular artwork (as inspired by Jodorowsky):

Harkonnen stands on rising ground, a sort of hill, and consists of jagged bones and excrement which slowly crumble into dust. More bones and excrement are continually being ejected from Harkonnen, which crumble and are swept away by the eternally raging storms. A sort of staircase leads up the hill to the castle, defended by spears built into the bones on either side of the entrance, which have an independent existence and often impale the citizens just for fun.

H.R. Giger (source)

Alejandro Jodorowsky. A human enigma. A genius or a madman? Or both? Or none?

For sure he is absolutely fascinating to watch and listen to.

Notice the original music by Kurt Stenzel which captures the mood of the presented artwork and the narrative.

What is interesting from my point of view, I find the original “Dune” series by Frank Herbert to be one of the best book series ever created. It shaped me as a human being and as a reader. It taught me to love s-f and fantasy. And Jodorowsky didn’t want to adapt this novel but to rape it. He readily admits it.

Alejandro Jodorowsky_raping_Frank Herbert
How can you not love his honesty?

And still I think I would love his movie, even though he stayed away from the book and its actual themes.

This may have something to do with my general dislike for “fanboy mentality” (meaning obsessive fans who want all adaptations of their beloved books or comic books to look identical as the originals. It’s not possible, cinema is a different medium.). But also with the fact that I appreciate Jodorowsky’s bold visionary mind. You may already know this from my review of “The Holy Mountain.”

Just read my favorite quote from the documentary:

This system make of us slaves. Without dignity. Without depth. With a devil in our pocket.

This incredible money are in the pocket. This money. This shit. This nothing. This paper who have nothing inside.

Movies have heart.

Have mind.

Have power.

Have ambition.

I wanted to do something like that. Why not?

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Go and watch this movie in cinema if it is still playing near you. Rent it or buy it when it comes on DVD/Blu Ray. This independent project directed by Frank Pavich is worth it.

And this comes from the fan of the original Dune book that Jodorowsky would have butchered in his adaptation.

And from a person who generally avoids documentaries.

The spiritual power of Jodorowsky? Rather the power of cinema.

And the power of people. Multo (Ghost) and Thy Critic Man (read his review here) recommended this movie to me. And we don’t know each other personally, we just read each other’s blogs. Maybe this says something about our times. Frequently during the movie Jodorowsky reflects on the difficulties he had finding about and locating like-minded people that he needed. Today we can gather ourselves easily from all over the world. Maybe this is why “Jodorowsky’s Dune” could succeed today – because fans of Jodorowsky’s cinema could learn about it through one another.

But that’s the topic for another movie.


  • “Jodorowsky’s Dune” official Facebook page
  • “Jodorowsky’s Dune” official Twitter page

NEWS FLASH: Check out Alejandro Jodorowsky’s kickstarter page: You can help to make his new movie “Endless Poetry”! How often can you help the legend? The kickstarter project ends on 22 March 2015.

“The Devil-Doll” (1936)

The Devil-Doll poster_1936
Contrary to the popular belief, the devil doesn’t appear in the movie.

This charming old gem is not a well-known horror. Its director, Tod Browning, is famous for “Dracula” from 1931 and “Freaks” from 1932. Still, “The Devil-Doll” is worth-watching for a few scenes that are ahead of its time.

The plot is not complicated. The protagonist, Lavond (Lionel Barrymore), is a banker who was wrongly convicted and received life sentence. He escapes after 17 years and seeks revenge against three men who framed him. What follows is a series of events that create a planned and cruel revenge. Three men are pursued one by one. The banker also tries to reconcile with his adult daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan). She feels deepest remorse towards her father. Lavond cannot tell her the truth of his innocence since he changed his appearance as the police are after him. He uses for his revenge the devices invented by his cellmate friend, Marcel, who escaped with him, but died shortly afterwards. Meanwhile the daughter hesitates when it comes to marrying her boyfriend because of her family past.

Normal stuff, murder, revenge, family relations, and justice mixed in a deftly driven plot.

Yet to describe the movie this way is to deprive it of all that makes it so special.

Many times you hear the characters who act crazily and say crazy things, yet it does not destroy the movie’s logic.

Lavond, my friend, millions of years ago the creatures that roamed this world were gigantic. As they multiplied, the earth could no longer produce enough food. Think of it, Lavond: every living creature reduced to one-sixth its size. One-sixth of its physical need. Food for six times all of us!

