Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dværgen - The Sinful Dwarf (1973)

Jake Speed revisit's the demented sexploitation English flick from 70s Denmark!

"What was the terrifying secret of the attic?" The Sinful Dwarf's tagline asks in a panic. Oddly, the secret of the attic isn't a secret at all: an ex-nightclub singer and a not-very-charismatic midget who's fond of toys own a London boarding house that's actually a front for a sort of bordello in the attic. Only the women aren't prostitutes; they're captives. On of them receives a steady supply of heroin but the other three are kept from escaping only by a curious sort of languid docility -Zorben the Dwarf is a far-from-fastidious jailer and yet not once is a break made for the attic door he frequently leaves open and unattended.  

A pair of likable newlyweds comes to stay at the boarding house while the husband, an aspiring writer, looks for a job. The wife claims to hear noises from the attic and comments about the parade of people marching in and out of it all day, but the husband dismisses her concerns as childish. When he's called out of town for an interview she goes to the attic to find out what's going on - foolish girl - and is promptly taken captive. 

The nightclub singer and her impish sidekick forge a "Dear John" letter for the husband and when he returns they tell him his wife left him. Eventually, though, the husband learns about Zorben and the singer's drug connection and he puts two and two together. A quick call to the cops lowers the boom on the villainous duo. Husband and wife reunite, through the latter - having had to turn an unconsensual trick during her stay in the attic - is substantially worse for wear. Isn't it funny how the really screwed up movies all have happy endings? 

It's a shame this movie's so screwed up because otherwise, it's not that bad. The title sequence kicks ass, the newlywed couple is genuinely sympathetic, the nightclub singer and the sinful dwarf inspire loathing in a manner appropriate for horror movie antagonists. The director must have just gotten through a unit on match-cuts in his intro-to-film class, because The Sinful Dwarf sports a lot of them, and some of them are pretty clever. When the husband overhears the dwarf harassing his dealer for more goodies, for instance, the husband looks at a toy police car and there's a cut to a radio-car beacon barreling down the road - a match used to externalize the husband's line of thought. All right, so it ain't the shot through the Copa Cabana's skylight, but it does reflect a formal vocabulary much broader than is generally the case with 60s and 70s nudie movies.*

There are also some passable cross-cuts between the nightclub singer's act (she performs pathetically for a drunken, solitary friend to bring back the good ole days) and the screams of one of the attic-dwellers, and the theme of the dwarf's toys is played pretty well throughout. 

This would make for a good movie (tolerably interesting, anyway) if it weren't for the attic sequences themselves, which, through phony as hell, are incredibly unpleasant to watch. Part of the reason these sequences are so unnerving is that most of the sex scenes are set in the attic (it is a nudie, aftter all) so that the lingering camera gives the impression that rape, torture, drug addiction and captivity are supposed to be sexually exciting. Not that they aren't to some, but if the movie meant to imply this, it might as well have made the dwarf the good guy. On the other hand, if The Sinful Dwarf is so disturbing and irredeemable, I wonder why I can't seem to stop talking about it...

*More in keeping with the genre is the movie's handling of the wife's decision to call the police earlier on -- done by having her say out loud, to herself, "I've got to call the police; I've got to call them right now." Talk about applying the hint with a sledgehammer. 

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