Manchas de Sangre en un Coche Nuevo: Blood Stains in a New Car (1975)

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posterOn the surface, Ricardo (JosĂ© Luis LĂłpez VĂĄzquez) seems to have a rather pleasant life in late Franco Spain: he’s the owner of successful art restoration business, his wife Eva (Lucia BosĂ©) is stinking rich, and he keeps his young and pretty employee Maria (May Heatherly) as a really rather emotionally loving mistress on the side.

However, the cracks in Ricardo’s ordered life of quotidian hypocrisy deepen when his wife buys him a new luxury car (oh, the glories of Volvo, master of cardom) as a wedding anniversary gift. On his first drive home with his new toy, Ricardo passes the scene of a car accident by the side of an otherwise empty road. A man and his little son are trapped in the flipped car and beg Ricardo for help, but out of fear of getting involved – and what of his brand new car!? – he drives on again, only to see the car explode in his rear view mirror.

Afterwards, things really go downhill for Ricardo. He begins to see blood stains nobody else can see on the backseat of his car, something that disturbs his already very guilty conscience even more. Ricardo is becoming unable to drive his car himself. It seems driving is now something the women in his life must do for him (holy metaphor, Batman!). He also begins – not for the first time it seems – to doubt the basics of his life. Is having a convenient, rich existence with a woman who won’t sleep with him (and who reacts to his tale about leaving people behind to die with pure cynicism), clearly doesn’t love him, and never wants kids, and a job that makes him rich yet also hides a minor criminal enterprise (Ricardo’s in the art forging business too, we learn late in the movie), truly all he wanted from life? Then there’s the fact that Eva has been sent yellow roses these last few days and seems even less inclined to loving companionship of any kind than usual, awakening an unexpected amount of jealousy in Ricardo, given the actual relationship between his wife and him that I’d explain more through hurt machismo than anything else.

Despite Maria’s reaction to the whole situation being quite more humane towards Ricardo – the dead people are ironically not important to anyone but Ricardo himself – than Eva’s, and a hopeless attempt to cure him of car related anxiety through good old car related intercourse, it’s clear that Ricardo is going to crack soon.

Antonio Mercero’s Manchas de Sangre is a minor, yet very interesting psychological thriller that suffers a bit from how on the nose its metaphorical and symbolical language is. As it often goes for me with this sort of thing, it’s all a bit much, and I’d like to take the director to the side to tell him: “Yes, Senor Mercero, we get it already. All his symbols of masculinity can’t absolve Ricardo from the guilt he suffers for a misdeed I can only read as a metaphor for the sins of looking away the upper bourgeoisie in Franco’s Spain committed again and again. But did you really have to hammer his emasculation home by giving his wife a lesbian affair? And while we’re at it, why does it sometimes look as if Ricardo’s feeling of emasculation seems more important to you and not just to Ricardo than his being a murderer by inaction?” But then I have a rather low tolerance for this sort of thing, so your mileage may vary.

Mercero does make some rather interesting decisions, though, namely turning Ricardo – quite perfectly embodied by VĂĄzquez, who is the kind of guy you never see playing the lead in a genre movie – into a surprisingly sympathetic figure despite of all the perfectly horrible things he does, even if you’re like me and do not care about anyone’s lack or possession of any degree of masculinity, and generally don’t have very much empathy for people who care about this sort of thing. Still, the respectful and deeply human way Mercero and VĂĄzquez portray Ricardo makes empathising really rather natural.

Ricardo is a man whose central problem in life seems to be that he has always played by the rather perverse rules the society he lives in has established, yet has never quite been able to stomach these rules, nor believe in them as the way the world should be. He is consequently plagued by a guilty conscience, but at the same time, and despite all his emphasis on overt masculinity, never courageous enough to stop and lead a life he needn’t be secretly ashamed of. It is the central irony of the film’s plot that he’s either too cynical, or not cynical enough, not moral enough, or too moral, to live in this movie’s Spain, a place where only cynical monsters like his wife can be happy. Of course, I could have lived quite well without the film treating Eva’s lesbian sex life as a sign of her complete lack of morals; her “just take a valium” reaction to Ricardo’s guilty conscience is rather more poignant and less bigoted, and would have been more than enough to make the point. Which leads us back to the point that Mercero likes to lay things on a little too thickly.

