Tuesday, October 26, 2021


Eduardo, his wife Cristina, and their friend Alfonso are hiking through some woods when Eduardo takes a wrong turn and almost falls into a ravine. Alfonso saves him, though we eventually learn that Cristina and Alfonso are having an affair and she almost wishes Eduardo hadn't been saved. But now night is falling and the three are lost until a mysterious robed figure appears, walking with a dog named Shadow, and leads them to what looks like an abandoned monastery, though it's actually still inhabited by brothers of the Order of Silence. The Prior, somewhat reluctantly, takes them in, allows them to partake of the monks' sparse meal, and gives them each their own cell for the night. Through the night, many odd things happen: they see the shadow of a monk flagellating himself, the shadow of a bat on a wall but no actual bat, and a basement full of empty, standing coffins. They see the dog Shadow again, though the prior insists that the dog has never set foot (or paw) outside the building. There is also a decrepit cell, its door blocked by a giant wooden crucifix, with a Bible quote above it: "Cursed be he who turns to the flesh and forgets God."  The trio eventually hears the story of Rodrigo, the monk who used to occupy that cell. He entered into a pact with Satan in order to engage in an affair with his best friend's wife, then became a monk to redeem himself--but he was soon found dead in his cell, with the strangulation mark of Satan's hand on his neck. The monks buried him, but periodically his rotting corpse reappears in that cell accompanied by terrible moaning. Alfonso starts to feel guilty, though Cristina mocks him, carving the word "coward" in the wooden dining table. But during the night, an odd moaning starts coming from the blocked-off cell….

This little-known horror film from director Fernando de Fuentes, who became a well known figure in Mexican cinema, was a nifty discovery for me. It was recently restored (beautifully) by the Film Foundation with newly translated subtitles. For the most part, this supernatural morality tale works best as an exercise in mood, reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. Some real nighttime exterior shooting (as opposed to traditional day-for-night shooting) helps build the creepy mood. The decaying monastery and the cadaverous, mostly bearded and silent monks are nice touches. As the monks serve dinner beneath a reproduction of The Last Supper, they intone the phrase, "Bread of pain, water of anguish." The spooky visual style is nicely sustained, though there is some wobbly camerawork and lighting. In many ways, the look and feel of the movie put me in mind of the American B-classic WHITE ZOMBIE. The musical score is sparse and, at least once, inappropriately jaunty music breaks the mood of a scene. In the end, it feels like an ancient folktale (which it might well be) told to teach our adulterers a lesson; whether that lesson takes is a point left up in the air. Enrique del Campo (Alfonso) and Marta Roel (Cristina) are quite good, with Carlos Villatoro (Eduardo) a little less effective, perhaps because his character is less defined. I saw this on the Criterion Channel, though I assume with a Flicker Alley logo at the beginning that it will be available on DVD eventually. A nice find, recommended for fans of classic-era horror. [Criterion Channel]

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