La Loba y la Paloma (Gonzalo Suárez, Spain, 1974)

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The hoary old plot of the villain returning to reclaim his loot is behind this Spanish chiller with heavy gothic trappings. Wily desperado Donald Pleasance stabbed a man to death over this particular loot, leaving himself unconscious and his victim’s daughter in an enduring catatonic state. All in a night’s work for The Plez, but now the treasure has vanished and only the girl holds the key to its location…

Director Gonzalo Suárez is best known for his arthouse work, but wasn’t ashamed to make crowd-pleasing horror-themed films as well back in the early ‘seventies. Using a cast of familiar genre stars, his strengths of mobile camerawork, attention to detail in art direction, and carefully composed atmospheric photography suited the prevailing gothic style very well. Beatriz (1976) featuring Nadiuska and Sandra Mozarowsky is a fine dark period drama, while the Psycho inspired Morbo (1972) is a true modern classic. It’s no surprise that this one (distributed in English as House of the Damned) turns out to be a minor classic as well, but what is puzzling is the obscurity it has fallen into, especially considering the rise in popularity of Spanish horror in recent years.

Standing in for the traditional gothic castle is a large house in the Spanish hills, a gatekeeper’s house apparently, that controls the sluices that drain the dank reservoir behind it. The householders are a swarthy thug with a menacing version of the looming physique of Bernard Bresslaw (Aldo Sambrell), and his wife a fantastically juicy red-headed tart in the shape of Carmen Sevilla. These are the remaining family of our orphaned heroine Maria. Pleasance, the cause of the orphaning, turns up on the doorstep one day with a cunning plan. Why don’t they bring Maria home from the convent, nurse the thoroughly mute and withdrawn girl back to health, then (and this is the really cunning part) have her tell them where the treasure is hidden?!

Unfortunately these unsophisticated people have the ‘grab, shake and slap’ approach to extracting information from a young female, going about it in much the same way as they would get a dog to tell them where it buried the Sunday joint. Clearly something more subtle is called for, so step up manservant Michael Dunn, a dwarf, and a small one at that. An alternatively cheery and scheming fellow (who walks like Mr. Bean), he has the advantages of both intelligence and closeness to Maria’s emotional wavelength. Egged on by Pleasance he uses the girl’s mangy old dolls to re-enact the tragic night of her father’s murder. It’s a grotesque and disturbing performance in which the puppet artiste gets quite carried away, but it draws the first glimmer of a response from Maria…

Muriel Catalá makes a classic gothic heroine, something of a surprise to those of us who only remember her for splashing around with nothing on in Le sauveur (1971). The camera loves her with her clothes on too, and never misses a chance to focus on a new angle of her distant and fragile beauty. She is the timeless gothic archetype, struggling against all the odds, fortified only by resourcefulness and inner purity, while the villains, cursed by innate wickedness, destine themselves to DOOM.

Suárez treats it all with tongue a little in cheek, sometimes verging on parody with overheated melodrama. It is probably significant that the treasure is a shapeless lump of a statuette that nobody could possibly want if it was not made of precious metal, and its all-important location hardly a secret from the audience given that the imagery is positively drenched in clues. But overall the film hangs together very well, and the best parts are visually intense and memorably thrilling.

Clip with Carmen Sevilla

scene from La Loba y la Paloma scene from La Loba y la Paloma scene from La Loba y la Paloma

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 4/5

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El liguero mágico (Mariano Ozores, Spain, 1980)

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The first thing that happens after the title card fades is a woman heaves her face into view and warbles incoherently into the camera. And, as the saying goes, “it doesn’t get any better”. Or to be fair, it doesn’t get any more lucid.

This is a gothic haunted house spoof from Spain. Our bumbling hero must deal with a magic garter (for which read jewel-encrusted suspender belt) containing a secret message that (as far as I can gather) can only be read by candlelight reflected off the underside of the breasts of the otherwise naked wearer. Expect more hazards of the genre such as a possible bleeding nun at the bedside, and a manic snub-nosed chambermaid who communicates in oinks and hand gestures (she’s my kind of girl).

