Monday, May 19, 2014

Die Screaming, Marianne (1971): Why Murder?

Die Screaming, Marianne (1971)
dir: Peter Walker

I'm going to say this up front. The whole review here is one big spoiler given the way that Peter Walker structured this movie so oddly that you have no idea what is actually happening for just about an hour. Things happen, more things happen, explanations and dialogue happens...but then you get the plot an hour into the movie. If you don't want to even know the basics, back out now because there is no way to talk about the movie without giving away the spoilers.

Die Screaming, Marianne opens with a hotel that has a sign out front. The sign has Marianne's name and face on it, as if she is a performer. This seems to be occurring some morning in Spain. Marianne has already realized she has to hightail it out of the hotel, and there are a couple of guys that are coming to look for her. She has to leave her lover of the night and leaves out a window in time to get away by running down a road, and a steep hillside, and almost getting run over by some guy, whom she then picks up.

There are no explanations given, this is just the pre-credits scene explaining that Marianne is on the run and has met some English guy with a sports car in Spain. After a credits sequence of Marianne as a go-go dancer, Marianne is then being forced into marrying Sebastian, the guy she met two weeks ago in a sports car, with his friend Eli and a flower lady as their witness. But, she gives the magistrate Eli's name, and so now she is legally wed to Eli. And, as she packs up and leaves Sebastian's place (with whom she had been living for two weeks), she tells him that his attempt was a really lousy attempt.

Eventually we learn that Sebastian is really hooking up with some girl named Hildegard and the Judge (who are living together), and everybody is out to get Marianne for some reason that is left semi-unexplained. It's vaguely about money. Marianne, now shacking up with Eli, tells him that they're both in danger but won't tell him or us what the hell is going on. Even after Eli has had an attempt on his life, and Marianne has run away to continue her career as a go-go dancer, and then returned to Eli, she still refuses to say what is going on.

Around the hour mark (give or take a few minutes), when Marianne and Eli have been invited to The Judge's house in Portugal, we finally learn that Marianne is the daughter of The Judge, and Hildegard is her half-sister. Marianne is wealthy because her recently-deceased mother was wealthy and left her a lot of money in a trust fund not to be touched until she is 21. Marianne is about to turn 21 in a few days, and will receive the money as well as a bunch of documents that will incriminate The Judge for some legal wrong doing. It's all explained in about 5 minutes, because even though this provides the whole basis of the movie, the movie is all about trying to kill Marianne for no good reason.

The plot of Die Screaming, Marianne seems to be an experiment to negate the need for the MacGuffin, but really emphasizes the need for purpose. By dropping the audience into the middle of an ongoing story, Walker is asking us to care about the welfare for this seemingly street smart and also seemingly perpetually chased young woman simply because she is being chased. Additionally, the MacGuffin in the middle of the movie is one of importance and one of non-import. Not only is the prize for killing Marianne just additional money for the rich people (non-import), but it is also one of self-preservation for the Judge and other people of power with the incriminating documents. One is a silly reason for murder but the other seems reasonable, and Walker seems to be asking "Is there a good justification for murder? If so, what is a good justification for murder?" His answer, by placing the MacGuffin in the middle, seems to be that there is no reason to kill this girl, and we should care about anybody in trouble simply because they don't deserve to be in trouble.

The final 45 minutes of Die Screaming, Marianne is taken up by various people trying to kill each other. Hildegard tries to kill Sebastian by taking out the brakes on his car, but the Judge takes it instead. Hildegard and Sebastian try to kill Marianne in various ways. Eli and Marianne try to kill Hildegard and Sebastian to save their life. It's all just a big jumble of who's killing who in what way. Although, I should note that this is now my earliest instance of death or torture by sauna.

Because the structure of Die Screaming, Marianne is so mixed up, the audience spends the majority of the first hour not quite knowing who they should be rooting for. It seems like we should be rooting for Marianne, but she acts like an overly street smart cold woman who doesn't care much for anybody but herself. But, we don't know if she's somebody on the lam or a mob girl or a squealer or what. She could have killed the wrong person, but we don't know. However, after the revelations start coming, then we figure out that we can root for Marianne and Eli and actually support their survival.

Which led me to wonder, "why do people watch movies with titles like Die Screaming, Marianne?" Not even as a judgment, because I watched it, but as a sort of thought game. Do we want to see somebody named Marianne die or just attempted to be killed? Do we want her to die because of some sort of character retribution and she deserves it? Or, do we want her to die because she's innocent? Or, do we just want to see her saved?

Die Screaming, Marianne is marketed as a horror movie, but it isn't a horror movie. It's a drama/thriller with all the pacing constantly cut off at its pass. It's all cat and mouse and who will survive. The meta questions that Die Screaming, Marianne are far more interesting than the movie itself, which is otherwise a poorly-paced, underacted, mundane movie of people trying to kill each other while wearing the worst of 1970s fashions and hairstyles. But, the questions it asks may be ones you might not know the answers to.

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