May 5, 2016
VHS Week Day 4: ANGUISH (1987)
I am shocked–shocked, I tells ya–that it's taken me so long to see Anguish. Lo, it was a video store staple back in The Day. This GD cover haunted me from the shelves every time I went a-browsin', and my friends and I would rent anything remotely resembling a horror movie. Why oh why did I never take it home?
I kind of left it behind in the rental era; in recent years, whenever it'd enter my brain space, I'd think "Oh, I've seen that and I wasn't wild about it." However, that thought was actually regarding Monkey Shines–my brain done mixed up those striped monkey pants and the swirl over Zelda Rubenstein's face. Stupid brain! (side note: should I give Monkey Shines another chance?)
Anyway. Now, at long last, I have seen Anguish. To be honest, although the film had some surprises in store, my life pretty much feels the same as it used to.
Anguish starts out in Total Weirdsville as we meet Mother (Rubenstein) and John (Michael Lerner). They keep birds and snails in their cramped apartment. John eats his bananas-n-milk in a slurpy disgusting way...it's just one of those classic skeevy mommy and middle-aged son cinematic relationships. Things get weirder when mom busts out the hypnosis swirl and puts John in a bit of a trance, then sends him out to murder those who have slighted him in any way. He doesn't just murder them, though–he cuts out their eyeballs, rinses them off, and adds them to his collection.
We take a sharp turn into Oh That's Pretty Cooltown when it's revealed that we haven't been watching Anguish–we've been watching The Mommy alongside an audience. Yep, it's the ol' "movie within a movie" trick!
On-screen happenings bleed into real life as the hypnosis swirl induces nausea and odd behavior in viewers, and it's not long before an ardent Mommy fan begins killing off members the theater crowd. The two realities intertwine and we often can't tell if we're watching Anguish or The Mommy or both or neither. The obvious parallel to draw here is to Lamberto Bava's Demons; Anguish shares the nesting doll-style conceit and a similar feel, although it's more in the slasher vein than the supernatural. As viewers of The Mommy grew increasingly uncomfortable and cautiously looked around the dark theater in fear, it struck me that it must have been something to see Anguish on the big screen. All meta-like and shit, you know?
At times I hailed Anguish as a lost gem and lamented that it took me so long to discover it, particularly since I'd passed it over so many times when a-browsin'. It's got a creepy vibe, it's gross, it's a bitchin' idea...I was ready shout SEE ANGUISH NOW from the blogtops. By the time it was over, however, I was more than a bit fatigued. The film stagnates about 3/4 in as various bits are repeated and rehashed: one audience member cries and cries because The Mommy scares her so much, another one escapes and tries to convince a man to help her...these same few scenes play out again and again and you just want Anguish to get on with it already. So look, I'm not shouting "see Anguish now" but I will definitely say it. Although it may not be a lost gem, it's absolutely a lost novelty that deserves a look. And I had some seriously bloody dreamception dreams after watching it last night where I could no longer discern whether or not I was actually awake–maybe Zelda Rubenstein's hypnosis swirl worked on me after all!