Friday, October 29, 2021


Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 28
Total First Time Views: 19
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $2,333.80

The Third Part of the Night (1971) d. Andrzej Zulawski (Poland) (107 min) (1st viewing)

A young man, Michal (Leszek Teleszynski), watches helplessly from the edge of the woods as his mother, son, and wife (Malgorzata Braunek) are senselessly murdered by passing German soldiers during the Polish occupation of WWII. Driven by vengeance, he joins the resistance fighters, but his first assignment goes horribly wrong, with his mission partner killed and his own life saved only due to a freak accident where a neighbor wearing the same beige overcoat is mistaken for Michal and shot by the Gestapo. Astonishingly, the neighbor’s pregnant wife Marta looks exactly like Michal’s murdered bride (again played by Braunek) and, after helping to deliver her baby, Michal and she form a deep attachment. She gets him a job in the typhus center, allowing lice to feed off his blood in order to create vaccine; as a typhus patient, the Nazis leave him alone (as does everyone else), isolating him even further, allowing his pain and delusions to grow.

Like most Western horror fans, I first became aware of Zulawski through his mind-melting 1981 effort, Possession, starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill. What I didn’t know until now is that many of the themes explored in that masterpiece of subjective cinema are present and accounted for a decade earlier here, in his feature debut. Doppelgangers and paranoia abound, with nightmare logic and fits of hysteria lurking around every corner.

The Third Part of the Night is autobiographical in many ways, with Zulawski working from a treatment created by his father Miroslaw’s recollections of the time under the Nazis, where he did, in fact, work at Dr. Rudolf Weigel’s groundbreaking Lviv Institute in Krakow that used lice to create vaccines as a cover for his resistance efforts. These scenes, if you’ll pardon the obvious expression, get under your skin in visceral fashion, as the mechanics of the operation are meticulously recreated, with the little bloodsuckers placed into small domino-shaped boxes with little metal screens and then attached to the “feeder’s” legs for an hour.

Later, as Michal works up (or down, depending on perspective) the ladder, he is moved toward the inner circle where the lice are harvested, torn apart under microscopes and the blood sucked up via syringe. The entire process is equal parts fascinating and repulsive… an enviable combination of emotions, one any excellent horror film should aspire to evoking. The rest of the film involves Michal’s deepening relationship with Marta and the guilt over having taken her husband’s place, exploring a dreamlike duality where lives and individuals and connections become interchangeable, with cinematographer Witold Sobocinski’s handheld camera dancing constantly in counterpoint.

If you haven’t guessed by now, this is no easily digested thrill ride. As with his other best-known genre efforts (including Devil and On the Silver Globe), Zulawski insists that viewers engage fully, openly challenged to come to their own conclusions. He wants you to think and feel, and holds no truck with providing a tidy narrative upon which to hang your experience. This may prove frustrating to some, but for those willing to invest as much energy and effort as the film delivers on its end, the rewards are bountiful.

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