Buried Treasures is a column dedicated to things we feel have gone underappreciated, often both critically and commercially. We encourage you to seek these moments out and hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
Words: Paul Dean
'Don't Look Now' (1973)
If you have an interest in cult cinema or in films that are just plain strange, then you might well be familiar with 'The Man Who Fell To Earth', in which David Bowie walks around being a slightly-out-of-place alien, a role he probably wasn't reaching far for at all. This was directed by British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg some time in the mid seventies and I worry that this space oddity will remain will remain his most famous film, the title that he is remembered for. This is completely unfair, because the same period also saw Roeg direct one of my favourite horror flicks and what is surely one of the best British contributions to the genre, 'Don't Look Now'.
Mind you, this film has an astounding emotional range and I'm not really sure it's fair to simply classify it as horror, as it's as much a thriller, a romance and perhaps even a psychological drama, very often being an intense example of each of these. It manages such breadth not only because it's so well directed and so well paced, but also because its leads, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, carry it so very well, from emotion to emotion, from the trivial to the tragic.
'Don’t Look Now' begins with what is surely one of most horrible openings in cinema. Sutherland and Christie's daughter wanders around in her garden for a while before undramatically falling in the pond and drowning, then being discovered by her absolutely distraught, hysterical father. In an attempt to distance themselves and try to recover from their loss, the couple escape to Venice where Sutherland works restoring a creepy old church. A number of strange and sinister events unfold around them and it isn't long before Sutherland starts seeing a strange figure in a red raincoat running through the city, a figure dressed not at all unlike his drowned daughter.
The usually romantic Venice is portrayed as a cold, desolate bleak and almost monochrome city, mirroring the now broken lives of its leads. At times its streets are creepy and convoluted and little about this strange foreign city seems to make sense. Stranger still are the two apparently psychic women that the couple meet, women who claim to be in contact with their daughter. At the same time, a number of murders are also being committed across Venice and we are quickly treated to the grisly sight of a body being dredged from one of the canals. With all this going on about him, Sutherland begins to try to solve a puzzle whose pieces only finally fit in a most unpleasant and unexpected conclusion, one that is certainly nasty enough to match the films opening, while also being one that highlights the tragic foreshadowing that has punctuated the story.
This is an excellent film with a brilliant and very nasty mystery at its core. If that isn’t enough for you then, to emphasise the closeness of the lead couple, as well as to add a very grounded and human element to complement the story's growing sense of menace, it also features one of the most graphic and frankly unexpected sex scenes in British cinema, giving unprepared viewers a more than generous chance to appraise Sutherland's bouncing arse. Nice.
'Don't Look Now' can be purchased on Special Edition DVD at Amazon.co.uk.