8 August 2000 | the red duchess
one of the great horror films - as resonant as Buster Keaton.
The most astonishing and visually audacious of the early Bugs Bunnies, a Chuck Jones masterpiece, that uses the cheap target of the Universal horror movie, long since wallowing in parody, to create some extraordinary effects. The tale is the usual - Bugs being chased by a relentless predator; but is given added piquancy by the horror setting. Bugs is often at the root of his own troubles, whether by arrogant egocentricity, disarming androgyny or slippery playfulness goading the less gifted into violence; but in this case it is Bugs' lust that does him in, as he is led to a castle, with 'Evil Scientist' blaring in neon over its portals, by a beautiful mechanical doll, unsurprisingly, considering our hero's narcissism, very similar to himself (what do you mean all rabbits look the same?!). This mixture of the erotic and the machine prefigures Ballard and Cronenburg, of course, but also reaches back to modern horror's roots, the perverse tales of E.T.A. Hoffman.
The evil scientist, supposedly a take on Peter Lorre, lures Bugs as pet-food for his fearsome monster, who turns out to be a rather cute carpet beast, a dim-witted giant Bugs makes rather heavy weather of. The variations on the chase are vertiginously invigorating, Jones' art is at the zenith of its inventiveness, mocking the horror genre, yet managing to evoke its resonances and themes. In possibly the greatest sequence in Warners animation, the Monster chases Bugs and sees the long hall he occupies reflected the mirror. He also sees himself - his reflection is horrified by him, and runs away out the reflected hall door. This sequence is, er, mirrored, by a later scene, when Bugs, about to be eaten, reveals the watching audience to the Monster, who, exposed, flees through the never-ending castle walls in shame and terror.
This theme of the doppelganger, the shameful double that usually represents all the dark side of our natures we have repressed, is also brilliantly represented in the short's treatment of surveillance. Our first image is of Bugs emerging from his hole, so powerful that the entire forest is his bedroom. and yet he is afraid that he is being watched. Suddenly, he is framed by a screen, which startles the audience (well, me anyway) into a guilty realisation of what it is doing; when the screen belongs to the evil scientist, and the audience is linked to his madman who seeks to murder Bugs, the act of looking, spying, is linked to death - Bugs is in danger as long as he is trapped in the frame, as long as he is being watched. Freedom only is possible when he leaves, and the short is over; but this is a kind of death anyway, as Bugs is a cartoon character who only exists in a cartoon. (Do I need to mention McCarthy?)
The dark colours are beautiful; the playing with perspectives ingenious; and the excuse for a 'What's Up Doc?' is as ingenious as Hitchcock's cameo in 'Lifeboat'.