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Film Review : The Nurse with the Purple Hair (2017) Focusing on Film Death and Real Death

Updated: Nov 7, 2023


Friday the 13th. (1980) and the Nurse with the Purple Hair (2017)

It's no doubt that the world's most famous horror franchise was and still is Friday the 13th. Sean S. Cunningham (1941-) is best known for his horror film master piece, the original film Friday the 13th. (1980) which was a major success for the independent film company in the East Coast, Georgetown Productions Inc. and successfully being distributed by the Hollywood major studios like Paramount Pictures for domestic US theatrical release and international release by Warner Brothers.

Sean S. Cunningham casted my friend Ari Lehman as a boy Jason Voorhees in the 1980 master piece, and he also cooperated with one of my film teachers at Tokyo University of the Arts, art director Toshihiro Isomi and acquaintance assistant director Naoyoshi Kawamatsu on one of film episodes, a Japanese story "Jibaku" for the horror anthology Trapped Ashes (2006).

In fact, he is pretty underrated by Japanese critics and Chinese critics however Friday the 13th. (1980) and The Nurse with the Purple Hair (2017) showed the most important theme of our lives. That is how to face the movie death and real death of people. Dialectic contradiction of fiction and reality is seriously considered only by Sean S. Cunningham among all so called ''horror masters'' around the world. The most of them are just tried to fictionalise the reality itself in the pessimist or escapist way. Furthermore, this was purely done in the name of ''realism'' or ''style.'' It lacks human emotion and solemn respect for real death and real social issues. Even Hong Kong horror directors just only think about how to exceed Hollywood by more gore and brutal violent expressions.

On the contrary, Sean S. Cunningham shared his minimalist attitude toward horror genre filmmaking on Friday the 13th. (1980),

I still remember what he said about the ethical aspect and violent sensationalism in filmmaking. Commercial filmmakers always just capitalising killing and death in the genre.

You can't do anything new with special effects; you can't get any mileage out of killing more people or being more graphic, because it's all been done - you should excuse the expression - to death. The pornography of violence is similar to the pornography of sex, in that when it's presented without substance it becomes a turn-off and it self-destructs.

Movie death is just a matter of capitalisation. Even it becomes a sales point. Capitalists, patrons try to capitalise every film aspect. Human deaths in love story, costume play, suspense, porno, sci-fi, action, horror films are normally or abnormally always targets of capitalisation under capitalism. For instance, sequels need more sensational twists, unexpected deaths of previously well-known characters.

This is what Sean S. Cunningham wanted to avoid as minimal as possible in order to keep moral freedom from capitalisation of fake deaths and violent expressions in film business. It gives his master piece everlasting sensitivity and attraction for real film goers. His unique approach to the horror genre made his Friday the 13th. (1980) our text book.

The Nurse with the Purple Hair (2017) is a well-made video documentary by the film master which shows his more advanced approach to the death theme. The death theme is the most important theme for everyone. It gives us real life or indulgence. It depends on our realisation of its meaning in real life. This cannot be realised by capitalising it in commercial stuff. From fictional death to real death, from fictional movie to documentary, finally it achieves journalism of the real world. His career reflects his inner development.

The theme of this documentary is the same with the theme of Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952). Although Friday the 13th. (1980) focuses on movie death; The Nurse with the Purple Hair (2017) focuses on real death. The two movies must be seen in order to fully understand and feel the dialects of fiction and reality. What the inner difference between both fiction and reality? The death will answer that question. Only the sense of imminent death can make us feel real meaning of lives, genuine values of art and what should we do.

I myself did freelance photographical work for Fuji film series company in 2014 after got a theatrical feature film The Rakugo Movie (2013) broadcasted nationwide in Japan, and when I did photographical work at one of Japan's important cancer research centres, I realised what the real death means. Fictional death is totally ridiculous and meaningless if it is capitalised. Snapshots on dying young cancer patients taught me what real art is, what real death is, what solemn respect for objects is. This is the difference between stupid fiction and solemn reality. Those snapshots were full of real emotional impacts than any commercial craps of industrial stars. The Nurse with the Purple Hair (2017) has the similar impression to us. This is a matter of enlightenment which required for both drama and documentary.

It cannot be taught at film schools. It can only be learned in social practice.


