Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.
For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…
This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. Among the millions of things keeping me razzled and dazzled and busy is the fact that I’m deep into the production of yet another short film I’ve been creating and so I figure why not commemorate the moment with a horror short?
It’s out of the bag already that Meshes of the Afternoon is hands-down my favorite horror film pre-1973. So I may as well address that fact and allow myself the chance to elaborate on my choice. So, this won’t exactly be a lengthy post and more just the more extended version of what you would put on a best of list if you weren’t as lazy as I was.
In the 40s, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid were a married couple of filmmakers who happened to work largely on experimental avant-garde film. They at one point decided to go with a short film that would attempt to depict psychological disturbances and terrors that seem paralyzing to the mind. They also were inspired to take a leaf off of the stylings of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, and with their efforts and nobody else (save for an interesting though not entirely meshing – pun intended – score by Teijo Ito added after the fact), Meshes of the Afternoon was created, a silent black and white short film.
A woman (Deren) is in trouble. There’s exact telling how or why, but she is constantly finding herself in the same spot, stuck in the same house before pursuing a mysterious figure running on the street below her home. Each time she lives through this event more and more items and factors behold themselves to her before a very shocking revelation as to the point her constant revisitation of the same moments.
What is the most interesting thing about Meshes of the Afternoon is how little actual content it claims to display. It is largely a series of repeated scenarios, gone through constantly and constantly like a little carousel of memories. Of its variety of shots, not many of them seem to take hold of any traditional manner of inflicting terror on the audience, save for the mystery behind a figure that we continuously see behind a black cloak running aside resembling death.
The figure in the black cloak, to be honest, constantly reminds me of Randall Flagg, the pure evil being from Stephen King’s several works, namely The Stand and The Dark Tower (and without spoiling The Dark Tower series, its ending heavily reminds me of the plight of Deren’s character). But that’s incidental and hardly what makes me qualify Meshes of the Afternoon as horror.
No, what brings me to give Meshes of the Afternoon its status as a horror film and as one of the greats is for how this silent experimental film constantly supplies a steady and never changing amount of dread over what is around the corner as the woman we follow in this short. We know something’s coming that is going to be bad and we’re just waiting to hear it before another door makes its appearance and another key to opening it presents itself. It’s a bit of an exercise in holding your breath, only to find that the worst is yet to come. And with Hammid’s precise focus on certain aspects of the street, the home, and the items Deren comes across, we slowly but surely begin to try to piece ourselves what the explanation for all this trouble is.
Of course, when we finally find out what’s wrong, it’s also when we realize it’s too late to fix what depressing finality has taken place. And it’s just as emotionally draining to accept where this maze of a film has taken us as it is to fear the worst.
This dread, this suspense, is what makes this film a nightmare in broad daylight. All the other continuous examinations and analysis – from how it comments on women being subjugated to a simple role stuck in the home instead of being allowed a place in the real world to the continuous editing shifts from an objective point of view to a subjective point of view that keeps the repetition still fresh and engaging – is just a bonus to me. The other fact that David Lynch, like myself, swears by this movie also adds to my love for it.
But it’s the fact that it still retains its nightmarish atmosphere without demanding it with ghosts, serial killers, or darkness, that makes it one of my favorite movies and my out-and-out favorite pre-1973 horror movie.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. It IS 13 minutes long. Check it out yourself.