Formally, Mercero clothes these themes and ideas into a well-done, if not overtly spectacular psychological thriller (the only kind of thriller that doesn’t need an actual bad guy in its plot because people are able to destroy themselves well enough without more direct intervention) with a more subtle hand for the visual than the writing side of things, that perhaps suffers a bit from showing little interest in being exciting on its surface because it is much more interested in other things.

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Denis Klotz contributes a regular weekly film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?

El Espanta Surge de la Tumba: Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973)

horror-rises-from-the-tomb-posterFrance during the Middle Ages. Warlock Alaric de Marnac (Paul Naschy) and his partner in witchcraft Mabille de LancrĂ© (Helga LinĂ©) are killed for their enthusiasm for various evils, including the drinking of blood and cannibalism, of course. Because that’s what you do when you’re into the black arts, Alaric and Mabille curse the men responsible for their deaths (one of them Alaric’s own brother) and their descendants, promising to one day return to plague them with various horrors.

The time for the charming couple’s return finally comes in the 1970s. Alaric’s descendant Armand (of course also Naschy), his buddy Maurice Roland (Victor AlcĂĄzar) – of course also a witch finder descendant – and their girlfriends poke around in their ancestral legends. One sĂ©ance with possible supernatural phenomena, and a floating Naschy head later, the quartet decides that the only way to decide if they’ve been duped by a medium or they really have experienced supernatural shenanigans is for them to travel to the old chateau on the ancestral lands of the de Marnacs, far out in the backwoodsiest part of France, and dig up the head of Alaric (who was decapitated, with body and head buried at different places).

To everyone’s surprise, this idea turns out to be a rather large mistake. Soon, Alaric’s bodyless, redly lit head (excellent “Naschy in a box with his head sticking out effect there”) puts mind control whammies on various members of the cast, murders are committed hearts are eaten, heads and bodies reunited, LinĂ©s revived, and the future of all humanity threatened by two very cranky dead witches. Only the hammer symbol of Thor(!?) and a vague monster destroying manual might possibly save the day.

Carlos Aured’s brilliantly, and rather truthfully, titled Horror Rises From The Tomb shows the great Paul Naschy at his most bizarre, with nary a thought given to plot logic or emotional believability but very many thoughts given to showing off a series of increasingly weird supernatural occurrences. This time around, Naschy (of course also the man responsible for the script) and Aured get the required dream-logic particularly right, resulting in a film that uses elements of Naschy’s beloved Gothic horror, 70s horror movie bleakness, and curious ideas as if it were out to reconstruct a particularly vivid fever dream.

Aured shows himself to be one of Naschy’s more aesthetically conscious directing partners, making use of some excellently shot bleak landscape, Bava-like coloured lighting, and a lot of cheap red blood to create an atmosphere somewhere between a carnival sideshow, a cheaper version of a Hammer horror movie, and that dream you had where Paul Naschy’s head hypnotized you into catching various scantily clad women for him to eat. From time to time, the film’s curiously naive, and certainly idiosyncratic, approach to horror even produces not just dream-like and strange, but actually nightmarish sequences, like the one in which some of the dead of the film rise again from the local marsh to do the surviving protagonists harm.

The sense of bleakness so typical for horror from the 70s that characterizes that sequence, as well as a surprising character death by shotgun and the mood of Horror Rises From The Tomb‘s ending, are part of a recurring negative view on humanity and life itself which would become ever stronger in Naschy’s body of work during the second half of the decade and the first half of the 80s until pessimism finally sometimes turned into downright nihilism. This philosophic approach always does mark a strange contrast between Naschy’s films and those of the more innocent horror eras he most admired, and often rubs against against the sheer loopiness that has always been part of the charm of his films. In this particular case, silly head movie fun and the inevitable doom of everyone involved for no fault of their own go hand in hand, as if they were contrasting impulses in the auteur’s personality fighting it out live on screen; the winner is inconclusive.

