Color, 1989, 83 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by Robert Sigl
Starring Dóra Szinetár, Brigitte Karner, Károly Eperjes, Hédi Temessy, Barnabás Tóth, Hédi Temessy, János Derzsi
Second Run (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Bildstörung (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Le Chat Qui Fume (Blu-ray & DVD) (France R0 HD/PAL)
A significant entry in the history of child's-eye horror films like Lemora, Tigers Are Not Afraid, Hotel Fear, and The Reflecting Skin, 1989's Laurin marked an auspicious feature film debut for German filmmaker Robert Sigl who was only in his mid-twenties at the time. Lensed in Hungary, the feature was shot in English for the export market (and largely dubbed with generic American accents), though the German-language dub was far easier to see for many years. Unfortunately the worldwide outlet for theatrical horror was at a pitiful low at the time, and this one largely had to get by on a handful of home video releases, word of mouth, and tape-swapping circuit for many years as its reputation gradually built up steam.
In the late 1800s, young Laurin (Szinetár) spends her afternoon time spying on her country neighbors and helping out her family at home including her mother, Flora (Karner), whose sailor husband, Arne (Derzsi), is sailing off for life in the big city. They both live with and take care of his mother, Olga (Temessy), but all that changes when Flora dies in the middle of the night after encountering a mysterious figure in black who's dragging an abducted child in a sack across a bridge. Laurin witnesses the events at the same time in a vision, the first of many uncanny occurrences to come as she contends with an unusual new teacher at school (Eperjes), a persecuted best friend named Stefan (Tóth) in her class, and a deadly presence that will undoubtedly strike again.
How much you get out of this film will depend on your expectations, as it's less a straightforward horror movie and more of an art house coming-of-age thriller with a few supernatural flourishes and disturbing undertones about how warped psyches end up preying on kids. The film does have a few fun shocks though, especially a great gag during the climax, and Szinetár carries the whole project well on her shoulders. The whole thing is gorgeous to look at with a rich, fairy tale atmosphere and frequent stylized lighting, while the focus on antiquated props gives it an almost Borowczyk feel at times. That said, you'll need to overlook the clunky dubbing and occasionally confusing editing, but the effort is worth it.
As mentioned above, this one has been available on home video on and off around Europe since the late '80s, and a restoration supervised by Sigl made its debut on Blu-ray and DVD in 2017 from German label Bildstörung. It looks excellent throughout and features both the German and English DTS-HD 2.0 mono tracks with German, English, or French subtitles, plus a trailer, a German-only commentary, and the German trailer. A limited edition in the first pressing also contained a DVD featuring Sig's acclaimed and really creepy 1983 black-and-white short film Der Weihnachstbaum (or The Christmas Tree) with a gallery, a 28m12s interview with Sigl from 2016 (in German with no subs), a 9m27s making-of featurette with lots of production footage, a 19m20s reel of deleted footage sourced from VHS (mostly just landscape and other atmosphere shots) with optional commentary, and video interviews with Dora Szinetár (17m30s), Barnabas Tóth (9m35s), cinematographer Nyika Jansco (15m1s), Jonathan Rigby (31m27s), and Olaf Moller (17m33s), all conducted in English except the last one. Also included are a 2m39s Bavarian Film Awards presentation and a 2m56s gallery. A subsequent French Blu-ray from Le Chat Qui Fume only has the English-language track with French subtitles, with most of the video extras from the German release carried over.
In 2023, Second Run brought Laurin to U.K. Blu-ray featuring the same top-notch restoration, which looks identical here to the previous Blu-ray releases. Both the German and English tracks are included (LPCM 1.0 mono) with improved English-translated and English SDH subtitles. Extras include the archival making-of featurette (slightly longer here at 10m1s), the deleted scenes reel, the trailer, and the video interviews with Szinetár, Tóth, Jansco, and Rigby. In a welcome touch, you get not only the Christmas Tree short (19m23s) with English subtitles (finally) but an additional 2021 lo-res video short by Sigl as well, Coronoia 21 (9m51s), with the director himself wandering a snowy city during the Covid pandemic and having a particularly nightmarish Christmas experience. An insert booklet features a new essay by James Oliver about the Hungarian location shooting, the Gothic traditions at play, and the portrayal of a deeply flawed culture that keeps letting its youngest generations down.
Second Run (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on April 8, 2023