Tag Archives: Mexican

LIST CANDIDATE: WE ARE THE FLESH (2016)

Tenemos la Carne

DIRECTED BY: Emiliano Rocha Minter

FEATURING: Noé Hernández, María Evoli, Diego Gamaliel

PLOT: A teenage brother and sister find their way to the lair of a hermit, who seduces them into acting out increasingly depraved, increasingly hallucinatory scenarios.

Still from We Are the Flesh (2016)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The overall project may seem to lack much purpose, but it’s intense and uncompromising—and weird—enough to merit a look.

COMMENTS: The new year is only a few weeks old, and already we have a contender for Weirdest Movie of 2017. A demonic hermit uses two disciples—one reluctant, one willing—to transform his habitat into a womblike space where he enacts bizarre, perverse fantasies eventually incorporating sadism, rape, orgies, murder, cannibalism, and more. As the ringmaster in this cavalcade of perversions, Noé Hernández is believably crazy. He looks like he stinks, and rants like a guy you’d cross the street to avoid meeting. He projects a very specific form of charisma: like a Mexican Manson, he has a gravity capable of capturing those irretrievably lost to themselves in his orbit. “People shy from certain thoughts. Their lives are a continuous distraction from their own perversion,” the wild-eyed messiah preaches to an improbably intrigued teenage girl, while flapping his arms like a bird in the void. “Solitude drags you, forces you to come face to face with your darkest fantasies. And when nothing happens, you stop being afraid of your most grotesque thoughts.”

With siblings and a perverted Svengali, the story goes exactly where you think it will; but, incest is only the beginning. Once they indulge that taboo, all the walls come crashing down—and the plot immediately hops onto whatever crazy train it can catch, going to places you can’t possibly predict. In fact, after the strangely beautiful incest montage, shot in psychedelic thermal imaging and scored to a romantic Spanish ballad, there can hardly be said to be a plot at all, only a series of deranged, escalating provocations. (One presumes that in Catholic Mexico, the movie’s blasphemous parody of Christ—both the resurrection and the Eucharist—is the most shocking element). On a literal level, you might try to explain it all as the result of an all-purpose drug the hermit keeps in an eyedropper, which is capable of producing intoxication, serving as an antidote to his own homebrewed poisons, and possibly preserving the brains of those he’s lobotomized. More likely, the hermit simply personifies  perverse desire, and the movie is a representation of the nightmare of a narcissistic world of pure desire without taboos or boundaries. The tumbling of moral walls allows the irrational to flood in.

As shock cinema goes, Flesh displays far more artistry than most. The lighting is extraordinary—purple-lit faces in front of glowing yellow portals that serve to block, rather than lead to, the opaque outside world. These touches elevate the minimalist set into a true dream space. The music is also well-deployed, with horror-standard rumblings alternating with ironically beautiful ballads and a Bach concerto. Flesh shows the imagination of , mixed with the despairing nihilism of , in a scenario reminiscent of Salo.

As for misgivings: I wonder if Flesh has enough substance to compensate us for its unpleasantness. Late in the film, it takes a stab at social relevance, with a subversive recital of the Mexican national anthem and a paradigm-shifting final scene. But these digressions come off as afterthoughts to a movie whose main interest is to indulge its own most grotesque thoughts. And there, I wonder if the film doesn’t pull its own perverse punch. A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex was deeply chilling because he made you feel the appeal and charm of evil; the hermit here does not. He’s too clearly insane, too cartoonish in his fleshy villainy. The ominous music and horror movie atmosphere also instruct you to be repulsed rather than aroused. Despite the madman’s advice, this movie does want you to be afraid of its most grotesque thoughts. But fans of extremity cinema will—pardon the pun—eat it up.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“We Are The Flesh is a bizarrely arresting treat from an exciting new talent. It’s also just about the strangest film you’ll see this year.”–Michael Coldwell, Starburst (contemporaneous)

261. THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962)

El àngel exterminador

Must See

“People always want an explanation for everything. It is the consequence of centuries of bourgeois education. And for everything for which they cannot find an explanation, they resort in the last instance to God. But what is the use of that to them? Eventually they have to explain God.”–Luis Buñuel , “My Last Sigh”