Even some of Horror Rises From The Tomb‘s nominal weaknesses turn into surprising strengths. I found it, for example, exceedingly difficult to distinguish between the various female characters in the movie (which is the thing that happens when three of the film’s four human female characters are very similar looking brunettes without any character traits), turning the not exactly sharply drawn relationships between the characters diffuse, confusing and ever more dream-like.

Even the old Naschy-ism of pretending his own characters to be virtually irresistible to all women is put to good use here, giving the film an even more surreal feeling. In the case of evil Naschy it’s the result of hypnotism anyhow; and really, in the context of everything else going on in the movie, it’s not a surprise that Naschy suddenly appearing in a woman’s bedroom is answered by instant excited writhing. Evil Naschy, by the way, is the sort of fiend who wears absolutely nothing under his cape, as does Helga LinĂ© who for her part has the rather curious ability of killing men by raking her nails across their backs. On paper, it’s all just a way to show off a bit of nudity, of course, but the film’s execution turns even standard sleaze material like this into dream-like/nightmarish eroticism of a sort not generally found outside of European horror films of the 70s.

Horror Rises From The Tomb really is Naschy at his most concentrated, showing off his virtues and faults particularly clearly. This also means that, if you can’t stand European horror movies of the non-realistic persuasion, this is not a film for you. If, on the other hand, it’s exactly the strange and the weird you’re looking for from your horror, you just might find a new favourite movie of the hour.

Denis Klotz contributes a regular weekly film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?

La Venganza de la Momia

Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. Pharaoh Amenhotep (Paul Naschy) – please don’t ask which Amenhotep he’s supposed to be – is too much of a tyrant even for ancient Egyptian expectations of leadership. The pharaoh and his favourite concubine Amarna (Rina Ottolina) just love to enliven a meal by torturing virgins to death, and making a drink out of said virgins’ blood.

The couple lives the evil dream until the high priest of Amun-Ra decides that enough is enough with the virgin killing and poisons them. Because a mere death by poison isn’t enough to pay for Amenhotep’s misdeeds, the priest curses the pharaoh’s soul to be forever trapped in the body of his mummy, never to be able to even step in front of the gods for them to weigh his worthiness.

Centuries later, in the Victorian era to be exact, a couple of married American archaeologists, Nathan (Jack Taylor) and Abigail Stern (MarĂ­a Silva) open Amenhotep’s hidden tomb, and carry the pharaoh’s mummy, his sarcophagus and a few papyri to the British Museum for Natural History. The couple’s expedition was financed by Sir Douglas Carter (Eduardo Calvo). Carter once was an adventurous archaeologist like them, but now he is elderly, wheelchair-bound and rather sickly, and needs much of the time of his daughter Helen (Rina Ottolina again – and we all know what that means in a mummy movie).

Some time later, Egyptian archaeologist Assad Bey (Naschy again) and his girlfriend/assistant Zanufer (Helga LinĂ©) arrive in London and take an interest in Amenhotep’s mummy. Carter is surprisingly willing to share his findings with them. The first he does is excitedly reading one of the papyri to the new colleagues. In it Amenhotep – warned of the danger to his life by prophetic dreams – lays down how his mummy can be revived. It only takes the sacrifice of three virgins

And wouldn’t you know it, Assad Bey and Zanufer are cultists out to revive Assad Bey’s ancestor Amenhotep, so that he can punish those who steal and abuse Egyptian culture?

London’s virgin population soon finds itself greatly threatened and Amenhotep’s mummy (also Naschy, of course) is revived and “disappears” from the museum after unnecessarily crushing the skull of a poor watchman. Amenhotep turns out to be a talking member of the mummy species, so he explains the next step of his plans to Assad Bey and Zanufer himself. Before he will do anything else, the ex-pharaoh wants to revive his beloved Amarna (say what you will about him, but at least Amenhotep is devoted to the woman he loves). To that end, he needs another seven virgins. Poor virgins of London.

