Films That Haunt Me: FISTS IN THE POCKET

While many would argue that this is anything but a horror film, I think it is disturbing enough to include in this section. The horror genre is not so specific as some seem to think – its various incarnations are quite widespread. Thus, today I will be discussing the Italian classic, FISTS IN THE POCKET (originally I pugni in tasca).

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The film follows Alessandro, a troubled young man, who has begun to loathe his unsettlingly dysfunctional family – comprised of a blind mother, a strangely seductive sister, and two brothers, one mentally challenged and one ‘sane.’ We all have our family problems, but Alessandro takes it upon himself to ‘fix’ those problems. That’s where the horror begins.

Directed by a very young Marco Bellocchio (shot ironically in his own family home), the film has a fantastic grotesque element that one would find in Flannery O’Connor or Shirley Jackson. Every time the family is alone together, something awful is going to happen. These somethings increase in intensity and consequence until people start dying. But even though Alessandro is the agent of the most obvious evils, Bellocchio makes his audience question the true villain – the murderous son, or the so-called normal brother who takes advantage of the familial deaths due to the inheritance?

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Bellocchio assembles the film in a purely Gothic way, with stunning black-and-white images of decaying houses and absurd funerals, and a gorgeously eerie score by a yet-unknown Ennio Morricone. This atmosphere lends a horrific (and comedic) aspect to the disturbing family drama of the film. For this reason, I argue that it is at least in part a horror film – the emotion I left with was one of revulsion, having just witnessed (no spoilers) the upending of a mind and a family. That being said, the film goes deeper than your average genre flick, and is exquisitely crafted. Who says, then, that a horror film can’t be artistically made?

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I have never forgotten the way this film unfolds, and its gloriously spectral imagery – it remains in my mind like a nightmarish ghost story, as if I had witnessed these spirits replaying their fates. Thus, in a way, it is literally haunting. Such a film is absolutely worth seeing for any horror fan who likes a dash of artistry and subtlety in their dish. In no way is it traditional, but if it evokes classics such as those by Jackson and O’Connor, it certainly belongs alongside those works. Atypical and challenging but deeply effective, “I pugni in tasca” is worth taking the chance. It is not soon forgotten.

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