(Marcel talking to Lavond)

Riight. So now let’s look at grotesque motifs in the film:

1. Main character in full drag

Lavond is dressing up as an old woman in order to deceive the police. And he succeeds. I mean the wig, long earrings and even fancy black fingerless gloves included. Lionel Barrymore proves that his movie family’s fame is justified as he is really convincing both as the embittered rough man and as the gentle, kind old lady. Years before “Tootsie” or “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Lionel Barrymore in The Devil-Doll 1936
Lionel Barrymore as Lavond

2. The miniaturized humans

Remember the scientist friend from the gallows? He invented a method to reduce living creatures to stiff, six times smaller, toy-like objects that can be controlled by human thought. I know how it sounds, but stupider concepts were successfully made believable in movies. Fortunately, here the idea also suits the plot.

The sequence with the title devil-doll (actually a “half-wit” female servant who got transformed not only into a “doll” but got sexier in the process) is a great cinematic achievement.

female doll in The Devil-Doll 1936
Furniture climbing

The doll is in the house of one of three men Lavond wants to harm. As Lavond watches her through the window, the doll obeys his orders. She sneaks out of a sleeping girl’s hug and tiptoes to the man’s bedroom. The cinematography is very impressive and at times the illusion is complete.

3. Bride of Frankenstein/Marie Curie character

The widow of the scientist looks like the combination of these personas. Just look at her and tell me it’s not intentional.

Malita_The Devil-Doll 1936
Did someone say science?

She wants to continue her husband’s work (also a nod to Curie) not because of Lavond’s revengeful plans. She fears that the world is getting overpopulated and the only solution is decreasing the size of humans. This way we can survive with present food supply. How come no one thought about it before…

Her passionate scientific zeal is as obvious as her limp, but her victims, both animals and humans stop thinking on their own because their brains got smaller. These hopeless dolls wait for commands from their masters. Scientific fanaticism, even if derived from noble intentions, is a danger that became especially evident in the 20th century. Still, the figure of Mad Scientist keeps reappearing in culture, from Dr. Frankenstein, through Dr. Moreau to Dr. Brundle from Cronenberg’s “The Fly.”

These three grotesque features are not the only thing that attracted my attention to “The Devil-Doll.” Tod Browning is famous for “Freaks”, but I see traces of his fascination with subjects that the society considers abnormal in this movie as well.

Old black-and-white horrors may not scare you to death (unless you watch “Nosferatu” or “The Phantom of the Opera” at night, though the second one when the Phantom is not on screen may put you conveniently to sleep). But they have a charming precision and are often not afraid to combine darkly funny scenes with terrifying ones.

“The Devil-Doll” is not a horror comedy but it can entertain you for its 78 minutes running time despite its stereotypical plot of revenge. And I think I will never forget the dolls’ wild dance. To quote IMDb: “dolls are costumed as members of vicious street gangs known as the Apache (pronounced ah-PAHSH), who were involved in theft, prostitution, and the occasional murder in pre-World War I Paris. The dolls even perform the Apache dance popularized by the gangs, in which extremely close steps alternate with seemingly brutal punches, kicks, hair-pulling, spins, and throws; it was usually danced to the Valse des rayons (aka Valse chaloupée) composed by Jacques Offenbach. In the 1930s and 1940s, this dance was still performed by professional dancers and can be seen in several films and even cartoons of the period.” Devil dolls indeed!

Finally, the concept that you shouldn’t be afraid of a mythical monster, but of a seemingly harmless old lady is very modern and has been readapted again and again since 1936.

Lionel Barrymore in The Devil-Doll_1936
“My work will help three men die.”

“The Holy Mountain” (1973)

the-holy-mountain-1973 poster Japanese styleThe movie that became a cult classic among certain people and was called a blasphemous shocker by others. If you never saw any of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films, it is likely that you never experienced something like this before.

The only director whose style comes close is the great Luis Buñuel, especially in his late movies, like “The Phantom of Liberty.” Jodorowsky tries to blend mysticism, esotericism, influences of shamanism and Buddhism together with cinema. Buñuel was famous for his connection with surrealism and his movies are full of surrealistic ideas. Both directors came from predominantly Catholic countries (Buñuel from Spain, Jodorowsky from Chile) and the criticism of this religion haunts their movies.

But even with these similarities in mind, Jodorowsky has an exceptional style which is impossible to mistake for anyone else’s.

“The Holy Mountain” has a plot, but this plot consists of so many bizarre episodes that many viewers may feel lost. But just watch it if you dare, and I promise you, there is a plot.

The first shot presents two blonde women and Jodorowsky himself (playing The Alchemist – a wise man, or a deceiver, depending on your interpretation). In a strange ceremonial manner  he washes off the women’s make-up, strips them naked, shaves their heads, and finally inclines his head, covering the women’s bald heads with the brim of his black hat. At this point we do not know what is going on. The shot is presented in an almost voyeuristic way, as if we were witnessing some sort of forbidden ritual. This feeling of being a voyeuristic spectator will disappear as the movie progresses, because we follow the protagonist who “permits us” to join the events.

