Abel Salazar Triple Feature directed by Chano Urueta and Rafael Baledon
Are you ready to settle in with an absolutely dynamite and horrifying triple feature one weekend this autumnal season? Well, then, have I got a doozie for you! These three terror treats from south of the border, all made in the early 1960s, may come as a stunning surprise for the jaded horror viewer who thinks he/she has seen it all. The Mexican filmmakers in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were enjoying a kind of Golden Age, certainly as regards as the horror film, and the three pictures that I have chosen to spotlight here, all from producer/actor Abel Salazar — and all to varying degrees influenced by the Universal horror outings of the 1940s — are some of the very best of the bunch. I will give my brief thoughts on these three wonderful films in the order that I first saw them, which also happens to mean that I will be discussing the least of the three first, and the film that I deem an absolute horror masterpiece last. All come highly recommended by yours truly, however; a Mexican combination platter that will surely prove both highly tasty and memorable….
It turns out that all the word of mouth about the Mexican horror flick The Brainiac (1961) is absolutely correct: This really IS one wild and loopy film experience! This picture tells the story of the necromancer Baron Vitelius Destera (played by the film’s handsome producer, Abel Salazar), who is burned at the stake in 1661 by the Inquisition in Mexico City and swears vengeance on the descendants of his tormentors. Good to his word, the Baron falls to Earth in 1961 on a comet (the phoniest-looking comet ever shown on film, perhaps) to begin his homicidal agenda. Destera has the ability to transform himself into a giant-headed, pointy-nosed, fork-tongued monster, and his ability to hypnotize with a glance and bend others to his mental will makes his nefarious plans that much simpler. Oh … did I mention that the Baron uses his Gene Simmons-like tongue to suck his victims’ brains out? Oh, man! Sounds pretty cool, right?
Truth to tell, though, this film has been made on the cheap, with loads of ersatz-looking backdrops, lousy FX, and reams of unexplained happenings. Why, for example, does the Baron need to keep a stemmed dish of brains around for snacking purposes? How do the film’s detectives ultimately crack the case of all these homicides? Why is fire able to harm the Baron in 1961 but not in 1661? Where DID that blasted comet disappear to? This movie has so many head-scratching moments, so many outrageous situations, so many admittedly cool murder scenes, such egregiously artificial backdrops and such strange humor (brain tacos, anyone?) that the net result is one of absolute lysergic surrealism. So yes, the movie is a hoot, and features a monster you won’t soon forget. Unlike the Baron himself, the film is NOT a brain-drainer, but a genuinely exhilarating cult item. I, for one, was sufficiently impressed to check out director Chano Urueta’s previous effort, 1960’s The Witch’s Mirror…
THE WITCH’S MIRROR
I was surprised to learn that The Witch’s Mirror came out a year BEFORE director Chano Urueta and producer Abel Salazar released their more-well-known cult horror film The Brainiac (1961), as this earlier effort by the same team strikes me as a much more polished, effective and professionally made piece of work. The Brainiac had almost seemed the result of a Mexican Ed Wood making his first film while on acid, whereas The Witch’s Mirror turns out to be a bona fide find; one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a while. The picture can be seen as two distinct stories, actually, cleaving fairly evenly down the middle. The first half tells of the revenge that a witch, Sara (who reminded me of Dr. Joyce Brothers, of all people!), takes on the man who poisoned her goddaughter, as well as on this man’s replacement bride. This first half has a positively Gothic feel and could easily take place anytime during the last 200 years. The second half of the film veers off suddenly into Frankenstein and Eyes Without a Face territory, with a more modern-day vibe.
The film offers up some strikingly composed shots, beautiful B&W photography, some eerie moments and, most surprising, some shocking gross-out elements. The FX are, for the most part, very well done (those crawling hands excepted, perhaps), and the picture winds up most satisfyingly indeed. I’m not sure that Debra’s (wife #2’s) ultimate fate is deserved, but whatcha gonna do? This IS a horror picture, after all, and quite an excellent one at that. My thanks to Casa Negra for rescuing it from relative oblivion. All horror buffs, I feel, should pounce on this one.
THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN
The DVD outfit known as Casa Negra is now a very solid 3 for 3 with me. The first two releases that I saw from these guys, The Brainiac (1961) and The Witch’s Mirror (1960), are both fine Mexican horror films (particularly the latter), featuring pristine-looking restorations and excellent subtitling. And the third DVD that I just watched, The Curse of the Crying Woman (1961), is perhaps the best of the bunch. In this one, Abel Salazar, star of The Brainiac, is teamed with Rosita Arenas, the female lead of The Witch’s Mirror. They play newlyweds who come to visit Rosita’s Aunt Selma, played by the very handsome Rita Macedo. What they don’t realize is that Selma is a ghoulish witch of sorts who is hell-bent on using Rosita to resurrect an ancient sorceress known as The Crying Woman…
Anyway, it is just remarkable how many elements of classic horror films are present in this one. The picture features a creepy-looking hacienda, rats, spider webs, monstrous hellhounds, a scarred and hulking butler, eerie organ music, several witches, a magic mirror, a crazed attic prisoner, secret passages, a trapdoor and on and on. Shot in gorgeous B&W, the film also features art and set decoration that very effectively convey a miasma of evil. A trippy flashback scene that comes roughly halfway in is truly startling, and there are at least one or two moments guaranteed to make you jump out of your skin. Director Rafael Baledon’s direction is impeccable, and the film builds to a tour de force finale that will probably leave you cheering and clapping in your own living room. Oh heck, why mince words? This is a horror masterpiece, plain and simple. Gracias, Casa Negra!