Halloween Movie-Fest Ends with Strange Tears

The theme of this year’s Halloween weekend may be madness, at least cinematically. Saturday afternoon opened with a double feature, two movies made in 1935 (though from different studios) about brilliant surgeons driven to madness by unrequited love. The first was THE RAVEN (not to be confused with the 1963 Roger Corman flick) which starts off with Bela Lugosi reading some lines from the Edgar Allan Poe poem, because as it turns out he’s quite the Poe fan, even going so far as to have The_Raven_1935_movie_posterbuilt torture machines from Poe’s stories in his basement. A surgeon, he saves a judge’s daughter’s life via a delicate nerve operation, falling in love with her in the process. However she’s taken, already engaged to a young man her father approves, and besides, given their age difference if nothing else, the whole thing seems creepy.

So just about then, who should show up but Boris Karloff as a murderer/torturer on the run seeking a quick plastic surgery job, which Lugosi provides by making him uglier. “If a man looks ugly, he does ugly things,” the doctor opines, and to be made looking normal again Karloff must help Lugosi put his basement hobby to use on the judge, the fiancé, and the daughter.

Things don’t quite work out as planned, of course, but even though Karloff gets top billing, the real fun is watching an unhinged Lugosi as a thunderstorm outside grows wilder and wilder.

This was followed by MAD LOVE, a remake of 1924’s silent THE HANDS OF ORLAC, about a pianist whose hands are mutilated in an accident and, once again by a brilliant surgeon, are replaced by the hands of an executed murderer. Naturally the hands begin to take on a life of their own, leading the poor pianist to come to doubt his own sanity. But in this version, the real story lies with the Parisian surgeon who did the transplant, wonderfully played by Peter Lorre (in his first American film), who had already 220px-Madloveposterbecome infatuated by the pianist’s about-to-retire-from-the-stage actress wife.

So the fact that the donor was a knife murderer may have been a coincidence of convenience (Lorre, somewhat like Lugosi, also has an unusual hobby, in his case liking to watch criminals being guillotined — but also now having obtained a waxwork statue of the actress-wife, talking to it in his apartment), but Lorre enlists it in his favor, helping the pianist fear for his sanity while Lorre visibly is losing his own. Of the two, this is the better film, aided immensely by Lorre’s portrayal of a man gone way around the bend, as well as by the parts of the wife (a bit overwrought herself, perhaps helped by the theater she worked in having been Le Grand Guignol where she played . . . wait for it . . . a torture victim), and, for comic relief , Lorre’s drunken housekeeper.

Finally Saturday night’s film was THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS for which I don’t really have too much to say. In a sense the movie itself is madness, a Belgian-French production of a homage to the Italia11179527_detn Giallo horror of the 1970s, but with modern techniques and, in some cases, attitudes. A man, “Dan,” comes home from a business trip and finds his wife is missing, but he seems not too mentally stabile himself. Like MALPERTUIS and THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM yesterday, the film seems fragmented into different “rooms,” in this case the differing experiences of various tenants in the man’s building, the police detective he calls, items he finds among his wife’s things, etc., as well as the discovery of hidden passages (corridors walled off when the building had been converted into apartments), eroticism, symbolism, stabbings, and plenty of blood. To quote from the IU Cinema brochure, “Dan’s search for answers leads him down a psychosexual rabbit hole. THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS is a bloody and taut thriller that invites the audience to revel in the sadomasochistic eroticism of [directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s] ultra-saturated color scheme.”

Of that last bit I will say the movie is beautifully filmed, reminding me in some ways of ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (cf. June 26) in terms of its visuals. Also I can say I liked the film but would probably have to see it again to begin to understand it (it should be coming out on DVD in December, whereas, for now, one thing I jotted down on my walk home — a first impression, if one will — is it struck me one key may have to do with the contrast of who one is on the outside, as seen by others and even to oneself, vs. on the inside).

That said however, and mindful of the doctors in the two previous films, I will now refer readers to a specialist, Simon Abrams on rogerebert.com, for which press here.

  1. All sound interesting -though I find it hard to relate to silent films –the MAD LOVE plot intrigues me, reminding me a bit of “Stella’s Hands” (or title like that) by Beaumont, I think, about a retarded, homely woman’s hands being so beautiful and expressive that a young man falls in love with them. And eventually you find out that they have “a mind of their own” –in a most unpleasant way.

  2. MAD LOVE and THE RAVEN are both talkies, actually, with MAD LOVE being a remake of the silent THE HANDS OF ORLAC. Including the accents of Lorre and Lugosi adding perhaps to their exoticism or “not-quite-rightness.” Though perhaps mor accurately it might be said both MAD LOVE and THE HANDS OF ORLAC are based on a French story, “Les Mains du Orlac” (I think I’ve got that right — it’s noted in the credits in MAD LOVE — though I’ve forgotten the author at the moment).

    • Or make that “Les Mains d’Orlac” — oops, my bad French. (From the French Wikipedia: “Les Mains d’Orlac est un roman policier, doublé d’un récit fantastique, de l’écrivain français Maurice Renard publié en 1921”

  3. Thanks for clarifying, Jim!

    • Now it is my turn to clarify –thinking on it, the “hands” story I mentioned was by Ted Sturgeon, not Beaumont. Here’s the poem that I wrote inspired by that story –so you can see my instant interest in “Les Mains dOrlac”!

      Bianca’s Hands, Revisited

      -after Theodore Sturgeon

      Our Bianca,
      a monster, a moron,
      unlikely choice for symbiont,
      yet she meets our needs.
      In time, she grows too old
      to serve us properly.

      We select a young man
      to assist our plans.
      He’s strong, but lacking wits,
      and his passion grows
      as we reveal our beauty.

      He bends easily to our will,
      and grasps us tenderly
      when our Bianca dies.

      At the house of the insane
      he finds another like her
      with no volition of its own.
      He removes the useless things
      that dangle from its wrists,
      applies a clump of spider webs
      to staunch the flow of life.

      Afterward, he wipes the blade
      and places it beside the bed.
      We join again to human arms,
      signal him when it is done,
      with delicate caresses
      and promises of love.

      -Marge Simon

      Note: his story’s title was “Bianca’s Hands”, not “Stella’s Hands”.

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