Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Misterios de ultratumba (1959)

The latest release by the already invaluable CasaNegra, available under the American title of The Black Pit of Dr. M (more on that in a bit), MdU is a corny but straightforward and quite fun Mulligan’s Stew of a movie. It feels like the result of one of those round robin stories, where one guy starts a story, and another adds to it, and so and so, with the tale getting wilder with each new addition.

The film opens upon a decrepit, spider-web strewn courtyard, as narration informs us that we are about to see a tale of doom. From there we flash back to meet the tightly wound and quite obsessed Dr. Mazali. He’s leaning over the deathbed of his colleague Dr. Aldama, and reminding him of their pact. Whichever one of them dies first is to return from the afterlife and help the survivor uncover its secrets.

Even as Aldama is receiving a nicely atmospheric funeral—the highlight of which is when his coffin is opened just before burial (!), and his corpse is greeted with an ominous blare of music (“Look! There’s a dead guy in this coffin we’re burying!)—Mazali is using a medium to contact the guy. Aldama indeed makes himself known, and offers Mazali the chance to visit the afterlife and return to life afterwards, albeit at some horrible price. Mazali agrees, setting in motion his elaborate fate.

From here the plot veers wildly around. A man is seen at the weirdest nightclub I’ve ever seen, watching a dance patterned on the blowing-streamer dream ballet between Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in Singin’ in the Rain. The main dancer, Patricia, is shocked when she sees him, and flees. She’s been seeing him in her dreams, and vice versa. Moreover, Patricia is the daughter of Aldama, who she never knew, and his ghost appears to her, and….

Really, this thing is just nuts. But in a good way.

Eventually all these characters and many more come together in Mazali’s sanitarium (the deserted locale seen in the beginning of the film), where Aldama or Fate’s machinations continue apace. One thing I learned is that when you run a place for the violently, homicidally insane, and take them into your examining room unsecured, you probably shouldn’t have loose bottles of acid lying around on top of the medicine cabinet.* Also, if all that stands between you and a potential horrible death is the tune emanating from a music box, you might actually want to prop up the lid or something.

[*At one time acid was held to have useful properties in terms of blob-proofing one's laboratory. However, the efficiency of acid and other caustic liquids in this regard has been demonstrated to be negligible at best.]

As you’d expect, Mazali gets what he asked for, but ends up wishing he’s been a little more precise in the details. In the end we get murderous maniacs, a disfigured killer, a fellow rising from the grave, and many other interesting elements.

This is a very stylish little flick. I can’t agree with Frank Coleman (CasaNegra’s founder, and provider of the disc’s commentary track), who labels this a masterpiece and the equal of any of the classic Universal horror films (!), but it’s quite neat. I’d put Curse of the Crying Woman, also out via CasaNegra, above it, but that’s a very good movie indeed, if not a great one. Still, this is a great addition to what is quickly becoming one of the most impressive horror DVD lines out there.

The film looks terrific. This a real plus, given the level of the art direction, which for a low budget equals the best of Roger Corman’s Poe series. The actors mostly play everything straighter than you see in many Mexican horror movies, so the camp value is downplayed, even with the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink nature of the script.

One sadness is that there is, unlike most of CasaNegra’s offerings, an English language dub track to go along with the original Mexican soundtrack. In this case, the Americanized version, again The Black Pit of Dr. M, seems to be lost. Coleman makes a good case that the film might not have been dub and released here by K. Gordon Murray, the man known for the vast majority of such fare, and that this might be why the American version has become so elusive. Still, even sans the American track, this is definitely something fans of old-fashioned gothic horror might want to take a look at.


At 12:28 PM, Anonymous ericb said...

Slightly off topic ... Ken did you by chance listen to the audio commentary on the recent Brainiac dvd? The guy gives an explanation for the nuttiness of the American dubbed translation.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I haven't gotten to the main part of it yet, but the sheer beauty of The Brainiac DVD, and more to the point the film itself, makes it one of the year's handful of truly essential buys.

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous ericb said...

Unfortunately I don't think you can get the commentary with the English dubed version. I tried but I couldn't get it to work so I had to watch it the film in Spanish to hear the commentary.

At 12:50 PM, Anonymous ericb said...

It was fun to learn that The Brainiac had an all star cast (for Mexico anyway) like an early version of the 70's box picture.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Henry Brennan said...

Has anyone ever noticed just how easy it is to get ahold of highly corrosive acid? "House on Haunted Hill" had a whole vat of the stuff, for crying out loud.

At 11:58 AM, Anonymous ericb said...

According to "Skydivers" you can just pick up corrosive acid at the local pharmacist. I should check and see if the one down the block has some.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger futureboy9000 said...

Ken -- Frank Coleman here. First, I must say I am a long-time fan of Jabootu. I just love your writing.

I must tell you, though, that I am NOT the founder of CasaNegra. I am just a crazy rock drummer, multimedia developer and mexi-monster fan. CasaNegra found me, presumably via Google, by virtue of my Brainiac Interactive Press Kit and invited me along.

It's true the commentary for The Brainiac (as well as The Witch's Mirror and Black Pit) are only available with the Spanish language track. That's all I had to work with at the time. Black Pit was particularly difficult in that I also had no subtitles and am not a native Spanish speaker!

Anyway, I can't speak highly enough of CasaNegra. I was amazed to see they took the time to translate my commentary into Spanish subtitles and even recorded a new English language dialog insert for the intro to the Witch's Mirror.

They are a class act from top to bottom and I'm humbled and honored to be involved in my small way.

Take care, keep up the great work and rock on.




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