Saturday, October 21, 2006


I lived in Tucson, Arizona for a few years in the mid-60's and our local Saturday night Chiller Theater would occasionally throw some Mexican horror films into the mix. I have vivid memories of only one of those, this atmospheric film which betrays a number of horror film thefts, influences or homages, depending on how generous the viewer is feeling toward the filmmakers. Off the top of my head, I count references, in plot or visuals, to Dracula, The Mummy, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man, Fall of the House of Usher, Eyes Without a Face, and Black Sunday, and the film has the general feel of the American International B-movies of the era. All that makes the movie a nice thick Gothic soup, watered down a bit by a low budget and a sub-par English dubbing (though apparently there is a recent DVD release in Spanish with English subtitles). In a prologue, we see two men and a young woman riding in a coach through a foggy woods, stopped by a hideous wailing woman dressed in black with either jet-black blind eyes or empty eye sockets (I was never sure which). Her brutish companion unleashes some killer dogs and all three passengers are murdered. Cut to a nearby isolated hacienda, lived in by Selma (Rita Macedo) and her crippled manservant, the two killers from the previous scene, though the woman's eyes are now normal. Selma's niece Emily (Rosita Arenas) and her new husband Herbert (Abel Salazar, also the film's producer) arrive for a visit, summoned by Selma and brought by a coachman reluctant to approach what he calls the "Witch House."

The various plotlines, perhaps due to the vagaries of the dubbing, were sometimes difficult for me to follow, but here's what I was able to glean: 1) Selma is the descendent of a witch, killed hundreds of years ago by a lance through the heart; she keeps the witch's skeleton in the basement; 2) According to legend, on the eve of Emily's 23rd birthday, the long silent bells in the hacienda tower will toll and Emily will be able to resurrect the dead witch; 3) Selma's husband has fallen under the family curse which turns all the males into wolfish beasts, and he's imprisoned upstairs. Emily is told that Herbert will suffer the same fate; 4) Selma periodically transforms into the black-eyed witch figure and kills, needing human blood to thrive. Even if the plot remained disconnected, the individual sequences are all well staged, with shadows and shrieking and a good Gothic air to the proceedings, though the hacienda sets are a bit spare. A backstory flashback scene, which uses brief clips from earlier Salazar films presented in negative, is quite effective, conjuring up similar flashback scenes from the Universal Mummy series. One shot of Selma walking through a giant cobweb is cribbed directly from the Lugosi DRACULA. The music veers between effective and overdone, and the acting is no better than the genre calls for. Worthwhile viewing. [A note on the film's date: IMDb credits it as a 1963 release, but other sources say '60 or '61.] [VHS]

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