Editor’s Note: I am posting this from St. Lucia and will not get home until late next Wednesday so please forgive the fact that these will probably be shorter, less well researched, and posted irregularly. I also can’t promise a theme most nights since most of the horror I’m bringing with me is from my Universal Horror boxset so there won’t be as much variety.
10/22/2017 – Switzerland: Sennentuntschi (2010)
Directed by Michael Steiner
It’s time for the second country profile after China this year (bringing the Month of Horror historical total to 41), Switzerland. When I was looking for countries to highlight for my 2015 theme, after seeing what shook out naturally and then trying to hit every major cinema I could, a couple countries stuck out as annoying me that I couldn’t find a suitable title either because I couldn’t get ahold of a copy or there wasn’t an actually notable film. Europe (and to a lesser extent Asia) in particular was one where I could just go from country to country and usually find something. Switzerland was not one of those.
Switzerland is surrounded by France, Germany, Italy, and Austria which all had plenty to choose from (taking 2/5 of the top films of that year) with the first three being among the premiere cinemas in the world. It is also bordering Liechtenstein but no one cares about them. It stands to reason that a country surrounded by such a rich film industry would also have a thriving one of its own. Switzerland however is the 99th most populated country in the world (with less people than New York City) and with the three primary languages being the ones from those three big film industries. It’s no wonder that their national cinema gets swallowed up beneath that of its neighbors and the always looming US industry. Heck, looking up famous Swiss filmmakers yields an awful lot of non-Swiss born (but who spent part of their childhood there such as Jean-Luc Godard and Marc Forster while most of the films are coproductions that tend to give the principle nation as the non-Swiss choice (You can’t be pretending Three Colours: Red is a Swiss title) or films merely set in Switzerland (such as A Cure for Wellness).
The earliest Swiss film I can find reference to is a presumably lost title from 1917, Der Bergführer. In fact much of early film seems to have little documentation online in English or any other. Gilberte de Courgenay from 1942 seems to be about the first relevant film out of Switzerland. Still, the country has been nominated five times for Best Foreign Language Film (all in the wake of the French New Wave of which Godard was a member) in First Love (1970), L’Invitation (1973), The Boat Is Full (1981), with two of the winners in Dangerous Moves (1984) and Journey of Hope from 1990. They even got a nomination for Best Animated Feature in 2016 for My Life as a Zucchini while The Swissmakers released in 1978 remains the highest grossing Swiss title and one of the most acclaimed. But as many films as I’ve seen, I can’t say I’ve ever watched one I can call properly Swiss.
As far as horror, there’s the 1975 film Barbed Wire Dolls and 1977 film Women in Cellblock 9 (both exploitation titles by Spaniard Jesús Franco) as well as the 1985 film After Darkness with John Hurt and Julian Sands (the latter two in the English language), and of course today’s film. There’s the Austrian-Swiss titles Benny’s Video and One Way Trip 3D, the German-Swiss films of Jesús Franco, and the only one I had actually even heard of without researching, the Swiss-German co-production Hell. But today’s film (which I actually picked up late last year specifically for this month) felt the most appropriate. For one, it isn’t a coproduction and for another, it is actually in Swiss German. I felt if one film was going to define a region, it’s better to make it a solidly reviewed one that actually feels as if it is unequivocally Swiss and from a native born Swiss director no less (who would later direct The Swiss Miss Massacre which both sounds and, based on the ratings, looks terrible.
Another reason for picking this movie, the tagline is “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Screaming” which is just fantastic. I really do hate The Sound of Music. But the line really is a gimmick since the plot has absolutely nothing to do with that film. The opening is set in the present day, as a girl wanders into the woods searching for mushrooms finds a bunch which have grown in the pattern of a man thanks to the help of a boy. She finds a skeleton buried beneath and it turns out the boy was last seen in 1975 and we flashback to that time for the main plot of the movie.
A mysterious mute young woman shows up unexplained after the apparent suicide of a priest with her strange actions and appearance at first giving me some serious River Tam vibes. The townspeople blame her for the death and believe she killed him and she is locked up by a police officer despite his reservations about doing so. The two of them draw closer throughout the movie but the movie itself feels like two films grafted onto each other with the title tale representing one and the witch hunt representing the other.
The lesser of the two is that witch hunt plot as a priest comes in claiming she is a witch and the devil while the police officer looks after her and tries to figure out her history. Turns out she looks just like someone in a picture from 25 years ago. The priest tries to kill her but is stopped and she understandably runs away (setting up the other story). He them keeps preaching against her blaming her for a bunch of wrongdoings throughout history and all I could think was “man I hope she guts him like a pig”. SPOILERS Turns out, the woman is actually the illegitimate daughter of the priest and the woman in the photo, left trapped in a tower like something out of a Romantic era novel or a Lifetime Original Movie. The priest is arrested and then… well the movie just kind of forgets about this plot and for good reason. END OF SPOILERS It’s pure time wasting and seems to exist mainly to throw out false leads and seemingly contradict the story the other one is telling.
The title is a folk story about three men who make a doll come to life by the power of the devil who then lets them have their way with her though she later kills them, skins them, and makes them into dolls. This is the horror portion to the lame mystery of the other half (this is as good a time as any to say that the person playing the priest was laughably bad). While completely loaded, two men and the mute youngster from before making a crude scarecrow like representation of some woman and drunkenly performing a weird ceremony which takes the form of one of the film’s occasional, unexplained stylistic indulgences. At least this one makes sense as to what they are doing and starts to lay the question of “is this supernatural or is this just coincidence. It’s a debate you would think the other story answers pretty definitively, but this plot proceeds as if the other one isn’t actually happening.
The next day the mute woman from before shows up in their mountain home wearing the same clothes as their doll which the film tries to explain why another smaller version of the doll looks like her but they never try to explain why this one does. SPOILERS Seeing this as a sign to follow the story (despite its gruesome end) presumably because it gets cold and lonely in the mountains and they really wanted to have sex. Two of the men rape her multiple times before she escapes back to the police officer. The “revenge” part or this Rape and Revenge film comes as she slaughters their goats and either directly or indirectly leads to the death of all three (though the boy seems like a traumatized, possibly mentally handicapped innocent) before turning them into dolls using their skin. The rape scenes feel like they drag on forever and the film seems really unsure of itself in these moments.
The two plots combine at the end in that a budding romance between the girl and officer is abruptly ended when he finds her new hobby, chasing her until she falls off a cliff to his death. Then he shoots himself and the tragedy is over. END OF SPOILERS
The film is technically well done and well shot with the title tale being a fascinating idea often rather well done in the film but for the second straight night, I’m not sure I know where I land on a film. It is also bloated at nearly two hours and could stand to lose some weight. It’s rare that cutting out an entire B-plot makes a film make more sense, but that actually would be the case here. There is nothing wrong with having a story be maybe real, maybe supernatural without having to answer everything, but this movie just feels like it isn’t sure if it wants to commit to. SPOILERS That final shot of presumably her skeleton on a limb on the cliff proving the story really happened as we are given zero indication before that moment that it was supposed to be something in doubt. END OF SPOILERS
But I can’t honestly say I liked a film since as I look back on it, so much of that would be based on the potential of the film. There’s may be a solid (possibly even a good) movie buried in there, but unlike A Cure for Wellness, I’m not sure if a hacksaw (even if this time it is even easier to tell which are the infected bits) would be enough to elevate it enough nor are the strong bits anywhere near as strong. It’s a story begging for a more focused do-over with the lead actress as the one returning factor.
Next up: Something else