I feel like I’ve been gone for, like, for-ev-er, but when I looked at my post history I was shocked to see, in reality, it’s only been a little over half a month. Between my “summer vacation” at the end of last month and now I’ve had to turn inward and focus on work/entertaining a steady stream of guests, with only occasionally poking my head up to see what’s up with my friends. I know I’m missing stuff, but let’s see… John Hornor Jacobs’ Southern Gods had its official release (you should definitely check it out!), and holy shit, my friend Robert Jackson Bennett won the motherfucking Shirley Jackson Award for his novel Mr. Shivers. There’s more—ever so much more—but I utterly failed to set up my Google Reader before falling off the map so I’m probably being a neglectful stinky friend to about a million people.

Anyways, here’s the thing that compelled me to log in and update this friggin blog: I saw an awesome movie last night.

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of terrible movies (I’m going to be starting a new feature on my blog soon, which I’m considering calling “A Feast of Trash,” wherein I’ll be documenting my katabaino through the selection of mildly racy horror films available on Netflix Instant), because I like them, and because I now have access to a metric ton of schlock and awe. But, though this may come as a surprise to anyone who even vaguely knows me, I also enjoy quality cinema. Which is why, with titles such as Crucible of Horror and Hands of the Ripper yet unviewed in my queue, I spent good money to rent the Criterion Blu-Ray of The Magician (1958).

The MagicianThe Magician is an Ingmar Bergman film, set in 1846, and starring Max von Sydow as Albert Emanuel Vogler, a mute spiritualist/performing hypnotist who travels around with a shady crew of weirdos who comprise “Vogler’s Magnetic Health Theater”: his mysterious effeminate assistant Mr. Aman, “Granny Vogler” who seems to be an old witch who brews potions, a little gross-out of a coachman named Simson, and “Tubal,” a portly creeper-cum-carnival barker who reads palms and sells Granny Vogler’s potions to The Ladies. The film gets started when they roll up on the Consul Egerman’s house in Stockholm and are detained (some might say imprisoned) and interrogated by a Dr. Vergerus, the Minister of Health. Vergerus, having heard tales of the supernatural occurrences during Vogler’s performances, requests a private audience with the obvious hope of exposing Vogler as a charlatan. Vergerus’ interest is scientific, but he also seeks to prevent Vogler and his troupe from swindling the Consul and his wife, who are still in mourning for their dead son.

Though something of a slow burn, The Magician is never dull. Part of this is that even during the more leisurely scenes, Bergman’s cinematography is, of course, impeccable—and the masterful interweaving of the plot threads keeps one eager (but not impatient) to know what is going on elsewhere in the household. Like a magician’s act, Bergman keeps the viewer happily wondering what will be behind the next curtain, after the current illusion is completed and discarded: for example, while Vogler is unexpectedly propositioned by Consul Egerman’s wife (as the Consul watches from behind the curtains), Tubal whores himself out to the Egermans’ housekeeper, and the Egermans’ serving wench seduces Simson, the coachman. This layering is repeated as the film progresses—and darkens.

My only disappointment with The Magician came with the rather deux ex machina ending, but before that, it’s tense, wonderful, dark, and beautiful. I recommend it without reservations; I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a film more. But I can remember a film I enjoyed nearly as much, because I have horrible taste: It was called Circus of Horrors, I’ll be reviewing it next week, and it doesn’t deserve nearly as much praise as The Magician.