Anguish (1987)

OCTOBER 11, 2009


I would argue that knowing the twist of a movie shouldn’t change your overall opinion of it when you watch it. I knew that Vader was Luke’s father before I had seen a single frame of any Star Wars film, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying Empire (or New Hope for that matter). And I doubt there’s a soul in the world who doesn’t know that they’re on Earth the whole time in Planet of the Apes, but that movie continues to entertain new audiences. So even though Anguish’s twist (which is not at the end of the film but at the end of the first act) was spoiled for me years ago, I figured it would still be a good watch.

(Obviously, I am going to spoil it in the review. Just a heads up.)

Sadly, it was not the case. If anything, knowing the twist actually helped a bit, because instead of being baffled and ultimately annoyed by the Argento-esque opening scenes, I was able to enjoy them for what they actually were - a crappy horror movie being watched by an audience. But once the twist is revealed, we start watching the crowd watch the movie, as a killer stalks them from the lobby. It’s a cool twist, certainly, but the problem is neither the on-screen movie (called "Mommy" for future reference) nor the real story of Anguish are very compelling, and the setup requires that you see almost every scene twice.

See, the killer in Anguish is a big fan of "Mommy", and is more or less re-enacting it (and Mommy itself includes a scene where people go to the theater to watch a horror movie - needlessly confused enough yet?). So we see the scene in "Mommy", and then we see Anguish’s killer more or less doing the same thing, as if it wasn’t dull enough the first time. And writer/director Bigas Luna keeps returning to "Mommy" as if it were the real film (as opposed to staying with the theater crowd and just showing it on-screen), which is an awkward choice as most audiences won’t really give a crap about what happens in it once we know it’s a “fake” movie. It’s like being concerned with the outcome of an Itchy & Scratchy or Terrance & Philip cartoon.

And again, it’s just dull. The people being picked off in the theater are paper-thin even by slasher standards - our heroine spends the entire movie sitting down and crying (because "Mommy" is really affecting her - there’s a guy in the crowd who is equally upset by it, but he disappears after a while), so there’s no one to really care about. "Mommy"s killer (Michael Lerner) is more developed than the real one (some other guy, one that HASN’T played Ebert in a crappy Godzilla movie), so that’s largely a dead end too. Demons (the film’s closest equal in terms of setting and “movies into reality” plot) may not have the best screenplay in the world, but at least you gave a shit about a few of the characters, and the supporting characters were a largely colorful, varied lot. Here I could barely even tell our two female leads apart, let alone anyone else.

Also, why are so many people watching a horror movie during daylight hours? Even a relatively popular movie like Prom Night, which I saw during the day, wasn’t as packed as this movie is at what seems to be one in the afternoon on a Sunday.

The film’s biggest crime, however, is not working Zelda Rubinstein into the Anguish plot somehow. You cast her because of Poltergeist, in which her character can cross dimensions - why not have fun with her casting and have her appear as the same character in both "Mommy" and Anguish? Hell, they even give themselves a perfect window (Anguish’s killer claims to be doing it for his mother), but do nothing with the concept. Instead, Lerner pops up in a baffling, too-late-to-bother-thinking-about epilogue, while Zelda hardly even appears in the third act at all.

All around it feels like a weak execution of an intriguing concept. It’s as if Luna figured the twist was so good he didn’t need to back it up with anything else (suspense, good characters, etc). Put this at the top of the “THIS is what they should be remaking!” pile, and stick with Demons or the opening scene of Scream 2 if you need a “horror movie on both sides of the screen” movie.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. Annnnnd removed from my wishlist. Thanks for the heads up BC

  2. Well, I think mostly you're right. But as an ongoing film scientist I have to say that considering the self reference in it, it's at least a very interesting movie. But yeah, as I watched it for the first time when I was 15 or something I hated it too. Although I loved the mommy film-in-film. When the twist came in I wanted to rage.

  3. And yes, you are a big SPOILER!!!! You should have warned everybody before.

    ps. I didn't knew they were in Earth while watching.


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