Featured Post

NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, June 9, 2017

PROPPIAN PONDERINGS PT. 3

I'm returning to the topic of this brief "series," last seen in 2014, because one of the films I've just reviewed speaks so well to the "two forms of will" elaborated there:

I should have said earlier that these two forms of will, these "two souls" that seem to dwell in every human's breast, only appear in fictional characters to the extent that their creators choose to emphasize one or both.  It is possible to have characters who are purely devoted to glorious ideals, or purely devoted to the persistence of ordinary existence.  It is also possible to have combinations of the two, but one form of will must dominate over the other...

In my review of the 1971 Hammer film TWINS OF EVIL, I remarked that although it was part of a trilogy of vampire films based on Sheridan LeFanu's novel CARMILLA, TWINS did not center on the menace of the vampires, in contrast to most films containing vampires. Rather, the "star" of the story, played by the top-billed Peter Cushing, is a (17th-century?) witch-hunter named Gustav Weil.

(I should note that top billing in itself doesn't equate with the star of the story. The most extreme example of this is that Bela Lugosi gets star-billing in the serial THE WHISPERING SHADOW, but he plays neither villain nor hero, but simply a red herring-type.)

Weil is apposite to the matter of fictional characters whose creators have given them combinations of both the idealizing will, with its "glorious ideals," and the existential will, "devoted to the persistence of ordinary existence." As the film begins, the viewer sees Weil and his cohorts burning a young woman to death on the suspicion that she's a witch. This act makes it impossible for most viewers to assign him the status of the hero, so by my system he could still be one of three other personas: villain, monster, or demihero. Villains are suggest a devotion to the pure ideal of contravening good, but it's soon apparent that Weil thinks that his witch-hunting serves the purpose of his version of Christianity and of his community. It would be possible for a witch-hunter to be a monster who, in the name of pure survival, has become estranged from his community due to his obsessions: this formula appears in another Peter Cushing role, his "Baron Frankenstein" as portrayed in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.   Yet Weil seems to blend in with his community, even though not all the locals approve of his witch-finding activities. Thus at first, Weil seems closest in tone to the negative form of the demihero: the type who I observed in this essay to be "a loathsome viewpoint character who deserves to be destroyed."

Yet, as the movie's plot unfolds, Weil's dedication to his cause is shown to be sincere even if he makes poor choices regarding the objects of his persecution. Further, vampires in Weil's world are real, and thus he's not totally unjustified in crusading against evil. But the new information still doesn't elevate Weil to the level of a heroic figure like the Van Helsing of Hammer's DRACULA series. It's not just that he's fallible, but he's fallible in a way that shows the negative consequences of the existential will. Thus, at the climax Anton, the "hero" (but not "star") of the story finally makes Weil aware of his failures, Weil still does not take on the stature of the hero, even when he leads his followers in an assault upon the castle of the vampire. Weil has some idealizing will in him, but it's been trumped by the existential will, the part of him that has been content to attack impotent victims rather than assail the true source of evil. I observed a similar admixture of "the two souls" in Cushing's Baron Frankenstein as well, as I chronicled here, but in the Baron's case he is estranged enough from the community to be deemed a "monster."

On a side-note, TWINS seems to be a rare example of a horror-film oriented on the demihero rather than the monster; to date I've analyzed only one other such film here. But in that film, the monster dies and the demihero survives, while in TWINS OF EVIL, it's the demihero and the monster who are the real "twins," in being diametrically opposed evils that are both destroyed by film's end.


No comments: