Wednesday, 30 March 2016
Dr Tarr's Torture Dungeon (1973)
In 1845 Edgar Allan Poe published a dark comedy short story in which a young man visits a mental institution in order to learn more of its revolutionary new treatment method known as "the system of soothing". He is surprised to learn that the system has recently been replaced by another process modeled on the works of "Dr Tarr and Professor Fether". Still, he does not think anything is truly amiss until he sits down for a very strange dinner party with the institution's staff ...
If you've already guessed that the "staff" are actually the inmates of the asylum, who have overthrown and imprisoned the real doctors and orderlies, then you are somewhat brighter than the Poe's narrator (to be fair to Poe, the stupidity of his narrator is openly acknowledged by the leader of the inmates). Fortunately for the young man, the real staff break free of their imprisonment and save him from the tender methods of "Tarr and Fether". I trust I don't need to explain what they are.
This 1973 Mexican film - also known under the title Mansion of Madness - is an adaptation of Poe's short story. The brevity of the original tale naturally requires considerable padding to be added to the script: padding that mostly comes in the form of people being chased through the woods that surround the institution.
Mixing comedy and horror can work very well, but it's a difficult mixture to get right, and this film definitely struggles with the issue. It has some genuinely quite ugly moments in the early going, for instance, but things get more and more surreal and comedic as the film goes on. Overall, I preferred the nigh-slapstick sequences toward the end, but neither of them really felt like they captured the right feel to me.
If you have an interest in surrealist film - and are willing to endure some scenes of sexual violence about 15 minutes in - then you may well find something of interest here. It does have some nicely done visual elements. Outside of that niche though, I don't think it really delivers: it's sometimes ugly, but never really scary, and the comedy is hit and miss.