Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Starring Claudio Brook, Tina Romero, Suzanna Kamini, David Silva
Directed by Juan Lopez Moctezuma
Released by Mondo Macabro
Hail Satan, Archfiend of Hades! Rise thee, worshippers of visual manifests unspooling from the fires below – you’ve not seen anything so surreal, so nefarious, so beautifully realized as this masterpiece of Mexican arthouse horror called Alucarda, not before or since it possessed the silver screen back in the mid 70’s…
The focus of this film is the nightmare creature that is Alucarda, played in an unforgettably over the top manner by Tina Romero. Alucarda is a youthful devilspawn with a huge chip on her shoulder for all things holy – and the fiendish powers to back it up. Born in a strange tomb-chapel to an identical looking mother seemingly impregnated by the devil, the infant Alucarda is spirited away at the mother’s request in the arms of a shady, transient guardian. And thus, in Alucarda you have a motherless devil-child enraged by a sense of abandonment. As far as foster parenting goes, Alucarda is the one street urchin no orphanage worth its holy name would want to take in. Yet, guess what happens?
As far as demonic archetypes go, Alucarda is a tough one to pinpoint. She’s part vampire, part succubus, part witch, part precocious bratty young girl. Her mischievous, seductive side could make easy work of less pious males, but her real allure and will to exploit is reserved, it seems, for other women. Her macabre handiwork creates revenants, vampires; undead beasts born in blood-filled coffins with fingernails the length and sharpness of straight razors. Alucarda also has sinister connections with the fleeting, colourful denizens of the forest outside the orphanage – including a malevolent gypsy-devil of some kind with significant occult power who seems to be able to freeze time.
Other key players: a stoic doctor torn between secular convictions and unholy happenings, god fearing, spontaneously stigmatic nuns in the strangest looking blood soaked nun habits you’re ever likely to see, and a grimly determined head priest who takes his parish’s battle with evil seriously enough that heads do in fact end up rolling. The resulting hell that breaks loose as the many polarized characters face off is weird, extravagant, and loud, a phantasmagoria of naked flesh, strange occult rites, smoke, eerie noises, and a lot (and I mean a lot) of screaming.
Fiercest of all is Alucarda herself when she feels cornered; if you were to take all the satanic caterwauling of every black metal band in Norway and focus it into a needlepoint, its ferocity wouldn’t hold a candle to the piercing blare of Tina Romero’s voice as she barks out diabolical names that set her adversaries ablaze.
So yes, there is mayhem aplenty in Alucarda, but there’s much more. At a glance you can see where the film takes inspiration from the classic Hammer aesthetic – 18th century-feeling wardrobe, brooding atmosphere, howling winds, eerie woodlands, dead of night occult rituals … and perhaps the most Hammer-esque touch of all, the underlying themes of inquisition-era possession and looming vampiric plague. It’s that genuine old-school mood of horror, where the mood itself is a predominant defining point of the viewing experience.
There’s a very overt twist to the style, though. What Hammer offered in mood was often at the sacrifice of excitement and hysteria. What self-respecting horror fan hasn’t repeatedly tried to prop the eyelids open while a generic medieval Hammer vehicle unraveled on a local cable-access all-nighter? With Alucarda your eyes would be well open, your hand fixed on the volume of your remote control if you’re watching it late at night; the relentless barrage of convulsive screaming in this movie rivals the last 45 minutes of the original TCM.
The visual style is beyond strange; the architecture seems to blend clay and flesh seamlessly at points, almost like cadavers are built into the walls. There’s a huge kaleidoscopic wall of Christs, which I still can’t really figure out how they put together. The exteriors are awash in draped sheets, cobwebs, foliage, and smoke. They must’ve had a swimming pool full of blood to keep the Nuns habits continually soaked for the duration of the shoot. Ken Russell and Kenneth Anger fans will certainly find a lot to like in various parts of this movie.
The excessive flourishes in the presentation are the result of director Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s connection to surrealist master Alejandro Jodorowsky. Moctezuma and Jodorowsky worked together in the 1960’s collaborating on something called “Panic Theatre” – this might explain the excessive approach to the acting style of Alucarda. Every note of dialogue is hit with such drama and intensity that it could feel Monty-Python-esque in lesser directorial hands, but not so with Moctezuma, who ensures the tone remains firmly on the strange side of funny. It helps that masters of the old school theatrical form are on hand in key roles to make the style work so well – notably Claudio Brook (of Del Toro’s Cronos) who has a dual role in this film, and David Silva (El Topo, The Mansion of Madness). Considering that Moctezuma played a key role behind the camera in El Topo, it’s notable that the overall feel of Alucarda lives up to the associations with Jodorowsky.
The DVD extras are worthy, but they take a hit by being identical to the extra content on the Mondo Macabro release of The Mansion of Madness, which is another film by Juan Lopez Moctezuma that you should definitely see if you like Alucarda. The content includes a bio-short video about Moctezuma, an interview with Guillermo Del Toro at Sitges, some poster stills and written bio-material, and an entertaining array of trailers for other Mondo Macabro releases.
It’s interesting that Guillermo Del Toro is interviewed about Alucarda – it’s obvious that this film meant a lot to him. It begs the question: did Claudio Brook’s devil-gypsy being in Alucarda act as inspiration, directly or subconsciously, for the Pan character in Pan’s Labyrinth? There are undeniable similarities…
5 out of 5
3 out of 5
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