Titus (1999), is a film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Grand Guignolesque Titus Andronicus. Often called “the least of” Shakespeare’s plays, due to certain people’s distaste for the theatrical presentation of the violence of life and what it says about the nature of us anthropoids. Rape, revenge, mutilation, murder, cannibalism, despair as well as poetry abound in the Bard of Avon’s relentlessly brilliant and most unappreciated work.
The plot centers around the eponymous Titus, a victorious Roman general recently returned from warring against the Goths -played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins, who given the notoriety of a certain character with a predilection for cannibalism he previously played was the perfect casting choice for the role- and he and his family’s tragic downfall at the hands of Tamora, a Gothic queen and Aaron, a Moor whom he captures as war spoils and the bloody vengeance he wreaks upon them in turn.
The film, while certainly violent, does not cross the line into exploitative splatter movie territory, as it easily could, by any means; but is instead tastefully restrained in a way which I feel heightens the impact of the violence and makes it all the more wrenching- and in certain scenes and senses, satisfying- in the cinematograph of your mind. Despite the much commented upon unpleasant goings on, the film is not entirely dour; there are moments of levity interspersed with tragedy as in the scene where Titus is reunited with his previously severed hand. There is also a sense of nervous suspenseful comedy- and dare I say possibly one of the most arresting pieces of acting in history on the part of Anthony Hopkins– when Titus, feigning madness is visited by the “spirits” of Rape, Revenge and Murder.
The one downside to the film is the use of deliberate anachronism of costumes and iconography from various periods in history to signal the applicability of the play’s perennial themes to all ages; I do not care much for this because Shakespeare does not need to be “interpreted for modern audiences” as the story is far strong enough to stand on its own even after the passage of centuries and its themes to become manifest on their own. Much like the earlier Romeo + Juliet (1996) we are given characters with hyper modern and rather annoying 90’s edginess in the form of Tamora’s sons, Demetrius (Matthew Rhys) and Chiron (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and with outright bizarre looks in the form of Alan Cumming‘s Saturninus. I would have preferred a straight forward period piece because these sorts of choices distract from the core focus of the story.
Despite my critical nitpicking Titus is a great film which does credit to its source material and does not shy away from the unpleasant realities of life we as horror fans explore in our love for the genre and goes to show that what Harold Bloom said about Shakespeare inventing what we think of as the human is true; in him inhabited all the divergent personalities of his plays from the vile Aaron to the jocular Falstaff and princely Hamlet, yet by virtue of containing them, was yet more than them still. In fact, it may not be too much to say that Titus anticipates and acts as a progenitor to the good doctor himself. Truly genius.
Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home(1987) is an obscure comedy film starring Jon Cryer, which hits the spot if you are a fan of 80’s teen movies while simultaneously satisfying the horror fan due to its main character being a huge horror fan himself. The story is nothing out of the ordinary; Morgan Stewart is a boy who meets a girl and they fall in love. This rather cliched scenario is spiced up by the fact the boy is an outsider- but not of the dark and brooding, weirdo variety; instead he is happy and relatively well adjusted- but he is butting heads with his straight laced parents in a search for personal independence- pretty standard stuff. What also sets the film apart and where the film becomes of interest to horror fans is that it is fun picking out all of the horror movie posters that Morgan has on his walls, seeing all the masks and things he collects, the many references to horror movies sprinkled throughout as well as what I think is the only celluloid representation of romance blossoming while on line waiting to get a copy of The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh signed by George Romero- pretty unique. If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out.
Summer School (1987) is another 80’s comedy film which is better known than the aforementioned Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home, and is just as much enjoyable, thanks especially to two characters in particular; the mighty Chainsaw and Dave. Set around the unfortunate inhabitants of a summer school class, this shows that one can have fun even in less than ideal circumstances. Horror fans will definitely relate with Chainsaw and Dave because they are two horror freaks obsessed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and who even set up a screening of it in class. They also have a talent for practical make up effects which is put on full display in one memorable scene in which they stage the massacre of their entire class. This movie is light and fun and just the right aperitif for a night of horror films.