6WH: Week 2 – Isabelle Adjani

The Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon continues with another week of obscure scream queens, this time focusing on French acress Isabelle Adjani. Last week, we looked at a few of Erika Blanc’s films, which are distinctly more lurid and trashy than Adjani, who has more of a reputation for staid, artistic work. You’ll see below that she’s also worked with some more popular art house directors, like Werner Herzog, Roman Polanski, and Andrzej Żuławski. While successful in Europe, she never really managed to crossover into the U.S. filmmaking scene, hence my labeling as “obscure”. Of course, last week’s reservations about the term “scream queen” apply doubly here, as Adjani is clearly trying for more, despite her work in genre films. Still, she makes an impression, as we’re about to find out:

  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV: Bart Simpson’s Dracula
  • What We Do In The Shadows (trailer)
  • Is that a whip? (Robot Chicken)
  • Nosferatu the Vampyre – Werner Herzog’s retelling of the Dracula story, this obviously resembles previous incarnations (most obviously F.W. Murnau’s silent film), but Herzog’s approach puts enough of a twist on the story that this is certainly a worthy successor. Since Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula had entered the public domain, Herzog was able to use real character names and combine that with some of Murnau’s aesthetic. Despite a similar shape that hits most of the same beats, Herzog’s film manages many changes. Max Schreck’s Count Orlok was a simple, but terrifying monster (a solid choice given the limitations of silent film). Here, Klaus Kinski plays Dracula with more humanity. Still a monster, to be sure, but sad, tired, and envious of mortality. Adjani plays Lucy, a character updated to be stronger and more active in fighting Dracula (Van Helsing, by contrast, is less of a hero, becoming more of a dispassionate observer than a driver of the story).
    Nosferatu The Vampyre

    Herzog’s visual style is on full display, with lots of well composed shots of nature and landscapes during the various travel scenes and some wonderfully creepy atmosphere all throughout. The sight of the town square, filled with “plague” victims’ coffins and tons upon tons of rats, is memorable and disturbing. Alas, these beautiful visuals and dreamlike fugues also tend to slow the pace down to a crawl, which, when combined with our familiarity with the story, does present a bit of an issue. The ending has been updated to be more ambiguous, with Dracula defeated but the vampire menace set to continue. A worthwhile updating of an old classic. ***

  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
  • Rosemary’s Baby (trailer)
  • Delicatessen (trailer)
  • The Tenant – A man rents an apartment where the previous tenant has attempted suicide. Soon, the man believes his neighbors are trying to drive him to a similar end. Adjani plays the previous tenant’s friend, but isn’t given too much to do throughout the film. The story is more focused on, well, the new tenant (played by Roman Polanski, who also directs).
    The Tenant

    Unfortunately, the pacing is rather slow here as well, with not much happening until the halfway point,

    and still taking its time before the really creepy stuff starts to poke out (even then, the good stuff is awfully short). While it does a decent job capturing the paranoia, it didn’t need to take quite so much time to get there. The ending is a little on the nonsensical side, but it at least represent an interesting idea and provokes a little thought. I generally try my best to separate art from the artist, but fugitive child rapist Roman Polanski is one person I do struggle with on those grounds. This film, at least, was made before Polanski’s crime, which helps a little, but it’s still something I find sticking in the back of my mind. If I knew Adjani’s involvement was so small, I probably wouldn’t have watched. **

  • Inside (trailer)
  • All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (trailer)
  • High Tension (trailer)
  • Deadly Circuit (aka Mortelle randonnée) – An aging private detective is put on the case of a serial killer who murders and robs rich men on their wedding night. The woman reminds the detective of his long lost daughter, so instead of completing the case, he follows and aids her when he can, eventually making contact. It’s a weird little film. I can’t say as though I follow the whole thing particularly well, but it’s entertaining in a stereotypical French way.
    Deadly Circuit

    Adjani is the serial killer here, and she pulls off all the different looks and costumes well. She’s got enough seductive charisma that you can kinda see why all these different guys would fall for her, but on the other hand, the relationships all seem so rushed and it doesn’t make a ton of sense. The detective’s motivations are also a little odd and I’m not entirely sure they make sense either. It’s ultimately not a particularly memorable film, but it’s got some interesting ideas and might be worth a watch for completists (as to what they’re trying to complete… I’m not sure, actually). **

  • They’re All Gonna Laugh At You (robot chicken)
  • Grace (trailer)
  • Spring (trailer)
  • Possession – I watched this last year and frankly, my original thoughts remain:

    Dear lord, what the hell did I just watch? The batshit insanity quotient just went way up in this year’s 6WH. Ostensibly about a bad divorce, it turns out that the woman’s new beau is, um, some sort of tentacled monster (apparently Andrzej Zulawski’s elevator pitch for the movie was “A film about a woman who fucks an octopus.”). Dial performances up to 11; Sam Niell is always great at playing unhinged and Isabelle Adjani is absolutely fearless (dat “miscarriage” scene). Frankly, I have no idea what to make of this movie. Watch it if you dare.

    Upon rewatching, I have tried to make some more sense of the movie, but it remains impenetrable, though I think I may have connected an extra dot or two. It’s visually quite impressive and the atmosphere of obsession and dread is quite effective.


    There’s a lot of things in this movie that I’m not terribly excited about (there’s a lot of manic arguing early on, for example), but for some reason, I find myself compelled to keep watching, and the payoffs are well worth the effort… even if you have no idea what’s happening. There’s a sequence in an empty subway hallway that is just a tour de force, even though, again, it makes no real sense. I think it’s supposed to be a kind of miscarriage. Whatever the case, Anjani sells it, and she sells it hard. As mentioned above, this is a fearless performance, and it was the one that made me want to explore more of her filmography in the first place. It doesn’t exactly have mass appeal, making it hard to recommend, but it’s got a certain cult appeal. As with last time, it’s a difficult film to rate, but I’ll just throw it *** and leave it at that…

That finishes up this week. Later this week, we’ll take a look at a book of horror movie recommendations, and next week’s theme will be Nazis (I hate these guys). In the meantime, head over to Film Thoughts, as Zack is already outpacing my viewings and posting writeups every day.

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