Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pan's Antecedent?

In the course of his marvelous audio commentary on Optimum Home Entertainment's two-disc import of PAN'S LABYRINTH, writer-director-producer Guillermo del Toro mentions during the harrowing Pale Man scene that its concept -- of an ogre who inserts a pair of disembodied eyes into the socket-like stigmata in the palms of his hands -- had its roots in a poster he once saw.
He doesn't name the poster, but when he said this, something immediately clicked with me. William Castle's film THE NIGHT WALKER opens with a creepy, Paul Frees-narrated prologue on the subject of nightmares. A key image from this sequence, used in some of its print advertising, depicted a fist balled around a staring eyeball. Eureka!
In fact, double eureka: The original poster art for THE NIGHT WALKER, I remembered, was a recreation of sorts of Henry Fuseli's famous 19th century painting "The Nightmare," which showed a puckish imp squatting atop a dreaming figure as a spectral mare glowered from the shadows of the sleep chamber. The poster for THE NIGHT WALKER, however, replaced the imp with... a faun.
In looking around the Internet, I found this fabulous Italian poster art for THE NIGHT WALKER, for which the artist combined both images on a single poster. I didn't bother to Photoshop-out the watermark, so Movie Goods can consider this a free commercial -- and an endorsement too, because I was so enamored of this design, especially given its new currency, I ended up buying the poster. (Don't worry: it's still available, so you can buy one too, if it galvanizes you as it galvanized me.)
THE NIGHT WALKER was released in 1964, the year Guillermo del Toro was born. It's not a great movie, or even one of William Castle's better features, but it now becomes more important by virtue of carrying in its ad campaign the seed of a truly great film made in the following century. The faun and the seeing hand have nothing to do with THE NIGHT WALKER, and it took del Toro to make the masterpiece of fantasy that this memorable poster disingenuously promised.

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