Saturday, February 9, 2019

Adam (1974)

... aka: אדם

Directed by:
"Jonah Dai" (Yona Day)

An IMDb search for Israeli horror films made between 1899 and 2000 turns up approximately three results; one of which was an American production merely filmed there. While there are a couple of movies in that 100 year span that could be classified as partial or psychological horror (like 1976's The Angel Was a Devil, a woman-pursued-by-a-killer "psychological thriller," and 1984's Soldier of the Night, about a serial killer of Israeli soldiers), it's true that horror films were simply not being made in Israel until here recently. A 2016 article in The Times of Israel notes that Israeli audiences are just now starting to "warm to home grown horror movies." That's right, 2016. Audiences have been starting to warm to horror as of just three years ago. Seeing how there haven't been any notable horrors made in Israel since that article was written, I'd say that "warming" period has already grown cold.

The turning point that ushered in the brief wave of Israeli horror seems to have occurred in 2010 with the release of Kalevet / "Rabies." Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado's terror-in-the-woods tale received good notices and had enough cross-over appeal to receive a limited theatrical release in both Canada and the U.S. as well as international DVD distribution. The same team's Big Bad Wolves (2013) received even wider distribution and acclaim. It netted eleven nominations from the Israeli Film Academy (winning five), was recognized at Cannes and the Chicago International Film Festival and did a pretty clean sweep of most of the major genre film festivals and awards. A number of other Israeli horrors have been made since. Among those are the post apocalyptic "infection" film Another World (2014) and the zombie film JeruZalem (2015).

Dr. David Avissar (Ilan Dar), dean of the psychology department at Tel Aviv University, thinks he's got a handle on all schizoid types. At their core they're arrogant, emotionally stunted loners who wear a mask of normalcy in public but behind closed doors are afraid of creating relationships due to the fear of rejection. Their urge for acceptance, while simultaneously keeping everyone in their life at arm's length, may lead to frustration and then murder if left untreated. Dr. Avissar believes that a well-adjusted, psychologically sound man who recognizes his own self-worth will find no need to kill. Surgeon Dr. Dan Adam (Shmulik Kraus, who was better known as a pop singer and music composer) disagrees and thinks performing a partial lobotomy is the only remedy for the condition. Actively disproving Avissar's theories becomes an obsession with him and, being a sociopath himself, he may be the perfect man to disprove the theory.

Dr. Adam's life has been an empty one and the only true joy he seems to get is in torturing and killing animals, including regularly feeding white mice to his caged pet bird, and looking at morbid slide shows of death and destruction. He can't stand his controlling mother, can't wait for her to die (as evidenced by him blithely giving her a drawing of her own grave!) and isn't the least bit interested in attending her board meetings. Dr. Adam also doesn't have any real interest in romantic relationships. On the way to a conference, he pulls over the car just so he can watch two horses mate and, later, can't get those horses out of his head when he's having sex with a large-breasted, slutty nurse at the hospital where he works. He doesn't seem to notice, or even care, that his attractive secretary has a crush on him.

Adam finally discovers a fulfilling extracurricular activity is terrorizing both David and his family. Because the psychologist is always so busy at work, Adam first targets his pregnant wife Ruthie (Iris Davidesco, who is probably thirty years younger than the man cast as her husband) and their young daughter Sharon, who are usually left all alone in their huge house. Adam begins calling her up and making thinly veiled threats to both her and her husband. When the little girl picks up, he tells her to take off all her clothes. Not content with just hassling them, he then starts spying on their home from the brush and stalking her around town. Once David gets more involved, with Adam starting to call them repeatedly in the middle of the night and waking them up, they're forced to unplug all of their phones.

With his wife on the verge of having a nervous breakdown, David finally goes to talk with policeman friend Miha, who brings in smug Lt. Colonel Avimeleh Ram, head of investigations, to help. They decide to place a bug in the home and David is instructed to try to keep the caller on the line as long as possible so they can get an accurate trace. Adam somehow finds out what's going on and keeps the phone calls short and sweet from then on out. However, he's not smart enough to avoid making one of his phone calls from work and when his name is announced on the intercom, David now has the identity of the man who's been terrorizing them. But will he stick by his original theory that a sane man has no need for violence and murder?

During the first twenty-five minutes or so, this seemed like it's going to be fairly enjoyable, or at least trashy and entertaining, but it goes literally nowhere interesting after that. The dialogue and acting aren't very good, there's little tension or suspense, the phone calls aren't the least bit intimidating and, once the police get involved midway through, it slows to a crawl and becomes talky, generic and formulaic. Aside from perhaps the fabulous 70s decor, fashion and architecture, this only has one other memorable aspect, though unfortunately not a good one: excessive cruelty to (real) animals. We get endless shots of the bird picking apart mice, plus a pig is shot and stabbed and the psycho even squashes a frog under his foot. And as if seeing that once wasn't enough already, they then decide to repeat bits of it during the final scene. That's all the shock value they're able to muster up here.

Can't say I'd recommend this to anyone outside of Israeli film historians interested in seeing a genre anomaly from their home country. It was a critical and financial failure that got shelved after just a few weeks in theaters in the fall of 1974. The first time director, a cafe owner and businessman who had no prior film training or experience before he jumped into the filmmaker's chair, never made another film afterward.

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