“The best explanation of this film is that, from the standpoint of pure reason, there is no explanation.”–Opening epigram to The Exterminating Angel

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Enrique Rambal, , , Lucy Gallardo, Augusto Benedico

PLOT: After an elaborate dinner, the many guests of Edmundo Nobile find themselves trapped inside a single room of the mansion; at first they stay under reasonable pretenses, but after sleeping over they become physically unable to pass the room’s threshold. As their high society ways break down from the proximity and lack of provisions, concerned police and citizens on the outside find it impossible to enter to help them. Things degenerate until they attempt a desperate gambit relying on a vision of one of the guests. Meanwhile, sheep and a bear wander around the house.

Still from The Exterminating Angel (1962)

BACKGROUND:

  • After briefly returning to his native Spain from his Mexican exile to direct Viridiana, Buñuel went back to Mexico to make The Exterminating Angel after the Vatican denounced the previous film and the Spanish banned it.
  •   Buñuel borrowed the title from a poet friend (José Bergamín) ostensibly for marketing purposes, remarking in his biography, “If I saw ‘The Exterminating Angel‘ on a marquee, I’d go see it on the spot.”
  • Despite its acclaim (both contemporaneous and otherwise), Buñuel often said he considered The Exterminating Angel a failure. Mostly, he regretted not being able to proceed along a more “cannibalistic” trajectory.
  • The dozens of repetitions found in the film greatly worried the cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa, when he saw the final cut. It took Buñuel to calm him down, assuring Figueroa that it was a creative choice.
  • Won a “FIPRESCI” award at Cannes on its release.
  • While Russia at the time banned any number of films for any number of reasons, ironically, this Marxist movie rubbed Soviet officials the wrong way because the theme—not being able to leave a party—was considered anti-government.
  • The Exterminating Angel is a staple of “top films ever made” lists, including The New York Times‘ Best 1000 Movies Ever Made and Steven Jay Schneider’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
  • Stephen Sondheim has a musical based on both The Exterminating Angel and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in the works. British composer Thomas Adès recently adapted the movie into an opera.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Throughout The Exterminating Angel, the household’s domesticated (pet) bear herds a small clutch of sheep. Wandering around the place with impunity, a shot where the demi-flock scoot up the grand stairway, with the bear taking up the rear, sticks in the mind. The guests’ doom is mirrored by the sheep’s mindless wandering toward the great prison room, ensuring their barbaric destruction.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dead man’s hand; symbolic tasty sheep; a sacrificial host

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A gaggle of bourgeois personages spend more and more time in close quarters with each other—they simply cannot leave the room. The strangeness of their prison is matched by the strangeness found outside: a society that at first doesn’t notice their absence, and then is unable to help them. Time skips like a scratched record, servants are uncannily eager to jump ship, a disembodied hand appears, and animal friends romp around a mansion, adding up to a fine Buñuelian omelet of social commentary and Surrealist comedy.

COMMENTS: Between his genre-establishing Un Chien Andalou up Continue reading 261. THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962)

LIST CANDIDATE: FANDO Y LIS (1968)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Jodorowsky

FEATURING: Sergio Kleiner, Diana Mariscal

PLOT: Fando carts and carries his paralyzed lover Lis across a ravaged landscape searching for the legendary city Tar.

Still from Fando y Lis (1968)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: If you’ve ever seen a Jodorowsky movie before, you know what to expect. Fando y Lis is a parade of fantastical, shocking imagery, including snakes that penetrate a baby doll and a man who begs for blood (he extracts a donation with a syringe and drinks it from a brandy snifter). That said, Fando & Lis is one of the least of Jodorwosky’s works, an early curiosity that is thoroughly weird, but not strongly conceived enough to make the List on the first ballot. (Plus, Jodo’s so well-represented here already we don’t feel at all bad about the possibility of leaving one movie off).

