Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prokletinja (1975)

Most of Prokletinja's story is told via flashbacks starting during the inquest about the death of a man that is held in his shack somewhere out in the wilderness. The man - who like everyone else in the movie is nameless - had come to the place following rumours of a "Damned Thing", something invisible roaming the wilderness. He became increasingly obsessed with the thing, discussing its philosophical implications and the shattering of his beliefs it caused with a journalist he was friends with, until he finally was killed by it.

For pretty obvious political reasons, what with the notorious negativity and lack of "scientific reason" in the genre, there wasn't much horror produced in countries east of the Iron Curtain. Sometimes, however, as the slow dripping of fan-subbed TV productions from 1970s Yugoslavia suggests, filmmakers did have a bit of leeway to turn towards the darker side of the fantastic.

Prokletinja is director, screenwriter and actor Branko Plesa's (who is also playing the man holding the inquest) version of Ambrose Bierce's short story The Damned Thing. It's an hour-long TV movie, so Plesa probably did not have many resources to work with, but he does make fine use of what he had, namely the black and white (at least in the version I saw; I'm not sure if the film was actually shot in black and white) cinematography of Milorad Markovic and a darkly dramatic soundtrack by Stanko Terzic.

Terzic's soundtrack is predominantly used to impress the presence of the damned thing on the audience. There are a bit of fog, some growling and some moving bushes later on in the movie, for large parts of it, however, only the soundtrack, the expressions on the actors' faces and the threatening undertone of Markovic's nature shots are what create the monster in our minds. If you're an imaginative sort like I am, this method should work well for the movie and you, following the old adage that the most frightful things you can see in a horror movie are those things you don't see.

Plesa is more interested in the philosophical implications and in the world-view shattering dread the creature causes the film's main character anyway. As it stands, the Damned Thing's mere existence puts in doubt the nameless dweller in the wilderness's formerly scientific and orderly view of life, and suggests to him that the order of nature and mankind's position in it he believed in are just plain wrong. Worse, he may not like at all what he thinks has to take the place of the things he did believe in.

Aesthetically, Prokletinja rather reminds me of an arty Spaghetti Western turned Weird West (actually, I'm not sure if the actor's clothing are supposed to suggest the early 18th century US or Yugoslavia - it's not that important for the film at hand, I think, but I'd go with the former if I had to) Gothic horror. There are a lot of close-up shots of hairy, dirty-faced and obviously very poor men staring at a point beside the camera, and a dry, somewhat cynical humour of the type the Spaghetti Western genre and Ambrose Bierce shared; at other times, weirdly effective slowly swirling camera movement and slow-motion shots of animals that suggest the main character's new, horrific view of nature remind of something one of the Sergios might have shot in an especially philosophical mood.

If you like your obscure horror movies with a philosophical bend (and therefore more in tune with the classic weird tale as with modern ideas of horror), Prokletinja is a film to search out. It also makes me pretty curious about some of the other TV movies Plesa directed during the 70s. Hopefully, some daring fansubber will enlighten us about them one day (I sure don't think we'll ever get to see official releases of movies like these).


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