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.