Friday, 24 July 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Paul Solet - writer/director of GRACE

Paul Solet’s debut feature film Grace is currently causing quite a stir at various festival screenings and amassing both shock and acclaim in equal measure. Solet has expertly crafted a genuinely moving, deeply unsettling and utterly unforgettable film. Grace is the troubling story of a young pregnant woman, Madeline (Jordan Ladd), who after losing her unborn child in a horrific accident, still decides to carry the baby to term. Following the traumatic delivery the child miraculously returns to life, but with the most disturbing consequences imaginable. Madeline’s maternal instincts kick in and she stops at nothing to ensure her newborn’s seemingly insatiable appetite for blood is catered for, no matter what.

Solet is a relatively new name on the horror scene, but since writing and directing Grace and subsequently raising the bar in horror cinema, the young filmmaker has been championed by the likes of Eli Roth and Adam Green.
Solet obviously knows how to perturb and deeply affect his audiences. Grace is a thought provoking and character driven film saturated in dread and foreboding and one that audiences are not likely to forget in a hurry. I thought it was high time to have a chat with Mr Solet to discuss Grace, wax lyrical about the horror genre and talk about the highs and lows of making an independent film.

Where did the idea for Grace come from?

I was having a conversation with someone and it came up that its actual medical science that if you’re pregnant and you lose your child and labour isn’t induced, you can carry your baby to term, and that this is a decision women make more frequently than is commonly discussed. To me, that’s just such a potent kernel of horror; it was a perfect jumping off place for a genre tale. It also says something fascinating about the uncanny power of the bond between a mother and child.

What made you decide to develop your short film into a feature length film? What challenges did this present you with?

The feature length script was actually written before the short. People wanted to option the feature, but it was much more difficult to get anyone to let me direct it because I had only done shorts before that. So I made the short to help raise interest in the feature. The challenges are virtually the same, making a short as they are making a feature. Time and money. There’s never enough. So you embrace the restraints and do your best to exploit them to your advantage.

A number of critics have compared your film work so far to the early films of David Cronenberg, with their themes of body-horror and mental anguish. What is it about the darker aspects of the human body and psyche that intrigues you so much?

I’ve always been much more affected by terrestrial horror, real horror, horror you can touch, that could actually happen to you or your family, than supernatural stuff. I just don’t find ghost stories especially frightening. Losing control over one’s own body, or carrying death within it, is something that I think it’s very difficult not to have an intense reaction to.

Reports of shocked audience members fainting whilst watching Grace are quite rife. Have you ever written anything that has shocked and disturbed even yourself?

You’re certainly your own first audience, and it’s great if you can get some kind of reaction from yourself. It’s a very good sign if I’m finding myself disturbed by something, but I have a very high threshold and tend to just grin at the darker stuff, so I am not necessarily looking for the same reaction in myself I would in an audience. I’m frequently the only guy cackling at the horrible violence in a movie theatre. People look at me like I’m a psychopath.

Were you ever worried about going ‘too far’ with Grace?

No. Genre films are supposed to get under your skin. I felt bad when the guy fell down and hurt himself passing out at our USC screening, but he was okay and he came to the film to be moved. I’ve got no interest in doing tame, vanilla genre films.

What themes and ideas appeal to you most as a filmmaker?

I often go back to body horror - losing control of your faculties or your mind, bodily or mentally, or spiritual violations, damnation, guilt, trauma… Those are the things I think we can all identify with. We’re hard-wired to respond to things like this, and when you pull these themes into the genre, you can explore them without limitation.

What is the writing process for you? Do you have any particular methods of writing stories or turning ideas into stories?

I outline extensively before I ever start constructing scenes. I’m a real believer in footwork, so I’ll work for months outlining something, and then by the time I sit down to write a draft, I know exactly what I want to do and the script itself is just the fun part of the process. I tend to start broad and work my way into more precision. I usually begin with a premise, then beginning, middle and end, then break it into sequences, then scenes, then beats.

What has your reaction been to the response Grace has received from audiences and critics?

I couldn’t be happier. People are so grateful to have an original genre film that delivers something new, and across the board audiences and critics have been immensely supportive. Even the mainstream press, which looks for any excuse to shit on genre films, has given us nothing but praise. The fact that men keep passing out is pretty damn gratifying too, truth be told.

