Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Best Films I Have Never Seen Before: Outer Space (2000)

Outer Space (2000)
Directed by: Peter Tscherkassky.

One of the reasons I have been delving into so many shorts lately is because there are things you can do in a short film that you simply cannot do as a feature. A feature length Outer Space would be both unnecessary and unwatchable. But at just 10 minutes long, what director Peter Tscherkassky has done is disturbing, hypnotizing and extremely unsettling.

What Tscherkassky does is take Sidney J. Furie’s all but forgotten horror film The Entity (1982) – which I haven’t seen, and based on what I’ve read, feel no need to see – and edits it until its central plot – that of Barbara Hershey being repeatedly raped by an unseen entity or demon in her house – and completely obscures it. If you didn’t know what the original movie was about, you would not be able to tell from this short.

The film is a masterpiece of editing. The screen flashes – people with epilepsy probably shouldn’t watch the film – as we see a lonely house on a hill. The soundtrack is obscured – no real dialogue or music or identifiable sounds really come through. The images have been turned black and white. The house on the hill seems abandoned, lonely and above all extremely creepy. We will eventually flash inside that house, and see Barbara Hershey, terrified of someone or something in the house. But what? We see no one in the 10 minute film except for Hershey. What emerges then is a portrait of madness. Hershey is not really haunted by a real demon – we certainly do not see one – but rather by her own interior demons. The interior of the house seemingly transforms before Hershey’s eyes, as she grows increasingly terrorized.

I have seen the movie compared to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), about the gorgeous Catherine Deneueve going mad inside her apartment because of her sexual repression, and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001). Both comparisons are apt, because like the Hershey who emerges in Outer Space, the main characters are driven mad not by some external force, but by the demons that haunt their minds. But Outer Space is cut down to the bare essentials – the entire movie like the finale of Mulholland Drive, when Diane (Naomi Watts) can longer handle what has happened in her mind, and finally flips out.

The film is essentially made to play like an intense nightmare – hence the harsh, unrelenting sound, the constant flashing screen, the house that seems to change from one moment to the next. It becomes impossible to orient yourself with what is going on, because Tscherkassky continually changes what it is we see.

Outer Space does not function like a normal movie, and as such, will probably frustrate most viewers. No matter, you know if you’re the type of person who wants to see an experimental short film like this, or if you’re not. Many times, movies like this frustrate me – Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart (1936) is an example of another movie re-edited from a nearly forgotten film to tell a completely different story in short form, and I found that film to be dull and pointless (many disagree with me). But Outer Space held me in rapt attention for its 10 minutes – and truly got under my skin as well, in a way that most horror films don’t anymore, because I am so attuned to their rhythms, that I am getting harder and harder actually scare. But because Outer Space doesn’t play by the same rules, it works remarkably well. Normally, I don’t much like films like Outer Space – but this one is a true masterwork of its kind.

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