National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Weekly Video/DVD Picks

BY Steven D. Greydanus

October 26-November 1, 2003 Issue | Posted 10/26/03 at 1:00 PM


The Others (2001)

A creepy ghost tale awash in Catholic belief and imagery, The Others requires suspension of disbelief regarding elements that — like the undead in Nosferatu or the figure of Death in The Seventh Seal — aren't literally reconcilable with Catholic escha-tology.

To the film's credit, it's aware of this incompatibility:

When one character voices the ghost-story premise that the worlds of the dead and the living sometimes get mixed up, another denies that God would allow such a thing to occur. Instead of entailing an denial of Christian teaching, though, the movie's final word on the subject is simply that “there isn't always an answer to everything” — a fair enough rationale in imaginative fiction.

Relying on suspense rather than frightening or gory images, the unsettling Turn of the Screw-like tale keeps viewers guessing about what's really going on. Along the way there's discussion of Christian martyrdom, some faulty catechesis about the limbo infantum — later corrected by a more orthodox understanding — and many biblical and religious references. While lacking the ultimately redemptive spin of 1999's The Sixth Sense — a more humanistic but also gorier ghost story — The Others, like The Seventh Seal, invites religious discussion without either affirming or denying faith.

Content advisory: Pervasive creepiness, unsettling family situations, fleeting marital sensuality, mixed depictions of Catholic faith and practice, brief depiction of spiritualist practice. For discerning teens and adults.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

The title phrase, quoted from Macbeth by smalltown librarian Charles Halloway (Jason Robards), perfectly evokes the unsettling milieu of Ray Bradbury's dreamlike thriller about a creepy carnival coming to a small Illinois town.

Equally important, though, is the verse from Longfellow that immediately follows it: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. / The wrong shall fail, the right prevail / With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

The story is, then, a poetic confrontation between Halloween fear and dread and Christmas peace and love. Fear and dread are connected here to concupiscent desire and disordered regret: fantasies of wealth or women, preoccupation with lost beauty or physical ability.

Mr. Dark's Pandemonium Carnival promises visitors whatever they desire, but as in Dante's Inferno gratification of disordered desires incurs equal and opposite consequences.

The story centers on 12-year-old best friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. Jim, abandoned by his father, longs for manhood, while Will's prematurely aged father is haunted by an episode in his past when Jim's absentee father proved a better father.

Yet there are occasions for redemption in this tale symbolically about rejecting the devil and all his empty promises.

Content advisory: Some creepy and frightening images, uncanny menace, very mild sensual themes. Not for viewers much younger than the 12-year-old protagonists.

Nosferatu (1922)

A Vatican film-list honoree, this silent granddaddy of all vampire movies (don't confuse it with the 1979 Herzog remake) continues to come out in new DVD and VHS editions, but the best versions remain the ones from Image and Kino. Any worthwhile edition should include tints (blue for night, yellow for interiors, etc.) rather than literal black and white, and have an appropriate musical score.

Though diminished by decades of pop-horror incarnations, the figure of the vampire remains uniquely evocative of both dread and fascination, horror and seductiveness. Monsters from werewolves to Freddy Krueger may frighten, but neither victims nor audience are drawn to them. By contrast, the vampire suggests the horror of evil working on our disordered passions.

F.W. Murnau's pioneering German expressionist film — an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker's Dracula that made few concessions to copyright beyond name and place changes, and was ordered destroyed — is almost unique in imagining a vampire who is not darkly attractive, but corpselike and ghastly. Yet his dread fascination remains troubling; the hero's wife seems repelled but also mesmerized even as she seeks to destroy him. Freudian interpretations, while common, are unsatisfying; Nosferatu is an evil, destructive force, but to destroy it one must surrender to it. The imagery resists allegorization, remaining simply, unsettlingly, itself.

Content advisory: Unsettling images and uncanny menace. Not for young kids.