A Movie A Day: THE SERPENT’S EGG (1978) I wake up from a nightmare and find out real life is worse than the dream.
Published at: Oct. 25, 2009, 4:50 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day. At the end of each standard AMAD I’m going to include a recommendation of a genre film that is either one of my personal favorites or too good of a double feature with the AMAD title to pass up a mention.]
You know, having seen THE SEVENTH SEAL from Ingmar Bergman I had high hopes for a film that was supposed to dip into surreal horror. I mean, just watch THE SEVENTH SEAL, considered to be one of the best dramas of all time, and it’s full of creepy shit. Bergman, like Lynch, knows how to show us that fuzzy world just out of sight, only caught in peripheral glimpses by us on a day to day basis.
But THE SERPENT’S EGG isn’t what I was hoping for. It might very well be a case of expectation fucking my first viewing of this film… or the movie could just be a slow, unfocused mess. One of those is the right answer.
The elements are there. Bergman has a great setting: Berlin in the ‘20s, a broken, poverty-stricken post-war hellhole. It was conditions like these that allowed Hitler’s rise to power a decade later. What a great setting for some trippy, surreal horror, even horror that borders on drama.
Our main character is Abel Rosenberg, an American Jew and ex-circus performer living in Berlin. David Carradine plays the lead and delivers a good, understated, internal performance. His character has everything stripped from him, bit by bit throughout the movie, as he finds himself closer and closer to solving a mystery he’s not even investigating.
The dude’s a drunk, but contented… until he walks into his apartment and finds his brother with a gun in his hand and his brains Pollocking the wall behind him.
Liv Ullman is the other main character, his brother’s estranged wife that Carradine soon finds comfort with. But something’s going on. People surrounding Carradine are dying, putting the attention of the local, abusive police department on him. Of course it doesn’t help that he’s Jewish.
I’ll give this to the movie… the final 15 minutes are really solid, even if 10 of those minutes is one long exposition scene by a German scientist explaining the movie for us. And there’s a scene where Carradine visits the weirdest hooker room ever, but if I’m honest the movie on the whole bored me to tears.
Like I said earlier that might be explained by anticipation of a different type of movie. This isn’t really a horror movie, but a weird romantic drama with a twist of the macabre thrown in. I found myself lost more than I wanted to. Scenes just seemed to drag on and didn’t lead anywhere.
I could have taken a MULHOLLAND DRIVE type movie, something with a creepy tone that has one good “What the fuck!?!” moment, but what I got was a slow burn that leads to a dude talking in a room for 10 minutes.
Carradine does a fine job and Ullman is good, too. Everybody’s good, with a particular spotlight on Heinz Bennet who plays the German scientist with the big speech. It’s a very good performance, almost Christophe Waltz-ish if I may be so bold.
But damn there’s a lot of waiting to do here. I don’t think I could recommend this as anything but a curiosity.
Final Thoughts: A lot of the pieces to an overall great puzzle are there. The acting, the production design, the setting and the story we get at the end, but it could have been done so much better. Maybe I’m just being a prude and wanting more entertainment from something that was more aimed at being an art film, but them’s my feelings.
If you want an example of the kind of movie I was expecting you can go no further than one of the all time classic slow-build surreal horror movies:
Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW is a hugely suspenseful, atmospheric “fuck you” of a movie.
The flick is about an American couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) living in Venice trying to put some distance between themselves and the death of their young daughter. An elderly psychic claims the spirit of their daughter is near them and sure enough they start seeing glimpses of a red-coated child around the city.
These sightings are breaking down their carefully rebuilt life… How could their dead as dead can be daughter be in this city? Is it her spirit? Is it just another child in a similar red coat?
To make matters worse a series of murders occurring in Venice might be related to this vision.
Roeg’s use of sound in this movie is incredible. The finale will freak you out, guaranteed, but more than the visuals just watch how Roeg builds tension using nothing but the footfalls of Sutherland chasing his daughter’s apparition through the foggy canals and alleyways of Venice.
The performances are all top notch as well. Everything’s working in this picture. It’s awesome. If you haven’t seen it, it comes as a very high recommendation from me.
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Saturday, October 24th: THE SWARM (1978)
Sunday, October 25th: THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960)
Monday, October 26th: COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970)
Tuesday, October 27th: THE SADIST (1963)
Wednesday, October 28th: CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)
Thursday, October 29th: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? (1969)
Friday, October 30th: WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972)
As you can see I made an executive decision and replaced Devil Doll with Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? From what I undertand I am dodging a bullet.
Okay, got Friday done, onto The Swarm! It’s already been watched, but I'm exhausted. Will write it up when I awake!
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