Tuesday, July 31, 2012

El Terror de Mexico: TERROR, SEX & WITCHCRAFT (1968/1984)

Mexico has never really had the funds to be a major film capitol back in the day, like say Italy, Hong Kong, or Britain. That never stopped them from trying though and I think that's what makes Mexican films so much fun. The breakneck enthusiasm for filmmaking combined with a dire need to be commercially profitable may not lead to a plethora of high-brow metaphysical dialogues, but who cares? Pretension is something we are well endowed with on this side of the border.

Case in point. Prolific filmmaker of exploitation cinema Rafael Portillo shot a satanic horror film CAPTIVE OF THE BEYOND in 1968 with several veteran actors, and then 16 years later went back and re-edited the film with one of Nick Millard's garden tools, splicing in some punchier horror footage creating the masterpiece TERROR, SEX & WITCHCRAFT! You couldn't ask for a better back story than that.

Vicky (Ana Luisa Peluffo) is all worked up about her man, architect Ricardo (Carluis Saval sporting a Groucho Marx mustache), being hung up on some blondie named Barbara (Barbara Wells, if I'm not mistaken). Like all jealous women she takes it up with the local witch who consoles her by telling her of her dream: "to dream of a bride in her wedding dress is... death! But if the groom is Satan, like I saw in my dream, death is caused by forces from beyond!" Uhhh, thanks? The witch (who is clearly taking things seriously by chewing gum while checking her tarot cards), says she can definitely put a stop to the floozie putting the moves on her papi chulo with black magic! After a misfire with a snake that Ricardo blows away with his 9 mil (an important accessory for any architect, as Paul Kersey would attest), the witch decides that she needs to get serious. First she creates a love spell that will bind the two together for eternity, second she places a death curse on Barbara's father (represented by a shot of a white golf shoe on the brakes of a car, the sound of tires on gravel and an "aaaaaahhhhhhh" on the soundtrack) and then she plays the trump card...

What Vicky needs to do is simply embrace Satan and she'll get everything she wants, including riches and power over men. The Witch easily arranges this and Satan, ever the businessman, says that in exchange all he wants is to possess her body and soul... Oh, and he wants to see her tits. Yep, Satan is a dude. Now topless (no, I wasn't kidding), Satan gives Vicky a special knife that she can use to kill people without ever being caught. Damn, a freebie? Sweet! That Diablo dude ain't such a bad guy after all. My only question is, if she now has all this richness, why does Vicky still have to work in a Cuban club as a fan dancer? Maybe it's just a way to meet men to have power over, that must be it. The Witch's final curse on poor Ricardo is a curse that leaves him impotent with anyone other than Vicky. Faster than you can say "pinche bruja!", Ricardo is handing over the keys to his hacienda to Vicky's eager hands. Damn that little head. Will it ever learn?

After getting a phone call from a private investigator Barbara hired to snoop on him, Ricardo finds out all of the juicy details. That Vicky is trying to keep him away from Barbara and... is in league with the devil! Of course Ricardo finds all of this terribly funny, at least until Vicky puts her satanic knife through his throat and he coughs up blood all over the expensive carpeting. Ok, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "damn, that'll never come out." But wait, there's more! Because it is the Cuchillo del Diablo, as soon as she pulls the knife free, all traces of the murder disappear, even the blood stains on the carpet. You know Billy Mays Hays was jealous as hell.

Now I know what you are thinking, really this time. You're thinking "dammit, you are giving away too much of the movie!" Oh, and you are wrong again! I am here to tell you this comprises less than the first 30 minutes of the film! Director Rafael Portillo has his foot through the floor with this one. The first half of the pelicula moves so fast that Portillo doesn't even have time for segues, transitions or even a freakin' cut-away. He's just throwing scenes at you so fast to make room for the new footage (almost all of which is at the end) that some times he forgets to completely cut scenes out so you get a split second of the beginning of a scene and then, BAM! you slam right into to another one. In the second half of the film, you do get cut-aways, but if you blink, you'll miss them.


The main body of the film concerns Ricardo's spirit coming back from the grave at night to possess his twin brother Carlos (Carluis Saval, of course), who looks nothing like Ricardo, since he doesn't have a fake mustache. His plan while in possession of Carlos is to get revenge on Vicky and the Witch who ruined his life. This movie has it all. A doctor (Roberto CaƱedo) who submits Carlos to a polygraph test to find out if he is possessed by an evil spirit. A court trial in which David Reynoso plays a defense attorney who takes the case because the defendant's claims are so outlandish and then uses the science of astral projection as a legitimate means of providing evidence. A zombie who, while trying to attack his victim, is forced to kill a mugger first. A firing squad. Full frontal nudity. A nifty little twist at the end... I mean, what more could you ask for? Oh yeah, the title does in fact say "sex". Well, there is none, really. The closest you get is a hilarious scene in which Carlos is seducing Vicky and clearly he is trying to pull her top off, which she is firmly holding in place while supposedly swooning in his embrace. But! It's got damn near everything else.

Rafael Portillo may not have had much dinero to make the film, but he goes to great lengths to obscure that fact with some very atmospheric nightmare and horror sequences. Sure, it's pretty easy to see that some of his tricks are nothing more than gel filters, one being the cheap psychedelic party light with multicolored gels that rotate over a single bulb. However, combined with oblique angles, double exposures, lighting, fog and wind, Portillo achieves some great, surreal moments that actually evoke some of the classic horror films of the Italian era. Add the bizarre lapses in logic, the often hilarious facial expressions from Saval and you have a damn fine evening's entertainment.

Released on video in 1989 under the title NARCO SATANICO, I can't imagine how many little hopes and dreams were crushed by the fact that there are no narcotics, satanic or otherwise, neither are there any narcotics officers, embracing satanism or otherwise. Add to that the blatant lie of having Reynoso wearing a kevlar vest and brandishing an automatic weapon. On the other hand, Peluffo's portrait, holding a bloody knife is, in fact, completely accurate. Either way this is quite the gem for fans of '60s era horror. Because it was cut up to squeeze the new footage in, it moves incredibly fast compared to other horror films of the day, plus they throw in so much mierda loco that it's impossible not to be entertained by something.



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