Directed by: Juan López Moctezuma
Starring: Tina Romero, Susana Kamini, Claudio Brook, David Silva, Lili Garza, Tina French, Birgitta Segerskog, Adriana Roel
1/2 (out of 4)
Alucarda takes place in a convent in the late 1800s. It concerns two orphan girls, one Justine, the other Alucarda, who make a pact with the devil. Her mother having recently passed away, Justine is a “babe in the woods”, a curious innocent, while her new friend Alucarda seems just the opposite, like the bad-girl from high school everyone is told to stay away from. Here she comes off more as a goth, wearing nothing but black all the time, going on about “secrets” and playing with bugs. Having met Justine only a few minutes ago, she instantly falls in love with her and wants to do a blood ritual so they will be one forever. And you thought relationships moved quickly in the 21st century!
We are clued in that something is wrong with Alucarda in the beginning, when she is born in some kind of abandoned barn, surrounded by demonic statues. After the baby is taken away for “protection”, Alucarda’s mother is left helpless before an unseen presence. A grown up Alucarda (first appearing behind Justine like a ghost) takes Justine into the forest, where they run into a bizarre gypsy (complete with hunchback, played by Claudio Brook) who doesn’t prognosticate a very happy future for the pair (Notice that the creepy gypsy guy looks like a goat.) Later, the girls arrive at a strange chapel, where demons are accidentally unleashed to terrorize them. After running back to the convent, they are left alone in their room by the dim-witted nuns so that the weird hunchbacked gypsy can suddenly appear and help the girls commence with their blood pact. This involves the sudden disappearance of Alucarda’s clothes, a ceremonial dagger, some minor lesbian action, and lots and lots of screaming.
It’s the screaming that got to me after awhile; Alucarda has more screaming in it than I have endured in a horror flick for some time. It’s quite unnerving, to the point where the scenes involving nudity, blood, and gore don’t seem as bad in comparison (and there are ample amounts of all three). There are some wild scenes of Justine suffering an exorcism that apparently kills her, only to have her come back from the dead, rising naked in a pool of blood as she tears at a poor nun with demon claws and bites a chunk out of her neck. There’s the concerned Sister Angelica (Tina French), constantly worried about the souls of Justine and Alucarda, but helpless to do anything about it most of the time, even though there is a sequence where the girls are participating in a forest orgy and Sister Angelica manages to pray hard enough so God strikes down the orgy high priestess (be careful with this kind of dedicated prayer, as it involves levitation and constant bleeding about the face). For most of the film, however, the nuns, lead by Father Lazaro (David Silva), don’t seem to have enough mojo to properly deal with the demonic possession problem. The girls’ behavior gets progressively worse, demonstrated by their sexual taunts of a priest and declarations of their dedication to Satan (trivia: “And this is what the devil does…” was a snippet sampled by My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult), culminating in the aforementioned exorcism and Alucarda’s transformation into an unstoppable witch (she sets people alight fire Firestarter-style and can even block holy water with a wall of flame). Indeed, so many monks and nuns bite the big one that I wondered if God was vacationing in the Bahamas that day.
There’s a subplot involving a local doctor, also played by Claudio Brook, who sees the convent’s inhabitants as nothing more than primitive supernatural fools, performing silly superstitious rituals instead of following science and reason. Suffice it to say, he will learn quickly that Satan rules the roost, especially when he leaves his blind daughter alone with Alucarda. In an unintentionally funny scene, Dr. Oszek has a conversation with Father Lazaro about his scientific beliefs and how that’s all changed now, and that they are dealing with the devil, and all this stuff that the audience already knows about, but the doc must deliver his lines like in a Japanese cartoon dubbed over with goofy-sounding English exposition. I swear, the dialogue is simplistic enough for kids. Not a very big deal, mind you, just something I noticed in between all the screaming.
There is definitely some fascinating imagery here; sometimes the set pieces resemble something out of a renaissance painting. The use of color and symbolism is apparent; take the exorcism scene where Justine is on the cross wearing white, surrounded by nuns in white, while opposite is Alucarda dressed in black, surrounded by monks wearing black robes. Moctezuma seems to be telling us that it might not be too late for Justine but Alucarda, having probably been born into darkness, cannot be saved. The nuns don’t wear normal uniforms/habits but are wrapped in what appears to be white bandages stained with blood, making them look more like mummies than servants of God (and could this be a jibe at Christianity, suggesting a history stained with blood?) Yes, director Moctezuma keeps the heroes and the villains of the piece purposefully vague. There is plenty of sacrilegious imagery to go around, like the self-flagellation of the priest and nuns as they gather to discuss what to do about poor Alucarda and Justine. With blood pouring from open wounds on their backs, they talk about their issues like they were at a board meeting! (Try getting whipped as you are planning out your action item list). There’s also the burning crucifixes and violent exorcisms to consider. In the end, however, I suppose God comes out on top, even though death and destruction touches everybody (only put to an end when a dead nun’s corpse is made to strike a Jesus-Christ pose). Hey, exorcism isn’t for pussies.
Alucarda is said to be similar to 1971′s The Devils, which I have not seen but plan to soon. I can certainly see the influence of Le Fanu’s Carmilla in it, but I see more of a witches story than I do a lesbian-Vampire theme (naked-and-bloody Susana Kamini notwithstanding). Speaking of Kamini, she’s beautiful, as is Tina Romero, who plays Alucarda and is a master of the seductive glare. Moctezuma himself is an associate of cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky (not surprisingly). Jodorowsky was partly responsible for the Panic Theater Movement in Paris, 1962, which was influenced by Buñuel and Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, delivering shocking theatrical performances featuring surreal imagery. (Want a taste? The performance called Sacramental Melodrama featured throat-slitting of geese, a crucified chicken, a giant vagina giving birth to Jodorowsky, naked women covered in honey and the throwing of live turtles into the audience.) Certainly the kind of thing that would generate panic, I see similar designs in Alucarda‘s sequences of madness, although they are nowhere as surreal as Jodorowsky’s output. Juan López Moctezuma would also collaborate with Jodorowsky on Fando Y Lis (1967), and El Topo (1969).
Alucarda is available on DVD from Mondo Macabro, and it features some very cool extras including an interview with Guillermo del Toro, a Moctezuma biography, and a 13 minute documentary about his films, the Panic movement, and 1970s Mexican cinema. I didn’t love Alucarda, as it has laughably stilted dialogue and a plot that borders on incoherence, but I did like it – there is enough surrealism, nudity, blood, and outright bizarre and unsettling sequences that the film is elevated beyond mere exploitation. For students of Mexican cinema it is essential viewing.
- Bill Gordon