What happened to Spain? There was a time where Spain turned out some superb genre cinema. Sure there was the post-Franco cinematic revolution of the ’70s where the likes of Jose Larraz, Jorge Grau and some guy named Jacinto Molina were gleefully trampling the dictator’s censorship laws, while crafting great films on a bankroll smaller than John Travolta’s coke money. We also entered a period of re-invention in the ‘90s. While Hollywood eagerly started their downward descent of self-cannibalization, the Spanish film industry picked up the slack with Jaume Balagueró and Alex de la Iglacia breaking into the international market with films that proudly declared that Generissimo Francisco Franco was still dead. For some reason this forward momentum encountered the same disease that it seems all film industries the world over succumb to. “The Hollywood Syndrome.”
One of the more promising things that we’ve been hearing about coming out of Spain in recent years is the VALDEMAR INHERITANCE films. Generating all the excitement is the fact that it is, as it turns out (very) loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shunned House. Just as loosely as Lucio Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), but without the atmosphere, the shocks, the creativity, and really everything else that makes it a classic horror film.
|Maybe, if someone stopped talking on their|
cell phone and paid attention to their dark
rituals, the Elder Gods would be here by now.
This flashback is quite literally the entirety of the film. We learn that Lasaro Valdemar (Daniele Liotti) and his wife, Leonor (Laia Marull), are charlatans who bilk rich idiots out of their family money by providing phony séances and photographing them. Though writer-director José Luis Alemán ensures that you have some sympathy for them when things get ugly, by having them use their ill-gotten gains to pay for the welfare of orphaned children. No, that sound you heard wasn’t a Lurker at the Threshhold, that was just me groaning. After being imprisoned when he refused to be blackmailed by a seedy journalist threatening to expose him, the only person who can save him is Alistair Crowley (Francisco Maestre) who concocts a scheme to get him out of the slams on the condition that Lasaro will perform a real séance with him for his special guests (who include Lizzy Borden, Bram Stoker, etc). Things don’t go quite as planned, the end.
Yes, I said “the end”. No, really. That’s it. But what happened to Louisa? What about the other appraiser? The estate agent and his secretary? Sorry, you got nothin’ for ya. Or if you saw it on video, you get a quick 20 second preview of the next film complete with CG Chthulhu and a year-long wait for the next film.
No wonder it didn’t get released here. Audiences would have rioted. The opening set up was decent (though completely unoriginal), but the flashback (aka the entire movie), was decent at best. Ham-handed, uninspired and over-long at worst. It felt like someone got wrapped up in their own ego and didn’t realize the flashback needed to be just that; a flashback. A film can set up a sequel, but it needs to have some sort of self-contained story arc within itself instead of just being half of a film, and an overly dry one at that. There’s a little bit of CG monster action at the end, but other than that don’t expect a single drop of anything horror (other than Louisa’s discovery of Orquicia’s corpse in the beginning) and it’s nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before and a thousand times better. Adding insult to injury, Spain’s patriarch of the horror film, Paul Naschy, is confined to an almost wordless role as the Valdemar butler. Naschy could have easy been cast as Crowley and brought a great sinister presence to the role instead of Maestre, who’s obvious, one-note performance doesn’t do anything to help carry the rather flat story.
|As you would expect, Lovecraft is the life of the party.|
Back in the present day, everyone gets kidnapped and wake up in a “torture room” wearing festival masks (for no apparent reason), they panic and argue and you might get the impression you SAW this movie before. Before you get all excited the “torture room” is well lit with a comfy bed and not a speck of the old red-stuff to be found. But no matter, we’re going to run off head-long into more clichés! Yay, clichés! Drawing “inspiration” from other films such as THE DESCENT (2005) and (of all things) TOURIST TRAP (1979), the film plays out without actually employing any shocks or even conjuring any sense of dread. No miasma of terror, not even a spooky. Hell, there aren't even any gristly demises! That’s right, even though we have a cast of cookie-cutter characters, with one really uninspired exception, none of them are killed off or driven mad or really do anything except bicker with each other and try to escape their captors. And if you are looking for something more than TV-show acting chops, you are out of luck on that front too. The only moment that really does work is a scene where the deranged Santiago is wracked with distraught over the decapitation of one of his mannequins, who he believes to be a real woman. These little snatches of actual goodness are few and far between with most of the plot-points being not only ridiculously far fetched (how exactly do you abduct six hundred and sixty-six people from the same patch of woods without raising a single eyebrow?), but many are so predictable that you'll know exactly what is going to happen 20-30 minutes before the filmmakers jump out from behind the sofa and yell “surprise!”
In addition to being blandly presented, the paltry few scenes that are supposed to have shocks are done without any subtlety or style. The zombie-like creature that was summoned during the séance in the beginning (or in the first film) is shown well lit and openly and for so long that the viewer has plenty of time to notice the flaws in the make-up (seriously, with all their abundant use of cheap CG, you’d think they could have made it look like something other than a guy in a mask). On the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s no spoiler to say that Cthulhu makes an appearance at the end (it is featured predominantly in the trailers, posters, and press material), and the way he (it?) is presented, it looks more fit for a video game than anything else. Like the zombie/demon creature, the over-exposure and the constant head-shots with the monster roaring spittle into the camera cheapens the whole effect and left me pining for the subtlety of THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005) which pulled off, not only the whole Lovecraft thing, but summoned the great elder god from his eternal resting place beneath the sea with stunning results for a fraction of the budget and far fewer resources. As if that wasn’t enough, there are some moments in the end which might get a snicker or two out of the audience. If the fact that Cthulhu’s scale in relation to a human seems to slide drastically from shot to shot doesn’t get you, maybe the completely laughable botched human sacrifice scene will. Not that you won’t see that plot twist (like the rest) coming from miles away.