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Sunday 16 October 2011

Burl reviews Hour of the Wolf! (1968)

It’s good to see you! Yes, it’s Burl here to review another picture, this one from the beret-clad Swedish master himself, Ingmar Bergman! Ha ha, I love a good Bergman picture, and while Hour of the Wolf is not one of his more generally beloved works, it’s a favorite of mine! Reason? It’s like Hammer Studios called up the old boy and asked for his take on one of their old spooky castle pictures! Anyway, if that had happened, this is probably what you’d get – a Bergmanesque study in human isolation and self-obsession that evolves into a full-throated horror movie complete with creatures and gushing blood!
The movie takes place on some lonely Frisian island with a good view of the sea! We meet Alma Borg, the pregnant young wife of a missing painter named Johann Borg, who of course are played by Liv Ulmann and Max Von Sydow respectively! We get the whole story on what happened from Alma and from Johann’s crazy diaries! It seems that early in the summer Johann’s muse deserted him; but for an artist as driven as him something has to take its place! He's open to whatever might come along, no matter how unpleasant, no matter how personal and self-manufactured and guilt-fueled! He begins to be tormented by demons who come in the disguise of annoying petit bourgeoisie and who might as well have been parachuted in whole from a Bunuel movie!
The demons, it seems, occupy a castle on the other side of the island! One of them is a spooky old woman who, we’re told, must never take off her hat because her face will come along with it! (We later see this hideous image in action!) Another looks like Bela Lugosi, complete with widow’s peak! Still another is something of a fish-man! There’s a little kid demon who wears a Speedo and attacks the painter while he’s sitting by the sea! And then there’s a rather sexy demoness from his past! Ha ha, ring-a-ding-ding!
Well, the demons invite the Borgs over to their castle for a terrifying rumbustification! By this time Alma can see them, even though they’re a construction of, or at least specially sent for the tormenting of, Johann’s fractured psyche! It all winds up with some pretty freaky imagery, of the sort you might find on a videotape in The Ring or something like that, and of course culminates with Johann’s mysterious disappearance!
Of course, canny moviegoers know that Johann has not disappeared at all! He simply moved to New York, changed his name to Frederick and became a character in Hannah and Her Sisters! Ha ha! But that knowledge doesn’t mitigate the dread Bergman manages to cook up in this beautifully-shot production! Of course the great Sven Nykvist was behind the camera, and the high-contrast black and white photography is a wonder to behold!
This movie came along just after Bergman reinvented the artsy psychodrama with Persona, and I think it was pretty perplexing to audiences of the day, who considered it a step back or at the very least a lateral move! But I think (with the benefit of the larger view) that taking on the grammar of horror itself constitutes a worthwhile experiment! I wish ol’ Ingmar had made more of them, actually, The Serpent’s Egg notwithstanding! I give Hour of the Wolf three and a half lascivious grannies!

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