HORROR NATURALLY lends itself to the big screen, but the track record of this Halloween season's scare flicks is uneven. Lost Souls and The Little Vampire just aren't doing the trick, and the rerelease of 1973's The Exorcist has been the best box-office bet for goose bumps. However, taking an entirely different approach to the eerie is this weeklong series of short films by the Brothers Quay, those London-based American twins whose work is best known here from MTV.
directed by the Brothers Quay runs October 27-November 2 at Grand Illusion
Don't call them puppeteers. Yes, their droll, surreal dream worlds are frequently inhabited by diminutive but decidedly uncute doll-faced figures. Mainly employing stop-motion technique, the Quays construct ominous little tableaus jam-packed with coded symbols and allegorical narratives. In this hour-long program that culminates with In Absentia, their most recent work, the brothers fill their dioramas with severed hands, mischievous stuffed rabbits, reverse-faced clocks, keyholes and peepholes, rust and decay, self-removing screws, thread, and creaking pulleys. Filming in black-and-white (with occasional shocks of color) and using some silent-era techniques, they create bell-jar worlds both antiquated and timeless.
Among these works, the fascinating, nightmarishly weird Street of Crocodiles (1986) has a Kafkaesque, Eastern European feel, making Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987) seem like a duller, purely visual exercise. The four-part Stille Nacht series, produced between '93 and '98, includes two videos for the English mope-rock band His Name Is Alive, with some amusingly bizarre imagery.
Shot in CinemaScope, In Absentia typifies the Quays' obsessive, claustrophobic sensibility as it juxtaposes different worlds-within-worlds. A woman sits at a table, pressing her pencil to paper with trembling hands. Pencil leads repeatedly break, frustrating her efforts to communicate, while the avant-garde score by Karlheinz Stockhausen suggests old sci-fi movies. Shifting light beyond her window indicates the larger world outside; glimpses of a creepy little horned puppet figure imply an inner world of psychosis.
The Quays' films are an acquired taste, not easily acquired, but they contain some unique and unsettling images for those willing to forgo the scary for the arty.