The Holy Mountain_Alejandro Jodorowsky_hat_two womenThis protagonist is called The Thief in the movie, but he resembles a Jesus Christ more than anyone else. We meet him in the next scene after the opening one. The scenes do not appear to be logically connected. In the times when movie editing was still pretty traditional, “The Holy Mountain” is characterized by frequent cuts which the viewers are unprepared for. The Thief lies on the ground, unconscious, covered in dirt and his own urine. The flies cover his face like excrement. Naked children come and laugh at him. He is befriended by a footless, handless dwarf.* They go into the city and then…

(* Grotesque frequently welcomes people who would work as living exhibits in freak shows of the past. Yet this does not mean that a disabled or deformed character automatically makes a work of art grotesque. I feel this differentiation deserves the separate post in the future.)

The episodes that follow could be of picaresque nature if not for their extremity. Some are nauseating. Some violent. Many erotic. The movie breaks every taboo possible. We see full nudity, both male and female. Deviations. Violence. Castration. Animal cruelty. Mockery of religion. And lastly, outlandish grossness.

But also beauty. Composition. Order. Grandeur. Baroque style. The cinematography here is phenomenal.

The Holy Mountain - Great Toad and Chameleon Circus - chameleon AztecsThe question remains: can the movie which seems to aim for making its viewers uncomfortable or even enraged still be a work of art? For me, yes. And yes, there are some scenes that I disagree with. Still I believe in the thought-provoking art. If it wants to state something, shocking is justified.

What does this movie want to state? That’s another problem with approaching “The Holy Mountain” today. It is deemed as a cult hippie movie and was compared to the visions after taking hallucinogenic drugs. The film was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein, because both John Lennon and George Harrison appreciated Jodorowsky’s previous film “El Topo”. (you can find more information about that here).

A movie with such exceptional background, such following, and the director who, as I already mentioned, does not hide his fascination with occultism and spirituality, can quickly be regarded as rich in imagery but poor in thought. But not “The Holy Mountain.”

Excellent website 366 Weird Movies (whole text here) has a great analysis of the movie and I will quote a fragment:

If you tore out pages from the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, The Golden Bough, and a dozen other esoteric works from the Kabbalah to Gurdijeff—throwing in a couple of sleazy pulp novels for good measure—and put them together in a giant cauldron, stirred them up and pulled out sheaves at random and asked a troupe of performance artists, carnival freaks, and hippies tripping on peyote to act them out, you might come up with a narrative something like The Holy Mountain.

Another fragment about shock value in the movie: “The director goes all-out grotesque here: the visions include animal sex, hermaphrodism, castration, ejaculation, and lactation.”

Exactly, all-out grotesque is why I’m writing about this movie.

The Holy Mountain - face covered with tarantulas
This is one of the mildest of the gross and macabre scenes.

The images contrast with each other in a seemingly mad way, yet the viewers can try to grasp the meaning behind them. And this quest for meaning will not be in vain.

The movie is full of symbols and they are not esoteric props to make the setting more attractive. In fact, I feel that without basic knowledge about The New Testament and ancient Roman gods your movie experience will be incomplete. I am familiar with Catholic imagery but had to brush up the facts about Roman mythology (Uranus? Saturn?). But when it comes to Buddhism or the history of South America, I am no expert. I could probably notice even more metaphors, had I known more about these subjects.

That being said, I think that no genre could describe this movie properly. Grotesque? Surrealism? Fantasy? Religious movie (paradoxically)? Horror? Parable? Postmodern art?

The Holy Mountain - Fon, Venus - faces on line shaftWhatever you call it, it is not the movie for everyone, as you probably have guessed already. Those who decide to watch it, will experience powerful images that are impossible to forget. And you don’t have to join (or even agree with) The Alchemist’s cult to enjoy the world that Jodorowsky creates. He at the same time embraces the hippie ideology and deliberately mocks it. He introduces both anti-religious and pro-religious messages.

There is ugliness in a primitive sculpture of crucified Christ and beauty in the eyes of the prostitute who believes in her personal savior. This modern Mary Magdalene is accompanied by a chimpanzee everywhere she walks. Beauty and the beast.

The world seems crazy to Jodorowsky and I think that he deliberately shocks to make us notice it. Some things he presents have already happened, for example the fetishization of violence and guns or extreme tourism (by that I mean tourism based on exploitation of the natives’ suffering).

Whether Jodorowsky warns us, shows us new ways or simply plays with ideas in a postmodern manner, I am sure that “The Holy Mountain” will continue to baffle next generations.

It is exceptional, a work of a highly talented individual who got a big budget to make his vision come true. I think all movie visionaries envy him this opportunity.

NEWS FLASH: Check out Alejandro Jodorowsky’s kickstarter page: You can help to make his new movie “Endless Poetry”! And how often can you help the legend? The kickstarter project ends on 22 March 2015.