Horror fans will spot more specific references. You will see El Hombre Lobo of legendary actor and director Paul Naschy, and best of all the Blind Dead rising from their tombs. Gothic Spanish horror was a lot more violent and unforgiving in spirit than its more famous Hammer contemporaries. It’s not widely seen outside cult circles; the best known example is probably Horror Express (1972), which though a muddle is sometimes shocking in its brutal vigour.

I wonder what those people who sneer at the Carry On films for their broad comedy would make of this flatulent Euro snigger-fest? Actually I can guess: they’d say it was a vibrant and life-affirming repudiation of the repression of the Franco years. Which shows exactly where those people are coming from.

No masterpiece, but recommended for its rapid pace, in-jokes, gorgeous photography and art direction, and last but not least an uncompromising attitude to nudity (bodily hair included).

El liguero mágico clip with Adriana Vega

Adriana Vega in El liguero mágico Adriana Vega in El liguero mágico Adriana Vega in El liguero mágico

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 2/5

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“El liguero mágico” “Adriana Vega” “Mariano Ozore” “Spanish Horror”
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Memoria (Francisco Macián, Spain, 1974)

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Look to your left and you’ll see a remarkable prediction in this obscure ‘seventies sci-fi. Not the obvious one that in the future even the lowliest hospital porter would have a portable audio-visual communications device. Nor that such gizmos would display nothing but mindless pap – through choice. The clever bit was realising we would all walk around nerdishly hunched over these devices oblivious to everything else, including where we were pushing our trolleys. And considering he was right about the bad haircuts as well, the writer-director Francisco Macián is clearly a man to be listened to.

Unfortunately Macián died prematurely in 1976. He was primarily an animator, and could have gone on to better work. Memoria must have had a long gestation period as the dates on it range up to 1983. Mostly concerned with the dystopian fears over pollution and population growth commonplace at the time (Soylent Green, ZPG etc.), the visual aesthetic owes a lot to THX 1138.

The particular storyline concerns memory, specifically the transference of chief scientist Professor Ulop’s memories to a mentally vacant physical subject. Considering this is a banal idea, and more-or-less certain to go horribly wrong (the alternative atavistic title Beasts Shouldn’t Look in the Mirror hints how), the visuals had better be good if this story is to keep the audience’s interest. And against expectations they actually are.

The early scenes use familiar settings and imagery, with hints of sex and psychedelia to tease the viewer. But the later parts, in particular the explosive last 15 minutes or so, are something special. They are a vigorous montage of avant-garde dance and video pieces (albeit with a touch of the Derek Jarmans about them) well worth sitting through the rest of it to see.

 


Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 3/5

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“Memoria” “Francisco Macián” “Spanish science fiction”
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Tibetana (John Peyser, Spain/USA, 1970)

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Tibetana-f59990545-001Alexandra Bastedo in glasses and a parka: that’s what this lively comic adventure (also known as The Kashmirir Run) has to offer. Well a bit more than that perhaps, but anti-glamour fans can’t help but love the Champion’s babe in this variation of the light-hearted westerns popular at the time.

Tibetana-f59990545-002High up on the Tibetan plateau in a primitive village a schoolmarmish Alexandra is thrown into the company of Señor Nelson (Pernell Roberts), a failed mountaineer (or so he says but he looks like an all-round ne’er-do-well to me) on the run from the Chinese authorities. The pair join a mule train and take flight into the mountains before anyone can head them off at the pass.

Tibetana-f59990545-003At the mercy of the Chinese, the cold, and even gangs of bandits (descendants of the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan if cliché holds) it’s amusing how the pair are gradually stripped of everything as they make their way to their Shangri-La, from their companions right down to the clothes they are wearing – yes at one point Alexandra almost loses her glasses. It’s here I’ll confess an ulterior motive for watching this film again: when I first saw it on television about thirty years ago Alexandra really was stripped right down to the buff in the scene where the pair are robbed by bandits. In this Spanish edition, as was common at the time, she gets to keep her frilly vest and pants. So, a disappointment there.

I still found this a jolly romp though, with a lively driving score evoking memories of the theme from She (1965), and Alexandra is better than I’ve ever seen her before.


Tibetana-f59990545-006 Tibetana-f59990545-005 Tibetana-f59990545-004

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 3/5

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“Tibetana” “John Peyser” “Alexandra Bastedo”
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