Who or what have been your biggest influences?

As far as directors go, my biggest influences are David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski, but there are a whole slew of other directors that I find intensely inspiring, and that list is always in flux. I just got back from a film festival in Korea, and got a chance to see Tom Shankland’s new film The Children and was thoroughly blown away. Also saw Vinyan, Fabrice DuWelz’s new flick, which is absolutely mesmerizing. Those movies are every bit as inspirational for me. I’m just so excited that films like that are being made. Guys like Michael Haneke and Kiyoshi Kurosawa are huge for me, as well. All these guys are making such brave decisions in their work, it’s just a joy to have these guys working.

What is your opinion on contemporary horror cinema?

Like I said, I am thrilled to pieces about the state of the genre right now. We’ve got some of the most talented filmmakers around in our realm, and they aren’t just trying to use horror as an in to make their romantic comedy; they are students of this shit and they love it and they want to do their part to raise the bar.

What is it about the dark subject matter contained in your films that compels you to explore it?

I could psychoanalyze myself but I wouldn’t come up with anything too solid. I’ve always been into the darker side of things. Since I was a little kid. Not everyone’s like that, obviously, I don’t think it’s an acquired taste, but if you’ve got it, you sure as hell know it. And that’s why we all get along so well in the genre community. Because we’ve got this thing.

What’s next for you? Any projects in the pipeline you can mention?

There are a number of projects I’m extremely excited about right now. I’m not supposed to mention any of them quite yet, but stand by…. Expect grave emotional trauma in the near future.

According to sources such as Variety and Fangoria, Grace is to be released theatrically by Anchor bay Entertainment and will open in New York and L.A. on August 14th 2009.
Anchor bay will also release the film on DVD and Blu-Ray on 15th September.

Click here to visit the official Grace website and click here to drop by Paul Solet's myspace...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Gravedancers

Dir. Mike Mendez

When their friend dies in a car accident, Harris (Dominic Purcell), Kira (Josie Maran) and Sid (Marcus Thomas), three old college friends, reunite at his funeral. They decide to catch up and give their friend a fitting send off; so after the funeral they head back to the cemetery with lots of wine, good intentions and high spirits. When they discover a strange poem on an anonymous sympathy card, urging them to celebrate life and dance on the graves of the dead, they do so. A few days later our revellers are terrorised by the ghosts of the people whose graves they danced upon. Desperate, the trio turn to a paranormal investigator to help them break the curse and save their souls…

Director Mike Mendez moves away from the overtly comedic aspects of his earlier outrageous shocker The Convent, to craft a genuinely dark and thrilling film.
After a spectacularly intense and nerve-rattling opening in which a young woman is brutally murdered by an unseen force (recalling the grisly opening scenes of Dario Argento’s Suspiria) the film takes its time to establish characters and story in the moodiest way possible. At first they think it is just a series of bizarre coincidences: Alison (Clare Kramer) even suspects that Kira, Harris’ ex, is stalking her and hiding in the house to try and drive her away from Harris. The sense of paranoia and warped perspective is nicely realised. Mendez manoeuvres his camera stealthily throughout proceedings like the waft of an eerie breeze. It prowls along the floor, up stairs, peers around doors and walls, over the shoulders of actors and generally sets the viewer on edge.

The film’s look belies its low budget and the array of special effects on display are masterfully handled: even the nightmarishly large disembodied head that plunges after the survivors as they make their frantic getaway doesn’t seem that ridiculous in the context of the story. The first act concentrates on the characters’ growing awareness of their predicament and Mendez handles this with a slow-burn approach, racking up the tension and jolting the nerves every now and again. This dark atmosphere, bloated with dread and an unsettling stillness, is maintained until about two thirds of the way through and then Mendez lets rip with a full-on assault of shocks, blood, genuinely menacing ghosts and a good old fashioned haunted house finale.

The ghosts, when they are finally revealed in all their grisly glory are a sickeningly gruesome lot: an axe-wielding murderess, a disturbed pyromaniac and a sadistic sex pest. The chilling visage of each of these spectral fiends is reminiscent of the ghoulish medium in the Drop of Water segment of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath anthology: all wide toothy grins and bulging eyes.