COMMENTS: Fando y Lis begins with a woman eating flowers while a siren wails. Later we will learn she is the paraplegic Lis, whose lover Fando will cart her across a bizarre post-apocalyptic landscape searching for the mystical city of Tar. Along the way they encounter a man playing a burning piano, mud zombies, a transvestite parade, and a gang of female bowlers led by a dominatrix, among other absurdities. There will also be flashbacks to both Fando and Lis’ childhoods, and unrelated fantasy sequences of the actors goofing around (posing in a graveyard, and painting their characters’ names on each other). And there’s quite a few more transgressions, both beautiful and clumsy, to be found in this rambling, overstuffed avant-garde experiment. Although Jodorowsky comes from an older bohemian tradition, at times Fando y Lis plays like something made by Mexican hippies, improvising scenes with random props in between hashish tokes.

The “spiritual journey” structure makes for an episodic film, but the ideas aren’t as stunningly realized or obsessively detailed as The Holy Mountain. Here, Jodorowsky has found, but not perfected, his unique voice: it’s as if he’s working with individual sentences, rather than complete paragraphs. It would have helped the movie feel more coherent and unified if the relationship between Fando and Lis was better done, but their dynamic is unpleasant. They unconvincingly profess eternal love for each other, but Fando is much better at conveying his irritation and annoyance at having to carry Lis everywhere, while her character is reduced to desperate, pathetic whining for most of the film.

In 1962 Jodorowsky, Fernando Arrabal and , feeling that Andre Breton and the old guard Surrealists had lost their edge and were no longer extreme enough in their embrace of absurdity, founded the Panic movement, which was mostly an experimental theater group. Fando & Lis was originally a play from this school, written by Arrabal and staged by Jodorowsky. This movie adaptation is not intended to be faithful; Jodorowsky instead described it as based on his memories of the play. When Fando y Lis premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival in 1968 it caused a riot (presumably due to its abundant nudity and mildly sacrilegious content) and was subsequently banned in Mexico. The film basically disappeared for years. Discovering Jodorowsky in the early 90s, when his films were only available in bootleg VHS versions, I was unaware that he had made a movie before El Topo; Fando wasn’t even a filmography entry. It wasn’t until 2003 that a DVD of this early work suddenly popped up.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… pothead vaudeville all the way… A tumultuous cause celebre at festivals, it paved the way for the director’s rise from small-time poseur to big-time poseur with El Topo a few years later.”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion

(This movie was nominated for review by “Zelenc” who called it a “must see film.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: VERA (2003)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Francisco Athié

FEATURING: Marco Antonio Arzate, Urara Kusanagi

PLOT: Trapped underground, a miner hallucinates, eventually encountering a green alien creature who leads him into the spirit world. Still from Vera (2003)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: On sheer weirdness, this trip skirting the veil that separates life and death would make the List easily. A couple of faults hold it back from making it on the first ballot, however: it’s very slow to get started, and the imagination behind the visual effects greatly exceeds the budget’s capacity to realize them.

COMMENTS: With this production, I get the feeling that Francisco Athié saw the chance to make the dream visionary feature of a lifetime and decided to seize it, even though the necessary funding wasn’t there. When Vera‘s imagery is on, it’s mind-meltingly sublime, but there are too many times when the CGI isn’t up to the tasks Athié sets for it. The movie serves as a reminder of why you should always shell out the big bucks for the top-shelf peyote, and not save a few pesos buying the shriveled-up buttons on sale for half off. Although the love that went into it is clear, Vera feels stretched out: there is probably forty-five minutes of good stuff, and fifteen minutes of amazing stuff, here, but it’s padded out to an eighty-minute feature. The first ten minutes wordlessly depict life in an isolated Mexican village, while the title character doesn’t show up until the movie is halfway over. The first hallucinatory moment introduces the trademark visual awkwardness: it’s meant to depict a bone-chilling wasteland, but it looks like the main character is suddenly playing a mime walking in a stiff wind in front of a green-screen snowstorm. After twenty-five minutes with very little of consequence occurring, you may feel like giving up on Vera, but if you stick around you will be rewarded, because things start cooking after the old man trapped in the mine adds urine and blood from his penis (ouch!) to a cauldron of boiling lead in order to conjure up a jade statue of a Mayan god. The miner simultaneously prays to the Christian God, and to “Lady Balam” and the Winds, and modern mythology is added to the Christian/pagan mix when he discovers a little green (wo)man who projects a stream of 0s and 1s from an orifice in her torso. This creature, the mystical “Vera” of the title, is at times crudely computer-generated, with a bobbing head that makes it resemble a character in a Star Wars ripoff video game, while at other times the entity is portrayed by the mesmerizing Japanese dancer Urara Kusanagi. The two different embodiments of the character are certainly weird, but probably not in the way Athié intended. The main effect is to draw attention to the cheapness of the effects, and make you wish they had been scrapped for more scenes with the graceful and mysterious Kusanagi. Marvelous mystical visions accompany the doomed man as Vera guides him to the afterlife: a child skeleton that dances with Vera, the Virgin Mary appearing in a stalactite, and the green-skinned guide fetching fruit off of an Eden-like tree. And if the visuals are at times sketchy, the music and sound design, which ranges from ambient drones to Amazonian percussion, is always on point setting the chthonic mood. The resulting concoction mixes the promiscuously mythological preoccupations of an with the deliberate pacing of an , but, unfortunately, as realized by the visual effects team behind a SyFy shark movie.

