Horror

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Late Spanish director Iván Zulueta’s lost cult horror film Arrebato, or Rapture, is currently in its first theatrical run stateside after opening abroad in 1980. Cited a favorite by filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (The Skin I Live In), the new 4K restoration of Arrebato delivers arthouse psychological horror to the masses; only the horror here is more on the phantasmagorical, meditative side. While the vampiric nature of addiction pumps through this film’s veins, it’s the compulsive thrill of cinema that wreaks the most havoc.

B-Horror director José (Eusebio Poncela) is washed up, both for inspiration and as a junkie. He’s nearing the completion of a delayed feature, eager to be done with it finally when he receives a strange package from former acquaintance Pedro (Will More) and ex-girlfriend Ana (Cecilia Roth) reappears. Both dig their vampiric claws into José. Ana through drugs and Pedro through cinematic obsession. Both pull José in opposite directions with lust and carnal confusion. Caught in the middle, José loses all sense of time, sexuality, space, and perhaps even sanity.

The package Pedro sent, filled with a Super-8 reel, a key, and a tape prompts José to reflect on his relationship with the bizarre cinephile. Nothing about this voyage through memories screams horror in the overt sense, but everything about Pedro seems Other. He’s pale, prefers to hunch or lurk in corners, eagerly feeds off of attention or drugs, and has a peculiar ability to send those in his orbit into a trance. Pedro isn’t conventionally attractive; he’s socially inept and speaks in croaked whispers. Yet, there’s a sexual pull there that José isn’t able to shake. Pedro may not bite into José’s neck and drink his blood, but the metaphor is apparent.

Also sucking José dry of all his artistic energy is Ana, who refuses to grant a reprieve from the highs of heroin, cocaine, and sex. Until the crash or hangover hits, anyway. The physical and mental toll causes José to stumble through waking life and memories. A strange, tactile and hallucinogenic experience exacerbated by the increasing obsessions from everyone around José, including himself.

Zulueta created a cult oddity that never entirely pushes the horror fan enough. Think Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer without the bloodletting catharsis for its tortured artist or a mood piece similar to Only Lovers Left Alive with the faintest of Cronenberg brushstrokes. Arrebato is enigmatic and stunning, but it can also slow to a glacial pace in its methodical intricacies.

The title can be read in multiple ways here; the plot isn’t interested in spelling anything out for viewers. Themes take precedence over story, which offers a lot to mine and analyze in terms of metaphor and interpretation. But coherent storytelling or traditional narrative doesn’t exist. It can be a struggle to stay engaged in José’s journey, which occasionally spins its wheels and feels like not much more than prolonged foreplay with Pedro and the camera.

It’s easy to see why Almodóvar loves Arrebato so much. It’s a technical marvel and a dizzying interpretation of art and its effect on artists. It’s also one of the looser and more intriguing takes on a cinematic vampire. But Arrebato isn’t the most accessible watch, either. The unhurried pacing clarifies that Zulueta was more interested in the build-up than the release, and while the lack of answers might be the point, it can also frustrate.

Arrebato is currently on a national theatrical rollout, details can be found here.

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