Cache & Night of the Living Dead: Mutually Exclusive or Two Sides of the Same Coin?
Let’s start with a quiz. See if you can guess the seven movies described below (the answers follow):
1). A well-off suburban family, unable to cope with the pressures of day-to-day life, barricade themselves in their home and go collectively mad.
2). A seemingly contented child commits a senseless murder.
3). The lives of several people are minutely examined in the time leading up to a violent incident that involves them all.
4). Two lunatics enter a quiet house and force the inhabitants to play sadistic games.
5). A repressed middle-aged woman finds her darkest psycho-sexual fantasies unleashed by the attentions of a mysterious stranger.
6). A number of desperate people try to survive in a world gone made in the wake of a horrific catastrophe.
7). A married couple’s relationship unravels when they receive a series of mysterious video tapes that show them and their house.
Got ‘em down? Okay. Here are the answers:
1). A suburban family going mad? Must be THE CRAZY FAMILY...but actually the correct answer is THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, from acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.
2). A murderous kid...THE BAD SEED? Yes, but no. How ‘bout THE GOOD SON? Good answer, but not the film I had in mind. It’s BENNY’S VIDEO, from acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.
3). Disparate people involved in a violent incident. That’s easy: it can only be SMASH-UP ON INTERSTATE FIVE--and yet it’s not. It’s actually 71 FRAGMENTS IN A CHRONOLOGY OF CHANCE, from acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.
4). Lunatics forcing people to do their twisted bidding. Hmmm...sounds like THE NIGHT HOLDS TERROR. Or maybe THE HOUSE BY THE EDGE OF THE PARK. The film in question, however, is FUNNY GAMES, from acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.
5). A woman’s psychosexual fantasies unleashed by a mysterious stranger. HELLRAISER? THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES?? No and no. It’s THE PIANO TEACHER, from acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.
6). People trying to survive in a world gone mad. You’re probably thinking PANIC IN YEAR ZERO...or NO BLADE OF GRASS...or perhaps even NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. If so, you’d be wrong, as the correct answer is TIME OF THE WOLF, from acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.
7). A couple’s life upended by a series of freaky videotapes. This has to refer to LOST HIGHWAY...but it doesn’t! The film it does refer to is CACHE, from acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.
You may notice a pattern in the above answers, in particular a certain name repeated over and over. Michael Haneke is indeed a highly acclaimed Austrian filmmaker who specializes in bleak and disturbing fare about damn near everything that’s wrong with the modern world, from madness to sexual perversion to mass murder to societal breakdown. His work tends to be highly revered by critics the world over, and no wonder, as Haneke’s films all-but wear their highbrow credentials on their collective sleeve: they’re slow, stately, have much to say about modern life, and tend to feature heavyweight Euro-stars like Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert and Daniel Auteuil. In short, they’re ART FILMS.
Getting back to the above quiz, another pattern you might have noticed are the frequent comparisons I make between Haneke’s arty, Euro-centric films and American horror/exploitation flicks. The critics who go apeshit over his work would likely claim there’s no connection between Haneke’s films and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or that the latter is simply unworthy to stand in the shadow of TIME OF THE WOLF or CACHE despite the perceived similarities. They’d be wrong on both counts.
I myself have a love-hate relationship with Haneke’s films. I admire them, certainly, and will admit they contain real filmmaking brilliance, even genius. (The best, in my view, is THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, possibly the most devastating critique of mindless consumerism I’ve ever seen.) Still in all, he hasn’t made too many masterworks in my view, and his films rarely manage to surpass their horror/exploitation movie counterparts, despite what some might have you believe. (Much as I admire THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, I prefer THE CRAZY FAMILY!)
Regarding CACHE, Haneke’s most recent critics’ darling, and its “counterpart”, David Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY, the similarities are more than just incidental. Many of the critical blurbs for CACHE could easily be used to describe Lynch’s film, which was widely panned. According to New York Magazine’s Ken Tucker, CACHE “maintains such a tight rein on our emotions that we sit spellbound”, an excellent summation of LOST HIGHWAY. From VARIETY’S Deborah Young: “Employing classic thriller techniques to bring viewers into the story, Haneke does not use any extraneous shots as he builds suspense and an atmosphere of encroaching, unknown danger.” Substitute “Lynch” for “Haneke” in that quote and you’ll have a good summation of LOST HIGHWAY’S first hour.
