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The Nameless (1999)
Director: Jaume Balanguero

review by Tom Johnstone

Having read The Nameless, Ramsey Campbell's novel of a sinister torture cult, I was interested to see what this Spanish production made of it, apart from a less catchy title in Spanish (or is it Catalan?) Los sin nombre. Claudia (Emma Vilarasou) apparently loses her six-year-old daughter Angela to a horrifying ritual murder. The corpse is so hideously mutilated beyond recognition, that she can only be identified as Angela because one leg is longer than the other.

Some years later, the grief-stricken mother receives a phone call from Angela, pleading for help. Claudia enlists the help of another bereaved soul, ex-cop Bruno Massera (Karra Elejalde). She's addicted to tranquillisers, and he likes to drown his sorrows in whisky, so they've got this in common, as well as their near-suicidal desire to track down the cult of people without names, whose leader Santini (Carlos Lasarte) has been locked up in a mental institution.

The scene between Claudia and Santini is very Silence Of The Lambs, but that's only one of the movie references (or plagiarisms, if you prefer) in The Nameless. You don't have to be a super horror film buff to spot Rosemary's Baby and Don't Look Now in there, too - the maternal paranoia of the former and the latter's exploration of the desperate credulity of the bereaved parent. It's a long way from achieving the classic status of those films, and it doesn't achieve the sense of gnawing terror of The Nameless novel, but film does evoke some of the drab, creepy paranoia of the Campbell's work, with its grey, almost monochrome photography, contrasting with the brighter colours of the home-movie flashback sequences.

The eerie visuals make the change of location to the Catholic culture of Spain a cinematic asset, twisting and subverting the iconography of the Roman church to memorably sinister effect. As for the changed, more downbeat ending, I'm still undecided as to whether it is an improvement or a crass gimmick. But on the whole, while maintaining the core ideas of the novel, and making a few small but significant alterations to the story, The Nameless has some genuinely unsettling imagery of its own, adding up to an effective and chilling shocker.
The Nameless

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