Arrebato Is an Odyssey of Drug-Fueled Artistic Transcendence

Arrebato (Rapture) is not a film that a person can easily describe in a review. Like its theme, it needs to be experienced. The 1979 cult classic has recently become available on streaming platforms after an extensive (and gorgeous) 4K restoration and festival run last year. I had read a lot of praise for the film as an underground masterpiece, particularly from Pedro Almodóvar, whose quote now graces the film’s cover art in praise as “an absolute modern classic.” Then again, why shouldn’t he? He also worked on the film, uncredited as a voice dub for one of the actresses.  

That aside, Almodóvar isn’t wrong. There’s a lot of talent and plenty of thematic intelligence in Arrebato. Underground films from several years ago pop up a lot nowadays, especially as independent film has risen to a place of prominence and commonality. Now, as we look back at films that have nearly been forgotten, a whole new audience can enjoy movies like Arrebato, which almost certainly affected the works of budding filmmakers like David LynchDavid Cronenberg, and Gaspar Noé 

Jose prepares the reel to reel in his apartment in Arrebato

Ivan Zulueta’s film is mainly an Andy Warhol tapestry of psychedelia, where art is both akin to sexual climax and also the source of contention. At times it reminded me of Lynch’s Lost Highway, Cronenberg’s Crash and Videodrome, Gaspar Noé’s Climax, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse. Films that invite us to open our minds to curious ideas and propose horror on a different level of consciousness. Arrebato focuses on existential filmmaking through drug use.  

At the start of the film, we’re introduced to José (Eusebio Poncela), a director in the editing room working on his current picture. After leaving for the day, José returns home to find his ex-girlfriend, Ana (Cecilia Roth), occupying his apartment. Jose’s apartment is stricken with thin scarves transforming the ambiance of his place into hues of pinks and purples, while she has induced herself to sleep through chemical relaxation.

What is particularly impressive from the start of Arrebato is its incredible cinematography and deliberate edits, especially coinciding with the film’s score. The scene described above is beautifully shot and emotionally charged by José’s conflicting feelings. His haste in removing the scarves in a few quick cuts as the music fades out leads to the start of an audio cassette tape he’s received in the mail. A few seconds later, while standing in his bathroom trying to come to grips with Ana’s arrival, a brief flash of Pedro (Will More) appears as the cassette begins, and José slowly feels himself succumb to the madness of his life. 

Ana lies on the bed with one streak of sunlight cast over her face in Arrebato

The film takes us back to understanding who Pedro is to José. If Zulueta’s Arrebato is an influence on Almodóvar or any of the listed director’s above, Pedro would be the Zulueta to Jose’s Almodóvar. In other words, Jose finds inspiration—bordering on obsession in the film—from the unorthodox Pedro who he meets filming images on Super 8 in his backyard. Pedro senses a kindred spirit in José almost immediately. He decides to show him his experimental films, first requiring a pick-me-up to even him out of an agitated state.  

The transformation between crazed Pedro and slick Pedro was a little on the Godard side of things, his deeper, raspier voice similar to the robotic narrator, Alpha 60, in Alphaville. I began to consider the idea that Zulueta might be using Pedro and his experimental films as a comparative stand-in for an auteur like Jean-Luc Godard and his unique approach to film. Godard is known for his eccentricities, both behind the camera and in everyday life. If Zulueta was looking for a muse to base Pedro’s character on, Godard is a good choice.

Arrebato isn’t your typical horror movie in the same way Alphaville is an unconventional science-fiction film. Both Lemmy Caution and Pedro seek to avoid assimilation into what a normal life means in their present-day world. The most significant difference is that Pedro requires heroin to resist his.  

A camera sits in the corner maniacally shuttering

The effect Pedro has on José is intoxicating, and, like any high, José finds himself in need of another fix. The atmosphere surrounding Pedro and his Qatsi-like films becomes a tantalizing and hypnotic need to learn, crave, and require more. From here, Arrebato turns into a captivating look at creative obsession and artistry. There’s also a more profound love story about cinema, with a particular focus on Jose’s admiration for Pedro’s passion for his craft.

A film accompanies Pedro’s audio cassette tape to José. As Pedro begins to detail the process of the images that appear on film, he singles out an anomaly in the reel that continues to occur with further experimentation and the result feels better than any drug or sexual encounter he’s ever had. He warns José that if the anomaly means what he thinks it means, he won’t be able to send the last film. Arrebato’s mystery draws you in like the high its characters chase. The transcendence achieved through creativity becomes incomparable to any high. Arrebato serves as a take on the film industry of the era and the creative process of talented individuals that desire to be anything but status quo, no matter the cost. 

Zulueta’s film is far ahead of its time as a head-tripping hallucinatory take on what it means to be an artist, as a challenging attempt at early cosmic horror, and as relevant queer cinema. The simple rhythmic clicking of a camera is made frighteningly sinister, while most of the film relies on makeup effects and editing tricks. Arrebato is effective and sits with you in the corners of your mind afterward, psychologically stimulating the same obsessive need that made José want to learn more.

Jose holds a blindfold up to his face before covering his eyes in Arrebato

I didn’t understand the use of a particular sound effect at the end of the film, and though I don’t think it gives anything away, I won’t mention it because that’s up for interpretation. The outcome ties together a particular word used in both filmmaking and drug use but obscures the film’s existential philosophy by asserting itself violently at the end. Besides some slightly overcooked exposition, this was my only gripe with the movie. Arrebato defies conventions and it surpassed my expectations in all other areas. Its individuality is inspired, and it’s a shame to me that this was Zulueta’s final feature film. 

Arrebato is now available to stream on VOD. A Vinegar Syndrome limited edition Blu-ray is available starting today, and the regular edition Blu-Ray and DVD will be available on January 25. The Blu-Ray will contain a documentary and commentary track with The Projection Booth’s Mike White. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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