Friday, April 29, 2016

Morbo (1972)

... aka: Morbidness

Directed by:
Gonzalo Suárez

Hidden gem alert, folks! While this one isn't all that easy to find (it was never officially released in the U.S. or many other places outside of Spain) it's definitely worth the effort to track down, especially for fans of subtle, ambiguous horror. Immediately following their wedding, young newlyweds Diego (Víctor Manuel) and Alicia (Ana Belén) hit the road with their camper in search of some adventure and fun. Feeling liberated and free, she even strips off her wedding gown down to a mesh bikini at a gas station in full view of the attendant. They drive along and finally pull off the main highway onto a dirt road, ignoring a “Prohibido el Paso” sign as they do. Going deep into the woods, they finally pull over in an empty field and decide to camp there for a few days. They gorge themselves on food and wine, have sex, carve their names into a tree, play dodge ball, discuss their love and their fears and other strange things, blown up some inflatable chairs, sunbathe and decide to open all of their gifts; most of which they mock and nonchalantly toss on the ground. Well, except for a Mona Lisa painting. Alicia wants to hang that by the fireplace of her beautiful country home. Once Diego buys it for her, of course. But the honeymoon doesn't last forever as they say... though usually newlywed bliss lasts longer than a day!

All of the happiness, passion and optimism about the future quickly falls by the wayside in favor of boredom, insecurity, bickering and a curious sudden disconnect between the two. He's brought along his economics books to catch up on some work. She's not happy about it and has no idea what to do with herself. When he suggests she go on a walk, she accuses him of treating her like a child. What we've done here is basically fast-forwarded to the problems and hurdles most couples face years down the line in their relationship. In this case you have the working career man and the housewife. He immerses himself in his work, becomes complacent, stops being attentive to her basic needs (he even has to be nagged continually to get her some clean water) and adopts an almost condescending, resentful attitude toward her at times. She quickly becomes bored, feels unfulfilled in her role and starts becoming increasingly neurotic. All of this coincides with a strong gust of wind, which is just the beginning of the odd things that start going on in the natural world around them as their relationship suddenly starts crumbling.

Alicia starts growing more paranoid and begins to suspect not only that he husband is lying but also that the two of them are not alone. She constantly has a feeling she's being watching, most particularly when she's naked, sleeping or being intimate with her new husband. She steps on a hairpin outside on the ground... and she doesn't use hairpins. Somehow the windshield wipers on their car turn on, which coincides with her wedding gown (left in the backseat) disappearing. One of her pet hamsters eats the head off of its mate, survives their attempt to drown it in the sink and eventually has to be tossed outside in a plastic bag. Their wedding cake topper is found floating in a river with the eyes on the bride gouged out. Diego discovers a seemingly-abandoned home nearby and takes water from their well, but the jugs are found emptied later on. And there's a lot more weirdness where that comes from.

I couldn't help but feel a strong sense of deja vu as this one unfolded. That's probably because it shares more than a few things in common with the later and much more famous Australian film LONG WEEKEND (1978). That Colin Eggleston-directed / Everett De Roche-scripted effort centers around an unhappy, extremely unlikable couple on the verge of divorce who take their camper to a secluded area in a last ditch effort to save their doomed relationship. Their foulness of mouth and personality, and their complete disregard for the natural world around them, leads mother nature to strike out at them. Morbo is so similar in so many different ways that I refuse to believe the makers of Weekend didn't see this one beforehand. And while I did enjoy Eggleston's film quite a bit, this is the more sophisticated and multi-layered of the two.

Director Suárez, who worked on a number of other genre films I'm now excited to check out, isn't one to completely tie himself down with genre restrictions and does a very impressive job making much from little. Most of the film takes place on one plot of land and the surrounding forest, yet he's able to keep viewers fully immersed in the plot and intrigued about where things may be headed. Not only that, but he generates a good amount of suspense and is able to create effectively eerie, disquieting moments from things as simple as the rustling of trees in the wind. Juan Amorós' excellent cinematography and an outstandingly creepy music score from Jacques Denjean both also contribute heavily to the film's success. The leads, who are both famous singers in Spain, deserve kudos as well for solid performances and holding the whole thing together. Belén is especially good.

American character actor Michael J. Pollard, who is always weird but perhaps even weirder than usual here with a deep, dubbed voice, turns up at the end in an enigmatic role as a backwoods creep who lives in a crumbling old mill house with his blind, wheelchair-bound, disfigured wife (María Vico), who was burned up in a forest fire. The wife, who's suicidal and bitter to the point where she doesn't even want to be touched, and the husband, who's been so long without companionship (and sex) he's driven to some very creepy behavior, seem to be a grim reflection of where the young couple may be headed one day. However, the same can't be said for the two stars in real life. They fell in love while making this film, got married and remain together to this very day. Suárez used both of them again the following year in his adventure-fantasy Al diablo con amor (To Hell with Love).

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