Monday, 5 May 2008


Writing about WINTER LIGHT set me off thinking about Bergman in general and one aspect of his work in particular : his ability to shock. This works in many ways. On one of the Imdb noticeboards for Bergman's THE RITE somebody posted that they felt embarrassed and actually blushed at the scene where one character describes how he brought a woman to orgasm. But it is Bergman's ability as a filmmaker to physically make one jump in the same way that a horror film might. Ingmar Bergman is on record as saying that he grew up watching Universal Horror films and even a very basic knowledge of his movies proves that the imagery of these films has influenced him. Bergman has often shown an interest in the supernatural in such films as THE SEVENTH SEAL and THE DEVIL'S EYE and suggestions of the supernatural in many other films. THE MAGICIAN is not a true horror film (although if features a classic scare sequence) but it uses much of the traditional imagery of the Gothic tale. Just look at the opening sequence of this film with its coach travelling through a wood, the sinister figure of Vogler (Max Von Sydow) - it could easily be the opening of a very up market vampire movie. HOUR OF THE WOLF begins with Liv Ullman talking directly into the camera about the disappearance of her artist husband and almost without changing the dialogue this could almost be the prologue to a story by H.P.Lovecraft! (am I alone in thinking that the young Von Sydow would have been the ideal actor to play Lovecraft ?) In flashback we see her husband's mental deterioration as he is beset by the demonic/ghostly residents of the nearby castle(one of whom bears a remarkable resemblance to Bela Lugosi - which I'm sure is not accidental), eventually being drawn into their company as surely as Jack Torrance became a resident of the Overlook Hotel. Two of Bergman's greatest films feature sequences that come close to being honest to goodness depictions of some sort of vampirism. In the extraordinary PERSONA one of the characters dreams (or does she?) that another character visits her bedroom at night. What adds to the mystery of the scene is that Bergman shoots the scene in a way that wouldn't be out of place in a film version of LeFanu's CARMILLA and it is hard not to believe that in this film and the others mentioned above that he isn't deliberately invoking the classic horror film. In CRIES AND WHISPERS the vampiric dream sequence (although we are never quite sure that it is a dream) is far more explicit. A dead person returns to life and embraces the living and blood is drawn. It is a powerful and genuinely unsettling sequence like all Bergman's nightmares and these moments in his films are, for my money, worth all George Romero and Wes Craven's films rolled into one. My final offering is the night fright that awakens Ingrid Bergman in AUTUMN SONATA (and is followed by a real spiritual horror between Ingrid and Liv Ullman). If you don't jump at this you are probably already dead.

1 comment:

Cerpts said...

Sadly, I've only ever seen THE SEVENTH SEAL -- and that was so many years ago I couldn't even describe it. Here's another director whose work I'm going to have to tackle one of these fine days.