The following piece was submitted by Barry Lee Dejasu, the 2nd of multiple writers joining us from That’s Not Current. He’s also another contributor on our list that I unfortunately know nothing whatsoever about. As I am determined to provide an intro to each of this year’s submitted pieces, this presents something of a challenge. Which is why I will now do what I always do when presented with a challenge: Make shit up!!
Barry won gold in underwater archery at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He also invented those little plastic cap thingies at the end of shoelaces. When not contributing for TNC, he can be found volunteering his time at community soup kitchens, where he also runs programs to help teach those less fortunate how to read.
Not believing any of this, are you? The scary part is that it might be true. We may never know.
For his Halloween Horrors debut, Barry provides the 1st of 2 entries based on an animated feature, albeit one that I’m not familiar with. And if this event introduces us to new films, that’s not such a bad thing.
Fear(s) of the Dark (2007)
Written by Barry Lee Dejasu
Upon catching the trailer for a 2007 French, black-and-white, animated anthology film called Peur(s) du Noir, I knew that I had stumbled upon something of a secret treasure. Of course, at the time, it was only playing in film festivals, and I’d had to wait for the DVD to be released before I could finally see it, but when I finally did one Halloween a couple of years later, I found that it was so worth the wait.
Legendary French artistic director Etienne Robial oversaw this project, which features segments by no less than six different animators. Although each artist lends a unique and self-contained vision, they all come together quite nicely, painting a much larger, frightful vision that asks a very primal question: what is it that scares you, in the dark?
(On a side note: the segments are never named within the film, but the Region 1 DVD release has chapter titles for each of them. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the segments by these titles.)
The film opens with one of two “serialized” segments that intersect and frame the overall film. Directed by French comic artist Blutch, this is a gorgeous chalk- and charcoal-like narrative, is something of an 18th-century period piece. A wickedly grinning old man in coat, tails, powdered wig and tricorn hat is leading—or being led by—four very large, snarling dogs through a dismally grey countryside. From one segment to another (“Hungry Dogs,” “On the Prowl,” “Last Dance,” and “To the Death”), the old man encounters different people in his travels, the dogs break free, one by one, and run off to viciously attack their terrified prey.
The second serial, directed by Pierre di Sciullo, is a computer-animated series of images, most of which are shown in stark black and white. Some of these images are simple shapes and patterns, but others are far more intricate and prismatic, escalating into disorienting kaleidoscopes. All the while, a disembodied voice (lent by French actress and director Nicole Garcia) divulges a number of fears, anxieties, repulsions, and nightmares.
The third segment, “Laura,” comes from American illustrator Charles Burns (author of the renowned graphic novel Black Hole). Burns is known for creating moody, surreal, and haunting tales, often with discomforting scenes of body horror that would please fans of Cronenberg, and “Laura” is a perfect showcase of all of this. His distinct black-and-white style is brought to beautiful, disturbing life in this twisted coming-of-age tale being recounted by a bedridden man named Eric. As a child, he’d had a deep fascination with insects—a fascination which led to a strange discovery in the woods that would later come back to haunt him during his first relationship in college.
The fourth segment, “New Student,” is collaboration between French comic artists Romain Slocombe and Marie Caillou. Split into two parts (bookending one of Blutch’s segments), so a fully CGI story, this is the split-narrative tale of a young girl in Japan named Sumako. By turns, she’s seen undergoing some kind of terrifying psychiatric treatment in a hospital, being horribly bullied in her new school…and experiencing a surreal and eerie supernatural presence in the woods near her home, where a legendary 18th century Samurai is said to have been buried. This segment is perhaps the most unusual one, in that it features a fleeting use of color at times (take a wild guess as to which color).
The fifth segment is written by Italian comic team Jerry Kramsky and Lorenzo Mattotti. Beautifully hand-drawn, “The Great Plains” is the story of a man in rural France recalling his childhood days in the countryside. Shortly after his uncle disappeared while poaching, an unseen monster begins to prowl the land. The boy and his best friend ponder its true nature as it strikes again and again. This is perhaps the most emotionally powerful segment of the film, told with a moving and at times mythical air, reminiscent of the French legend of Beast of Gévaudan (which in turn was the basis for the 2001 film Brotherhood of the Wolf).
The final segment is a real show-stopper. Coming from American comic artist Richard McGuire, “Light and Dark” is a starkly black-and-white computer animation. Clearly inspired by classical ghost stories, this is the tale of a man who comes into a seemingly abandoned house from a snowstorm, only to slowly uncover a number of dark discoveries of its former occupant. Eschewing dialogue for striking visuals (it’s very sparing with the white, emphasizing just how dark the house is), and excellently utilizing sounds, this is a very claustrophobic piece, sporting of a number of unsettling surprises that culminate in a deliciously haunting finale.
Peur(s) du Noir is a wholly unique cinematic experience, not only for fans of horror but in the whole world of animated films. It’s a shame that there has not been a follow-up film from anybody in this team; but no doubt a small part of that is the fact that many people haven’t seen or even heard of it. I’ve shown it to my wife and a couple of friends over the past couple of years, and plan to make a special viewing of it with a larger group this October. It’s a highly entertaining and very creepy film, and any fan of animated genre films or even just tales of subtle horror would do themselves a great favor in viewing it. So this Halloween season, get this film (it’s quite cheap on a certain online marketplace…), put it in, hit the lights, raise the volume, and take a glimpse into these Fear(s) of the Dark