ANGUISH ('Key Video' US video cover)
2 and a half stars

"The eyes of the city are mine!"

directed by: Bigus Luna
starring: Zelda Rubinstein, Michael Lerner, Talia Paul, Angel Jove, Clara Pastor, Isabelle Garcia Lorca, Nat Baker, Edward Ledden, Gustavo Gili

(back of video blurb):
       "A demented mother telepathicallly directs her middle-aged son on bloody missions of revenge. And when he's finished murdering his victims, he gouges their eyes out and adds them to the bizarre family collections. But that's only a movie: the real horror is in the theater where the audience watching this terrifying vision is being murdered one by one. A brilliantly conceived movie within a movie, Anguish stars Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist I, II, and III) in an unforgettable performance as the mother and co-stars veteran character actor Michael Lerner as the equally memorable son. From its eerie beginning to its even eerier ending, Anguish is excruciatingly enjoyable terror."

choice dialogue:

"Is she OK?."
"I think so...but she's crying!"

slash with panache?

       (review by The Blue Iris)

       Perhaps "excruciatingly" wasn't the right word for them to use in the back of video was excruciating all right, but not the way they intended. At a relatively scant 85 minutes, let's just say you can feel every second ticking by...There's a lot to say about it though. The film comes off more like an extended episode of Steven Spielberg's long-defunct television series "Amazing Stories". Pretty good acting and an intricate and interesting plot, all filmed in rich colors and a lot of warm goldent tones reminded me of that series, although try to imagine Spielberg doing a slasher flick. That's pretty much ANGUISH. In fact, I was tempted to just give up and use a one-sentence review for ANGUISH basically because one word sprang to mind as I watched it: This is one BIZARRE little film. But then I realized that, while definitely accurate, calling it bizarre just does not do it justice. Other words that spring to mind are sadistic, ambitious, quirky, twisted, boring, and disappointing. The director seems to have had a message to impart, although it was done so ponderously and heavy-handed, that by the time the film picks up at the end, it's over so quickly you don't really get a chance to enjoy the long-awaited suspense. I imagine somewhere in the world (I'm thinking Australia here perhaps) that there's a theater that plays weekly showings of this movie and people go more for the experience of watching it more than for the film itself. It certainly is an experience, although I imagine sitting at home and watching it isn't as creepy or chilling as watching it in an actual theater (As I'm sure watching DEMONS in a movie theater probably improves the experience). I realize the effect was lost on me for the most part, although I had to give them credit because I could also see what I was missing.

       The title sounds promising and not entirely misleading, although I ought to know better than to listen to movie titles. Anything "that DRIPPED BLOOD" usually doesn't and anything "of DEATH" is probably a Dr. Who episode...just kidding!

       This movie ALMOST works...almost. It has plenty going for it. It has Zelda Rubinstein, the sweet-but-creepy medium from the POLTERGEIST films. Here, she is given precious little to do. The premise (as complicated as it is) is also quite interesting--perhaps not the most original idea, but for a slasher flick, it obviously had a lot of thought put into it. And lastly, it definitely had some kind of budget. It had fairly lavish sets, helicopters, and (gasp!) more than just two dopey cops who pop up at the end. In fact, this movie had SWAT teams, police units, ambulances...and yet the ending was anticlimactic and, well, dull.

       Now to the film...try to keep all of this straight because without the use of schematics and logorithms, I'm afraid the plot will seem complicated and incomprehensible...

       The film that stars Zelda Rubinstein is not called ANGUISH. Her film-within-a-film is called THE MOMMY. This is the film the characters in ANGUISH spend the whole film watching. Follow me? Because it doesn't really get any less complicated from here...

       THE MOMMY is about a seemingly sweet old mother who controls her oafish momma's boy son through hypnosis, which we, as an audience, get to witness--probably why the thing is so damn ponderous. Apparently, the family heirlooms are not the typical curios and hand-me-down quilts. Their family has donated an extensive collection to the local hospital...of...eyes. Hundreds of eyes. They never really explain why they collect eyes (a special order from Lucio Fulci, perhaps?) Considering they're human eyes, you'd think the doctors or authorities would get suspicious, but that's never brought up. I suppose they can sort of get away with it as the son works at an optometrist's. Ok, it's a stretch, but the authorities in slasher flicks are never rocket scientists, are they? How do they collect these specimens, you ask? Why, in the nastiest way possible, of course! By gouging them out of their (sometimes living) victims with a scalpel, naturally. That's where the hypnotized son comes in. This is also where the rather cheezy warning on the front of the video box comes in: "Warning! Contains scenes of powerful hypnosis" Well, not quite...In the tradition of the old "Tingler" gimmick, et al, this movie goes to great lengths to show the son being hypnotized, complete with spinning wheel motif and hallucinatory images of birds and slugs. Unfortunately for the director, I've seen more powerful mind controlling images in a Peter Gabriel video.

       So the film about the mother and her hypnotized son is actually taking place on a movie screen, being watched by a theater full of people who are the stars of the movie that we, as in the people who are watching ANGUISH, are watching. I'm afraid that's as straightforward an explanation as I can muster for this movie...

       So suddenly we're thrust into TWO films, and we have to try and follow the plots of both simultaneously. Sometimes clever and suspenseful, sometimes just annoying, the two films are entwined at times so we, the audience, are occasionally unsure if we're seeing a scene from ANGUISH or a scene from THE MOMMY. Which makes reviewing the damn thing so difficult and I disappointed with THE MOMMY or ANGUISH, or both?

