Anguish is a tame 1987 horror film that would probably be considered too much for theaters today. This is due to the fact that is focuses on a killing spree that occurs within a movie theater. Due to the events involving murders in real movie theaters, I’m not even sure a film like this would get a release today. It is really interesting to think about this, because it could be a banned film today and it doesn’t even have extreme violence, degenerate behaviors, or over-the-top gore effects.
This film is as much a psychological thriller as it is a horror film. It revolves around a seemingly telepathic mother that is controlling her son, causing him to commit murders. It stars Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist 1 and 2) and Michael Lerner (Barton Fink and Elf). These are two very familiar character actors whose faces have spanned across multiple genres of TV and film for years. In this example, they do a great job in a film that has flown under the radar since its release.
I found this film on Laserdisc awhile back, and thought I was really taking a chance on it. I believe, as a collector, however, that this turned out to be a pretty good purchase. It is a great addition to my collection, since it is an unknown gem that isn’t incredibly easy to find in this format. The best part about the film is that it is a pretty good movie. I don’t just have it in a pile of LDs, to say I have a pile of LDs. I am actually going to keep it because it has rewatchability for me.
It is highly re-watchable because it is a pretty original film, and not just for the time period. The plot involves Rubinstein controlling her son in a film being shown in a movie theater. This power is being transferred to a theatergoer in “real-life”. This creates scenes of murder within a theater, where a “real” character is being controlled by the film. Or is he being controlled by his own mother and transferring this energy from Rubinstein’s film presence? Or is he just a fan that is obsessed with the movie? This film raises many interesting plot-based questions that will have you talking about it well after the viewing.
As a film about society, it brings up many of the same questions we have today. What is the connection between violence in TV and the real world? As a society, are we crumbling due to an overall lack of moral fiber? The film even ends with a scene reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, in which the focus is placed on you the viewer. So it brings to question our own obsessions with violence on the screen. So by taking the movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie plot line, adding some twists, and topping it off with some timeless questions about the violent society in which we live, Bigas Luna created a film in 1987 that would be brutally relevant today.
So although it lacks in horrific scenes of gore and supernatural fright, it is a film that is worth finding for your collection. If you can take the Horror Hipster approach and find it on VHS or Laserdisc, it may be an even cooler talking point for your collection. If you just want it as a fan of film, I think you will also find great appreciation for this movie. It is a movie I knew nothing about before purchasing; but, now I’m glad I found it. It is a well-made film, with good actors and a memorable story. It is a great addition to a collection for fans of not just horror, but film in general.