Written by Jonathan Wojcik
REVIEWING ALEXANDER BUBNOV'S "CLINIC"
Despite having been made in 1993, today's entry is something I wasn't familiar with until after I began my medical "horror" webcomic and more than one person sent me a youtube link. On the one hand, perhaps it was for the best that I actually didn't have yet another prior inspiration seeping into my concepts for a series already crowded enough, but on the other hand, I feel deprived. Even considering the fact that it's from Russia and was never released in the states in any known form, I should have at least been aware of it from any number of youtube forays into rare and unusual animated shorts.
But, lucky you, odds are you're not nearly as ancient as I've become, and you have an opportunity to watch Clinic sooner in your wee life. In fact, we've found the highest-resolution upload on youtube yet, and you can feel free to check it out before, after, or during the play-by-play of personal thoughts I'm about to give, though fair warning: this is a cartoon with several instances of body horror, extreme medical malpractice, and I'm going to have to say that a couple of designs might be racist caricatures. I didn't say it was perfect, but we are here for that Horror and Medical Malpractice part.
Clinic opens with an ordinary enough looking scenario, as a white coat wheels a patient on a gurney onto the surgery floor. The style is immediately reminiscent of the lumpy, dirty look we Americans more likely associate with kid's shows of the era, particularly those by Klasky-Csupo such as Rugrats and Aaahh!! Real Monsters!
Things go immediately South as the other surgeons crowd around the patient. They certainly shouldn't be taking their masks off before the procedure, and they certainly shouldn't be smiling, either. I'm actually going to leave what happens next unspoiled, along with several of the other twists and reveals in the actual short, but it's very funny and very grim, and feels to me like a jab at for-profit medical care in general.
Our "protagonist" then bursts awake in bed, because of course it was all a bad dream. That's the thrust of the short of course; it's a series of increasingly ghoulish, Hospital-inspired nightmares. Would you look at this guy, though? From his design so his mannerisms, he exudes poor health straight through the screen. I feel like I can tell by looking at him that he hasn't eaten a vegetable in years that wasn't a potato in some form.
There is also a mysterious, steady dripping sound we've been here since the beginning, which becomes the beat of the short's soundtrack, and does not stop when he's awake...just a leaky faucet, perhaps?
Once he falls back asleep, his next dream has him in a waiting room with a number of historical and mythological figures, even including a giant cyclops whose eye has been stabbed out. The best one however is clearly this slick as hell Medusa. Such a badass she wears sunglasses and smokes indoors, in a Hospital no less, exhaling it all from her snake hair! I also missed at first that she's lounging against what appears to be a petrified janitor.
From the waiting room, the scuzzy man is called in to the office of a doctor whose game of syringe darts tells us all we need to know about his character; not only is he sloppy, but he's pretty excessively brutal.
Case in point, the surreal detail that he "drills" these tablets like screws into the patient's hands, which successfully keeps them pinned to the desk. It is a dream, after all.
The doctor continues from there with an extensive and sadistic physical exam, which ends with the patient's eyeballs falling out of his shriveled head. He awakens in a start again, back to normal, but not for long as he falls back to sleep...
The next dream continues from the last, as he finds himself without any eyes or even eye sockets to speak off, and staggers his way into the clinic's eye doctor. This sequence is especially dreamy with its muted colors and wobbling, drunken animation style.
The eye doctor is fantastic by the way. Besides his huge, colorful eyeballs, his jerky movements and tip-toed scurrying are just delightful to watch in action...and after examining those blank, eyeless pits, he does something VERY weird.
He looks around, as if making sure nobody else is in the room, and shushes the patient before he hurriedly scuttles over to the window...
I love his face as he twists around and looks up, there's something so incredibly funny to me about his expression here. But what's he looking at?
It turns out that a single, massive, bodiless eye soars high above the clinic in circles, almost like a vulture. The elongated lashes as "wings" is an inventive and cool looking feature I surprisingly haven't seen elsewhere in eyeball creatures, of which I have seen a very, very, very great deal.