There is a distinct touch of the gothic about The Gravedancers. It harks back to a certain era of horror cinema without seeming contrived. A number of scenes featuring Harris and his wife Alison being menaced in their own home deploy that old faithful gothic-horror stalwart of the piano that plays spooky music until someone walks into the room and then it stops. The film is peppered with moments of doors slowly opening into darkened rooms; the camera hanging back and hovering cautiously as though anticipating something jumping out at us.

The music and sound effects also work to enhance the creepiness, every little creak or rumble is designed to set the audience on edge. Of course, as mentioned, the film isn’t all quiet eeriness and foreboding: as events rush towards the climax and the special effects are given more screen-time, The Gravedancers begins to resemble a jolting ghost-train ride – exciting, a little unsettling but never anything short of fun. While it doesn’t display the bawdy humour of The Convent, the film still retains a kind of irreverent humour akin to the likes of Drag Me To Hell or The Frighteners.

One of the stand-out scenes unfolds in the hospital where Kira is recuperating after her attack. As Alison wanders through the empty corridors waiting for Harris, she finds a body on a stretcher covered in a white sheet. As she cautiously approaches, the sheet becomes soiled with copious amounts of blood as whatever is under it haemorrhages in a highly grotesque fashion. As she turns to call for help, the body sits up and what follows is brief but shocking.

The character of Kira experiences a number of really quite intense attacks, made all the more sickening because of their sexual nature. Another taut and frenzied moment occurs when she is attacked by some invisible force in her hospital room and an innocent nurse is dragged into the fracas with bloody consequences. As Alison, Clare Kramer gives one of the best performances in the film and is, strangely enough, quite reminiscent of Sheryl Lee. Also worth mentioning is Megahn Perry as Frances, one of the paranormal investigators. She was also one of the standout performers in Mendez’s earlier film The Convent, and she exudes a similar wit and charm here, too.

The Gravedancers is a well written, well oiled thrill ride. When it comes to delivering goosebumps and jolts, Mendez really knows how to deliver. The film was unsurprisingly one of the featured titles in the 8 Films to Die for at the After Dark Horrorfest in 2006, alongside the likes of The Abandoned and Penny Dreadful.

A good old fashioned supernatural chiller.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


Dir. Alexandre Aja

When he is suspended from duty after accidentally shooting his partner, former NYPD detective Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) gets a job as a security guard at a deserted department store. Determined to put his life back on track, kick his alcoholism and rejoin his estranged family, Ben soon becomes obsessed with the mirrors in the building and the strange visions they seemingly reflect. With no one to believe his wild stories, he sets out to solve the mystery of what lurks within the mirrors before his mind unravels completely…

After kaleidoscopic opening credits and a rather unsettling and menacing scene set in the underground, Mirrors, and what could potentially have been a supremely creepy and subtly chilling film, soon descends into cheap jumps, cardboard characters and some really quite lazy writing that explains everything in trite exposition, because, you know, we’re just too dumb to be able to follow the story or piece some information together.

Director Aja doesn’t display anything that even remotely resembles the directorial flair he exhibited with the likes of Switchblade Romance; and considering the fun he could have had with all the mirrors in the film and the potential to have some really interesting shots and camera work, everything just looks so conventional and uninspired. Aja seems to have directed this purely for the money. He should high-tail it back to France before Hollywood sucks out any creativity or vision he has left. All too often Mirrors resorts to frantic scenes with increasingly swelling music imploring us to be afraid and Kiefer Sutherland running around wailing about ‘The mirrors! The mirrors!’ Even the quieter scenes that should be full of foreboding just seem dragged out, with the obligatory punctuation of sudden loud bursts of music to cut through the tedium. There are a few genuinely unsettling and grisly moments, particularly the demise of Ben’s sister, whose jaw is ripped open by her reflection. Or something.

The film is at its most interesting when we enter the former department store and the overwhelming sense that we are traversing into something completely ancient and otherworldly that saturates these scenes. The majority of the story unfolds within the vast and creepy neo-gothic building that used to be a psychiatric hospital – where, wouldn’t you know it, morbid doctors conducted immoral and bizarre experiments on their schizophrenic patients. The security guard showing Ben around intones lots of ‘creepy’ stuff about how the former guard became obsessed with the mirrors and stayed up all night polishing them. Any vague intrigue that could be established concerning Ben’s mental instability and whether or not the things he sees are the result of his fractured and damaged mind, or really are supernatural, is pretty much crushed straight away. We know the occurrences are supernatural, not only because of the sinister opening scene, but also because of the shot of a mirror rippling and pulsating ominously.