But let’s try an even more (seemingly) perverse comparison: CACHE with another film in current release, Eli Roth’s gross-out horrorfest HOSTEL. While the quote “Cool and simple but resonating invisibly into our lives like an X-ray” (which THE VILLAGE VOICE’S Michael Atkinson said of CACHE) doesn’t exactly apply to Roth’s film, there are similarities. I recently caught HOSTEL in a theater filled with screaming teenagers; it reminded me of nothing so much as a scene from CACHE (if you’ve seen it you’ll know which one) that had the largely elderly, upscale crowd I saw it with nearly jumping out of their seats. In both films the audience reaction was nearly identical (viewing CACHE, a guy sitting by me muttered “Jesus Christ!” over and over, while in HOSTEL a girl repeated “Oh my God!”), and in both cases the reaction was achieved through skillful audience manipulation by the respective filmmakers.
Yes, I wrote audience manipulation. Michael Haneke, despite his arty Euro pedigree, is as schematic in his approach as Eli Roth, David Lynch, or even Alfred Hitchcock. The difference, of course, is that while Hitchcock liked to “play the audience like a piano”, Haneke, it seems, prefers to simply fuck with his viewers, with torturously long takes, deliberately ambiguous narratives and oft-shocking occurrences. The very fact that he takes such care in manipulating viewers puts him in close company with horror and exploitation movie makers, regardless of how much their intentions may differ.
Need more proof? Check out FUNNY GAMES, probably Haneke’s most overrated movie--it’s the one I compared to Ruggero Deodato’s THE HOUSE BY THE EDGE OF THE PARK, a stinky piece of exploitation movie trash. Guess what? FUNNY GAMES isn’t much better, working on damn near the same level as Deodato’s film, although Haneke seems to think he’s making an important statement about violence in the modern world (or something). But in the end, the only real difference between FUNNY GAMES and Deodato’s work is that Haneke’s film is slower moving, and (as Chas. Balun pointed out in GORE SCORE 2001) his lead actress isn’t nearly as pretty as the scantily clad babes we’re used to seeing in exploitation flicks like HOUSE BY THE EDGE OF THE PARK.
Not to overdo these comparisons, but let’s look at some non-Haneke films. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s sicko art film classic SALO can be viewed as a shattering indictment of fascism and a profound statement of the filmmaker’s dissatisfaction with the modern world, etc., etc., etc., but it ultimately doesn’t play all that differently from Nazi-sploitation fare like ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS...well, except for the fact that it’s a much better film. Catherine Breillat’s pretentious sex drama ROMANCE had audiences packing arthouse theaters a few years back, being an apparently “ground-breaking” film because it incorporated hard core sexuality into a non-pornographic film. HA!!! In my view the only real difference between ROMANCE and DEEP THROAT was that the former film thought a lot more of itself than the latter...and, more importantly, you could see ROMANCE without having to venture into a shady area of town or deal with sticky theater seats.
People often ask how it is I can review weighty fare like the Russian film COME AND SEE (which I insist can safely be categorized as horror) alongside B-movies like CASTLE FREAK, as if the two were mutually exclusive. As far I’m concerned, as with SALO and ILSA, the two only really differ in the fact that, after taking into account the differing aims of the respective filmmakers, one is a good movie--a great movie, in fact--and the other isn’t.
The 1992 book CUT! HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM contains a transcribed conversation between Clive Barker and Peter Atkins that’s particularly relevant to this essay. At one point in the convo Barker touts Ingmar Bergman’s war drama SHAME, which is apparently “the kind of grim, angst-ridden black and white stuff which makes NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD look like a Marx Brothers comedy.” Atkins relies “Do I sniff controversy here? Are you saying that the European tradition is “better” than the American horror movie?” Barker is quick to answer “Not at all...I’m simply saying that in its power to disturb me, that sort of thing is stronger.”
I disagree with both, Barker because he prefers SHAME over NIGHT, which I don’t, and Atkins because he insists on making a distinction between the two. Consider: both SHAME and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD are powerful apocalyptic visions of desperate people struggling against implacable forces. Barker finds SHAME “grim, angst-ridden black and white stuff”, but in fact those attributes are common to both films. I happen to think NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the superior film, regardless of whatever “tradition” it fits into--and, venturing somewhat outside the scope of the argument, I feel the shattering COME AND SEE outdoes both films in every aspect, regardless of what tradition it fits into!
The bottom line, I guess, is that CACHE is a beautifully made, deeply affecting piece of work, but so is LOST HIGHWAY; that FUNNY GAMES is an annoying mass of self-indulgence, while THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK is merely a shitty movie; that SHAME is a powerfully grim and disturbing drama, but NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is even more so--and that COME AND SEE eats ‘em all for breakfast!
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