I was able to pick up a bunch of used movies cheap, and the title of this one just appealed to me. Then when I looked it up, I found it had a surprising number of fans, and the disc presents it as though it's some sort of Mexican horror classic, which I can kind of see. This is from 1963 and kind of comes off like a Mexican Val Lewton film, although without the astonishing photography or stewing subtextual intimations.
We open with this carriage of two men and a young woman traveling through the creepy woods at night, about which they have heard many strange legends. You'll notice that one of the men has a habit of exploding loudly in wheezing laughter at his own jokes, and you, like I, might think "Boy, that would get tired after ten seconds." They have the standard "I'm afraid / oh pooh-pooh it's nothing" talk, when suddenly a man appears in the road and stops the horses. He pulls out a knife and--thwack!--throws it like 20 feet, right into the driver's heart! I was like "AWWWWL-Right!" at this point. Meanwhile, standing nearby is this lovely lady with huge, haunting black eyes--no waiting for crying woman! She unleashes the hounds and they kill the guys, then the young girl gets run over pretty violently, too.
Then we're in this large remote Mexican mansion with a bell tower, where the woman we saw earlier is being questioned by the police. Only, now she has eyes. She hears about the bodies found--our three victims from the opening--and how their bodies were mutilated and completely drained of blood. She seems rather unconcerned, and is certainly unhelpful. It would seem that the woman has been under suspicion for some time--they say she lives there alone with no servants [although there is a prominent servant plain as day for the whole movie], and that the house and environs are legendary for spooky doings. We also find out that her husband died, and that she is soon expecting her neice to visit.
Then, why who should we be introduced to, but said neice? Her name is Amelia, and she's in the company of her husband, Marco. We learn that Aunt Selma has pretty much igored her up until now, when she suddenly invited her over to visit, and right before Amelia's 25th birthday. They arrive, but only the servant is there, and he doesn't exactly make them feel welcome. His massive Great Dane also makes no bones about the fact that they aren't wanted up in the bell tower, either. Then, around 17:05, this skull and bit of cloth tied to a stick swings toward the camera and then--why, it's Selma! That was supposed to be her, flying! And it was kind of charming. Anyway, it would seem that she's got a dessicated mummy kind of thing stuck to a big torture wheel with a big spear right through it [exactly HOW big, we will soon find out]. Selma spells out her big plan, but since she spells it out at least four more times over the course of the movie, in depth, we'll wait for one of those later times. She goes downstairs and rather than knock on the door of the guests she's made wait all day, she decided to just start playing the organ and wait til they notice and come down themselves.
So they're all acquainted, then Marco goes upstairs and Selma gets down to serious business with Amelia. You see, the mummy lady upstairs is Madame Marina, the real crying woman, and in mere hours, it'll be Amelia's birthday, at which point she'll pull the spear out of the withered corpse, Madame Marina will spring back to life, fresh as a daisy, and evil will reign upon the world. Amelia is all like "No! No!" but Selma assures her that she is cursed and when the time comes, she's go along with it all right. She also shows Amelia that she has no shadow, produced with a simple but fun effect.
Meanwhile Marco sneaks up in the bell tower, is attacked by some prisoner, and falls--apparently several stories, right down the middle of the tower! Meanwhile Amelia is not keen on her Aunt's plan, so she's taking off, and you're like "Don't you want to even TELL your husband?" Or maybe bring him along, you know? I'm sure he'd be uncomfortable in Selma's home by nimself, I mean, it's not like they're related. But Amelia doesn't make it far before she's choking this driver, her eyes are turning black, and she's realizing that the curse is acting in her already. You will notice, around 44:18, that her hairpiece is coming loose as she strangles the guy and flips forward with every enraged squeeze, making for some quite amusing shots, such as you see here.
Now, I often watch movies in two parts, and one unintended consequence of this is you become quite aware of which movie you don't want to even bother finishing, movies one is indifferent to, and the rare surprising movie like this one, that I didn't even want to turn off at all [but I was falling asleep] and was quite eager to get back to and see how it all came out.
Anyway, so we see Marco walking around all fine and are like "Oh? After that massive fall?" Only he says he only fell down the stairs. While Amelia is out, Aunt Selma decides to burn a wax figure of Marco, which makes him come to her and stand and listen as she tells the story of Madame Marina AGAIN. Christ lady, if this is what you have to do for an audience, maybe you should get a hint, you know? People have HEARD IT, alright? But this telling goes into a bit more depth and has flashbacks, wherein the regular B&W film suddenly switches into NEGATIVE B&W, which proves to be awfully effective! There are some quite good simple but spooky effects in here.
SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile the driver Amelia tried to strangle has gone to the police, and you're like "Oh that's right--they have police," because the whole thing has been so hermetically up at the haunted house you can kind of forget there's an outside world. Then Amelia comes back and now she has no reflection, which she is bummed about. They all wind up in the tower, with Marco chained up in the corner. Meanwhile the police arrive, the servant unleashes the dogs on them--and they get killed! Which is awesome, because I don't want any police ruining by witch reincarnation.
Okay, so it's almost midnight! Amelia is under a spell and starts pulling the big spear out! She's pulling! And pulling! Then Marco calls to her, and she looks over at him, then goes back to pulling! And pulling! Then Marco calls. Then she pulls! And pulls! Until you're like Christ, how long can that fucking spear BE?!??! Because she just keeps pulling and it just keeps coming out! Then at a certain point Marco gets her attention, and she slides it back in! Then she returns to her task and starts pulling it OUT! And you at home start checking you watch.
Then the bell starts ringing, and--well, that is one dusty bell. They couldn't have given it a little wipe before this whole ceremony? Maybe some Lemon Pledge? Restore it to a lustrous shine? So for a while it's all bell, pull spear, Marco protests, repeat. Meanwhile the mad prisoner they were keeping in the bell tower escapes--this was Selma's husband. Midnight comes and goes and stupid Amelia still hasn't gotten that spear out yet, and so the curse is broken, and the whole place starts to collapse. Then Marco and the servant have the longest fight in HISTORY [I was fast-forwarding and STILL couldn't believe how long it went on], while Amelia doesn't lift a figer to help. Then they all end up downstairs [except the servant], where Selma and her husband have a tearful reunion! Tearful because he chokes her to death. Then she rapidly turns into a mummy herself and finally blows away. The curse is broken, and that's it.
< < < SPOILERS END
True, it went on too long. 20 minutes could easily have been cut. True, there's not a lot of variety, it's much the same throughout... but still, it has atmosphere to burn and has a kind of lurid quality that is hypnotic, and keeps it intriguing from start to finish. And in a way the repetitive nature of it works [like hearing the story of the witch three times] because it adds to the hypnotic quality and the sense that one is in this supernatural space where things just go on and on and there is no escape. A success!
This is directed by Rafael Baledon who apparently was a well-known actor who directed tons of other things in other genres, and this is one of a handful of horror films he made that are considered minor classics. Anyway, if you like the early horror of Val Lewton, this is within that realm, though obviously with more of a Latin bent. I can't really say you should run and get it, but if you do, you probably won't be sorry.
Sure! It's spooky and has atmosphere to burn!