The all too brief discussions of the significance of mirrors in mythology and folklore provide the film with some of its most intriguing moments. The belief that if someone is caught between two mirrors their soul will become trapped, and the connections of reflections/doubles/doppelgangers with impending death proves quite shuddersome too; however these ideas are never really fully explored. The concept of a whole other world existing behind mirrors is also just mentioned in a rather throwaway fashion and then simply cast aside altogether in favour of some more frantic scenes with Kiefer running around again, panting and covering up mirrors in a bug-eyed and sweaty manner. The film also relies too heavily on bargain-bucket psycho-babble, as various characters critique the significance of mirrors and ‘self-examination.’
A vague attempt at ‘light relief’ occurs when Ben is frantically driving to his wife’s house and glances in his rear-view mirror. We are treated to a shot of the little warning sticker exclaiming ‘Objects in mirror are closer than they seem.’ Indeed.

In Ben Carson we have a potentially interesting protagonist: a troubled man trying to piece his life back together after a series of unfortunate events brought about by his alcoholism. Sutherland’s performance is suitably twitchy and nervous however as the story continues to unfold, he simply becomes more cartoonish. This is down to the ridiculous lines he has to utter and the cringe-worthy actions his character must carry out, than Sutherland’s performance though. You see, Ben decides the only way to remain safe from the mirrors is to try and establish some sort of matte world in which there are no reflections. He sets about painting over everything shiny; neglecting of course the horrifying potential that his cutlery may never be usable again. When he discovers a mirror filled chamber behind an old crumbling wall in the waterlogged basement of the store, the film goes a bit Ringu. Ben soon discovers that the mirrors are haunted by the souls of those patients who suffered slow and unnecessary deaths at the hands of their doctors in the hospital. They seek their revenge from the limited reach of reflective surfaces.

As events rush ever more nonsensically to their inevitable conclusion, everything falls into a crumpled heap of demons, nuns, otherworldly thresholds and redneck possessions, with dreary people gloomily exclaiming stuff like ‘We took her where the mirrors couldn’t find her.’ As the opposite of tension mounts ever higher, Ben’s family become imperilled in their own home, and his wife manages to lose her son. In her own house. The film now takes on a typical Poltergeist-lite narrative of ‘family-persecuted-in-their-own-home' schlock, as unseen forces leave the taps running and ruin the expensive floors. Cue much cowering and running from reflective surfaces. Things come to a head with a tacky happy ending. But wait! No. Things come to a head in an ending that lacks the chills, and indeed poignancy, it was striving for. Bittersweet this is not.

Essentially a convoluted tale of possession and revenge, Mirrors contains far too much smoke and nowhere near enough mirrors. If I could be bothered to, this is the point at which I would insert an amusing pun about how ‘unpolished’ a film Mirrors is. But like I said, only if I could be bothered.

Watch The Witch's Mirror instead...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Random Creepy Scene # 51: Black Sabbath

Mario Bava’s anthology Black Sabbath consists of three quite different tales of horror. The Telephone - the story of a woman who may or may not be receiving sinister phone calls from an escaped lunatic; The Wurdalak – a creepy yarn involving vampirism, a doomed family and the recent return of their undead patriarch – played with diabolical glee by Boris Karloff; and finally, The Drop of Water – the supremely unsettling story of a nurse who steals a ring from the deathbed of a medium, only to suffer the ghastly consequences in the privacy of her own home.

Each segment of Black Sabbath has its own unique tone and look, from the kitsch glamour of the imperilled woman in The Telephone to the high gothic atmospherics of The Wurdalak and the opulently stylised The Drop of Water. As a whole the film is rather satisfactory and none of the segments outstay their welcome. What makes it all even more appealing is the introduction by none other than Boris Karloff himself, waxing lyrical on the mechanics of fear. Each segment contains its own fair share of nightmare-inducing moments, all beautifully captured by Bava’s ever prowling camera, and rendered dreamlike in the vivid lighting. However it is during The Drop of Water that one of the creepiest images from Bava’s seductive body of work, and possibly from horror cinema, is luridly revealed.

