Monday, July 9, 2007

Saturday night I went to a friend’s house for an evening of subtitled foreign film entertainment. We have a friend who does not like to watch subtitled films, so with him out of town, we took the opportunity to watch not one, not two but three foreign films. Now when you think foreign films there is the immediate stereotype of gloomy, pretentious art films. Not for us that evening.

First up was an early black and white Brigitte Bardot movie from 1952 called “The Girl in the Bikini.” (BTW, that is one of the greatest titles ever.) BB was only 18 when she made this movie, and is living proof that there is a God.

The first 40 minutes are pretty routine, having do with a treasure hunt off the Corsican coast, but after the 40-minute mark BB appears wearing, yes, a bikini, and stays pretty much in costume for the remainder of the story, thus making this one of the greatest movies ever made.

Rating for the first 40 minutes of “The Girl in the Bikini”: Two stars.
Rating for the last 45 minutes of “The Girl in the Bikini”: Four stars

Viva la France!

Next up was “The Night of the Werewolf” (1980) starring Spanish horror star Paul Naschy. Naschy was a huge horror star in Europe in the 1970s but his films did not receive a lot of distribution in the United States. Thanks to DVD, I’ve been able to catch up on a few of the Naschy horror flicks and they’re pretty good. This one features his werewolf character Waldemar Daninsky, of which he’s essayed the role at least a dozen times. The story is rife with all the horror clichés, but it’s a Gothic horror barn burner in the best tradition: there’s a werewolf, vampire women, zombies, a castle in a deserted countryside, witches, blood sacrifices, superstitious peasants, etc. Naschy’s werewolf make up is exceptionally well done and there’s a scene where two pale, gaunt, creepy-looking vampire women enter a room accompanied by fog and eerie lighting that is a pleasure to watch. It was a lot of fun and I look forward to seeing more Naschy films.

Rating for “The Night of the Werewolf”” Three stars.

Finally there was “The Aztec Mummy” (1957), the weakest of the evening’s offerings. I’m very fond of 1950s and 1960s Mexican horror films, but this one was pretty weak. The climatic scenes are very dark and it is hard to see what is happening. I believe there were censorship issues at work which caused the film’s producers to intentionally darken the scenes.

The story is a basic retread of those Universal Egyptian mummy movies of the 1940s, where a 20th century woman learns she is the reincarnation of a princess in ancient times, which causes you know who to waken from a centuries-long slumber.

What’s interesting about the Mexican horror films from a cultural perspective is their strong emphasis on Catholic religion, icons and themes. In “The Aztec Mummy” the mummy is repelled by the cross. Catholic iconography is so strong in countries like Mexico that it becomes a key ingredient of their horror films.

Also in the DVD set are the other two films in the series, “The Curse of the Aztec Mummy” and “The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy”. By the time the third film came around, censorship restrictions had lifted and in the flashback scenes to the first film we can finally see what is occurring in those climatic scenes.

A later film “Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy” does not follow the plot line of the three movies and is unrelated, except, of course, for the mummy.

Rating for “The Aztec Mummy”: Two stars.

For better examples of Mexican horror films, check out the beautifully restored titles on the CasaNegra label, such as “The Black Pit of Dr. M”, “The Curse of the Crying Woman”, “The Man and the Monster” and my personal favorite the delirious “The Witch’s Mirror.”

And then there’s the most infamous of all - “The Brainiac” - with its unforgettable brain eating monster with a forked tongue used to suck the brains out of his unwilling victims. I think they went to the dollar store to buy that fake tongue just before the cameras rolled.

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