Demon, a Spooky Polish Horror Film, is Coming for You
Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a twice a month column about the horror genre, past, present and future.
This edition of Bay of the Living Dead is a little late–I’ve been recuperating from the flu. Thanks to a visit to Dr. Frankenstein, I am healed! Moving forward you can look for this column on or about the first and fifteenth of each month.
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Demon, a Polish-Israeli co-production, is the final feature film from Polish filmmaker Marcin Wrona. The auteur was found hanging in a hotel room on September 19, 2015, just as Demon was beginning to garner acclaim on the film festival circuit. Wrona, who was 42 years old, is believed to have committed suicide.
Wrona’s unexpected and tragic passing casts an eerie pallor over Demon, an already unsettling chiller inspired by the legends of The Dybuuk–Jewish demons who posses the souls of the living. Itay Tiran, lauded in his native Israel as one of his generation’s finest actors, gives a sensational performance as Piotr, a young man who journeys from London to rural Poland for his wedding. Piotr’s future father-in-law has given the happy couple a creepy old house as a wedding present–the house is a fixer-upper if ever there was one.
Piotr starts acting strangely during the wedding reception, which is held on the grounds of his new home. He begins speaking in a variety of languages he couldn’t possibly have known. He has a series of convulsions–in one particularly unnerving sequence, he rips his jacket and shirt off in front of the wedding guests and leans backwards–he appears to be unaware of his actions.
Piotr is possessed by the spirit of a young, long deceased neighborhood woman who vanished mysteriously decades earlier.
Tiran’s extraordinary work makes Demon an unsettling viewing experience. The actor, largely unknown to American moviegoers, gives a manic performance as the possessed young man. Tiran’s control over his voice, facial features and his body language makes the character’s possession seem real and plausible. Unlike The Exorcist (1973) which relied on masks and puppetry to create the illusion of possession, Demon’s power lies in the acting chops of it’s star.
Wrona, a highly regarded filmmaker in his native Poland, sets a suitably eerie stage as his camera glides through the dilapidated old house. The overcast sky and the non-stop rain contribute to the film’s atmosphere. Demon is a far cry from Hollywood’s recently produced horror films. It’s a subtle tale of terror which might just haunt you long after you leave the theater.
This month, Alama Drafthouse’s New Mission Theater celebrates Tim Burton, the legendary director who films his childhood fantasies–and his nightmares. On Saturday September 10, Drafthouse screens Burton’s sublime Batman (1989). Between Michael Keaton’s angry Caped Crusader, Jack Nicholson’s manic, sociopathic Joker and a decidedly Gothic and spectral Gotham City, Burton’s Batman stands as the first adaptation which was true to Batman creator Bob Kane’s Dark Knight concept. Burton’s film is a superhero action/adventure flick re-imagined as a horror film. It begs to be seen on the big screen.
If you see Burton’s Batman at Alamo Drafthouse, prepare yourself for an unexpected treat. Ryan Bijan, a Texas based comic book fan, presents the trailer for Mystery of the Batman, chapter 1–The Case of the Chemical Syndicate. Charmingly shot on a shoestring in glorious black-and-white, Bijan’s film purports to be a recently rediscovered “lost” Batman serial produced in 1939, the year of the character’s creation. Mystery of the Batman’s trailer will screen before the Burton Batman.
Bijan does a marvelous job of recreating those wonderful old serials of our parents’ and grandparents’ time. The settings, costumes, and the slightly stylized, over-the-top acting will make you feel as though you’re having popcorn at the Bijou on a Saturday afternoon way back in 1939.
Bijan tells me that his film’s score, lifted in part from Universal monster flicks of the 1940s, and from the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV series, is now in public domain.
“This is just a fan project for fun,” he said. “I’m not making any money off it. I used the Fleischer Superman cartoon theme, but that’s in public domain, and the final track at the very end was originally from Son of Frankenstein, but I borrowed it from The Mummy’s Hand.”
Bijan did a great job! You can watch the complete Mystery of the Batman on YouTube–but the trailer, and the Burton film, are well worth seeing on the big screen.
Alama Drafthouse’s Burton tribute continues on Monday, September 19 with the macabre animated film The Corpse Bride.