Tuesday, November 20, 2012

31 Horrors (sorta): The Virgin Spring (#25)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "But it's not a horror movie!" True, more or less, it isn't a traditional horror movie. What it is, however, is perhaps one of the grandfathers of the modern day horror movies and, for that, we count it. Ingmar Bergman's 1960 drama set in a medieval Sweden at the crossroads of paganism and Christianity was nominated for the Palme d'Or, won the Academy Award for foreign language film (and was also a fantastic surprise nominee for Marik Vos-Lundh's costume design), and is hailed as a classic. And yet most curiously, The Virgin Spring is perhaps most known for its place in trivia land as the film that inspired Wes Craven's brutal 1972 horror debut The Last House on the Left. While Bergman's film is a much different creature with only the sketchiest of similarities - daughter murdered to savages in the woods who then by chance seek refuge with the girl's parents - the two films, I found, actually assisted one another.

Bergman is a director that I always underestimate despite my better judgement. I've seen a half-decent amount of his films (for what it's worth, my favourite: Persona or Wild Strawberries), but despite liking all but one or two of his films that I have seen, I am routinely surprised at how good I find his work. I am always especially taken by the way he makes his films look so genuine, as if they he trudged his camera back in time. Take The Virgin Spring for instance, it's set in medieval times and from the ring of mud at the hem of a draped dress, to the haphazardly arranged barnyard strewn with matted hay, I can't help but get caught up in the authenticity with which they're presented.

The debt that many modern day horror films owe Bergman and The Virgin Spring is, I think, not to be ignored. Like the Grimm fairy tales that the setting evokes (albeit a bit north), the surprising darkness of this 1960 film is remarkably potent. It doesn't surprise me to read that some cinemas banned it due to the rape sequence, but that's obviously nothing compared to the reception of Craven's The Last House on the Left. That film is not nearly as good as Bergman's, but it perhaps made an impact on many, many more films in a very obvious way. Still, watching The Virgin Spring through the prism of Craven's film makes for an entirely fascinating experience. One can only imagine what Bergman thought of when (and if) he saw The Last House on the Left, but I can only suspect that the film's themes of violence begetting violence made him smile when he saw what his film created a little over a decade later.

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