There's also an interesting little detail in that the eyes on the wallpaper open up only when the window is open, and look towards it with him. When he closes the window, they shut again as well. This sequence really feels far more accurately like a dream than most efforts I'm familiar with.
Shushing and glancing around some more, the doctor sneakily skitters to a cabinet, removes a small jar and opens it up, filling the room with little tiny flying eyes!
He grabs one of the eyes out of the air, and then does something else that I'm not spoiling, but it is unpleasant to say the least, and then we find out why he was so secretive about it, and why he had to check on where the giant one was.
YOU LEAVE HER BABIES ALONE!
God, the entire concept of this sequence is incredible, and could have constituted a short film all of its own.
The next dream is a short one, and kind of hearkens back to the first. Now the patient is lying in an open casket, covered completely in lit candles, and a full Hospital staff are once more seated around him.
What happens next isn't any more warped than anything else in the film, but it is unexpected enough that I laughed. Also, nearly every doctor in this sequence, considering the fact that they're just humans, has such a solid and really fun character design.
The really important thing about the casket dream is that, this time, he doesn't wake back up in his room, but in a huge and distorted exaggeration of it resembling an enormous church cathedral, various doctors portrayed like saints. The scenery throughout the short is gorgeous, but this location is especially lovely to look at.
Some of those little, flying eyeballs are even here, flitting around remarkably like moths! I like the detail of what seem to be medical samples and hypodermic needles laid out like offerings.
But then...we see various doors around the room, apparently leading to many different clinics, and one of them finally bursts open. The "DANTIST!"
DANTIST has mouths for eyes, mouths for ears, and even a mouth for a mouth! One that begins to buzz and whirl like a garbage disposal, too. You have to also appreciate his necklace of teeth, and of course he has nasty dental (sorry, DANTAL) tools for hands! This guy is the full package of orthodontic horror!
Next we have the skin doctor. He's interestingly made up of many different, patchwork skin tones, but not all of them are colors any human has ever come in. A much simpler but still very effective and monstrous design, perhaps actually even cooler than the DANTIST for it.
The skin guy is also almost immediately distracted from his looming and his good mood as he starts to itch, another detail that may not be as showy as whirling teeth, but feels even more unpleasant, especially because it means this guy isn't even that good at treating his own skin.
Next comes the Ear, Nose and Throat doctor, whose face is of course all just one big ear, nose and throat! He also blows his nose on a hankie first thing, which brings us back to the same issue as the dermatologist, not to mention that he doesn't even wash his hands or put any gloves on.
The protagonist begins to attempt to draw a circle of chalk around himself, like you would when confronted by demons, but when the chalk breaks, he gets desperate enough to bite his own finger and use his own blood, which I gotta be honest, actually makes me squirm pretty bad. I actually really hate bleeding and any kind of self-injury, even in a cartoon. Not enough to be emotionally upset, but it's a sort of sympathetic, squeamish gross-out.
...Which SHOULD bother me about the eye doctor, but the fact that it has such an inhuman appearance probably helps matters. It's not the one we saw earlier, unless this can be considered his "true form." Characters with eyeballs for heads are common, but the eye is usually a full sphere situated on a neck and looking forward. An eye gazing straight up from the shoulders is much less common, and I must say, much more interesting after seeing it done the same old way so many times. You may also notice that there's a large nail through the pupil. If you've watched the short, you know why!
The optometrist actually opens the doors hard enough to shatter the hanging lightbulb, raining glass into his own eye. He seems hurt at first, but as his eye goes dark purple with internal bleeding, he eerily stands right back up and continues on, as though now simply angrier.
The next doctor is the psychiatrist, and this one is just human, but exceptionally bony and lanky and also one of Clinic's single best pieces of animation; his actions as he slinks around are downright gorgeous! The imagery of a "Crazy Mental Patient" has problems, and it's probably that Bubnov was simply thinking it would be funny and scary for the doctor himself to read as "crazy," but my own interpretation is that his form is simply embodying the fearful perception of psychiatric care and the terrible ways we really did just call people "psychopaths" or "hysterical" and wrap them up in straightjackets.
