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This midnight movie may not already be a cult classic. Yet, History of The Occult has a high potential of becoming one in the not so distant future.
It is an anachronistic Argentine slipstream movie with thriller and horror movie elements. It’s almost completely filmed in black and white except for a few shots, and a very short scene.
It’s billed as horror, and some reviewers call it a thriller. I would say it’s more of a magic realism movie with a certain dream-like quality to it. Yet it has spooky overtones that make those who call it horror not miss the mark completely.
Cool Midnight Movie Attempt
The production team of a journalistic TV program is in the dire straits of their cycle; the story transpires during the last episode of their program.
The program is about to be pulled from the airwaves because their sponsors stopped financing them; when their investigative journalism goes too far and messes with one of the most powerful corporations in the country.
While the program is being aired live, the production team, sequestered in a seemingly suburban home, is trying to get the last piece of proof to show the viewers that the president has consorted with the Kingdom Corp, a conglomerate that rose to power by black magic means.
The actor playing the host of the program does a great job emulating a sort of parallel universe’s Bernie Neustadt (probably the Argentine equivalent of Larry King). Also, the program in the movie is a nod to Neustadt’s Tiempo Nuevo, even with a musical curtain that subtly evokes that program’s music.
Except for the antagonist, the rest of the cast did a, for me, a rather forgettable job. I couldn’t root for any of them, and my sympathies all through the movie went to the bad guy who’s being interviewed in the program.
Of this midnight movie what I liked the most is how well it evokes the vibe of 1980s Argentine air television. It doesn’t just evoke the 1980s TV vibe. It evokes the eeriness of 1980s Argentine horror TV programs, such as The Black Octopus or Journey to The Unknown.
As I said, this midnight movie happens in a parallel reality, one in which the Falklands, in 1987, belonged to Argentina (instead of England), the president was one Belasco (instead of Raul Alfonsín), and the returning of democracy didn’t seem to drive away the ghosts of state terrorism.
It is a nice experience if approached with slipstream expectations, but as a thriller flick or horror movie, it leaves a lot to be desired.
This movie taught me that you can create horror emotions with the most unlikely setup. In this case, with a deformation/rewriting of the past, or with the invention of a past that never existed.
I think that besides the slipstream authors that everybody knows (for instance Gabo García Marquez), this midnight movie’s suffocating story was influenced by more obscure authors, like the Uruguayan fiction author Mario Levrero.
I think that if you didn’t live in Argentina in the 1980s you might miss its eeriness and take it at face value and end up disliking it deeply, thinking it is too shallow as a horror movie and ridiculous as a thriller.
Lost in The Translation
I did read more than half a dozen History of The Occult reviews on IMDb.
The modality there seems to be that this movie is hard to understand for those who aren’t Argentine.
There are even some reviewers that missed the mark completely trying to analyze the movie’s universe disregarding it’s set in an alternate timeline.
To understand this midnight movie is not rocket science. The political terror part is wholly self-contained.
The story happens in an alternate timeline, which is very evident. Things are different in many ways from what the reality of Argentina was in 1987.
It can puzzle watchers from other countries and may leave some of them thinking that they need some piece of cultural or historical context to fully understand it, but let me tell you that is not true.
Personal Take on History of The Occult
Excuse me the bluntness, but the truth of this movie is that is a shoddy retro-talk show mystery and slipstream movie disguised as a horror one.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes so shoddy that is good happens. But not in the case of this midnight movie.
No, don’t expect its horror, because it’s negligible. It may piss off most horror viewers. It’s attempting to be an art-house item but its horror and thriller scenes were very poorly executed.
What you see, and what you read in the captions (it’s in Spanish) is what you get. If you don’t understand it, the problem isn’t you, believe me.
I had to watch it two times to remember the plot, which is unbearably convoluted, but at the same time flat. As in empty of value for a horror fan.
For me it was uninteresting and I geeked it out completely. Believe me, it’s a salad of slipstream and horror elements, nothing more.
They failed if they thought the technique of throwing a bunch of things on the wall and seeing what sticks was going to work with this midnight movie.
Maybe, if the movie would have been less talkie, and it showed more, it could have left much more room open for interpretation, but it’s not like that. It bombards you with information only to show you that the little in the aspect of story the movie has, has a skewed logic.
History of The Occult also has time travel elements. So maybe, just maybe, the writers of this movie used quantum physics as a theme, and the script has a hard-boiled science fiction premise (parallel universes) that escapes mere laymen like us.
In reality, it’s kind of boring. Important beats of the story are told by talking heads, not shown, and the worst thing of all is that the horror scenes seem just an afterthought.
To me, it felt as if the genre scenes were wildcard scenes that had no real bearing on the story. That most of them could be placed at any point in the movie’s timeline and the WTF effect would be the same.
Watch or Pass?
The after-effect I felt when this midnight movie was over was that it was too pretentious and self-conscious to earn my respect, but five minutes later I began remember how it felt watching it (I watched it two years ago in the early summer) and thought that a few things were salvageable from it.
That for me, in general, History of The Occult felt artsy-fartsy and vulgar doesn’t mean you can’t find some merit in this damned little movie. After all some merit in it I found, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.
If you like cult classics give it a try since it has evident aspirations at becoming a midnight movie subspecies of cult classic.
Pass if you have important horror things to watch in your queue. Also, pass if you expect this movie to be some kind of arthouse lynchean indy horror movie. It’s nothing like that.
Watch if you can forgive, 90% talking-head scenes, and a sub-par script and enjoy a movie just through its creepy vibes.
If you like alternate timeline stories that leave you thinking through not explaining everything, yet that give sufficient background info to help you arrive at your conclusions, you should watch it.
Watch it if you are an Argentine who likes thrillers, horror, and magic realism, you might not catch all its quirks if you weren’t born before the 1980s/1990s, but you may still get it.
If what you want to watch is a formulaic horror movie, pass this one, because it doesn’t have a regular horror movie structure.
Image Attributions: Tubi
© Yarema Levinson 2024 — History of The Occult Review Horror Midnight Movies