FILE PHOTO: Dir. Sean S. Cunningham introduces the documentary.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Dir. Sean S. Cunningham introduces the documentary. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

1. Introduction:

First, Sean S. Cunningham explains why he made Friday the 13th. (1980) and what motivated his creation of the horror master piece. He said that his motive was to create a right passage for audiences thus he showed them scary stuff to bring them safely to the other side at the end. At the same time, he denied Bruno Bettelheim's 1976 Freudian psychoanalysis on fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Horror tales are thought as to deal with our unspoken fears.

Then, Sean S. Cunningham refers to his encounter with the protagonist Michelle Lasota at a horror film convention in Toronto, Canada in 2014. As Ari Lehman said in 2012, Sean S. Cunningham rarely appeared at horror film conventions in the past.

Sean S. Cunningham indicates the theme of this video documentary film, ''There is a bunch of wisdom here...I focus on movie death, she focuses on real death. What does it mean?''

Michelle Lasota and her social relationships with her patients and colleagues answer this question in this film.

In other words, this is the same theme with Friday the 13th. (1980) but this is a different approach. Maybe better approach to the theme.

2. Interaction:

The main story of Michelle Lasota is told in a conference room with her colleagues. Michelle talks about her family, career and what the hospice job is in front of colleagues. The interactions in the conference room are a core of this documentary, other interviews from colleagues, experts, patients and inserts are all additional to this main sequence. Thus, this documentary structure is built around this lecture of Michelle Lasota at the conference room as a major interview. It is a major action line in dramatic structure.

Inter-action with patients who are dying is their major job. The most important thing is that just listening to what they want to talk to them on an equal standing.

3. Interviews:

Son of Potential Hospice Patient, Bruce Kalish

Brother of Hospice Patient, Vincent Torrino

Oncologist & Hospice Doctor, Dr. Pallavi Kumar

4. Michell's Team:

Social Worker, James Roberts

Hospice Nurse, Sandra Hickman-Ford

Managing Nurse, Margerate Bowen

Hospice Chaplain, David Wenker

Daughter of Hospice Patient, Dana Covert

All of them talk about dying patients and how should they treat patients and themselves.

5. Spirit:

Michelle Lasota cites a commercial film of Johnson & Johnson as a reference to her own similar experience. When the patient implies their death and requires the nurse to open the window in order to release the spirit to heaven, the hospice worker then closes it and says not yet.

Then, they mention importance of sense of unfinished business. In film Ikiru (1952), the protagonist Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) who is a bureaucrat at city council tries to finish his 'unfinished business' by constructing a park for slum after he diagnosed as severe stomach cancer.

Michelle Lasota says, her work is to help the patients get it done before their death.

6. Frank's Story:

Michelle Lasota shares her case management on ex-actor/ballet dancer Frank. She had managed Frank for six years at the hospice. Moreover she loved him. The most glorious moment of his life was when he was invited by White House to play a ballet dance in front of US president J.F. Kennedy at that time. She flashbacks her memory of when she had to say to him ''Frank you are dying.''

Interview of Certified Nursing Assistant, Angela McFarlane follows it.

Suffering is love. And it is paining side of love. One interviewee says.

Pain is a teacher and part of happiness. When we lose loved one, everyone feels pain yet it means that pain is part/ proof of our happiness with the deceased. No happiness, no pain at all. This dialectic theme is also brilliantly dealt in the famous UK film Shadowlands (Dir. Richard Attenborough; 1993).

7. Personal Day:

Michelle Lasota shares how she complete puzzles of patient memory. Location footage of her respective visit to the deceased at cemetery with Sean S. Cunningham follows it. Michelle Lasota introduces ninja tattoo on her arm as a symbol of her love toward her own children. Every things is related with memory managing. Image, memory are alive even after those people are all dead.

8. Snapshots:

''The most important image is living in mind not anywhere else.'' Sean S. Cunningham concludes. Although Hollywood films and any visual arts carry emotional waves, the most important images are in mind of living people not any fictional images. Capitalists capitalising images and sounds thus those commodities are not most important images and memories of living people. We can't solve alienation by consuming more capitalised images and sounds.

9. A Good Death:

''Everybody does not have a good death as multi-dimensional beings.'' Michelle Lasota thinks.

