Wednesday, 31 October 2007

A HALLOWEEN HORROR

Happy Halloween to everyone out there. Time for a spot of movie viewing now, so I'll sign off with this review of a Mexican chiller. Have a good one!



SPIRITISM Benito Alazraki 1961

Nora Veryan, Louis Fernandez, Diana Ochoa, Rene Cardona jnr

A middle class dinner party takes a turn for the worse when Louis and Mary Howard (Veryan and Fernandez) take part in a seance. Their host, medium Elvira (Ochoa), warns the couple that April 8th will mark the beginning of a tragic period in their lives, and goes on to mention an encounter with inhuman creatures wielding extraordinary powers. The date in question happens to be their 20th wedding anniversary and at the end of an evening of celebration, their son, Rodolpho (Cardona jnr), asks for a loan of $4,000 to finance a new business venture. Sure enough, the first tragedy occurs soon after, eventually prompting the initially sceptical Mary to attempt to hold her family together by doing business with the ultimate loan shark.By the time we reach the one hour mark, Spiritism may come across as an overly-talkative piece that only moves on to crowd-pleasing familiar territory during the final act, which is based on W.W. Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw". This viewpoint, while understandable in some respects, actually does the film a great disservice, as this is really a quality drama about a family falling apart at the seams. Amongst a cast of performers who often leave a lot to be desired, it's Norma Veyran who takes centre stage, wringing every ounce of emotion from her role of concerned wife and increasingly desperate mother.The second seance is probably the main source of ammunition for critics of this film: it's a lengthy scene where Mary - now a commited believer following a wonderfully eerie vision on hallowed ground - attempts to halt the spectre of doom that threatens her family. The troubled abode of Elvira again plays host to a communication with the dead, beginning with some expanded theories regarding the dear departed, and moving to a shattering climax with an unquiet spirit who does not realise she's dead. Perhaps this scene is a little dialogue-heavy, but subsequent viewings may well reveal the script to be less ponderous than first impressions suggest. The only other gripe concerns some terminally dodgy less-than special effects, which suggest a two-way split between paucity of budget and lack of imagination; chief offenders being scare-free apparitions and a botched stand-off between Christ and Satan, though one has to at least applaud the audacious concept of the latter.Overall, Spiritism is a successful portrait of a family afflicted by the spectre of bad luck, and it's ill-advised attempts to use unconventional means as a way of stopping the rot. Jealousy, lifelong friendships put under intolerable strain, the pain of losing loved ones and the very real fear of growing old and dying poor will doubtless strike a chord with many viewers, while the last 20 minutes deliver the goods for anyone with a spine demanding to be chilled.The English dubbed version of Spiritism (directed in 1965 by Manuel San Fernando) was another K. Gordon Murray pick-up, and part of Beverley Wilshire's Mexican horror collection on DVD. Although B.W. were forced to cease trading, their back catalogue of Mexican magic can easily be acquired via ebay, and Spiritism is close to being the cream of the crop. As usual, B.W's disc reveals instances of scratches, splices and poor contrasts but the image is tolerable, and should not detract too much from your enjoyment.

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