As of late, I’ve noticed that several of my favorite films fit into a very specific genre for which there’s no prescribed name. If it had one, it would probably be something like, “coming of age while the supernatural lurks around the corner.”
The best examples of this very unique genre include the Czechoslovakian surrealist film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, The Lady In White, Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural and, while not explicitly otherworldly, movies such as Alice Sweet Alice, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane. All of these fit this mold in their own ways, with the only modern film I can pick as relevant being The VVitch.
That brings us to the West Germany film Laurin. A film that has been rarely seen outside its native country — which always lends the lure of the occult to the proceedings — it’s a perfect example of these films.
Laurin is a nine-year-old girl who lives with her grandmother in a quiet Bavarian town. Since the death of her mother — whose relationship with Laurin’s father was primal and lusty, as evidenced by them nearly making love in front of her — and the seafaring disappearances of her father — which increase after her mother’s death — she has retreated into a world of school time drudgery punctuation with moments of sinister make-believe. By night, she finds herself haunted by visions of a dilapidated castle owned by a man in black and his sinister dog, where each window finds a child trapped and clawing at the glass. These waking dreams find themselves standing side-by-side with a true nightmare: her friends and classmates are disappearing, one by one.
I’ve always been struck by how these films apply the supernatural to the worries that the journey from adolescence to adulthood creates. As one’s body and feelings toward sexuality change, so too does how we see the world. And while the terror of child abduction is very real, to a child, the only form of explanation must be a fairy tale monster.
Laurin is a sumptuous affair, one that contrasts the dreary and washed out world of adulthood with the kaleidoscopic fantasies of childhood; the kind of dreams that only Mario Bava could properly light, color and frame.
Without revealing the end of this film, the sunlight rising that would often proclaim victory over the Satanic feels rather hollow. As Martin Mathias, the hero of George Romero’s Martin would tell us — much further along than adolescence — “There’s no real magic ever.”
I’ve often wondered about the time in my life when I went from having my destiny controlled to being in charge of it myself. The questioning that ensued and learning the fact that adults didn’t have every answer is perfectly essayed here. In my experience, horror films remain the most honest of all genres. Despite cloaking our fears in the capes, cowls and fangs of the nosferatu, they hold up a mirror to ourselves. Whether or not you appear in it is up to you, dear reader.
Laurin is hard to find, but as always, you can find the hard-to-find at Diabolik DVD.
NOTE: This article originally ran in Drive-In Asylum #17, which you can get right here.