1. I’m back from my exile from computer-land. Hi!
2. I come bearing movies. Well, a movie. My new obsessions, watching episodes of This American Life and Twin Peaks have distracted me from movies somewhat. Those are some damn fine shows. But I do have one movie and it’s something novel here. It’s from my Fifty Chilling Classics set and I really enjoyed it. Do you know how often that happens? NEVER!
I present the surreal Mexican movie, Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon (1973.)
I was prepared to call shenanigans when the title popped up. I’m quite well-versed in Poe, actually, and I’d never heard of this story. Well, as it turns out there IS a Poe short-story called “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether.” The movie is loosely based on this story, which is available online thanks to the fine people of .
A lot of people don’t know that Poe had a wicked sense of humor. A lot of his stories are like extended jokes. “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” is no exception, featuring a set-up and a punch-line.
I’ve seen quite a few Poe adaptations, most of them by Roger Corman. The problem a lot of directors seem to have in adapting Poe’s work is that it’s hard to make a movie an hour-and-a-half long out of a short story that may be just six or seven pages. As a result, directors tend to add more details and background to the story. A prime example of that is the short story of “The Pit and the Pendulum” versus Corman’s adaptation, which bears little resemblance to the original product. I actually gained a new appreciation for Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon (Also known as The Mansion of Madness and La Mansion de la Locura) after I read the short-story and saw how close the movie hewed to the original.
I did some brief research on the internet and from what I found discovered that the version that I saw is in it’s somewhat original version. The movie was filmed in English and dubbed in Spanish for the Mexican market, although the version I have is somewhat edited. I was also very pleased to find out that it was directed by Juan Lopez Moctezuma, the director of Alucarda.
Now, this movie isn’t perfect. Like pretty much every Mills Creek movie I’ve seen the audio and visuals are a mess. This resulted in a lot of going back to figure out what a character said and who actually said what. Plus, the first five minutes are filmed in Kool-Aid vision. Everything is flaming red for some reason. I wouldn’t normally do this but I did tweak the stills I took from the movie because I really wanted people to be able to see them in a somewhat better form than they were presented. Another issue is with the sound effects. I think they borrowed them from Hanna-Barbera. There are fight scenes that have people getting hit and there will be a loud “BONK!” noise. There are also plot-holes that you can drive a semi through.
But the movie is also genuinely surreal and creepy. If anyone knows of a transfer that’s better quality than the one that I have, I’d be very interested.
Gaston LeBlanc is a journalist writing about a novel approach to treating lunatics, the “soothing system,” invented by a Dr. Maillard and implemented at his Maison de sante. Dr. Maillard is very secretive and rarely allows people into asylum but LeBlanc’s friend, Julien, is acquainted with Maillard and believes that Maillard will let LeBlanc in if he shows Maillard his card. Julien and his lover, Blanche, turn back because of their fear at the ominous surroundings and Julien’s dislike of the deranged. On the way they’re accosted by guards wearing ill-fitting uniforms from various time periods.
Julien is captured and Blanche is raped. LeBlanc manages to make it to the asylum and meet Dr. Maillard and his beautiful niece, Eugenie.
I’m kind of lost at this point. It seems that Dr. Maillard explains the soothing system, but the audio is so awful that I can barely understand what he says. Regardless, it leaves LeBlanc deeply disturbed, as does the state of the patients. Dr. Maillard and Eugenie have both travelled extensively so Maillard has her perform a dance native to Java. The scene, while not in the original story, is simultaneously beautiful and creepy.
The whole thing leaves LeBlanc unsettled as the full dance would have ended with Eugenie killing herself. He’s even more unsettled when he sees the dungeon, where the troublemakers and uncurables are allegedly kept. There’s a skeletal figure who utters, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’entrate.” Yes, this is another movie that quotes Dante. That’s Italian for “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” which is inscribed on the gates of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.
LeBlanc settles in for the night, wanting to leave, but he doesn’t want to leave Eugenie. He has a bizarre dream sequence and finally confronts Eugenie. She confesses that she’s there to save her father, who is Dr. Maillard, and the man who LeBlanc met is actually Raoul Fragonard, an escapee from Devil’s Island who inspired an uprising where the deranged jailed their handlers.
Her and LeBlanc make a run for it and encounter Julien. Instead of going to anyone in authority, they actually turn around back to the asylum to attack it. For some reason. See one of them there plot-holes? They’re captured swiftly and forced to attend a feast full of absolute lunacy. I love it!
There’s also a scene with the creepiest ventriloquist dummy EVAR.
Fragonard finally sentences LeBlanc, Eugenie, and Julien to death via organized chicken-dancers.
But at just the right moment the jailed regain the upper hand and everyone is saved. Yay!
Ok, there are some goofy moments and not a lot makes sense. But I really love this movie. And I can only hope that there’s a better cut that I can see.