       THE MOMMY is graphic and disturbing and I had a hard time believing the audience in ANGUISH would actually have paid to see it. I guess we're rather familiar with the main demographic to which slasher films are aimed, so the middle-aged married couples and 13-year-old squeamish little girl seemed a bit out of place. In fact, I don't know that I would have even paid to see THE MOMMY either, considering how sadistic it is. Not that I don't like gore, but even I have my limits...As explained before, the oafish son takes out people's eyes around town...until he decides to go to--the movies!! Yup, we've now experienced some transdimensional space-time shift (or something equally complicated and made-up) The eye-stealing son has decided to hijack a movie theater by locking the movie goers (in THE MOMMY remember!) in the theater and then murdering them one by one and stealing their eyes. The plot to ANGUISH converges with THE MOMMY here, in that it is revealed that in the theater full of people watching THE MOMMY is a psycho killer who thinks he's been hypnotized by the mother in the film into hijacking a movie theater full of people and murdering them. Dali movies were less confusing...

       So now there is a psycho hijacking a movie theater in both films, and the killer in ANGUISH (who apparently has seen this movie several hundred times or so) is emulating the action onscreen almost exactly. After a few undiscovered grisly deaths, the frantic little girl's friend goes out to use the ladies room and secretly sees what's going on. She runs out to get help and starts begging some weird executive type guy for help. For 15 minutes. Here's another stretch in believability--why on earth does she stand there begging him for help when she's RIGHT IN FRONT of many other stores and dozens of people are in the area. USE A TELEPHONE! Call 911! Obviously this guy's elevator doesn't reach the penthouse, ok? Anyway, EVENTUALLY she convinces him to help her and the police, S.W.A.T., and every reporter in the city converge on this little movie theater. Only after a few bodies in the theater are discovered do the people watching THE MOMMY even realize they're in the same predicament as the people in the film they're watching.

       Now, here's where the somewhat neat part comes in. As both psychos take hostages, the action takes place in front of all the respective movie screens. So, the killer in THE MOMMY and the killer in ANGUISH are both acting out the scene, on separate movie screens. Really, if this was the climax they were building towards, well, they could have saved a lot of time and money. It really wasn't worth it. Kinda neat, but...a whole movie just for that? Not to mention, none of the stories going on in any of the films was very interesting and nothing really happens. It does seem to be a tongue-in-cheek reply to those people scared that scary movies might inspire copycat killings. The psycho in ANGUISH becomes hypnotized by the film into thinking he's really in it. The hypnosis plot seems to strengthen that argument. He is literally brainwashed by the movie into becoming violent--or so it seems. If I may apply more meaning than maybe they intended, I have to say it's probably a monument of some sort to all censors everywhere who ban, snip, and excise these exact types of movies in order to protect the general public from being brainwashed by them, or whatever they insist will happen. "Oh no! That man's holding a Friday the 13th video--uncensored!!!" They can point all they want to mentally unstable people who blame literature, film, or music for setting them off on their rampage or whatever, but if a Marilyn Manson video inspires ANYONE to do ANYTHING--violent or not--well, then that person is just as likely to be set off by a Hot Pockets commercial. Here's some helpful advice to the censors everywhere, from a girl who was never forbidden from watching gore and still watches it with mom and dad when she drops in for a visit and has a great life "in spite of" her apparent bloodlust--"Hey moms and dads out there, try spending a little more time with your kids instead of suing everyone else for failing to raise them for you. " Thanks for listening--that's just my little rant directed toward the censors of the world.

       Ok, assuming you've read this far, this apparently has made some sort of sense to you. I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone really. It's too much of an art film to please the die-hard slasher fans and too much of a mindless slasher flick to impress the arthouse crowd. Then again, watching it isn't really as brain-wracking as it sounds--in fact, the most interesting parts of the film come in the end when you're never sure what film you're in. My big gripe--the "anguish" of the film's title seems to be due to the aforementioned 13-or-so year old girl who sits there practically sobbing during the showing of THE MOMMY. The director makes sure to give us extended long, lingering camera close-ups of the poor girl, tears streaming down her face, begging her friend to take her home. Why are they at this movie in the first place? Even the older friend looks not much older than 15. Clearly, the young girl doesn't want to be there. So why doesn't she leave and call for a ride? I mean, this girl was seriously freaking out. That's probably the hardest part of watching this movie. Frightened children should never be forced to watch horror movies, and just because I was once a 12 year old girl who watched them (with no ill effects--that you know of) doesn't mean everyone's as inured to blood and gore as I am. Where the director was going with this plot point has me baffled. I almost couldn't watch...uh...well, there you are. I guess I've answered my own question, haven't I? Instead of turning it off, I kept watching to know how it would end even though I was pretty damn uncomfortable watching this little girl be scared out of her mind. I guess that was his point..."The eyes of the city"--and the audience--really are his, I suppose.

BODYCOUNT 18  bodycount!   female:9 / male:9

        1) Female has throat slit with scapel
        2) Male stabbed repeatedly with scapel
        3) Male stabbed in back of head with scalpel
        4) Female shot
        5) Female shot (off-screen)
        6) Female strangled (off-screen)
        7) Female slashed with scalpel (off-screen)
        8) Male shot through neck
        9) Male killed off-screen
      10) Female killed off-screen
      11) Male stabbed in stomach
      12) Male shot
      13) Male shot
      14) Male shot
      15) Female shot
      16) Female shot (off-screen)
      17) Female shot
      18) Male shot