On the back of the incredible weirdness that was Eraserhead, David Lynch was a surprising choice to helm this drama set in Victorian England; executive producer Mel Brooks took quite a gamble, and it paid off; working with a distinguished cast and beautiful black and white photography by Freddie Francis, The Elephant Man is the true story of John Merrick (john Hurt), whose physical malformation made him the subject of a freak show, but who is shown a rare kindness by a sensitive doctor Treves (Anthony Hopkins). Dealing with subject matter which could easily veers towards sentiment or exploitative horror, Lynch does neither, taking a matter-of-fact attitude to Merrick’s life bookended with surrealist sequences. Sir John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller and a memorably bad-ass Michael Elphick add to the dignified credentials, but it’s a personal triumph for Lynch and Hurt, who performs superbly under mountains of make-up.
For seekers of extreme cinema, Nicolas Roeg’s is a deeply unlovable but technically astute examination of sexual dependency. In Vienna, Milena (Theresa Russell) takes a fatal overdose, and Roeg’s film flashes back and forward to the painful relationship she has with an ex-pat US professor (Art Garfunkel). Harvey Keitel is a policeman attempting to unravel the truth behind their relationship, while Denholm Elliot and Daniel Massey add some class from the sidelines. Bad Timing is an exhausting film to watch, but deserves plaudits for capturing areas of human relationships that most film-makers shy away from.
Writer/director Peter Strickland’s low-budget horror was released to praise and confusion in 2012; lacking in any real incident, it was something of a turn-off for genre fans, but it’s a strange little film that rewards patience. Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a put-upon sound engineer who unwisely takes a job in Italy in the 1970’s, where he’s all-at-sea amongst sexual and studio politics. Although Strickland’s film opens with the credits of the film Gilderoy is working on, The Equestrian Vortex, the audience is left to guess what kind of content it has; as he slices up cabbages under microphones and recoils from the macho producers, it’s clear that Gilderoy is slipping into a private and personal hell. If you can get your head around the fact that nothing much happens, Strickland’s film is an atmospheric and disturbing meditation on the timidness of the British male abroad, well played by Jones.
Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film is still one of the most creative and romantic features on record; a fairy tale that works for adults, it makes ingenious use of special effects is a way that’s truly magical. Belle (Josette Day) suffers under the thumb of her ugly sisters, but when he father unwisely picks a rose from a castle garden, he’s forced to offer her daughter’s life in return. So begins the courtship of Belle and the Beast, unforgettably played by Jean Maris in and out of make-up. Cocteau’s best films (Orphee) are suffused with poetry; this story of true love is for grown-ups what the Disney film is for kids.
Neil Jordan’s flair for the Gothic has taken many forms, including Interview With A Vampire, In Dreams and Byzantium, but his first foray was this adaptation of Angela Carter’s feminist revision of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. An evocation of a teenage girls sexual awakening, The Company of Wolves as a lyrical poetic tone, making the set-pieces, including a skin-wrenching transformation and a marquee function where the guest become wolves, all the more jarring. Surreal touches, like the arrival of Terrance Stamp in a Rolly Royce, seem to evoke Jean Cocteau, but Jordan’s unique hybrid film has a style and bloodlust all of its own.