How can horror fans relate to today’s news of the death of cinematic giant Ingmar Bergman. I say, "How could horror fans not relate?" Here’s a look at some of three highly influential films by the late director that have, and continue to, powerfully influence our favorite genre.
The Seventh Seal: In plague ridden Europe a knight awakens on a beach, and encounters the figure of Death. A deal is struck, and an intricate game of chess is played, both figuratively and literally. Bergman gives us a classic, enduring image of Death personified. If you’ve ever wonder why Death is often portrayed with a Swedish accent in comedies now you know. Also, playing the knight is Max Von Sydow. One of Bergman’s great gifts to the film world was introducing the world to this legendary actor. You mostly likely remember him best as Father Merrin in "The Exorcist". This film is so full of beautiful dark imagery throughout, and it’s enhanced by the way this film is photographed. The look of "The Seventh Seal", and many of Bergman’s other films very well may have influenced the look of many of the great black and white horror films of the 60’s. Look at Freddie Francis’s "The Innocents", Wise’s "The Haunting", Polanski’s "Repulsion" and you can clearly see the influence of this film.
Hour of the Wolf: This is what most film historians would refer to as Bergman’s only "real" horror film. Artist Von Sydow and his pregnant wife retreat to an creepy and very windy island, to help him focus on his artwork. On the other end of the island is a castle inhabited by a Baron and his very strange associates. The "Hour of the Wolf" of the title is the hour halfway between midnight and dawn, during which Von Sydow is often haunted by horrifying nightmares, which he tries to stay awake to avoid. Still, even while awake he is subject to strange visions and an increasing paranoia. His wife becomes frightened of him as he apparently slips deep into a surreal madness.
The Virgin Spring: Yep, Von Sydow again. I suppose, a way, you could consider Max Von Sydow something of a muse for Bergman. This might sound familiar, although it does take place in the middle ages. Von Sydow’s daughters are sent to bring candles to their church. Along the way, the younger daughter, Karin, encounters three shepards who rape and murder her. Later that night the three herdsman find themselves, without realizing it, taking shelter in Von Sydow’s house. Von Sydow becomes aware of what the men have done and takes revenge. Yes, "The Virgin Spring" was the film upon which Wes Craven would base his much, much more violent directorial debut "Last House on the Left" on. Try keeping Bergman in mind today, and if you have a chance, maybe check out some of the films above. If you like them you might want to try some of his more dramatic films like "Cries and Whispers", "Wild Strawberries", or The next time some film snob comes at you and thumbs his nose at the horror genre and it’s conventions, remind them even masters like Bergman found that they needed to express darkness and recognize there is evil and terror in the world.
Rest in peace, Ingmar Bergman.