The Phantom (Marek Nowicki, 1984, Poland)

               Widziadlo, also known as The Phantom, is director Marek Nowicki’s best known work. Nowicki, who learned his trade as cinematographer on Polish classics such as Rejs as well as a number of TV movies, bring a distinct visual flair to his adaptation of fin de si├Ęcle writer Karol Irzykowski’s story. The film itself is an adaptation of a “novel” within a novel – the source material is taken from a “novel” which appears in Irzykowski’s landmark experimental 1903 novel Paluba, and not the novel itself. The full novel is seemingly untranslatable, and has yet to appear in the English language.

               Widziadlo is a rare example of Polish gothic horror, the kind of commercial genre film that was overlooked by critics who were responsive toward more political cinema at the time. While there were practitioners of Polish horror, such as Andrzej Zulawski, the genre is harder to come by than others within the Polish cinematic canon. The film tells the story of Piotr, a man living on a country estate in turn of the century Poland, who is haunted by the specter of his dead wife Angelika. Angelika appears to Piotr in erotic visions that are filmed in a style that is in equal parts sleazy and tasteful.  

               Roman Wilhelmi, something of a Polish Sean Connery, leads the show admirably, but the film fails to take flight except in these fantasies. There is a subplot involving Piotr’s son becoming involved with Ksenka, a mute girl in the village. There is another aspect of the story in which an actress becomes seduced by Piotr. Overall, the film is somewhat boring, and loses momentum. There is a quite impressive finale that is fittingly over-the-top. Widziadlo is a curio that, while it has not aged particularly well, is worthwhile for those interested in the history of the Gothic in Poland.



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