It's surprising that more people haven't done it, but there's an obvious seam of unmined horror in some of the more bloody works of the bard. Macbeth could even be considered to be the original horror story - it's a fact that many of the films reviewed on this site have taken Shakespeare's tale of greed and murder as the basis for their "plots", and spectral warnings from beyond the grave are ten-a-penny in the world of Brit Horror.
Roman Polanski's pretty straightforward take on Macbeth is a bloody, muddy affair, tinged with an uneasy realisation that the director made this to purge his demons following the Manson family's murder of Sharon Tate.
He even steers away from any suggestion that Duncan's murder is down to ghostly goings-on. The blame is laid squarely at Macbeth's feet, with a certain amount of responsibility being taken by his saucy wife. The "witches" are revolting, but definitely real - refusing to vanish into thin air (as described in the play) and instead disappearing into their underground hole through a very solid door. Macbeth's visions of moving trees and sons not of woman born are brought on by him drinking a truly hideous brew, and the appearance of Banquo (Martin Shaw) shaking his extremely gory locks is shown to be brought on by Macbeth's psychosis.
But enough cod anology. Luckily, the film is also very good, from the opening scenes of the battle aftermath (soldiers roam a corpse-strew beach, battering the twitching bodies), to the final confrontation between a cocky Macbeth and a deeply unhappy Macduff.
Polanski gives the whole film a kind of shabby glamour, but never lets his arty aspirations get in the way of telling a good story. Macbeth's castle is a fairytale palace from the outside, but realistically grimey inside. Each death is violent and bloody, but always realistically so. The only thing that lets it down is an inability to take it seriously, because it looks so much like Monty Python And The Holy Grail (especially during the bizarrely speeded-up final battle). But that's hardly Polanski's fault.
Last updated: February 24, 2010
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