Well, this is it, folks. The end of a long, looooong month. On the plus side, I thought I’d be WAY more sick of horror movies by now. Like, honestly, I just assumed I wouldn’t want to see one again for the rest of the year, basically. Right, you guys? I mean, a horror movie every single day - woof. But you know what? On top of all these movies, just this past friday I went to go see Paranormal Activity 3 on top of the movie for that day, and you know what? I had a great time! Movies! So fun! I guess what I’m trying to say is, something tells me this won’t be the last post I ever enter here. Instead, I put it to you, gentle reader: What would you like to see happen now? Do you want regular, ongoing horror movies posts? (Though I pretty much guarantee the one-a-day thing ain’t happenin’ again for a while.) Do you want it to extend to horror in other mediums, like TV or books? Would you like to continue having it be a movies-only blog, but maybe expanded to include other genres? Maybe just b-movies in general? This is called a SCIENTIFIC poll, people, and so whatever I get back from it is definitely hard science. Just click on the reply link at the top of the page and let me know what you’d prefer. I await your collective decision. Unless it sucks. Then maybe I’ll just decide for myself.
Which brings us to the final film of the 30 Days Project: The Last Circus. I was familiar with two of director Alex de la Iglesia’s earlier films, Day of the Beast and The Oxford Murders; the latter was a fairly boring, lackadaisical mystery film, somewhat Sherlock Holmes-ian in nature (mathematicians teaming up to try and catch a killer using a befuddlingly numerical code), in which Elijah Wood and John Hurt stood around saying ponderous lines of dialogue beneath ominous shadows. I could see that it was trying to be fun, but it simply couldn’t find the proper tone to make the material earn that off-the-wall absurdist feel. Which was a bummer, because The Day of the Beast, boy oh boy. Straight-up batshit-insane movie mayhem. Think early Sam Raimi mixed with early David Cronenberg. Just bonkers, in the most appealingly weird way.
And I’m pleased to report that arch comic absurdity is ALL OVER The Last Circus. But unlike his previous work, this is no wacky comic horror; in fact, I think many people who haven’t had much experience with older horror tropes might think of it as a thriller, or a schizophrenic maniac film, meant to disrupt our neurons and normal understanding of film convention. Which is understandable - for the first hour, I wasn’t so sure this was a horror movie, either. See, the film tells the story of Javier, a young boy whose father was a clown (as was his father before him), but who gets imprisoned during Franco’s victory of the rebels in the Spanish Civil War. His father tells him he is destined to become a sad clown, and so Javier grows up to do just that, joining a circus in the early seventies. But after rapidly falling in love with Natalia, an acrobat, Javier quickly runs afoul of her lover Sergio, the OTHER clown in the circus - an abusive drunk and all-around monster, who soon realizes Javier has a thing for his girl. After savagely beating Javier, Javier escapes from the hospital and returns the favor, beating Sergio almost to death and radically disfiguring him. After hiding from the police, Javier slowly goes mad, believing his humanity AND lady love to be stripped from him. Soon, he is coming back for Natalia, only now he’s as disfigured as Sergio. The film follows the battle between the two monstrous men and the woman caught in between them, as the situation quickly spirals out of control.
If you’ve seen any of the classic Universal monster movies from the thirties and forties, you know that this is the horror narrative par excellence - the innocent person slowly driven monstrous by both the world around them and their own unrequited love. Elements of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and many of the great Lon Chaney movies swirl around in this film’s DNA. Like the best of the old horror, this movie is essentially a great tragedy - to quote Nolan’s last Batman film, anyone who survives long enough in life is “destined to see themselves become the villain.” That was never more true than it was in the classic monster movies of yore, and The Last Circus joins their eminent ranks with a style and depth rarely seen in this day and age. You feel, deeply, for Javier, even as you watch him slowly lose his grip on humanity. His scars are self-imposed, his alienation almost predetermined, in a manner befitting such an outcast from the world around him. The ending to this film can stand toe-to-toe with some of the great climactic setpieces of all time - I was stirred by the sheer scope and ambition of it, and even if the film ultimately can’t quite live up to the impossible task it sets itself, it gets closer than most, and does so with more grace and panache than in just about any other film I’ve watched this past month. The only other movie that comes close (and may be even better) is Santa Sangre, another Spanish-language film that has the codes of classical film embedded in its genetic makeup. And while that film may be formally superior, The Last Circus might ultimately be more satisfying - Alex de la Iglesia has crafted a film of uncommon poetry and movement, something that stands both alongside and above every other film on this list. It doesn’t just enter the list of the best films assembled here - it’s one of the best films of the year. It’s a horror film, but more importantly, it’s a tragedy.
My earlier comparison was a bit flawed, in retrospect - de Iglesia is more like the bastard child of early Sam Raimi and early Peter Jackson; he borrows liberally from the latter’s absurdist ambition of epic scale and emotion, while embracing fully the former’s wickedly proficient formalism and humor. Even writing that, I notice that you could actually REVERSE the two descriptions for each filmmaker and still have a coherent sentence. Both of those masters have an avowed love for the style and sense of classic horror, while putting their own contemporary sensibility and b-movie dramatis personae into the mix; it’s a potent cocktail, one that de Iglesia simultaneously adopts while making it his own. The climactic showdown takes place atop the great cross - a symbolism both ironic and soulful, a combination many strive for, but rarely achieve. Can I just say flatly that this is a great film? Yeah, that’s kinda the gist.
What a wonderful grace note to end this month on. Much like anyone else in life, this month hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for me; we all go through moments of happiness, fits of depression, and more often than not, the humdrum mundanity of everyday life that chugs along, asking little while taking much from us; we long for good spirits, but are force-fed unpleasantness; we try to remain afloat with bravado and humor, but are sucker-punched by unreason and anger. Nothing about life is terribly awesome, but something about art is; Sartre was right when he said that it gives the shock of truth to the meaninglessness of reality. Good art gives us motivation to continue. Fun art allows us respite; great art provides new impetus; even bad art offers sanctuary from the frustrations of existence. Horror can offer all of the above, and more: it forces us to confront our own inability to come to terms with the irreconcilable facticity of death. Freud was right was he said that within all of us is a death-drive: it’s genetic. See, being alive is HARD WORK; your cells would rather not put forth the effort. There’s a reason they tend towards stasis, and its only the force of our will that keeps us going. Horror allows us fleeting glimpses of the unassimilable beyond that is otherwise hampering our very lives; through viewing it, through jumping at its terror, through laughing at it, hell, even through rolling our eyes at it (remember Dead End?), we adapt ourselves to the metaphysical being of life. Or, if you don’t buy that, we get to see some really cool decapitations.
Thanks for reading, and see you back here soon.