When she is called late at night and asked to prepare the recently deceased body of a local medium, Helen leaves the relative cosiness of a night in, crocheting and sipping brandy (a kindred spirit, obviously), to embark on her journey. Arriving at the dead woman’s house she is let in by a maid and makes her way through the opulently candy-coloured and cat strewn hallways to the bedroom of the medium. We are as shocked as Helen is to see the morbidly grinning death-face of the medium as she lies propped up on her pillows.

Going about her business, Helen notices an ornate ring that she decides no one will miss, and she takes it from the dead woman’s finger.

Returning home, Helen is plagued by the sounds of a dripping tap and the memory of the ghoulishly grinning dead woman. Eventually, her nerves in tatters, Helen realises, too late, that stealing from the dead is just not cool. Seeking sanctuary in her bedroom she sees the spectre of the medium grinning from the bed and then rise up to float menacingly across the room towards her. This all proves too much for Helen who instantly drops dead of fright. When her body is discovered the look of horror on her face still remains… Chilling stuff.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Colour From the Dark

Dir. Ivan Zuccon

Whilst drawing water from the well on their farm one day, Pietro (Michael Segal) and his mute sister-in-law Alice (Marysia Kay) unearth something strange: an eerie, putrid glow that seems to infect the surrounding landscape, draining it of life. The family eventually succumb to the sinister effects of the strange colour too and are driven out of their minds with dark dreams, vivid hallucinations and violent, blood-drenched deaths…

Italian director Ivan Zuccon is no stranger to the cosmic terrors of H.P. Lovecraft, having already adapted various narratives for the screen in his anthology The Shunned House (2003). Indeed some of the director’s other work such as The Darkness Beyond and Nympha are indelibly imbued with a distinct Lovecraftian influence.
Whilst The Colour From Space was adapted before (as Die Monster, Die!), Zuccon’s take on the short story really hits the mark and effortlessly transfers Lovecraft’s tale of insanity and other-worldly intrusion upon humanity from page to screen.

The screenplay by Ivo Gazzarrini sticks quite closely to the source material and although at times it seems the film may have been more effective as a short film, Zuccon’s stylish and restrained direction manages to maintain interest throughout.
Almost from the outset, Zuccon ensures we get an overwhelming sense of the isolation of the family: striking shots of the farmhouse situated in the middle of nowhere and the various scenes where the camera slowly drifts through the empty house create and sustain an atmosphere that hangs heavy with morbidity and a palpable sense of dread practically seeps out of every scene. The film simply abounds with creepy images, particularly the rather striking ones of the button-eyed red doll and Alice’s blood-drenched bed.

Zuccon easily sets his viewers on edge and creates an uneasy malaise that practically wafts from the screen. The distorted and warped atmosphere established at the beginning of the film in the haunting dream sequence, doesn’t let up throughout the increasingly grisly events. Impressive too is that the tone and look of the film were established so well with such a low budget. Zuccon wisely keeps the moments of CGI to a minimum and when utilising them, attempts to do so subtly. In lesser hands the film may have veered off into an abundance of shoddy CGI. As it is, Colour From the Dark unravels at a fairly languid pace, taking its time to construct a mood of hopelessness and doom. Zuccon also photographed and edited the film and his cinematography is often strikingly beautiful. The fluid camera work exhibited throughout adds to the dreamy, unearthly tone of the story. A number of dream sequences also pepper the film, including a particularly unnerving moment featuring a couple of characters running frantically through a moonlit cornfield, culminating in the burial of a crucifix and a nasty death.

Before the effects of the alien colour turn malevolent, the farmer’s crops are bountiful and ripe and his injured knee heals itself. More startling still, is that Alice, Lucia’s mute sister, begins to speak again. This ‘good fortune’ does not last long and eventually the family are plunged into increasingly dark events that will consume them: but not before robbing them of their sanity.
The characters look drawn and tired, and that’s even before the Colour begins to unhinge and possess them. The performances are strong throughout, particularly those of Michael Segal as the famer and Debbie Rochon as his dedicated wife Lucia. As the Colour possesses Lucia, Rochon begins to exude a strange sexuality that proves most disturbing.

