Cousin Franz: Hollywood knocked half-heartedly at the door of the late Spanish legend Bigas Luna. Luna answered the knock energetically with 1987’s Spanish-American co-production “Anguish” (“Angustia”). This is one of the most unjustly forgotten giallo/ slasher/ thrillers of the ‘80s. It stars the memorable medium from “Poltergeist,” Zelda Rubinstein, and the great character actor Michael Lerner, who would go on to win an Oscar as the imposing studio mogul in the Coen Brother’s “Barton Fink.” Lerner plays a nearsighted ophthalmologist’s assistant whose hospital work includes overseeing a terrifying collection of eyes without faces. Rubinstein plays his controlling mother, who is leading Lerner to murder through hypnotic sessions.
(and this is the sort of film that can only be talked about at all by SPOILING some of its earlier surprises)
Forget your preconceptions, because Zelda and Lerner are just actors, (of course, aren’t they? Aren’t we all?) and part of a movie-within-a-movie called “The Mommy,” directed by the mirrorgramic Anul Sagib. The “real” story of “Anguish” is taking place in the L.A. theater where “The Mommy” plays, and where we get a voyeuristic peek at a varied theater-going audience; we particularly concentrate on the expressive faces of a susceptible, anguished teenage girl (Talia Paul) and her less-than-impressed friend (Clara Pastor). Angel Jove, so good as a super creep in both “Bilbao” and “The Ages of Lulu,” is also in attendance.
“Anguish” predates Abbas Kiarostami’s “Shirin” by two decades, but these are secretly kindred movies about how our identities react to cinematic images. “Shirin” may pretend to be the brainier of the pair: after all, it’s about an audience of Iranian actresses (+ Juliette Binoche) watching an imaginary Persian mythological epic!
But “Anguish” is, undeniably, much more fun. A great forgotten gem; what Jorge Luis Borges might have filmed if he’d ever been forced to film giallos.
Hank: Unlike the other Bigas Luna stuff we’ve been forced to watch, this is just a good old horror-show that won’t alienate any U.S. audience, as long as they’re used to the slasher genre. The only dash of artsy European pretension comes from the movie-within-a-movie premise, and the way we’re supposed to link the action on one story with the events on the other. The way I see it, it’s just twice the bang for your hard-earned American sawbuck.
Trent: What’s this? Who took away Big Ass Moon’s AUTEURISTIC GRAPHIC PUBE SHAVING SCENES? Where’s the nudity and sex? J’accuse this so-called “auteur”! The theory is broken! Save the Shaves! Save the Shaves!
Tracey: The two girls who star in “Anguish” behave like idiots, running to ineffective men for help and then barely managing coherence in their demands. It’s what we expect. That’s what teenage girls are doomed to do in Horror Movie World. STILL, I have to praise “Anguish” because, pretty as these actresses are, they are at no point sexualized by a leering camera, which is a breath of fresh air, considering both the genre’s grosser tendencies and Luna’s lurid reputation.
Beatricia: “Anguish” may have played like far-fetched horror in 1987, but now it just feels like a dramatic re-enactment of whatever wild mass shooting will be featured in this evening’s news.
Grandpa Felicius: Horror-exaggerator extraordinaire William Castle would have emitted chuckles of delighted recognition at the deliberately odd warnings that preface “Anguish.” We’re supposed to buy into the atmosphere of anxiety: “As you’ve seen in the lobby, we have provided medical service which is free of charge on presenting your ticket stub. Oxygen masks are available! During the film you are about to see, you will be subject to subliminal messages and mild hypnosis. This will cause you no physical harm or lasting effect, but if for any reason you lose control or feel that your mind is leaving your body — leave the auditorium immediately.” I’m convinced Bigas Luna filmed this feature on Anguish-Rama-Vision. I even enjoyed how the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” plays in the movie-within-the-movie-within-the-movie. It must have been quite effectively disorienting to watch this treat on a proper theater, and not the way we did, huddled over Cousin Franz’s laptop, because he was “streaming” a pallid copy out of some Basque terrorist’s website.
Blurbarella: “The– Legend– Of– Zelda– Is–A– Mythological– Epic.– Great– Gem.– Link- Shaves–Two Girls.– Sexualized.– Breath of–The–Wild.– Buy– Immediately–From–This–Website.”
Four out of 6 Cherries