Having an aversion to big budget Hollywood flummery, a little bit of The Black Gloves – low budget creepery courtesy of the Winter Gardens Film Festival – was just the ticket. As I suspect I’m thought mad for still taking black and white stills on film, the apparent return of black and white movies fills me with a somewhat self-satisfied joy.
The film starts with a teaser sequence of tragedy involving a mysterious entity, which recurs throughout the narrative. From there, psychiatrist Dr Finn Whitlock seeks out similar cases before stumbling on Eliza a ballerina whose career has been shattered by chilling visions of a creepy owl man. Despite seeing the owl man himself, the doctor behaves as if the former is a hallucination. Also featuring a half-insane and obsessive ballet teacher, the plot is actually quite complicated and one loses track of whether one is in reality or a dream sequence; characters seem to oscillate between sanity and homicidal mania. Dr Finn soon realises that he has been allowed to treat Eliza for a rather uncomfortable reason, and that her cure involves a short-handled axe (so much better than a hatchet for that kind of thing!).
Initially Eliza appears a passive character, manipulated by both the ballet teacher and the doctor, but she finds her mettle before the end. There are clear feminist and LGBT themes; has the plot being leading to this all along? There is a glorious piece of patronising mansplaining – though the man is being genuinely protective – but this behaviour is rightly challenged.
The black and white format means enhanced atmosphere and this is well exploited. Somebody behind the camera really likes that low-level, wide-angle shot that creates wonderful converging verticals: cool effect but it can be over done. Creepy buildings and landscape are well used, from the ballerina’s mansion in the middle of nowhere, to the spooky moors, to the lonely folly over-hanging the precipice of death. Shadows are also well used – what is lurking in them? – and light streaming into the sepulchral rooms is striking, but again possibly over done.
A strong sound palette has also been achieved, adding to a movie that is genuinely chilling and edge of seat scary at times. How anybody could possibly sleep in that mansion is anyone’s guess, but then they are plagued by the most awful dreams. You’re right Eliza, it’s not the pipes.
Our friend the owl man is possibly the film’s weakest link, being clearly a dude in a feathery head with big talons attached to gloves while wearing an obsolete suit. Would an incarnation of the pagan god Moloch be wearing such shiny boots? Despite this the owl mask’s unchanging expression is strangely effective and genuinely disturbing in its way. Strong context has to have been generated for this to work. Maybe some of the acting is a little affected, but this has to be seen in the film’s overall melodramatic context; the cast is clearly committed and their diction made the dialogue generally easy to follow, although the Russian accent was probably a little over the top.
I loved this film’s retro-feel. The obsolete special effects were refreshing in this age of over-produced CGI. Likewise the marvellous fonts used for the title and credits sequence. I would have liked to attend the Q&A, but a bus home was due and I was tired (aw – such a lightweight nowadays).
A brief directorial intro to The Black Gloves – low budget creepery was useful in setting the scene. When one of the biggest budget items might have been hiring a big old-fashioned car, what has been achieved here is really quite marvellous: fancy special effects are no substitute for skill behind a cameras lens, a strong plot and a committed team. I will be looking out for more like this. Do you need a still photographer? The ending sets up a sequel; that’s all I’m saying.
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