The score by Marco Werba enhances the unsettling visuals and when it isn’t reaching shrill, ear-splitting proportions and racking up the tension; it unfurls with sinister menace, drowning proceedings in a queasy creepiness.

The film is set in Italy during WWII and there is an interesting subplot involving Teresa, a young Jewish woman hiding from Mussolini’s Fascists. This places the story in a time already weighed down with dread and oppression, even before the characters are consumed by the odious Colour. This plot-strand could perhaps be read as a hint that the Colour is much more evil and cruel than some of the atrocities carried out by man… The only difference is that the Colour does not discriminate in its slaughter.

A scene towards the end of the film is perhaps one of the most ‘Lovecraftian’ I have ever seen. As the neighbour makes his way to the farm, the surrounding countryside is shrouded in an eerie and strangely coloured mist. Darkness reigns, and everything is dank and suffocating. This new alien landscape that surrounds the farm is particularly effective when compared to the opening scenes of the film, when the farm is awash with sunlight. The idea that this bizarre phenomena came from under the earth, when it itself is so unearthly, is effectively chilling and subtly taps into Lovecraft’s misanthropic views that our existence is much less significant than we believe it to be; we are but specks of dust freefalling through the cosmos often unaware of greater powers that seek to harm us. The place we inhabit in the universe is absolutely pathetic compared to some of the other things that lurk just out of sight - on the periphery of all things, biding their time. Watching. Waiting. Sometimes, just sometimes, they cross over into our realm, and as conveyed in this particular tale, the results are devastating.

Lovecraft once wrote ‘The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.’

Madness is a recurring theme throughout his work; various characters inhabiting his stories lose their sanity because they have acquired certain forbidden knowledge, or have just sneaked a mere glimpse at unspeakable things they have no comprehension of. This is all masterfully extolled in Colour From the Dark, which is perhaps one of the most faithful adaptations of any Lovecraft story.
The closing lines of the film: ‘It gets inside you. It sucks the life out’ actually reflect what the film itself does with its unrelenting moodiness, doomed hopelessness and utterly bleak denouement. Something that surely would have brought a wry smile to Lovecraft’s own pessimistic lips…

Sunday, 12 July 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Dario Argento to Remake Deep Red in 3D?

After the mixed, though generally quite positive reviews of Giallo, Argento looks like he is considering remaking what is widely regarded as one of his most acclaimed films: Deep Red. In 3D.

According to an article on Tiscali, Argento has announced plans of a remake inspired by the success of recent films such as 'My Bloody Valentine 3D.' It seems the director is keen to achieve the same experience with a remake of one of his most celebrated movies.
Although he's not entirely sure yet, he's trying to talk to various producers and film distributors about whether or not they might be willing to back the project...

No stranger to confounding the expectations of fans and critics, and always keen to experiment with new technology, Argento was the first filmmaker to utilize CGI in an Italian production, with his distressing and darkly beautiful film, The Stendhal Syndrome.

Needless to say Argento devotees will be watching the development of this proposal with baited breath...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Curse of the Crying Woman

Dir. Rafael Baledon

Amelia (Rosa Arenas – The Witch’s Mirror) and her husband Jaime are invited to stay with Amelia’s estranged Aunt Selma (Rita Macedo). The mansion Selma resides in has a creepy reputation amongst the locals and a number of grisly murders in the area enhance their suspicions of Selma’s dubious practices. Amelia eventually unveils dark secrets about her lineage, and even more disturbingly, the sinister intentions her Aunt harbours. Selma informs Amelia of their family’s turbulent past: Selma's mother was the Crying Woman, a witch who fraternised with the devil to obtain immortality. After a string of brutal murders, she was found guilty by the townspeople and killed. Amelia is the last descendant of the Crying Woman and Selma intends to resurrect the spirit of her mother so she can possess Amelia and continue her reign of terror.

The figure of La Llorona (The Crying Woman) has a rich and significant presence in Spanish folklore. Amongst her many titles she also goes by ‘The Woman in White’ and ‘The Weeping Woman.’ La Llorona is rather akin to the Irish Banshee in that her haunting wailings foretell death to all who encounter her, as she will inevitably lead them to a watery grave.

