The Pale Man makes the psychedelic boat ride seem sort of tame.
Though not a traditional horror movie, Pan's Labyrinth has stuck
in my head like gumdrops in a molar since I saw it in the theatre in
2006. It is a contemporary children's fable, but not of the Tangled variety. Rather, it's an OG fairy tale--dark, bloody, and not averse to slaughtering the innocent. As the young heroine Ofelia negotiates the mystical labyrinth she discovers near her new home in Francoist Spain, she must also elude the all-to-real cruelty of her wicked stepFATHER (about time), a Captain in Franco's army who takes to fascism just fine. With her sociopathic pater familias torturing his way across the countryside, Ofelia is left to tend to her pregnant mother, whose health is precipitously declining. What gets me most about this film is the visuals, stunning in their grotesque strangeness: the mandrake root sustaining Ofelia's mother's health, the stick insect that leads her to the labyrinth, and most arresting of all, the Pale Man guarding a dagger she must retrieve. The juxtaposition between fantastical monstrosity and the violent banality of political evil in this film is masterful and deeply unsettling. No happily-ever-after here, folks.