Friday, October 23, 2015

Halloween Havoc: DEMON HUNTER (1983), ALL OF THEM WITCHES (1996) & KM 31 (2006)


In a rural village Turrubiates (Rigoberto Carmona) kills the local witch-doctor Tobias (Jose Tablas) with a 2x4 after his baby is stillborn. Rumors start spreading around the village that Tobias, being a practitioner of magic, is not going to stay dead and that he will be coming after Turrubiates for revenge. After Turrubiates tries to kill his corpse with a silver crucifix dagger, Tobias' corpse kills him and now he is pissed off at the rest of the village for turning a blind eye to the fact that Turrubiates beat an old man to death with a board. Tobias transforms himself into a wolfman - sorry, a nahual and proceeds to paint the village red. Unfortunately, mostly all we see is people screaming with blood on their faces. Even worse, we only really get a good look at the wolfman in the last 10 minutes of the film. Not that it's a total deal-breaker for the movie, but the movie really could use some monster action interspersed throughout.

A nahual (not to be confused with the Aztec language nahuatl), in case you aren't up on your native American folklore, is a man who is able to transform into a jaguar or puma, or in this case a wolf/man hybrid ala Universal's THE WOLF MAN (1941).  This sort of hybrid classic horror mixed with Mesoamerican mythology may not be anywhere near perfectly presented here, but it is a really cool concept, in spite of the film's many flaws. Did I mention it has flaws? The first hour of the film is pretty much action free, though we do get some interesting characters such as the fire and brimstone, asshole priest that turns out to be a hero by melting down the church's silver chalice into bullets, and a few atmospheric moments, once we get into the final act. If they had just spaced out some appearances of the nahaul, before the final act, the film would have been more than a minor classic.

Brought to us by long-time low-rent writer-director Gilberto de Anda, this is one of those titles that you could find in almost literally every Mexican video store back in the late '80s / early '90s. I may be viewing it with rose tinted glasses, but in spite of the fact that we don't even get an old school stop-motion, progressive transformation sequence, it still has some charm and the final wolfman costume is actually surprisingly good for such a low budget film.

Even Mexican exploitation super-star Valentín Trujillo wants a piece of the nahual.


In recent years (by which I mean the '90s and '00s because I'm old), Spanish cinema suddenly re-commandeered the horror-thriller crown that it wore so well in the '70s. Soon we had the likes of Jaume Balaguero and Juanma Bajo Ulloa creating films that were not only gripping with fear and dripping with dread, but also beautifully photographed. Like so many other countries that have a had brief runs of groundbreaking films (I'm looking at you Korea), soon things slipped from cutting edge to commercial and the bubble burst. As far as I can tell, Mexico has not had a bubble, per se, but a well paced evolution of cinema.
A young woman, Dolores (Susana Zabaleta) suffers a mental breakdown after her friend is murdered at her door. Her rather unsympathetic husband, Andres (Alejandro Tommasi), feels that the best course of action is for her to stay locked in their apartment 24/7 except for visits to her blandly disconnected shrink (Ricardo Blume). An envelope full of dirt, cryptic messages, scraps of notes hidden in books; a progression of stranger and stranger events that has Dolores realizing that it's not just her sanity that is in danger.

Director Daniel Gruener and writer Gabriel González Meléndez's psychological horror film, originally rather blandly titled SUPERNATURAL and coupled with an uninspired '90s poster, is definitely doing the art-house horror thing. Filled with surreal touches and beautifully composed shots, the film eschews the visceral aspect of the story and focuses on the bizarre origami plot and the mounting horror of the lead character who begins the film thinking she has seen the worst. I can't give out spoilers, because if this sounds like your kind of movie, it is best watched cold. The movie tips the hat to Dario Argento in several spots and makes a reference, if you haven't already caught it, to ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), but doesn't actually lift anything from any of those films, which makes it a nice change of pace from the allegedly "homage" filled genre films we've been getting 20 years later.

The film features all of the engrossing art direction and finely honed performances of the Spanish horror-thrillers of the era, but with less of an emphasis on perverse cruelty that the Spanish are so good at. Better still Zabaleta's acting carries the film from it's Bunel-ish opening to it's EC comics-ish twist ending.

KM 31 (2006)

Just in case you think that the praise is getting a bit too effusive in my mess o' Mexican movies, I bring you this overbearing, cookie cutter horror film made right squarely in the middle of the mess of Hollywood remakes of Japanese ghost movies. KM 31 (which stands for "Kilometer 31", or "Mile Marker 31" in American talk), nails down every single, gruelingly annoying cliche, twice removed from the films that made waves across oceans in the late '90s.

After her sister is in a horrible accident at KM 31 a plucky 20-something, Catalina (Iliana Fox), starts hearing her sister's voice in her head, in spite of the fact that the sister, Agata (also Iliana Fox), is in a coma and missing her legs. Compelled to go to the site of the accident with her almost-boyfriend Nuno (Adrià Collado) and Agata's boyfriend Omar (Raúl Méndez), they start experiencing the usual checklist of horror trappings that are still scaring impressionable teens here in 2015.

Shakey Cam? Check.
Washed out colors? Check.
Lots of weepy, emotional scenes? Check
Creepy children with black eyes? Check.
A character who shockingly turns out to be a ghost? Check.
A creepy old lady who knows all the answers? Check.
Screaming CGI ghosts with rotting faces? Check.
A gruff, but well meaning cop who is apparently so not busy with police work that he dedicates all of his time to investigating the numerous deaths at KM 31 and totally believes in ghosts? Why yes, of course. Check.

Young, hip director Rigoberto Castañeda, when not posing for photo-shoots, has made a small, spotty career out of delivering derivative, banal drivel wrapped up in a slick and glossy looking package. His break-out movie is the US produced thriller BLACKOUT (2008), which is probably the most derivative and banal titles you could possibly use post turn of the century. His latest film after working in Mexican TV dramas is, wait for it, a sequel to KM 31, titled KM 31: NO RETURN (2015), which pretty much describes my feelings for KM 31. I won't be going back.

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