Bigas Luna’s Spanish slasher Fear was released this week in 1987. Continue the merchandise sale and suppress the urge to party. Sure, Anguish’s release date doesn’t sound like much to celebrate as this obscure old ’80s movie might not ring a bell for many outside of the most dedicated horror circles, but when a surprisingly terrifying, clever little song with a microscopic number followers see an anniversary deserves to be emphasized.
Luna’s Fear is a sharply crafted ‘movie in a movie’ slasher – more inventive than the average straightforward story, with strange touches, excellent performances and a few haunting twists that make it a more involved and downright gruesome experience than what’s offered by a standard knife from the 80s-wielding attacking thrillers. Although Fear Enjoying his brutal murders and chronic eye gouges, there’s a surprising level of sophistication involved in his playing. Fear will surprise and delight, and of course shock like any 80s horror, but it can just induce paranoia that you wouldn’t expect watching a crazy Spanish slasher from this period.
Spoilers are on your doorstep, so if you haven’t seen 1987’s Fear and have the strange urge to change that soon, read with caution.
Fear is, in simple terms, two horror films; arguably even 3 movies within one working cohesively, with a standard slasher playing on a theater screen, while a more true horror takes place behind the scenes and finally in that theater, as a scalpel-wearing maniac essentially turns the onscreen horrors brings life, cutting moviegoers to pieces while under hypnosis from his overbearing mother.
The film follows a miserable eye doctor named John (Michael Lerner,) who has an exceptionally unhealthy relationship with his overprotective mother Alice (Zelda Rubinstein.)
An unfortunate patient (Isabel Garcia Lorca) who sees John in front of a painful set of contact lenses insults his professionalism and points out his lack of care. Alice, strangely mentally linked to John, hears this woman berating her son (through a seashell). In response, she hypnotizes him and prepares him for vengeful revenge.
After John, under the control of his mother, learns the hapless patient and her useless friend a bloody lesson, John returns home to his mother’s disgusting apartment, overrun with snails and pigeons. She again hypnotizes him for more restitution.
John makes his way to the local movie theater for more eye violence, and here’s the kicker / moment of realization / big turn between twists – we realize that what we’re watching is actually part of a movie being watched by a full theater of people. We are introduced to teens Patty (Talia Paul) and Linda (Clara Pastor) who watch the hypnotic slasher along with a crowd that seems insensitive to and unmoved by the on-screen violence. Patty is the only scared person, or at least the only one who is a little scared, but Linda comforts her with “It’s just a movie ?!” IS THE?! Because these poor young ladies are in a movie! And a pretty gruesome one too.
It’s hard to sort out Bigas Luna’s plot properly Fear without ruining every twist the movie has to offer, which leads me to call this a fun, scary movie that you just have to watch if you haven’t. Spanish director Lunas is mostly known for his erotic comedies like Golden Balls and Jamon, Jamon, but as it turns out, he can create some pretty ingenious terror with layers of disturbing creepiness underneath shock, shlock and violence.
Twists and turns are handled inventively, making for a very “meta of meta” horror before self-conscious horror movies really catch on. Older Spanish horrors almost unanimously favor style over substance, though Fear offers hearty, chilling help from both. Lunas masterfully builds fear, drenching every moment in creepiness. With every turn, the film becomes more fascinatingly complex. The many gruesome moments unfold artfully and with inspired tact. Murders aren’t committed in over-the-top 80s gorey fashion, but by a filmmaker no stranger to troubling arthouse ventures.
Luna bombards us with lots of pigeons, eyeballs and hypnotic swirls; so this is a weird one with trippy flare. Stylistically Fear is layered and sharp. Visually it is beautiful, haunting and a bit dirty. Tonally it is strange, unbelievable and always creepy. What more could horror fans ask for? Strong performance maybe? Needless to say, Michael Lerner and Zelda Rubinstein provide those too.
Lerner historically plays lighter, more comedic roles, but he plays a fantastically haunted creep. You are disgusted with John, understandably. Any ophthalmologist who stretches out their patient’s eyes probably isn’t a great healthcare provider, and certainly not one to care for. However, Zelda Rubinstein is as hypnotically malevolent and compellingly furious as his psychotic mother that you have to feel a little pity for John. Both Lerner and Rubinstein lean into these disrupted roles, creating crazy characters that have you attached. A pathetic creep under the control of a vengeful nutcracker? That’s entertainment, and memorable performances make this duo as fun as it is gruesome.
Slasher fans owe themselves an evening with this surprisingly clever, remarkably strange late ’80s endeavor that exceeds the norm and is unwaveringly disturbing. You have twists and turns. Stylish murders. Crazy but ghastly performances that are too strong to be cheeky or joke. Fear which many horror fans love, and it’s all wrapped up in a whimsical Babushka doll of horrors.
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