Night Sight 2008

Slashing Europe

(Markus Keuschnigg, curator)

“The Faces of Fear”: this was the title that the Austrian multi-talent Herbert Holba gave to his tract on the Italian genre maestro Mario Bava, which was published in the second edition of the film magazine ACTION that Holba founded in 1965. “The Faces of Fear”: this could also be the headline for the first surge of genre films within the Crossing Europe program, which goes hand in hand with taking a position. In 2008 the Night Sight assembles examples of the rampant film: their production diversity pays tribute to the meandering oeuvre of Bava, and their placement among films less popular culturally paced is meant to enable a critical exploration.

Genre is not intended to complement auteur here, it is not padding and supplement, but rather assertion and proof. European images of appetence have mutated in many ways in their post-war development: from the orgies between sandal films, spaghetti westerns and giallo (Italo-thrillers) in the sixties and seventies to the effect shockers produced in the eighties in the light of blockbusters and VHS culture, all the way to the landscape of genre production of today that has to take an analog and digital position against the West (USA) and the East (Asia) at the same time.

The originary worlds formed in the genre film and the violence and cruelty turned inside out in them are immanent components of the reality of European life: the monstrous transgression cinema by the Spanish genre giant Jes(ú)s Franco with his radical counterimages to religious (Jesús) and state (Franco) tyranny is still able to light the way for narrative proposals today. His compatriots Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, with their hysterical hand-camera horror opus [Rec], merge the miserable promises of television with the incapacitation of the individual in a Spanish apartment house. Catalonia and the company Filmax located there mark an epicenter of the European genre film as a whole. One of the largest and most important festivals of fantasy film is located in the coastal village of Sitges. Surfing through the program there, it is clear that the problem lies less in production than in distribution: the populace has largely been deprived of popular cinema. Only national blockbusters (such as [Rec]) and productions bought or financed by the major US studios make it into European cinemas, but usually only in synchronised versions (and thus suitable to the intended or rather imaginary target group of adolescent boys).

And yet there are still signs of life: productions like In 3 Tagen bist du tot from Austria or Fritt vilt from Norway transfer the slasher narrative to regional contexts, and France has experienced a veritable boom in horror films in recent years. Directors like Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension) or Xavier Gens (Frontière(s)) have paved their way to the USA with shockers full of powerful images, while the director duo Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury, whose À l’intérieur is shown in Night Sight 2008, is working on an international breakthrough with a remake of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. Following the assimilation of the émigrés into the US film industry, it is inevitable that expressions of regional imagery are lost: numerous talented genre directors are slipping away from the European production landscape, because it is unable to offer them suitable conditions, also of course because the phantasm of Hollywood still seems highly enticing. 

The Canadian renegade director Bruce LaBruce has taken the opposite course: his gay zombie variation Otto; or Up with Dead People was financed with North American and European money and shot in Berlin. If you don’t scream, you lose: in comparison with hysterical physical cinema experiences, such as those that [Rec] or À l’intérieur have to offer, attracting attention is even harder for subtle genre variations. Tiago Guedes & Federico Serra’s gothic tour de force Coisa Ruim put in guest appearances at a handful of festivals and then soon faded into oblivion.

Crossing Europe’s Night Sight has set itself the goal of making it possible to become immersed in these manifold faces of fear of European cinema once a year. May the high art of transgression, the mastery of action, the enticement of the image of passion find an audience once again, so that there may again be an awareness of European genre film!