However an interviewee, nurse practitioner Barbara Felder says her good death would be that her family members seeing her death beside her.

Finally Michelle Lasota suggests audiences of this documentary ''Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.''

10. Conclusion:

Sean S. Cunningham defines so called 'unfinished business' and how to help dying people to get it done before their death. This is not some construction of huge monument or something big, it is quite simple and practicable for everyone that ''Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.''

Without this step, it would be quite difficult to help others who are dying.


Unlike drama, documentary is based on interviews and additional footage, images to back the narrative with inserts, inter cuts, sound cuts and flash backs etc.

FILE PHOTO: End title roll.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: End title roll. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

The opening and end title sequences are similar to Friday the 13th. (1980) for the design of subtitled credits. Furthermore, it also due to the music composer Harry Manfredini who was also involved in the composure of brilliant music for Friday the 13th. (1980).

FILE PHOTO: Opening title sequence.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Opening title sequence. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

Besides these, the hand shapes of different colours rotating its angles while wiped across the opening title sequence. In which, patients wrote thank you messages to the hospice workers.

FILE PHOTO: Major interview sequence of this documentary.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Major interview sequence of this documentary. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

The main conference sequence was shot by three cameras. One is front angle, sometimes shot close up s of Michelle Lasota; the other one is the left angle, from the left side shot zoom ups;

FILE PHOTO: A wide shot from the left angle.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: A wide shot from the left angle. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

the final one is right side, relatively wide OTS was shot from the back of right row.

FILE PHOTO: A wide OTS shot from the right angle.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: A wide OTS shot from the right angle. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

Lighting followed the same set up. The key light is obviously a flat light and put in front of the protagonist from the other side of the table. Fill lights are from both left and right side next to the cameras. This setting is typical and easy to make reverse shots, wide shots and close ups in order to get coverage in ordinary situations. Three point shooting and lighting set up. Unfortunately, Japanese or Taiwanese documentaries are basically done by single camera and one light. Americans' material conditions for documentary making are far better than East Asia. For some occasion, they used inner microphone to record the sounds without boom operator in this film. If positioning is precise, inner microphone of camera itself can exceed any professional sound recorder.

FILE PHOTO: One of additional interview footage o the protagonist.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: One of additional interview footage of the protagonist. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

In the following shot below, they used mild dissolve to cut the visual and sound when the interviewee stopped and cried. That was cut off by the editor in this way.

FILE PHOTO: Skilful use of dissolve in one interview shot.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Skilful use of dissolve in one interview shot. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

As I mentioned above, additional footages and images intercut with the main sequence.

For instance, Frank's ballet dancing footage and images dissolved with it. And his three facial images are edited in multiple frames and each frame rotating itself.

FILE PHOTO: Intercut between the main conference room shot and Frank's ballet dance footage.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Intercut with the Frank's ballet dance footage. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Frank's ballet dance footage.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Frank's ballet dance footage. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Frank's multi frame montage with rotating images.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Frank's multi frame montage with rotating images. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

Intercut is powerful when it's used to enhance and materialise simultaneously what the interviewee just mentions. This kind of intercut was frequently used even in the drama, Ivan The Terrible (Dir. Sergei Eisenstein; 1944).

FILE PHOTO: Intercut materialises the content of the dialogue simulteniously.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: Intercut materialises the content of the dialogue simultaneously. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment

Sean S. Cunningham's style is simple, economical and highly sophisticated. Moreover, his filmmaking is seemed to be faster than average filmmakers. There is nothing difficult to understand what each shot means in his films. My analysis of Friday the 13th. (1980) will show more stylistic solutions of this great film director.

This is everything about this documentary.

FILE PHOTO: The protagonist Michelles suggests audience how to treat the dying people.  ©Crystal Lake Entertainment
FILE PHOTO: The protagonist Michelles' suggestion to audience. ©Crystal Lake Entertainment


The Nurse with the Purple Hair is a warm and inspiring documentary about end-of-life care. The film features hospice nurse Michelle Lasota and is directed by world-renowned filmmaker Sean Cunningham.

Trailer of this documentary



Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to the professional film writer Ryota Nakanishi as author and a link to is provided.

This film article is for educational purpose only.

Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favour of fair use.


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