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February 27, 2014

Memory of the Dead

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La memoria del muerto
Valentin Javier Diment - 2011
Artsploitation Region 1 DVD

From Argentina comes this well done piece of grand guignol. What I like is that there are no pauses to explain exactly what's going on or why. At a shade under ninety minutes, there's no dawdling around with exposition or setting up every scene. Everything takes place in and around a suburban house, exactly the kind of environment one doesn't expect the various shenanigans to take place.

Alicia has a premonition that her husband, Jorge, is going to die suddenly. The premonition turns out to be true. Forty-nine days after the death of Jorge, Alicia gathers the closest friends of her husband for some obscure ritual that is to bring him back from the dead. The mayhem begins right at the stroke of Midnight. Of course nothing works out quite as planned. Not everyone is quite the friend to Jorge that is originally assumed. Even worse, the half dozen guests encounter ghosts from their own pasts, and these are not happy reunions.

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The first indication that nothing is quite right is when a rat is spotted scampering across the back lawn of this well kept house. The assumption that the ghosts are all outside the house turns out to be false, as they materialize and disappear at will. Nor even within the context of horror fantasy is there certainty that what is being viewed is part of that peculiar reality, or just a dream. The peak of the grotesque is certainly when the gay painter encounter the faceless ghost of his twin sister. The scene could well be a Freudian nightmare with a slit in the face that not so coincidentally resembles a vagina, soon to be a vagina with teeth.

The difficulty about writing about a film like this is that you don't want to give too much away. For those looking for where Memory of the Dead fits in as a genre piece, I think it close in spirit to some of the films of Nobuhiko Obayashi, particularly Hausu and The Discarnates, as well as the earlier films of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi (and I am hardy the first to note the similarities with the latter two filmmakers).

The film starts off with a folk song about a seagull in love with the sea. The song is both about unrequited love, but also about the folly of not being aware of the nature of things, or in this case, nature's indifference. Jorge's friends are initially bound be what is assumed to be their love for him. Their ghosts are all family members, indicative of unresolved traumas. As it turns out, spectral relations are the not all that the house guests need to worry about, especially when the sanity of the hostess is questioned. Everything does end happily for a couple of the characters here, and this is one of those rare times when I can say it was a twist I never expected.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 27, 2014 07:48 AM