Dark And Weird Retro Crime Serial

in 14th Tirana International Film Festival

by Evgeny Mayzel

The animal and violent passions were raging in the entire competition of this year’s Tirana International Film Festival, but the retro-thriller Red Spider (Czerwony Pajak) by Marcin Koszalka was outstanding one even in this dark and weird context.

The action took place in Krakow in 1967, when the city was really terrorized, within two years, by a serial killer. Once, presumably a Sunday evening, 20 year-old Karol Kramer (medical student, winner of Krakov’s championship for sports diving and the scion of a radiologist) had remarked on the dead body of a boy with a split skull. Not telling anyone about the body, Carol started to follow the nondescript and insignificant middle-aged man in a raincoat and beret, who was previously noticed by Karol in the noisy crowd and somehow recognized as the killer. (Generally speaking there are some quite understandable assumptions in the script, partly reducing its credibility, partly implying “bless”, a variety of interpretations.) At first it seemed that Kramer collected evidence against the maniac (so called Red Spider), but gradually it became clear that Karol’s interest was quite different, and frightening no less than those inexplicable massacres that continued to happen here and there from time to time.

The non-trivial idea is to oppose the evil maniac; it is not the virtuous citizens but the other evil psychopath that is the main narrative focus proposed by this movie. We can see the socialist Poland’s everyday life with its greyness, lethargy and alienation (that are shown, however, without affectation and pressure), while also assessing the level of emotional rigidity in the protagonist’s family, but meanwhile the relationship between two main characters is passing the stages from one-way monitoring to perverted symbiotic alliance.

The characters of both heroes (Karol and maniac) consists of contradictions: they are clamped, but organic for their environment, shy, but brutal; seemingly undisturbed, but running into uncontrollable fits of jealousy; not deprived of the women’s attention, but solidified starring at the naked female body. These characters of course remind us the well-known thesis that states the phenomenon of serial killing is mainly typical for white males with oppressed psyche and mental disorders.

The director knows very well that the phenomenon of serial killers is closely related to the modern society of the spectacle which can turn almost everything, even murders, into something appealing – and can represent murderers in one line with the (for example) models, movie stars and political thinkers. (As is well known the first recorded serial killer – Henry Howard Holmes – has received from the newspaper mogul Hearst the considerable money for “exclusive” information about his crimes. And, in fact, just Holmes first had provoked the introduction of this term – serial killer – in the American and then world literature.)

Another curious feature of the movie is the possible reasons for the Red Spider mass-killing. We never know about that. In any case the Red Spider does not “look” either painful or insane. His attacks on women or children, with a hammer in his hand, do not bring him noticeable or even obvious pleasure or satisfaction. He is not actually a sex maniac (in the strong vulgar sense that there is no sexual contact before, during or after the killing). He is not the ideologue like, for example, John Doe (“7” by David Fincher) or Dexter from the same TV-series. He is a killer as himself, the pure type, whose killings do not add any additional symbolic significance. And this is a very important detail, transforming these bloody crimes into something, that has yet no name and demands us to classify it. At the same time, it emphasizes the inexplicable failure and the limitations of our moral convictions and our ideas about what the norm is and what is the basis of so-called normal human behavior.

Edited by Steven Yates