07 May 2005

Creepy Movies

Michael Berube has a post about "creepy" movies at his blog, offering Carnal Knowledge as "the creepiest movie in the world". In the comments, all sorts of other titles are suggested as either equally or more creepy than Carnal Knowledge, with definitions of "creepy" shifting and metamorphosing throughout. (I offered The Isle as my nominee, at least of recent films.)

One of the interesting things about Berube's post is what he points out about the effect Carnal Knowledge had on the careers of people involved with making it:
Look at what happened to the principals: Ann-Margaret was plunged into depression for years because of her role in this film. Art Garfunkel disappeared and was next seen on a milk carton somewhere in Central Park. Jack Nicholson basically became his character, Jonathan Fuerst (and sometimes even plays older or parodic versions of him, as well). And Mike Nichols, after opening with Virginia Woolf, The Graduate, and Catch-22 (not bad for a start), followed this with Day of the Dolphin and then ... nothing, really, until he resurfaced in the mid-1980s as a director of bland, airplane-movie things like Heartburn and Regarding Henry. Only Candace Bergen seems to have been left untouched by the movie's soul-destroying creepiness, and I imagine that's because her character escaped early, and is nowhere to be found in the second half of the film (except for that still in Jonathan's "Ballbusters on Parade"). I think that's the sign of a powerfully creepy movie--its effects last for years, decades. God only knows what happened to the gaffer and the key grip on this one.
One person whose career continued just fine, it seems, after Carnal Knowledge, was Jules Feiffer, the writer, who deserves at least some of the praise or blame for Carnal Knowledge's considerable creepiness. Though he's perhaps best known as a cartoonist and author of children's books, Feiffer's plays show that creepiness is a specialty of his, and Carnal Knowledge, originally a play, fits comfortably alongside such subsequent plays as Grownups and Elliot Loves.


  1. Art Garfunkel did NOT disappear. In fact, he played a thoroughly repulsive character in Nicholas Roeg's Bad Timing and was in several movies over the years after that. Check his filmography.

    Mike Nichols has been directing regularly and has a a hit with the current show Spamalot.

    Ann-Margaret might have been "plunged into depression" but might her fall from a stage in a live show in which she needed major reconstructive surgery have had more to do with it?

    Sorry, Berube doesn't know what he's talking about.

  2. A little bit of the fault here is mine for not contextualizing Berube's comments a little more -- his point about Nichols, at least, seems to be the change as much in tone as anything else (he includes Spamalot in this).

    I didn't know the story of Ann-Margaret, and, indeed, it certainly seems to blow a hole in Berube's idea. Ahhh well, another unifying hypothesis shattered by the complexities of life...

  3. Um. Nichols also just directed the movie Closer, based on a play. I haven't yet seen the movie but it sounds like a pretty brutal depiction of male-female relationships.

  4. Oh yeah, and he also directed Primary Colors, Wit, and Angels in America--all really lightweight views of life in America ;-)

    I was able to find this info in 5 minutes. I'd say Berube is pretty sloppy.

  5. And Nichols was also an actor in the play The Designated Mourner in London, which was filmed by David Hare, and is anything but sunny. Even though Entertainment Weekly listed it as one of the five worst movies of its year, I actually really like DM, and Nichols's performance is spectacular. And even creepy.