Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Demons of the 1970's (Part II of II)


"Changes in the weather always upset me ... I don't know why;" Angela Pleasence battles with her twisted psyche in SYMPTOMS.

UNLIKE his exploitative VAMPYRES, José Larraz’s SYMPTOMS is a slow-burning triumph, a film that was unexpectedly chosen as an official British entry at Cannes. Neurotic waif Helen Ramsey (a mesmerising Angela Pleasence) has invited girlfriend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to stay at her English woodland estate. Anne is welcoming the retreat to write and evaluate the end of a romance, but Helen's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as questions are asked of the portrait of Cora - Ramsey's disappeared friend and possible lover - and the brooding presence of handyman Brady (Peter Vaughan). Helen's manifestations of Cora mirror Anne's unease in the house, under the shadow of Cora's body festering in the lake after a passionate embrace with the burly handyman.

Larraz has long favoured mansions in his pictures, and the warring of the sexes; here they are quite literally foundations for exploring the horror motif of characters yearning for lost loves. Taking several inspirations from REPULSION, the director uses a mirror and the ticking of a clock to replicate Roman Polanski's idea of lulling the viewer into a false sense of security, before delivering bludgeoning shock tactics. Vanity Celis points out in her essay which accompanies the BFI Blu-ray that Larraz' contribution to the sexual anxieties of the Gothic tradition is "a safety net found in the auxiliary subtext of lesbian love," and the production - similar to Jorge Grau's THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER and Alfronso Cuaron’s CHILDREN OF MEN - captures the English landscape more effectively than native filmmakers, creating an agitation that resonates more deeply in the outsider's eye.

Mia Farrow brings a tragic vulnerability to her role in FULL CIRCLE, part of a Seventies Anglo-Canadian co-production deal which yielded lesser pictures THE UNCANNY and DEATH SHIP.

An eerie atmosphere of love and loss is also central to Richard Loncraine's FULL CIRCLE, based on Peter Straub's 1975 novel Julia. A decade on from her subjection to Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY, Mia Farrow is again entangled with an unearthly child, playing a mother grieving the loss of daughter Katie (Sophie Ward) who chokes to death at breakfast. During her self-imposed isolation at an old house in Kensington, Julia is stalked by another girl ghost, who led a gang in the brutal murder of a German boy in 1938. As a "feeling of hate" infiltrates the dwelling, the murderous infant is identified as Olivia Rudge, and Julia traces Olivia's mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) to a Swansea mental institution, who admits to killing her offspring and accuses her visitor of doing the same.

In a moving final scene Julia welcomes the ghostly Olivia into her arms, the camera then pans around an armchair to reveal that Julia has a fatal neck wound. This not only brings us full circle from Katie's demise, but leaves the viewer wondering if Olivia has claimed another victim from her otherworldly plane, or the tortured mother has committed suicide. The willowy Farrow carries the whole burden of grief superbly, and quite rightly male players are kept to the margins (husband Magnus (Keir Dullea) is purely abandoned, and friend Mark (Tom Conti) suffers an unnecessarily sensationalised death)). The film also benefits from beautiful cinematography and a piano/synthesiser score which manages to underpin and elaborate on the unease.