Underground Film Journal

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Short Film: Der Erlkönig

By Mike Everleth ⋅ December 7, 2010

Can a film be both beautiful and terrifying at the same time? If that description fits any film, then it certainly fits Raymond Salvatore Harmon‘s haunting Der Erlkönig, an adaptation of the gothic horror poem by Goethe. A father frantically dashes through the forest while, cradled in his arms, his dying son sees the supernatural Erlking about to whisk him away.

Out of all the films I’ve seen by Harmon, this is the first one that has a clear, strong narrative. It still features his typical hallucinatory layering/double-exposure effects, but with a hint of the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer puppetry. (Harmon lists both filmmakers as a direct inspiration in his official synopsis on Vimeo.) But, also, the washed-out-ness of the film also calls to mind the blurry menace of Jack Smith‘s classic Flaming Creatures.

Puppet figure of a man riding a horse at nighttime

What makes the film so unsettling is both the decaying, creepy designs of the puppets and the completely unnerving Schubert score that’s been remixed. The sweeping tones of that score combined with the more frantic manipulations of the puppets and a zooming in tight on them then back out really turns the film into an edge-of-your-seat experience, with a real desperate tension hoping the father can make it to their destination before the Erlking closes his reaching, deadly grip.

As I indicated above, I’ve seen quite a few of Harmon’s films over the years. But, I didn’t get around to watching this one until Alessandro Cima featured it on his excellent site Candlelight Stories, one of the few film sites that embeds lots of great short films.

If you’d like to see more of Harmon’s films, please visit his Vimeo page where he’s uploaded about two dozen of them as of this writing, with hopefully lots more to come!

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