Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Halloween Havoc: MUSEUM OF HORROR (1964)

Have you ever sat down and looked at a pile of videos and thought "I'm in the mood for something that smashes House of Hammer, Mario Bava and Edgar Wallace into a HOUSE OF WAX (1953) sandwich"? You have? Well brother, do I have a movie for you!

The sad thing about Mexican cinema is that it rarely travels to this side of the border. Most of the stuff that makes it past the guards are impoverished, mono-linguistic, and willing to do things that Americans don't. Rough and tumble types, usually with cowboy hats, guns and a blue collar work ethic. Tortured metaphors aside, the majority of Mexican cinema in the US are Spanish language shot-on-video action movies. Back in the '80s and early '90s you could find a whole lot more, but again, only in Spanish and you had to go to a (gasp) Mexican video store. Of course, if extreme right takes the White House, I will undoubtedly be arrested for owning a VHS tape of NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1969), one of the few films that was imported back in the '70s, slapped with a crappy dub job and released in a big box on VHS years later. Most of the films given that treatment were like so many horror imports, dubbed, edited and released for kiddie consumption. Remember those days when kids were allowed to watch movies in the theater that didn't have a Disney princess in them?

Because most of the Mexican cinema imported into the states was camp fare such as the ever popular WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964), the true gems of Mexican horror cinema were unjustly overlooked. Several years back we had a burst of Mexican horror being released on DVD with subtitles bringing us classics such as GRAVE ROBBERS (1990) and the stunningly atmospheric CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1963), but they were sadly a flash in the pan.

CRYING WOMAN director Rafael Baledon, like many, if not all Mexican directors, made movies in a wide variety of genres, but his horror films are the real stand-outs in his career. A year after CRYING WOMAN, he followed up his success with the excellent HOUSE OF WAX inspired MUSEUM OF HORROR.

Set in the fog-shrouded coble-stone streets of Victorian-era Mexico, a man with a severely disfigured face, dressed in a black cape and broad-brimmed hat kidnaps a woman and takes her to his subterranean laboratory hidden in the local cemetery. Once through a secret passage way, he injects her with a sedative, pulls over a giant pot and completely drenches her in boiling goo. This not only kills her, but ruins her immaculate '60s hairdo. See? I told you it was like Hammer.

As it turns out, this is the third girl to "disappear" off of the streets and of course the police are baffled. The presumed crimes are all taking place in a specific section of town which has a boarding house populated by likely suspects. There is Professor Abramov (the venerable Carlos Lopez Moctezuma), who enjoys taxidermy and does not enjoy women; then we have Dr. Raul (Julio Aleman), who is conducting experiments on fresh cadavers when he is not working at the hospital; and then there is Louis (Joaquin Cordero), an ex-actor who was forced to give up the lime-light and open a museum to showcase his passion of creating historical female figures in wax.

We also have Ms. Marta (Patricia Conde), the pretty daughter of the owner of the house (the also venerable Emma Roldán), who is the object of Dr. Raul's affection. In spite of the fact that Raul insists that they were meant for each other because they knew each other since childhood, Marta starts falling for the tortured soul Louis. Ain't that always the way? Girls have to go after the guy who is going down fast and taking everyone with him. Of course, Raul is so clenched with jealous anger, that you can hardly blame her for keeping her distance. It isn't long before the hot wax maniac (a movie that I would love to see made, by the way) has got his one good eye on Marta.

In addition to all of the above, we get two songs sung by one of the maniacs future victims in what is apparently the only nightclub in town. I have come to that conclusion because everybody who is in the film goes to that nightclub every night. Still, it is a small price to pay for such a atmosphere drenched gothic production.

As it is, it is only on the Latin-American On Screen Cine Involidable label, which has a nice collection of classic Mexican horror films, but have no subtitles and look like old VHS bootleg prints taken from heavily worn film reels. It's more the pity as not only does Baledon lay on the darkness and fog with a shovel, but he takes the time to set up some truly beautiful shots using back-lighting, oblique angles and split focus.

If there is a underdog in the world of horror films, it is unquestionably Mexico. Even Thailand gets more press, and their horror movies pretty much suck. If this were an Italian horror film, it would be cleaned up and released on DVD and blu-ray with audio commentary by some pretentious, egocentric asshole. Until that day arrives, if ever, these releases will have to do, and if you are like me and grew up with monster movies on late night television, there's almost something nostalgic about watching them in cruddy quality. Oh hell, now I'm starting to sound like a hipster.

1 Reactions:

  1. "If this were an Italian horror film, it would be cleaned up and released on DVD and blu-ray with audio commentary by some pretentious, egocentric asshole."

    Best line in a review ever!


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