Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Red Spider (orig. Czerwony Pająk / Červeny Pavouk) [2015]

MPAA (UR would R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmWeb.pl listing*
CSFD.cz listing*
FDB.cz listing*
CinEuropa.org listing

Film.onet.pl (K. Kandukska) review*
Film.onet.pl (D. Romanowska) review*

APUM.com (E. Luna) review*
The Hollywood Reporter (S. Dalton) review
Variety (P. DeBruge) review

Red Spider (orig. Czerwony Pająk / Červeny Pavouk) [2015] [IMDb] [FW.pl]*[CSFD]*[FDB]* (directed and cowritten by Marcin Koszałka [IMDb] [FW.pl]*[CSFD]*[FDB]* along with Łukasz M. Maciejewski [IMDb] [FW.pl]*[FDB]* based on the original work of Marta Szreder [IMDb]) is an excellent Polish / Czech / Slovakian psychological / crime thriller set in late 1967 Communist era Krakow, Poland (the late 1960s having been a time of relative liberalization in the Communist bloc, before the crushing of the Prague Spring across the border / mountains (south) from Krakow in neighboring Czechoslovakia).  The film played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival and will play again at the upcoming 2015 (27th Annual) Polish Film Festival in America here in Chicago in November.

The film here combines / conflates stories of two of the most notorious serial killers in modern (if still Communist Era) Polish history:

The first was that of Karol Kot [en.wikip], who came to be known as "The Vampire of Krakow," a (high school) student from that city, who over the course of two years (1964-66) terrorized it, attacking, in separate generally individual knifings, both children and the elderly, killing two of them and injuring 10 others before being apprehended.  Shocking was his age as he was only in his late teens (he apparently completed his high school exams - maturoval - in jail while awaiting trial).  Clearly his psychological state was called into question.  But after thorough examination, he was declared completely sane and was executed by hanging in May 1968, being one of the youngest convicts executed in modern / Communist era Poland.

The second story used here was that of Lucian Staniak [1]*[2]* who came to be known as "The Red Spider" (the title of the film) who was said to have terrorized Katowice in neighboring Polish Silesia in a similar fashion at roughly the same time.  He gained his moniker by reportedly taunting the Press of the time with "letters written in red ink and in a spidery script." However, HE appeared to have been simply an "urban legend."  Now _how_ could a serial killer turn out to be a fake?  Well, to this day, no one is really sure who Victorian England's Jack the Ripper was.  In the case of Poland of the mid-1960s, it was a Communist county, in which information was heavily controlled.  As authorities looked for an actual killer in Krakow, rumors about similar murders taking place in basically "the next Province over" (Silesia) could have metastasized there.

Whether there were there actual murders in Silesia, like those attributed to "The Red Spider" at all (or were they also made up like the Red Spider himself). is not clear to me.  What is clear however is that there were actual attacks and murders in Krakow attributed to Karol Kot [en.wikip] who came to known as "The Vampire of Krakow" and he, young as he was, was, after a judicial process, sentenced to death / executed for them.

To the movie ...

The story's about a young man from Krakow named ... Karol Kremer (played by Filip Pławiak [IMDb] [FW.pl]* [CEu]) a high school, "all city" competitive diver, hence "quite excellent" though not necessarily of "national championship" caliber.  Now diving does involve a bit of "risk taking" and we also see early in the film that Karol does tricks with a motor bike (today, we would see someone like him do similar tricks with snowboard or perhaps skateboard).  He also comes from an utterly nondescript family.  Okay, he seemed to be the only son of his parents (played by Małgorzata Foremniak [IMDb] [FW.pl]*[CEu] and Marek Kalita [IMDb] [FW.pl]*[CEu]), though families in the city, during Communism, tended to be small, because honestly, it'd be _really difficult_ to find space for kids in a large family.  That he'd be the only child in his family could carry a significance as an "only child" could be doted-on more perhaps than one with brothers / sisters.  Finally we also see that Karol, a teenager after all, did have a certain fascination with the morbid.

Then there's also a random, by all appearances quite kindly, if also perhaps somewhat nerdy, Krakow veterinarian (played by Adam Woronowicz [IMDb] [FW.pl]*[CEu]), married (his wife played by Dorota Landowska [IMDb] [FW.pl]*) if childless, who Karol knows initially only because his family had an aging dog... which he'd have to take periodically to him for his parents. 

The two, Karol and this vet become increasingly important characters in the story, as Krakow, its inhabitants _and_ ITS AUTHORITIES become _increasingly panicked_ by a wave of seemingly random if brutal murders, some taking place JUST AT THE EDGES OF QUITE PUBLIC VENUES / EVENTS (hence murders that could not easily be hushed up, as there would have been quite a few people who'd run across the bodies and then the authorities coming to the crime scenes).

Karol, in his late teens, if nothing else, seemed quite fascinated by the audaciousness of these crimes collecting whatever news clippings he'd find about them in the papers, while to the Vet, 40-something, the story didn't seem to interest him much at all.   He'd just "tend to the animals" brought to his care.  But he'd also not necessarily go home directly after work at night, even if he wouldn't seem like the type who'd like to carouse much after work either.  Still, his absence from home, especially since it didn't seem that he had much anything else to do, would irritate his, again, _childless_ wife.

Much, needless to say, ensues ... all it all it makes for a very interesting, well spun, crime story, with the added ingredients of the time and place.  Good job! ;-)

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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