The origins of La Llorona have their roots in Mexico, and amongst the many accounts of her conception lurks the same central image of a woman wailing for her dead children. The basic story (and there are many variations) is that a beautiful young woman marries or is seduced by a man who either leaves her for another woman or flees because he resents his parental responsibilities. Rather than see her children grow up in poverty and squalor, she drowns them. Eventually driven insane by loss and the overwhelming guilt of her actions, she drowns herself, only to return to haunt the earth as a spectral wailing mother futilely searching for her children and drowning anyone unfortunate enough to encounter her.

La Llorona has been a popular figure in Mexican and Spanish horror cinema throughout the years. From 1933’s La Llorona to the more recent Haunted From Within (2005), Llorona the Wailer (2006) and Kilometre 31 (2006); this eerie and melancholy spectre has spooked audiences throughout the world for some time now. Perhaps one of the most effective films based on the premise of la Llorona, is Rafael Baledon’s The Curse of the Crying Woman.

Baledon was a sort of Mexican Roger Corman renowned for his prolific output and reputation for getting films finished on time and under budget. No stranger to horror (Baledon also directed The Hell of Frankenstein, The Man and the Monster and Swamp of the Lost Souls), The Curse of the Crying Woman was perhaps his most accomplished genre film and one that earned him a cult following.

The film opens with the murder of a coach-load of people travelling through a sinister mist-shrouded countryside at the hands of an eyeless banshee and her deformed henchman. The sight of the imposing and eyeless Selma with a group of Doberman dogs on leashes is incredibly striking and provides a significant nod to Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. Indeed, much of the film resembles the work of Bava, with its foreboding house, long cobwebbed corridors, dreamy lighting and special effects and its tale of a cursed family dabbling in witchcraft. Baledon can’t be accused of direct plagiarism though as he imbues his film with a bizarre Latino-Gothic atmosphere all of its own. The film overflows with imaginative and downright creepy imagery; particularly that of an eyeless Selma in full-on Crying Woman mode and the various spooky encounters with mirrors throughout the house as they reflect Amelia as a warped and eyeless old hag. Events unfold within the confines of the sprawling house and when they spill outdoors they unfurl in highly atmospheric, misty and downright oneiric sets. The special effects aren’t as artfully realised as the likes of, say, The Witch’s Mirror, but they still remain effective enough to ensure the film retains its creepy atmosphere and otherworldly ambience. A particularly mesmerising shot occurs when Amelia makes a bid to escape and runs out of the house into the surrounding countryside. As she fights the apparently hereditary will to do evil, the space around her swirls kaleidoscopically with images of unblinking eyes in an impressive exhibition of light and sound.

When Selma reveals her warped plans for Amelia the film becomes a somewhat more conventional affair as Amelia races against time to try and save herself and her husband from eternal damnation. Jaime proves to be one of the most ineffectual lugs ever committed to celluloid. When he is not patronising Amelia and accusing her of irrationality, he gets himself into all sorts of situations: whether it’s falling under the power of Selma, or tumbling from the bell-tower – he constantly relies on Amelia to come to his aid. He and Selma’s manservant feature in an exceptionally prolonged and really quite inept fight scene as the haunted mansion crumbles around them. He also has an unintentionally funny encounter with a very fake bat…
And then there is Selma’s deformed and raving mad husband locked up in the attic who gains a fair bit of sympathy despite rather bad make-up effects.

This film really belongs to Rosa Arenas and Rita Macedo though. Both play strong and resourceful women who will stop at nothing to achieve their heart’s desire. The men in their lives are either subservient or just powerless to intervene in the diabolical proceedings. Arenas, who was rather good as the hapless victim in The Witch’s Mirror, relishes playing the more active Amelia. As the evil Aunt Selma, Macedo is provocative and alluring; when she’s not looking incredibly creepy as the Crying Woman, she uses her feminine wiles to manipulate others to do her biding.

The Curse of the Crying Woman is an enjoyable piece of High Gothic cinema and a great introduction to Mexican Horror. While not as innovative or audacious as The Witch’s Mirror, it still retains an endearing charm and beguiling allure, and it works well with the latter as part of a winning double bill.