Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SUMMER OF SATAN: Alucarda


Juan Lopez Monctezuma’s hallucinatory exploitationer is a heady and unsubtle mix of nunsploitation, sexual hysteria, Satanism, vampirism, pyrotelekinesis and lipstick lesbianism.



To those of you who have already abandoned this review and logged on to Amazon, Lovefilm or Netflix, happy viewing – see you next time here at The Agitation of the Mind.

To those of you still with me, let’s see if we can’t unravel a critically valid and intellectually rigorous understanding of the film. (Pmsl, to use the current argot.)

Oh, what the hell? Let’s just spend 600 words wallowing in a frankly bonkers and borderline incoherent piece of Mexican what-the-fuckery that packs more nudity, screaming and blasphemous imagery into its scant hour and a quarter running time than you could shake a broken crucifix at.



Things kick off with a young woman giving birth to a daughter with the aid of a hunchback with a high-pitched voice and some serious dental problems. The woman begs him to care for the child and “not let him take her”. The hunchback scoops up the little bundle of joy and departs upon which the woman has a screaming fit (the first of many scenes which unfold to the sound of bad actors screaming their heads off; every rental of this movie ought to include a free packet of Ibuprofen) and expires.

After the credits, some fifteen years have passed (according to a hasty bit of expositional dialogue) and the newly orphaned Justine (Susanna Kamina) is delivered into the care of an order of nuns. Here she meets the eponymous Alucarda (Tina Romero) – the now very womanly incarnation of the child in the first scene – and a significant mutual girl crush develops. Whilst roaming in the woods near the convent, they encounter a gypsy tribe. The hunchbacked old dude performing the unlikely pre-credit midwife duties reappears and scares the beejesus out of the girls, but not before he gives Alucarda a dagger. Shortly thereafter, exploring the ruins of an abandoned town, the geography of which instils Alucarda with a sense of déjà vu, they find a coffin – that, as any viewer with a sliver of visual acuity will realize, of Alucarda’s mother – bearing a plaque that identifies it as the vessel of Lucy Westenra.

This, friends and neighbours, is the first and last genuinely interesting thing Monctezuma’s film does: sets up its heroine as the orphaned daughter of Dracula’s most poignant victim (in case you haven’t already made the connection, spell Alucarda backwards and allow the superfluous “a” as a feminization of the name). Thereafter, however, it’s naked Satanic rituals and naked midnight orgies (at which Satan, here portrayed by an individual in a goat mask, turns up and gropes the occasional arse and then departs again) all the way.



Not to mention naked exorcisms.

The naked exorcism is the most honest moment of exploitation in the film. Alucarda and Justine have interrupted Bible study at the convent with an outpouring of heresy, and when they refuse to recant it’s decided that exorcism is the only option. The girls are strapped to full-size crosses and the priest turns his attention to Justine first. “The mark of the devil will be on her body,” he intones; “undress her.” A leering chap accepts the instruction (for a convent, btw, there’s a fuckload of male adherents) and rips Justine’s dress to shreds. No search for the mark of the beast is subsequently instructed, but the camera cuts back to her breasts and her holiest of holies at every available opportunity.

Plotwise, things never get beyond Alucarda-and-Justine-get-possessed / sexy-Satanic-girl-girl-shenanigans-occur / the-church-gets-righteously-pissed-off. A half-hearted attempt to engender a religion/science debate takes place in the closing stages as Dr Oscek (Claudio Brook – who, under grungy but unconvincing makeup, also plays the hunchback) randomly takes centre stage to protest against the church’s heavy-handedness only to take it all back and get kick-ass with the holy water the moment he comes up against something inexplicable by scientific means.

But Alucarda was never meant to function or a narrative, intellectual or remotely aesthetic level. It’s a delivery system for tits, blood and attractive young women locking lips in hazy close-up. That it throws in a dead character’s resurrection from a blood-filled coffin, a group of nuns spouting ludicrously sub-expositional dialogue during a session of flagellation that looks like nothing more than the world’s worst BDSM site …



… more pyrotechnical mind-control mayhem than Carrie about five seconds after the pig’s blood incident should just be considered additional extras, and a level of sexual/religious hysteria deranged enough to make Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’ look like Bergman’s ‘Winter Light’ should just be considered fringe benefits.

3 comments:

Aaron said...

Great review, Neil. I love ALUCARDA just for the sheer insanity of the ending. Have you seen any of Juan Lopez Moctezuma's other films? MANSION OF MADNESS is Jodorowsky-ish, pretty insane and worth checking out. MARY MARY BLOODY MARY is an unconventional vampire movie, and pretty nasty from what I can remember.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I own this one and have seen it a couple of times. I liked the art direction on the church set, with all those crosses in the background, and the nuns looking all nasty in those bloody clothes.

Agree about the screaming, it can get a bit annoying, but my favorite thing about this movie is how over the top it goes with the satanism, that scene with justine and alucarda breaking into the church spewing all sorts of satanic words, funny stuff!

At times it felt like this was a Hammer film...I enjoy it for its over the topness.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

Agreed: it's how OTT the film is that really makes it work. If they'd toned it down or tried to take the material a bit more seriously, it wouldn't be half as memorable. But that bonkers ending, with everyone screaming their heads off, is unbelievable: that breathless transition from Justine being doused with holy water to Alucarda herself going all Carrie-at-the-prom on everyone. Awesome!

And good call on the set design, Franco: that backdrop with the multiple frescoes of the crucifixion is one fucked up bit of imagery!