While the virgins are hunted down – I’d really love to know how our Egyptian friends manage to hone in on them so easily, they are not all bride’s before the wedding night after all – London’s police force is doing sod all. Fortunately, Professor Stone wants his mummy back, and even though he doesn’t believe in walking mummies and curses, he does think Assad Bey and Zanufer are somehow involved in the disappearance of Amenhotep. Hopefully, he and Abigail can do something about it before all seven further virgins are bled dry and Amenhotep has set eyes on Helen as the obvious choice for his new Amarna.

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Everyone even slightly familiar with the body of work of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy probably realizes that one of the ambitions of his life must have been to play the role of every classic (as in “featured in a classic Universal movie”) movie monster at least once in his life. By 1973, there was only the mummy left, so a mummy Naschy became in a film directed by Carlos Aured, and of course written by himself.

For once, and very much to my surprise, Naschy doesn’t write his character as a jerk the script insists is a tragic figure even though he clearly isn’t. Amenhotep is an unrepentant bastard whose only positive character trait is his love for Amarna, but since Amarna is just as much of a monster as he himself is, this theoretically positive character trait is only cause for a lot of dead virgins and crushed heads. Of course, Naschy still can’t help himself and includes a kissing scene between the mummy and Helen, but at least she’s pretty much sleepwalking in that scene and it’s important for the film’s ending, so we don’t necessarily have to read it as another one of Naschy’s thousands of attempts to write all of his characters as sexually irresistible to all women they meet.

Naschy’s other role as Assad Bey is a bit more complex. He’s not a much more moral character than Amenhotep is, but his evil is of a more human dimension, infused with enough doubts to make him somewhat sympathetic without the film ever making the mistake of some of the Daninsky films of pretending him to be the film’s true hero. It’s not too difficult to understand Bey’s motivation – the slow bleeding out of his country’s culture by western graverobbers with a more pleasant title – the problem lies with his methods. Insert my “what have these virgins ever done to you speech?” here.

There is surprising amount of interesting and likeable detail in the film’s script: there’s the insinuation that Sir Carter’s marriage with his Egyptian wife couldn’t withstand the pressure that sort of thing would have had to survive in the Victorian era; the lovely way the American archaeologist couple does everything together, from archaeology to puzzling over mysteries Scotland Yard is too dumb to solve to breaking and entering, an idea of how couples are supposed to work together that is also darkly mirrored in Zanufer and Amenhotep and absolutely speaks to my romantic spirit; the way Zanufer changes her mind about her life’s work once she realizes what a bad influence Amenhotep is on Assad Bey and learns to like Helen. It’s all a bit deeper than you’d need things in what is at its core a simple monster romp to be, and makes the movie a much more interesting watch. The script is also more tightly constructed than many of Naschy’s films are, with all appropriate transitional scenes there and accounted for, no important scene only talked about after the fact instead of shown, and character development that makes perfect sense in the world of pulp horror.

Carlos Aured’s direction works well with this script. The film’s detailed (how do I know the film is set in the Victorian era? Because there’s a picture of Victoria hanging on the Inspector’s wall) yet not exactly naturalistic sets and the handful of location shots seem deeply – and fittingly – influenced by early Universal horror, with a lot of fog and shadows whenever Amenhotep stalks his virginal prey but also with some minor, appreciable, gore effects like in the scene where Amenhotep decides that none of the seven virgins he, Assad Bey and Zanufer caught is pretty enough to host Amarna’s soul to his satisfaction, and goes on to crush one virgin head after the other like a petulant child. One wouldn’t call Aured’s direction tight today, but there’s a nice enough flow to the proceedings.

All in all, La Venganza De La Momia may be a relatively minor entry into Naschy’s body of work, but it’s also one of the man’s films that is neither batshit insane nor slapdash mummery, and might make a good entry point for viewers looking to start with Naschy without wanting to go in at the deep end. It should be a fun time for anyone.

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Denis Klotz contributes a regular weekly film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?