“Bright Lights Film Journal” supplies insight on the film’s title: “According to writer-editor-director Athié, Vera ‘means trust and faith in Cyrillic (Russian), the truth in Italian, the side of the road in Spanish, and it is a very beautiful feminine name. Therefore, in a way, it points to the faith and trust you need to follow a path that is true to your own perception of the otherworldly’.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strange, hallucinatory film that reveals itself in a slow, ritualistic way.”–Marilyn Ferdinand, Ferdy on Films

(This movie was nominated for review by NGBoo, who described it as “a beautiful metaphysical fantasy, that explores the afterlife, inspired by Mayan and Christian religions.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962)

El Ángel Exterminador

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , Enrique Rambal,

PLOT: The guests at an upper-class dinner-party are inexplicably unable to leave; their thin veneer of civility rapidly breaks down as conditions worsen.

Still from The Exterminating Angel (1962)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The predicament in which the protagonists find themselves is utterly irrational, and no explanation whatsoever is offered for it. Sheep and a bear roam the house for only marginally more rational reasons. And along the way we get an ambiguously hallucinatory sequence where a witch summons Satan, who manifests himself as a homicidal severed hand.

COMMENTS: Buñuel himself considered this film to be a failure because he didn’t go far enough—he later regretted not including cannibalism. But all the same, it’s the breakthrough film in which he finally understood that, if you give mainstream audiences a nice simple plot that they can understand with no trouble at all, the justification for that plot can be as weird as you like. And perhaps, as he so often was, he was joking when he publicly stated that it would have been a better film if they’d eaten each other, since ten years later he made The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which is a kind of anti-remake that precisely inverts the basic plot of the earlier film (the twist double ending is also neatly reversed). And cannibalism doesn’t occur that time round either.

The shooting title was The Castaways of Providence Street, which Buñuel changed when a friend pointed out that he’d automatically see any film called The Exterminating Angel without stopping to find out what it was actually about. As with The Phantom of Liberty (1974), the titular supernatural being, if it even exists, makes no overt appearance whatsoever. The left-wing agenda is as blatant as it possibly could be. The servants, with the exception of a very faithful butler, are stricken with irrational fear and leave for the flimsiest of reasons or none at all, even if it means their dismissal. The impending punishment is meant for the upper-class scum alone!

And scum they are. The best of them try to be decent but are hopelessly weak. As for the rest… A window broken by a highly-strung guest is casually ascribed to “a passing Jew.” They laugh uproariously when a servant trips on a rug and falls over because they assume he’s been set up to do it for their amusement. They seriously discuss the alleged insensibility to pain of the lower classes by comparing them with animals. They are casually and cynically promiscuous, and explicitly describe sexual continence as a perversion. And even the best of them stimulate their jaded appetites with serious drugs. They deserve everything they get.

