I’ve seen some fucked up movies in my day. Salo, A Serbian Film, Martyrs, Dead Girl, August Underground, and Begotten are just a few of the taboo horror films I’ve seen in recent years, and for the most part, they’ve all succeeded in pulling a reaction from me.
Most of these “extreme” horror films seek to disturb viewers with graphic imagery and over-stimulation. Excess is what sets them aside from mainstream horror films, and it’s almost always a stretch to think of them as scary. Disgusting, sure, but almost never scary.
But The Corpse of Anna Fritz, directed by Hèctor Hernández Vicens, seeks to scare viewers in one of the few ways adults are vulnerable to fear: total lack of control.
When we’re children, it’s easy to terrify us with boogeymen and jump scares. Although I love these sorts of movies and their various tropes, I’ve found over the years that what really scares me as an adult is human nature and the disgusting capabilities of man.
The Corpse of Anna Fritz follows a group of young men who find themselves with a unique sort of “alone time” with the corpse of a famous actress. None of these men are likeable, being that they’re all complicit to the misfortunes they inflict on the woman’s corpse, but one of them says right from the start that what they’re considering doing is wrong.
“But nobody’s getting hurt. She’s already dead,” says another man. “Just pretend she’s drunk. It’ll be easy.”
That statement alone makes my skin crawl, because it says so much with so little. On the surface, this is just a movie about necrophilia, a theme that’s already been covered in plenty of other shock-horror movies. But according to this man’s statement, rape on its own isn’t a crime, and they’ve likely participated in the act previously. Therefore, I see control as the secondary theme of the movie.
Chances are, you won’t have any say over who handles your body when you die, particularly not if you die suddenly at a young age or if you have no immediate family to see over proceedings. You have no idea what sort of vile human will be alone with your corpse or how they might mistreat the body you’ve inhabited since birth. From death onward, your body is no longer a person, merely an object. This is a scary thought, and I’m sure plenty of us have had it at one point or another. What I appreciate about The Corpse of Anna Fritz is how they exploit this fear without going overboard.
One instance of corpse abuse happens early in the film, when a young orderly sneaks his coke-fueled friends into the morgue to get a peek at the deceased celebrity. As a prank, he first tricks them into leaning in close as he rips the covering from a much older dead woman, forcing them to stare at her wrinkled old body and then laughing at their reactions.
To the young orderly, these corpses are far removed from being “people,” and they’ve become mere props for him to use however he sees fit. He even assures his friends that orderlies are rarely caught for messing around with corpses…something that made me cringe in the worst possible way.
The movie’s not particularly gruesome, and most of the shock value lies in the things we don’t directly see. Unlike some of the aforementioned films, The Corpse of Anna Fritz is pretty good with subtlety, and it manages to disgust viewers in some pretty universal ways without relying on special effects and sadism.
I also appreciated the attention to character development. Most films that are marketed for their shock value completely ignore characterization, and The Corpse of Anna Fritz gives us plenty of insight into each character in very compact ways.
“I want to call my mother,” one of the men says, following a series of moments I won’t spoil. “I want her to hear it from me.”
Little moments like this make key moments in the film much more suspenseful and exciting than if we’d simply been given the standard “bad guy” characters. These are humans we’re watching, and humans can be absolute monsters while still thinking of things like family and how their own actions may hurt the ones they care about. I didn’t feel sorry for this particular character, since the things he says and does are unforgivable, but this scene made him feel much more realistic and therefore scarier.
The Corpse of Anna Fritz is a disturbing movie for many reasons, and it’s definitely not a movie for everyone. But if you’re going to watch just one necrophilia-centric movie this year, make it this one. It at least aspires toward something bigger.
Throughout the month of October, I’ll be reviewing 31 movies I’ve never seen before. Is there an excellent movie you think I haven’t seen? Tell me in the comments below, and I’ll check it out!