ANGUSTIA (here-on referred to by its most common English-language title of ANGUISH), from Spanish director Bigas Luna, was a 1987 horror film, that was a change of direction from his other works. Luna is more commonly known amongst World Cinema afficianados for his sultry and sexy Spanish output, such as THE TIT AND THE MOON (1994), JAMON, JAMON (1992), and THE AGES OF LULU (1990). Here, Luna has created an outstandingly great, self-reflexive film that every horror fan should see at least once, due to the ballsiness of its premise.
Released on German Blu-Ray under the title of IM AUGENBLICK DER ANGST (which roughly translates as “At The Time Of Fear”), this superb piece of para-cinema posits the question of just how much films can affect us, and whether horror films are really as dangerous as they are sometimes portrayed. It’s a staggeringly original film, and one of the most unique visions I’ve ever witnessed.
A couple of teenage girls, Linda (Clara Pastor) and Patty (Talia Paul) are high-school friends, and are sat in a cinema, one afternoon, watching a horror film, called “The Mommy”. “The Mommy” follows (sadly-deceased) Zelda Rubinstein, of POLTERGEIST (1983, Tobe Hooper) fame, and character actor Michael Lerner as mother and son Alice and John Pressman: a twisted couple who have a distinct idolisation for everything occular. John works as an optician by day, and murderer/mutilator of peoples eyes by night. He likes nothing better than slitting somebody’s throat, then surgically removing both of their eyeballs, for his dearly demented mother. Using hypnosis and her matriarchal power over him, she convinces him to do various awful deeds. During the film, Patty starts to get distressed at all the on-screen carnage, and begs Linda to leave. Linda steadfastly refuses, and tells her to either put-up or shut-up. As the film continues, and the on-screen carnage becomes bloodier, Patty leaves the cinema, concerned that someone in the cinema is acting suspiciously like the murderer in the movie. Once she leaves, and then fails to return, does the film (ANGUISH) start to then take you on its audacious journey!
In-and-of-itself, this doesn’t sound that impressive for a film plot. But that’s not the whole story to the film. Oh no! ANGUISH is so much more than this!
The first twenty minutes follow John, but then the film turns in on itself, with a clever twist (one of many, I might add), subverting everything you’ve just watched. As the film progresses, it soon becomes clear that you are not watching just any, old horror movie. What you end-up with, is one of the singularly most innovative horrors ever made, with twists upon twists, including a jaw-dropping conclusion, that will mess with your head for days. I won’t reveal any of these twists, nor even hint at them, because to do so, would do my readers a great injustice. This is a film that is best viewed, knowing as little as possible.
The twists are genuinely freaky, and genuinely unsettling. Once you know them, you can still rewatch the film multiple times, and try to work out what the hell is going on. And trust me, you won’t, because each time you think you’ve solved the riddle, you’ll re-examine another piece of this celluloid puzzle, and end-up sending your brain round the twist – which is part of the enjoyment. The constant wrong-footing of the audience, is one of the great joys of this film. And now, this film, previously released by Anchor Bay (on Region 1 DVD), way back in 2000, and then re-released by Blue Underground (in 2008, again on DVD), is out on Blu-Ray – albeit only in Germany.
The German, FSK-16 approved release, is, thankfully, completely uncut and uncensored, and includes some enjoyably demented scenes of gore, that will please the violence fans. However, those of you looking for something genuinely disturbing and unnerving, will find so much more to revel in, than mere blood and guts, because of the superb plot, written by Luna himself.
Watching the film in full 1080p HD, doesn’t revel a huge amount of difference between it and the DVD release, but that’s not to say, there aren’t improvements. The HD master clearly does improve the film’s visual texture, and scenes set in the dark, especially during the killings and the scenes of the girls in the cinema, are much clearer, due to the higher resolution over its DVD counterpart. The otehr addition to watching this film in HD, is the ability to spot clues and hints, that Bigas Luna has littered throughout the film. From tiny in-jokes with names, to details on cinema posters, and even clues about what you are actually watching. All can be found and seen, if you watch closely – and this is a film where paying attention will pay dividends! Luna commands respect for producing a film, that is all about observation. Throughout the film, he expects his audience to look, and to look hard! And if you look closely enough, you will be rewarded even more than with just a great night’s viewing! This is a film that keeps on giving, the more you watch it, and the closer you watch it too! Seeing truly is believing!
The sound is DTS-HD 5.1 or Stereo, in both the original English or German, depending on your preference, and comes accompanied with German subtitles for the release’s intended audience. The subs are removable though, so English-speaking fans can watch the film untainted.
Throughout the short, but action-packed 81 minutes, ANGUISH takes you on an unforgettable dark journey, that will have you rivetted. I can guarantee that you will never have seen a horror film, quite like this one. Its central theme is so audacious, I’m surprised it has never been remade, or at least copied, by Hollywood in the past 25 years! Maybe the audacity of the film, the inventiveness and originality is so unique, that it simply can’t be duplicated. Now that’s a cool thought!
The film is in the original 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, and is a clean, remastered print. Colours are bright; action is detailed, and the print looks like it’s in a good condition, for one made on a low-ish budget at the tail-end of the 1980’s. Hardcore fans of cinema, will note a few “reel change” marks, but these are not what you think. Again, without spoiling the essence of ANGUISH, I can’t reveal why they’ve been left in, but hopefully once you’ve all seen it, the reasons for their inclusion will be fully understood. This is a film that really is for knowledgeable cineastes, and it’s these nuances that make it so spectacularly enjoyable.
Accompanying the film, is an 23-minute interview with the director himself, in which he talks about hte film, and why he created it. It’s informative, but short, but a worthwhile inclusion. A German trailer for the film is also included, albeit more for novelty reasons, than anything of inherent value. Just don’t watch the trailer before the film, as you may find your enjoyment partially destroyed.
With that all said, I would definitely recommend this film, to fans who are looking for something original, innovative and unique. There is no other film quite like ANGUISH, and the audcaciousness of it, will reward those who watch it more than once. Having seen this film five times now, I’m still unsure of exactly who’s who and what’s what, such is the film’s incredible and outlandish creativity, and for that reason, it’s a film that all horror movie and extreme-cinema fans should have in their collection. Any movie that you can rewatch, and still enjoy and gain something from, is a film that is worthy of a purchase! It’s one of the finest works from any director, and all the better for being such a sopisticated and beautifully uncompromising piece of self-reflexive para-cinema, unlike anything you will ever have seen, or are ever likely to see!
The film can be imported from Amazon Germany for about €10! Buy it now, and give your brain a cinematically-existential work-out! You will not regret this purchase!