And get it they do! This is basically “Lord of the Flies” with adults. Trapped in one room for no reason at all, they suffer hunger, thirst, stench—a man who dies early on is stuffed into a cupboard and remains there for many days in warm weather—and sanitary facilities consisting of a closet full of antique vases (not an issue normally addressed in movies made this long ago). And in addition to all this, they’re horribly spoilt people who can’t possibly get along, and end up squabbling like the lowest guttersnipes: a situation which, towards the end, they temporarily defuse by getting spectacularly stoned, in a sequence which, though very low-budget indeed, is still extremely psychedelic for its time.

Along the way, we get black magic, a doctor who mysteriously confuses baldness with death, and a very, very strange crawling hand sequence with a curious backstory. In his autobiography, Buñuel claimed to have written the outline on which the 1946 movie The Beast With Five Fingers was based, though of course he wasn’t credited. That may or may not be true, but if it is, this scene is his not very oblique reference to it. As with almost all his best films, this is not modern Japanese-level in-your-face-and-all-over-the-place weirdness. But the oddness of it all builds perfectly throughout, culminating in a last-minute resolution that, as so often in Buñuel’s films, is a set-up for a merciless punchline in the epilogue. A classic, and highly recommended.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Buñuel stages this play with cumulating nervousness and occasional explosive ferocities. He whips up individual turmoils with the apt intensities of a uniformly able cast; and he throws in frequent surrealistic touches, such as a disembodied hand coasting across the floor, or a bear and a flock of sheep coming up from the kitchen, to give the viewer little hints of mental incongruities. But my feeling is that his canvas is too narrow and his social comment too plain to keep our interest fixed upon his people and their barren stewing for an hour and a half.”–Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

ALIEN TERROR (1971)

*This is the sixth and final installment of the series “Karloff’s Bizarre and Final Six Pack,” which also featured Fear Chamber, House of Evil, Curse of the Crimson Altar, Cauldron of Blood, and Isle of the Snake People.

Alien Terror (1971) (AKA) Sinister Invasion is one of the oddest of ‘s final six movies, but it’s hardly the most exciting. It begins with typical Sixties screen credit font and pseudo jazz that sounds like it was composed for period porn.

Boris is Professor Mayer, and he and his scarred (Ygor-like) assistant Isabel (Maura Monti) are playing around with some power ray thingamajig. It shoots through the roof and hits a spaceship which just happens to be flying by and looks like one of those rocket invader ships from the old Atari arcade games. You half expect this to be some kind of lost Adventures of Superman episode and sense that at any moment some green Martian is going to show up.  Alas, all that shows up is Laura (Christa Linder), the professor’s niece; she is having a fit because her uncle has just blown another hole in the roof.

The guys in the fly by UFO are not so forgiving. They realize that those Earthers possess a mighty power that could annihilate the universe. So, of course they must do something in order to stop us. Their solution is something akin to a Plan 8 from Outer Space, which makes about as much sense as Plan 9 did. One of the E.T.s, a foppy Buck Rogers type (Sergio Kleiner), steps out of  a really cool, psychedelic spaceship (complete with lava lamp things inside) and possesses serial sex murderer Thomas ( ). Why would he do that, you may ask? Well, obviously it’s the only way for an alien to stop Earthers from using their molecular power ray thingamajig (!)

Still from Alien Terror (1971)The only problem is that Thomas still has half of his own mind and he kills a few too many girls, arousing the anger of the villagers (one of the villager is even named Frankenstein. Get it?) There are some odd touches amidst an entirely nonsensical film. One of Thomas’ victims actually loves her serial killer hero, fully knowing of his psychopathic tendencies. The alien, when it’s not looking like Barry Manilow in aluminum foil, takes on the shape of a floating transparent tribble that possesses both the professor and his niece.

Karloff  has a bit of screen time in this, his last released film (he died two years before). He looks slightly better here and he is the only decent actor in the entire cast, although Beirute is an amusingly quirky non-actor. He is known–if you call it that—for this and for his briefer role inFace of the Screaming Werewolf (1966) where he was victim to ‘s rotund lycanthrope.

After it ends badly for half the cast, the professor destroys this power machine, which we on earth are to too stupid to harness (you can just hear Ed Wood yelling: “stupid! stupid! stupid!”) Alien Terror is no Invisible Ray (which wasn’t that good to begin with) but there is a certain amount of dumb fun to be found here. Just don’t ask me to tell you where exactly—the “magic” is in its overall peculiar flavor. It lacks the blatant drive-in antics of Fear Chamber (1968) and it could have used Ed Wood’s stamp of branded lunacy (!?!).