Love these nurses that come in with the gurneys next. That green one with no nose is a total babe and the middle one's nun sort of look is pretty ominous. The last one is just kind of a regular lady, but it rounds out the weirdness of the other two.
I'm trying to review every major doctor we're shown, but this one's...just a guy with his dingle hanging out while he joyrides in a wheelchair.
I do really love the distant shots we get as the patient attempts to complete his blood circle. The way the doctors are so slooooowly staggering towards him, some of them even stumbling, rolling or crawling along to that weird music is downright haunting and another instance of spot-on dream-style imagery.
We even cut back to a nurse who's drinking blood samples through a straw. Of course she seems to just be a vampire.
Miraculously, the blood circle is completed in the nick of time and actually works as a barrier, like an invisible dome. As the doctors press against it, you can almost miss the fact that the dermatologist no longer has a recognizable face at all!
The scene spins around and around, showing off the whole ghoulish staff. We've seen most of them before while others just look human, but we also get some hilariously unprofessional workplace behavior and the least human doctor in the clinic. A green crab monster feels striking enough that it should have warranted a closer look, especially one that might tell us what medical field it could POSSIBLY represent, though considering the medical theme, just which kind of "crab" are they?
...But as a friend points out, the Russian term for cancer is the same as their term for crayfish.
More nice shots here, including just how ominous that nun-nurse really is. She subsequently speaks the first line of dialog in the whole short, which is in Russian, but it brings the activity of the other doctors to a halt.
By now, I was actually already suspecting what this particular nightmare could be referencing. One of the most famous fantasy stories in Russia is that of Viy, the climax of which takes place in an old church house where the protagonist has drawn a circle of protection around himself, resisting the onslaught of various demons.
But Viy isn't only the title of the story. It's also the name of the head demon.
The final set of doors to open are to the X-Ray room, and two doctors in heavy radiation suits wheel out a portable X-ray device, already displaying part of a torso just about where a torso would be if it were a person itself. Kickass detail! Why didn't I think of that?!
The key distinguishing characteristic of the demon Viy is that it cannot open its own huge, heavy eyelids without assistance from its demonic minions, and indeed, the two doctors slide open two panels on a scanner that now looks at least a little more like a face. In fact, the bottom "jaw" begins to flap, and an inhumanly deep voice begins to speak.
The machines "eyes" light up blindingly, and search around the chamber, the doctors notably recoiling from the light. Like in Viy, it seems that they know where the circle is, but they cannot actually see the patient. He is invisible to them.
X-Viy finally finds him, the beams exposing his skeleton. In the original tale, the protagonist knew not to look at the demon's face as the eyelids were opened, but snuck a peek anyway. It seems as though the mutual gaze in both cases is what really revealed his location to the demon.
I love how the machine even has its own coat and smock, and cute little hands! It's really suck a funny design, but the absurdity is another aspect that feels "authentically" like a nightmare. He speaks again, and now the doctors can not only see through the circle, but reach through it as well...
...And with that, he's awake again. Disappointing, maybe, but what happens next is even darker than I expected. Suffice to say, he's finally had all he can take of that damned dripping.....
I've seen a lot of cartoons, obviously. I've seen a lot of dark cartoons. Maybe I've seen some that you can argue are darker, but the particular darkness of Clinic feels like an exceptional case, undoubtedly thanks to how hard it was for me to predict where it would go next and the contrast of that darkness with its quirky artistic style.
I also feel that, even now - if not more than ever? - a great deal of this short feels like relevant commentary. I'm a firm advocate of mainstream, scientifically formulated medicine over unverifiable holistics and other get-rich-quick independent quackery, but that doesn't mean the medical industry is without serious flaws. Sometimes our best option can still let us down, and between the opiate crisis, staggering costs and a general lack of compassion for the individual concerns of patients, it's unfortunately not all that surprising that some people would rather squirt leeches up their backdoor and drink dog piss just to see if they feel any better.
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