That it was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars has a double meaning, because the Greek film Dogtooth reinvents word meanings, too. From the first lines, we hear the three grown up children (in all senses young adults) absorbing a notion that a “sea” is a chair, and that carbine is a “beautiful white bird.” These substitute meanings of common words come from their parents, a bespectacled father (played by Christos Stergioglou) and worrisome mother (Michelle Valley)—who together have quarantined their children from the outside world on a spacious compound with a swimming pool. With no idea of what lurks beyond the tall fencing, these children buy everything they’re told by their parents wholesale. That is—they are promised—until the day their dogtooth falls out, which will be the indication that they’re fit for the sordid world beyond. Dogteeth don’t just fall out, but they don’t know that. Just as they don’t know what a “pussy” or a “zombie” is. They only know what is conveyed to them, and what’s conveyed is protective code, lies, fables and overly simplistic notions.
There’s an overriding feeling to 1950s films that everything is happy to the point of sedation. The men have fine posture and slick hair; the women are always starched, enthusiastic and dressed for appearance; the children are trite Osh Kosh cutouts. Such play-acting is a perfect backdrop for something leery, an underexposed set-up that precious few directors back then made use of. Yet, that’s why Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955) can’t help but slip into our times as a cult classic.
As with such forgotten films that warrant recirculation, Criterion has brought the film back out on DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s a good thing (one of our staff's fave picks in this issue of Music We Like). There are remarkable things at play, such as it being the only time Laughton (an actor) sat in the director’s chair. As sometimes happens with one-offs, he made it count by forever parting ways with ordinary. It was no small feat. He got Robert Mitchum—the kingpin of film noir—to deliver one of his best performances. Some might argue it was his best work. It’s one of the reasons the film was protected by the National Film Registry.
In the early-1990s, while walking down Hollywood Boulevard as a cluck from Colorado, I remember coming across a videotape of The Misfits playing live from 1983 and thinking “dude, no fucking way.” I’d never seen actual footage of them, but perpetually carried one of their sadistic Elvisy horror-themed songs stuck in my head (particularly “Queen Wasp”). I wanted to see their devil locks, the face paint, those signature Crimson Ghost insignias and battle ax basses and the basement crowd reacting to one of their purportedly awful performances. Danzig the former grave robber. “Skulls.” Green Hell. Only and Robo and Doyle and Mr. Jim (god bless him). Ed Wood and Plan 9 From Outer Space. All that stuff. I bought it. And everything was as I’d hoped it would be, from the shit-quality to the clam notes to the indecipherable lyrics from a lurched over Danzig. I brought it back to the 303 and impressed would-be Fiend Club members. There’s something irretrievable about this kind of history that gives you a pang of inflated significance.
I don’t know about you, but usually whenever I hear there’s a new Danielson album coming out I feel a curious little pang of nervous energy—the kind that you get whenever dealing with the “touched.” It’s like that with Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre, and it’s like that with his spiritual antipodes, Daniel Smith, the Light of the Danielson Famile tree. This time though, after five years of zero new recorded output, it was more just simple curiosity.
Would Brother Danielson still hold as art-pop’s askew? Would he still bring the Spirit kicking and screaming (and finally rejoicing) through the music? Or, heaven forefend, would the pendulum have swung so that the indie-Bible jubilee of the previous seven albums was compelled towards darker forces . . . towards, indeed, the dastardly craw of the Beelzebub? And would it be possible for him to perform this new set of songs dressed as a nine-foot fruit tree with a backing female faction of nurses (like he used to do)?
Bullies? Check. Taboo love interest? Check. Youthful yearning, Morse code, fangs, acid-washed faces and a snooping detective you hope never finds what he’s looking for? Check, check, check. Plus there’s a Rubik’s Cube.
And there’s at least one obvious Americanism to Let Me In, which is the title itself. "Me" is more personal than "the Right One," a little more demanding and a lot less arbitrary. The title of the 2008 Swedish film—the Tomas Alfredson-directed Let the Right One In, a tender prepubescent romantic vampire story unlike much else before it—focused on key elements to the John Ajvide Lindqvist book, mainly the relationship between the two main characters (a meek boy, and an irregular non-girl vampire). Otherwise Låt den rätte komma in stayed loyal enough to leave bare footprints in the snow.
The Matt Reeves-directed film Let Me In of 2010 just had to distinguish itself, suggesting, for me anyway, a sense of that old “Let Us Americans Show You How It’s Done” bit. Plus there was the usual exchange rate caution that this could be another dumbed-down version of something already done right once if you could but get over your allergies to subtitles. In other words, the American film made me nervous, having liked the European one so much, and I don’t speak ka-ching the way Hollywood execs do. I feared the modern-day Wicker Man with Nicolas Cage that scandalized the original 1973 Scot version with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, that strong sick feeling of pointlessness. To my happy surprise though, Let Me In was more akin to how close The Ring got to capturing the non sequitur creepiness of Ringu. Did it have to be touched up for American audiences? Probably not, but then again, why not?