Still, there is a certain iconic aptness in Boris, like Bela Lugosi, ending his career with some of the weirdest bad move extravaganzas imaginable (or unimaginable). I think Poelzig and Werdegast would have appreciated the perverse irony.

ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE (1971)

* This is the fifth installment in the series “Karloff’s Bizarre and Final Six Pack.”

Snake People (AKA Isle Of The Snake People) feels like pure ; that is, Jack Hill the exploitation guru to whom Quentin Tarantino has built an altar. The opening narration is a duller variant of Criswell’s repetitive but puerile Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) monologue: “During Many centuries in Various parts of the world, Various diabolical rites and ceremonies have been practiced in homage to Various sinister gods who are believed to have Many supernatural powers. These rites are generally known as voodoo!”

Cue nightly voodoo ceremony. , dressed as the priest Damballah (dark goggles, black mask, top hat and cee-gar) carries a skull walking stick. Since voodoo god “Baron Samedi” shares a name with a minor Bond villain, you almost expect Live and Let Die‘s Geoffrey Holder to make an appearance. Captain Labesch (Rafael Bertrand), who does appear, is no Roger Moore. He’s what the narrator describes as an “unscrupulous adventurer taking advantage of the superstition to put a docile native girl under his power, transforming her into a zombie so she will submit to her primitive instinct.” Well, maybe he is Roger Moore in his uncanny ability to make his amorous traits look sluggish. Mexican dwarf character actor  carries a squirming rooster. He laughs maniacally. He inexplicably cries. PETA runs for cover as he decapitates the fowl. He squirts the chick’s blood over a grave site. Rise of the dead docile native girl! Captain Labesch hops into her coffin and, well, all you need to know is that he’s a necrophiliac. Now comes the 70ish pop credits with stylish jazzy font, voodoo drum music, Karloff as a demonic Col. Sanders, and the revelation that this film guest stars Tongolele (i.e., Mexican exotic dancer Yolanda Montes)!

Still from Isle of the Snake People (1971)The ubiquitous , as Anabella, is on hand as niece to Uncle Boris. She’s a bit of a missionary, wanting to rid the world of the evils of alcohol. Lt. Wilhelm (Carlos East) wants to rid the island of voodoo. Such high faultin’ proselytizing is, naturally, due for comeuppance. Tongolele is just the one to give it, too. As a buxom Elsa Lanchester, she belly dances with big snakes, spikes banana milk with venom, and intones “offer your dreams to Damballah!” as she puts the voodoo hex on Anabella. In a freakish dream sequence Anabella sucks on a snake’s head, but Lt. Wilhelm has it worse. He’s hounded by visions of serpents and his men are cannibalized by island babes.

Tongolele takes her voodoo seriously enough to cut off Captain Labesch’s supply of zombie tail, and he foolishly retaliates by playing informant. More cannibalism, more human sacrifices, and Annabella kidnapped by the voodoo snake cult!

Snake People is pure trash cinema that is helped little by Karloff’s presence. Unfortunately, his considerable health issues took even a deeper dive in this film. According to his biographers, the actor spent most of his set time reaching for the oxygen. His performance is rendered numb and he is clearly lost as he struggles to react to his co-stars. His voice is horribly dubbed in the final voodoo rite ceremony, and the film limps towards a non-finale.

Many reviewers have commented that the film is dull and incoherent. With this disparate mix of wacky plot ingredients, it would be difficult to produce an entirely dull affair, but the producers come very close to doing just that. It is minimally aided by its plot’s capricious writhing, Tongolele’s garish, cartoonish personification, and by the morbid fascination of witnessing a horror icon lethargically breathing his last. But these are mere random images, and the opening credits do a better job of conveying that.

BUNUEL’S SIMON OF THE DESERT (1965)

“Moving pictures merely repeat what we have been told for centuries by novels and plays. Thus, a marvelous instrument for the expression of poetry and dreams (the subconscious world) is reduced to the role of simple REPEATER of stories expressed by other art forms”-Luis Buñuel.

