November 22, 2011

Back To Browning

Unless they’re also paying attention to what’s being marketed to the art house crowd, fans of horror cinema may not have Pedro Almodovar’s latest, The Skin I Live In, on their radar screens. Nonetheless, you may see no film more deeply steeped in the horror tradition this year. Almodovar has in the past channeled such filmmakers as Douglas Sirk and George Cukor. Here he goes to the well of Tod Browning for a tale of obsession, madness, and body distortion. Insane scientist Antonio Banderas, abetted by his suspiciously loyal maid, keeps captive the beautiful subject of a forbidden medical experiment. If you doubt the Browning connection, Exhibit A is the fact that he wanted to shoot the film as a black and white silent. Exhibit B is the secondary villain who shows up wearing a tiger costume.

In North America Almodovar is sometimes seen as as a lighter filmmaker than he is, because we embrace his sunniest works, like Volver and Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Most of his films take a darker tone and take place in a world where passion spills over into sexual menace. His 1986 film Matador, for example, plays as the giallo Luis Buñuel might have imagined.

The Skin I Live In is a compelling exercise in the outre and highly recommended to film-going horroristas.