While I continue to provide in-depth video reviews for those publications that request them (such as SCREEM), I've had precious little time or patience to review contemporary theatrical releases on-line for quite a while (I have no desire to be passed through a series of filters in order to determine whether or not I'm qualified to make certain observations--or speak at all, in some cases, and it's this aspect of Net culture that discourages me more than anything else). But every once in a while I run into something that just screams for me to say something before somebody else beats me to it...
In honor of Paul Naschy's birthday I recently treated myself to one of the actor/writer/director's most personal and treasured films: EL CAMINANTE (literally "The Traveler" but sold as THE DEVIL INCARNATE by Mondo Macabro). Indeed, Naschy played the mortal embodiment of Satan, who deliberately stripped himself of supernatural powers so that he could experience life as a 'normal' man. And Naschy took particular delight in a deliberately provocative moment in which he inverted a crucifix hanging on a wall... not with telekinetic energy or any such nonsense, but with the flick of a sword. The image resonated because it meant something... because you know who was pushing the buttons and why he was doing it. It was just a symbol created by man... but to display such irreverence to such a symbol was a HUGE deal to Spanish audiences. I'll let you free-associate from there.
In THE NUN, crucifixes invert themselves on walls due to supernatural interference, and, well, it looks like you're waiting for the elevator. Here's a film that delights in all of the traditional Catholic imagery and iconography... all of the 'possession' and 'exorcism' tropes... all the creepy faces and all the 'boo' scares... and it utterly fails to provoke a reaction because it takes its audience completely for granted. The cross is upside down! How profane! Do we know WHO inverted it or WHY it was inverted? Scarcely. Once upon a time there was a bad duke in a castle in Romania and the bad duke performed bad rituals and summoned something really bad. And then the Church showed up and made him stop it, and then the Church tried to turn the castle into a convent. But it wasn't easy to keep the bad thing completely at bay, and the bad thing looks like the nun that popped up in the CONJURING movies. Yeah, that's pretty much the origin offered here... so utterly superficial and generic. As it if wasn't even trying. As if it believed that screaming "boo" every ten minutes and showing a yucky face would really terrify an audience.
Now here's where it gets sort of interesting... as you may or may not know, a "CONJURING Universe" movie (I liked both CONJURING films very much and was take-it-or-leave-it on the ANNABELLE sideshows) is sure to feature at least one deliberate tribute to a classic Italian horror film. Bava, Argento, Fulci... all duly and respectfully invoked at one point or another. Well, THE NUN takes it more than one giant step further. The trailer may have shamelessly aped a legendary EXORCIST III moment, but the movie itself actually cribs from Fulci's THE GATES OF HELL blatantly, extensively and shamelessly! Observe: a nun hangs herself over sacred ground. There's a premature burial rescue scene in which the shovel comes close to bisecting the victim's face. Nobody barfs up their guts, but somebody DOES barf up a huge snake. And it all comes down to "We've got to close that gate!" Sorry... but giant electric drills didn't exist in Romania in the 1950s, so THAT doesn't happen. It might have helped. Oh, our priest, our novitiate and their companion French Freddy Touche are personable enough, but they're every bit as generic as the bad things chasing them around and saying "boo." Oh, and making all three of them fly backwards (as if on jerk chains) in case you missed it the first time.
THE NUN gambles that the final shocking act involving a sacred relic will supply the ultimate coup de grace after a grueling ordeal of terror. And I won't spoil that. But they forgot to actually come up with a grueling ordeal of terror first. They simply assumed we'd play along. And I am still shaking my head over it.
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