Simon of the Desert (1965) was Buñuel’s final Mexican film before moving to France. His Mexican period is often considered a repository of “anti-religious” films, although a more apt description might be “anti-ecclesiastical.”  This 45-minute pilgrimage is an incomplete work (due to haphazard funding), but even in its truncated state, it is a shockingly substantial work.

The ascetic fifteenth century Saint Simon Stylites () has spent his life atop a pillar in order to get closer to God. A wealthy patron has an even larger pillar built for the holy man and so, after six years, six months, and six days, Simon, reluctantly, comes down from atop his ivory tower, albeit briefly, to “move up” in the world. Detached irony abounds. As in Nazarin, Buñuel presents a religious figure as a fool, but a stubbornly determined fool to be identified with and admired, with detachment.

Still from Simon of the Desert (1965)Kurt Vonnegut once wrote an amusing observation about Christ and the Lazarus story. In his take on the narrative, Vonnegut imagined that, Lazarus’ resurrection, it was the recent corpse, not Christ, who became the celebrity with the crowd. Leave it for the masses to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time. But, what Vonnegut was expressing was the inevitable chasm between prophet and audience.

Buñuel also emphasizes contrasts. Simon’s audience does not desire holiness. They crave tinseled parody, only because they do not know the difference. A handless man is resorted and immediately begins using his hand to slap an inquisitive child. Bunuel’s integrity and convictions astutely critique, not the faith itself, but the contemporary adherents to the faith, who, with their short attention spans, pedestrian tastes, poverties of intelligence and of aesthetics, are rendered consumers of spectacle as sacrament. Bunuel’s shift from the religious to the bourgeoisie was a natural development, seen flowering here.

The devil is, naturally, a woman, and Silvia Pinal agreeably fleshes her out.  She takes turns as a Catholic school girl, an androgynous messiah who performs a Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction for the unfazed celibate, and finally as a mini-skirted Peter Pan, whisking Saint Wendy away from his Tower of Babel to a modern discotheque.

As with all of late Bunuel, he is no mere repeater of old narratives here. As St. Luis (and only a seasoned saint could be this irreverent), he spins a new parable, one that is organically textured and startling in its improvised finale. Bunuel was no hypocrite, and the unexpected loss of cash flow inspired a quixotic bleakness and an unequaled sense of purpose.

HOUSE OF EVIL (1968)

* This is the second installment in the series “Karloff’s Bizarre and Final Six Pack.”

‘s series of Mexican films is anything but routine.  Of the entire ill-reputed group, House of Evil (1968) has something that most resembles a traditional plot.  It is orthodox only in that it is a retread of the old dark house scenario.  However, that genre is filtered through such bizarre ineptness that it would be an incredulous stretch to claim House of Evil is a film bordering on coherency.  The movie is available via that valuable distributor, Sinister Cinema.  Their brief assessment of House of Evil is telling: they describe it as simply “not bad.”

As with Fear Chamber, House was co-directed by and  and co-stars south of the border sexpot . A murdered girl has been found by local villagers and, just like another recent victim, her eyes have been torn out.  Upon hearing the news, Matthias Morteval (Karloff) is mightily upset.  His friend and doctor, Emery (Angel Espinoza), tries to simultaneously caution and calm Matthias.  Dr. Emery reminds Matthias of similar murders in Vienna, involving Matthias’ brother Hugo.  Before a painting of his late father, Matthias pulls himself together and vows to rid their garden of the evil weed that has sprung up.  As the camera pans, we see that the eyes have been cut out of the fatherly figure in the painting.

Still from House of Evil (1968)With the aid of Dr. Emery, Matthias calls all of his relatives to spend the weekend at Morhenge Mansion.  Most of the greedy relatives believe the aged Matthias is going to include them in his will.  Lucy Durant (Julissa) is Matthias’ niece and, although she is not given to avarice, she  too arrives for the weekend with her fiancee, the bland Charles (Andres Garcia), who also happens to be an inspector investigating the recent murders of young girls.

Given Karloff’s health, his portrayal of Matthias is surprisingly sprightly, and he imbues the Continue reading HOUSE OF EVIL (1968)