Classic Foreign Horrors, Oh Yes Indeed!
By Kristin Battestella
Of the 900 odd channels we currently have on cable, one of the ones we don’t get is the classic Spanish movies channel, which seems to have some great scary films in its tantalizing grid listings! This conundrum inspired me to search far and wide for intriguing international horrors of old. So let’s get our foreign freaky and frightful on, shall we?
The Brainiac – Oft scary star Abel Salazar leads this black and white Mexican horror and SF combo, but this English title doesn’t fit as well as the original El Baron del Terror – or so it seems. Despite being a bit too telling instead of showing, the 1661 inquisition opening is effective enough thanks to lots of shadows and creepy men in black hooded robes. The picture is a bit dark, too; the sound’s uneven, and there’s bad science on top of poorer science fiction effects. I mean, the comet plot device – used by our titular sorcerer to return in 300 years, just in time for the swanky, swinging sixties – looks like a streak of snot on the camera lens! There are bad monsters, more simple smoke and mirrors, and the bare bones DVD has no subtitles, but the bemusing dubbing adds to the camp charm. Fun music, updated castle scenery, and low budget but suave mod décor matches the screaming ladies and cranky detectives. Perhaps the one by one ancestral vengeance plot is nothing new, but the sci-fi spins, historical twists, and obligatory deaths are suspenseful and well paced. Smart editing, nice zooms, and a few shocker moments cap off the creepy atmosphere, as well. What is that, pâté? It looks yummy! Perhaps you have to like bad horror and camp fun to appreciate this one, but at only 77 minutes, one can easily enjoy this SF scary amid a fun movie marathon.
The Curse of the Crying Woman – It’s pretty much expected that the dubbed dialogue and English subtitles won’t match in this otherwise eerily effective 1961 Spanish creepier again starring Abel Salazar. It’s also a bit bemusing how the awkward, wooden voiceovers make one sound so casual when mentioning how there’s a maniac on the loose! In addition to the uncanny music, black and white mood, and period stylings, the story and script here are actually well done, if standard – a couple in a scary house with a witchy aunt and all that. It’s also nice to see a twisted woman lead and her hunchback servant instead of the more typical masculine terrors. From the eyeless chicks, fast cut violence, mauling dogs, zesty camerawork, and sharp zooms to the skeletal effects, creepy webs, derelict lairs, and shocker moments, wow, there’s some quality gothic production here. The opening freaky and weird imagery unravels slowly and remains spooky for the entire 80 minutes thanks to a countdown to midnight, bloody rituals, macabre flashbacks, wicked mirrors, and a destructive, fiery finale. I’m surprised at the lack of information available for this film, as touch of mid century hokey aside, this one has plenty of gothic mood and solid scares.
Fury of the Wolfman – Paul Naschy is Waldemar Daninsky again for the fourth turn in this haphazard Spanish werewolf series, and an opening narration and flashback scenes provide some of the wolf origins here. More sexy innuendo, whips, chains, and even a yeti add to the car crashes, asylum secrets, affairs, science debates, abominations, mind control, and seemingly evil lesbian internships. Sweet period cars, clothes, candles, and excellent storm sounds help forgive the somewhat simplistic wolf transformation effects and standard dubbing. Some of the were-action is filmed and paced in almost a silent film style, which adds to the demented love and mind drama, but the uneven editing and mixed camera styles unfortunately contribute to some of the science fiction and horror crossover story confusion. Detective and reporter elements are also weak and dated – though it’s nice to see an investigation instead of just killings without consequences in a self-involved bubble. I wish this was a bit more polished, but behind the scenes troubles, a delayed 1972 release, title changes, and edited video prints only add to the frustrating pursuit of this not completely available, free form franchise. It’s a pity as the layered plots and twists here are dang entertaining.
The Man and the Monster – This 1958 macabre musical gets right to it with a crazy good car crash and continues the sinister build, slow reveals, and solid suspense pacing for the whole 78 minutes. Naturally, there are hints of Phantom of the Opera as the pained, eponymous Enrique Rambal maestros the pretty, talented Martha Roth. However, enough twists happen here – including a wicked mother, creepies more ala Psycho, and a unique demonic bargaining for those said musical gifts. In addition to the great piano compositions, frightful, pulsing orchestrations, and opportunities for silence or sparse diegetic sounds, the black and white photography effectively hides any filmmaking flaws whilst heightening the shadowed, hidden ghastly. The then contemporary fifties cars, fedoras, and frocks are mid century cool, yet a moody, gothic atmosphere lingers thanks to overgrown abandoned estates. Yes, Abel Salazar doesn’t have much to do as our good guy businessman and the ensemble is slightly over the top. Some of the piano playing is obvious fakery, and though high end at the time, the monster effects are hokey today. The narration was also unnecessary in the tell-all flashback for the sequence plays out wonderfully on its own. Fortunately, these dated quirks invoke classic silent film styles and keep the regrets taught and wild finale avante garde. Perhaps this one isn’t out and out scary to modern audiences, but it’s still an effective, entertaining little morality tale.
I must say, it does help to have some knowledge of a particular film’s original language, as the subtitles and dubbing don’t always match. Fortunately, the DVDs almost always have the necessary language options – although I swear it seems Netflix only has one copy of these types of elusive, eclectic videos. I had to wait for each of these for quite some time, and many more I’d like to see have so little information about them or are simply no longer available and may never see the light of digital day. It’s a pity, as I’ve enjoyed the old foreign horror I have seen more than some of this contemporary chiller drivel!