Monday, July 17, 2006

It Came from Netflix! The Witch's Mirror

CasaNegra is a new DVD imprint dedicated to releasing Mexican horror movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s, featuring high quality transfers and the original Spanish language tracks. While films in the Santo wrestling series have gotten such presentations in the past, this is the first attempt to deal fairly with films that have amused American drive-in audiences and B-movie junkies for decades, via the comically dubbed versions seen here from producer K. Gordon Murray.

This month saw the release of their first two discs, The Witch’s Mirror and Curse of the Crying Woman. August sees The Brainiac. It’ll be interesting to see how much the original language track of the latter mitigates against the manifold goofiness of the Murray version. One suspects some, but not much. Too much of the weirdness is inherent, I’d think.

The Witch’s Mirror is a pretty typical Mexican horror movie, by which I mean it’s massively overstuffed. Actually, it’s sort of two movies spliced together, and indeed, each part takes up also precisely one half of the total film’s running time.

The first half features a middle-aged witch named Sarah, who is introduced warning her beloved godchild Elena that she (Elena) is soon to be murdered. Standing before the titular lookingglass, Elena is overcome to learn that she will be killed by her much-loved husband, Edward. Sarah, meanwhile, seeks intervention from Satan. She is warned off, however, as Elena’s death is already in the books.

Elena is (I guess) so distraught that Edward would seek her death that she goes ahead and knowingly drinks up the poisoned milk he serves her. Sarah, unable to save Elena, instead focuses on seeking revenge. When Edward brings home new wife Deborah—his passion for her being his motive for bumping off Elena—Sarah plots the woman’s doom, as the mechanism that will bring the most pain to Edward. (It should be noted that Deborah is basically entirely innocent, and thus the cruelty of her fate seems a bit much.)

Sarah soon starts orchestrating various supernatural spooky happenings. The climax of these culminates in Edward accidentally setting Deborah on fire. (Whoever the briefly-seen stuntman was, who runs past the camera literlly engulfed in flames, well, he certainly earned his pesos that day). As a result, Deborah is left with horribly scarred hands and face. Sarah crows at her success.

That’s pretty much exactly the first half of the movie. The second half is significantly weirder and goofier and much more in line of what we think of as representing Mexican horror. Edward, we learn, isn’t just a doctor, but a mad doctor. He decides to restore Deborah’s looks, with a glowering Sarah just as determined to impede him. Thus the movie quickly becomes a strange, florid mix of Eyes Without a Face and Burn, Witch, Burn.

The second half of the movie is pretty gory by the standards of the day, with Edward lopping off the hands of various females and such in his quest to restore Deborah to mint condition. The second half actually makes the first half look staid and logical, as we quickly veer from standard grave robbing antics to the rather improbable addition of a woman found buried alive.

In a way, it’s a shame Edward never becomes aware of Sarah’s antagonism. A film pitting supernatural revenge against mad science would have been pretty interesting. However, Edward remains ignorant throughout, and Sarah is able to accomplish her ends without overmuch effort.

Although obviously hindered by the low budget and vigorously fantastical plotting of all these things, the film does move quickly enough to entertain. And, to be fair, the low-grade camera tricks and so on employed by the director do occasionally lend an honestly spooky note to things. Certainly the image of Deborah moping about in her lumpy, head-covering bandages is a fairly memorable image.

Moreover, despite not mitigating much against the tendency towards overacting, the original language tracks do allow the films a bit more dignity than the generally hilarious (and presumably near verbatim) Murray dubs. Mexican horror films tended to be somewhat more surreal than American genre movies, although it could be equally argued that they were just less concerned about being constrained by logic.

Even novice fans of the genre like myself will notice décor and props used in other movies from the studio, notably The Brainiac. The musical score also is largely the same as the one employed in that film.

The full frame presentation of the film isn’t quite pristine, but is it surprisingly good, and quite possibly the movie looks better here than it looked originally in the theaters. We are also treated to the K. Gordon Murray soundtrack (which occasionally goes back to the original Spanish for scenes that Murray had cut out), and a commentary by a guy conversant with the genre.

This mostly consists of the biographies and filmographies of the actors and filmmakers, and since they tended to be involved in a lot of these, I’m not sure where future commentaries will go. Other than that, the track consists largely are a fairly lame array of comments about weird props in the background and the like.

Summation: Not a bad way to spend a dark and stormy night.


At 10:05 AM, Anonymous JazzyJ said...

Howdy, Sir Begg!

I noticed that nobody much was commenting on these mini-reviews in the Blog, and I just wanted you to know that there ARE indeed people reading and enjoying them. Thanks a bunch, and keep it up!

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

You the man, JJ! Thanks.


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