Alucarda (1978) is a very unusual Mexican Independent film from director Juan López Moctezuma that is made somewhat in the Italian/Spanish horror tradition, but yet very much his own. It has variously been known as Innocents from Hell, Mark of the Devil, Sisters of Satan and Alucarda, la hija de las tinieblas. Moctezuma realized that this non-union production, with nudity and anti-church elements had little or no chance of a decent release in Mexico, shot it in English.
As the film opens, a dying woman gives birth to Alucarda, and sends her to be raised in a convent. Cut to 16 years in the future, when Justine, after the death of her parents, is sent to live in the same convent/orphanage, and ends up with Alucarda as a roommate. The two become great friends, and are inseparable. One day while they are out wandering, they encounter a gypsy hunchback and a female fortune teller, but are frightened by them, then enter a tomb, and become scared. Later, the hunchback appears in their room, and performs a ritual if blood binding Justine to Alucarda, then both to him. Later, they join a devil and his followers in an orgy.
They fall afoul of the nuns and the priest when they spout Satanic worship in class. The film is full of unusual imagery and unique scenes. For instance, the nuns' habits look more like a mummy, the sets look more organic than something built by man, and, in possibly the strangest scene, Justine is found naked in a coffin of boiling blood, and climbs out, although she was dead. They kill her with holy water, but not before she bites the throat out of the nun that liked her most. Both Tuna Romero as Alucarda and Susana Kamini as Justine show everything in several scenes, including some lesbian action. Several unknowns, both male and female, also show full frontal in the Satanic orgy scene.
IMDB readers have this at 5.8 of 10. There are no major reviews, and the specialty sites that have reviewed it did it out of a labor of love. IMDB comments are mainly positive. The pace is slow, and the plot a little hard to follow, but the imagery is very unusual, there is plenty of blood, and great nudity. This is a must see for genre fans, the DVD transfer is fair, and there are several interviews also on the DVD. C+
Dustin Hoffman and Susan George play a husband and
wife. Hoffman is a Casper Milquetoast mathematician from America,
George is his simple wife from a working class family in a small
town in rural England. They return to George's childhood home to
allow Hoffman solitude and time to work on a new theory. George is
soon bored by her life. Every time she asks for her husband's
company, he is too busy and tells her to entertain herself. Soon
they are engaged in a battle of wills. George goes into his work
area and changes some of his mathematical formulas. Hoffman berates
her and condescends to her.
escalates. George is upset with Hoffman for not having the guts to
stand up to the local thugs who are working on their garage. One of
those thugs is George's girlhood boyfriend. Hoffman is filled with
wimpy responses that imply George is creating her own problems by
not wearing a bra. George is so incensed that she resolves to strike
back at her husband, and parades around an open window topless, in
full view of her ex boyfriend and the other perennially drunken
The workers are inflamed
by the site of George staring at them in her naked glory. They
concoct a plan to take Hoffman on a "snipe hunt" one day, so that
the ex-boyfriend can sneak into the house and get the woman alone.
The former boyfriend has sex with her, then another local rapes her
violently, with the boyfriend's co-operation. George never tells
Hoffman about the rapes.
Not much later, Hoffman happens to run over a
mentally incompetent local, so he takes the wounded man home with
him and George. The mental incompetent has been linked to a missing
local girl, so the girl's father and a group of local thugs,
essentially the same guys who have been working on the garage,
besiege Hoffman's home, demanding that the wounded man be turned
over to them. Hoffman refuses. George disagrees with his refusal.
She doesn't want the dangerous man in her home, she doesn't want her
house destroyed by the drunken lunatics, and maybe she'd rather be
with her ex-boyfriend than with Dustin Hoffman.
The final act is played out as the drunks try to
break in, the murderer creates havoc within, Hoffman tries to defend
himself and his home, and George demonstrates conflicting loyalties.
There is lots of violence and crazy behavior from the drunken louts.
complained because George was raped and seemed to enjoy it. I'm not
sure that criticism is valid. She had sex with two of the local
guys. The first one was not rape, and she did enjoy it. The second
one was rape, and she hated it.
at them one at a time. The first "rape" was with her ex-boyfriend,
Charlie. Was it rape? Here are the facts.
- She stood in front of the window naked, so he
could see her. She stared at him while she was standing there.
- She showed her body to the ex-boyfriend because
she was mad at her husband.
- When the boyfriend came to the door, he asked
if he should leave. She asked him to come in, and offered him a
- As he was undressing her, she did say "no" a
few times. She also kissed him, and stroked his face gently, and
made sounds of pleasure.
- She never told her husband about the incident.
- Later, during the siege and after the "rape",
as she was being attacked by another guy, instead of calling for
her husband for help, she called out for Charlie.
Obviously, she was provoking a sex act with
Charlie as an act of revenge upon her husband because Dustin
continually ignored her and condescended to her. She offered only
token resistance as a matter of balm for her conscience.
The second "rape" was the other worker, Charlie's
colleague. In this case, George did not want him there, and she was
clearly raped brutally. Just as clearly, she derived no pleasure
from this act, and was not a willing participant in any fashion. She
was further humiliated because Charlie held her down while the other
man violated her.
According to Gordon Williams, the author of the
novel, "The Siege of Trencher's Farm":
"The rape scene was included
because Peckinpah 'liked to abuse women in his films. He was a bit
mad really. But there was no sex in the book at all -- I can't write
sex scenes like that, I'm always mindful of my mother reading them.
My mother had even organised a church social group to go and see the
film -- she was just so pleased I'd written a book with no effing
and blinding in it. But they all loved it!"
is the complete recent (Feb 20, 2003) interview with Williams.
To me, the film is most interesting for its moral
ambiguity, its ability to prompt debate which continues to this day.
People still debate the "rape" sequence, as I just did above. They
debate whether Hoffman should have risked his life and the life of his
wife for a retarded murderer. They debate whether Hoffman's character
is the hero of the film or the villain, whether he was trying to avoid
violence or to provoke it. The film must have something special going
for it, because people still argue about it 30 years later. That seems
to prove that the film engages the brain, and there is no denying the
visceral thrill of the last third.
Is it a good movie? Maybe not as good as people
say, but the last 25 minutes should keep you biting your nails, as
the powerful, drunken, armed men keep trying to enter the house, the
unarmed Hoffman tries to defend himself, and the wife seems to be an
And I love the ending.
After he has defended his house, Hoffman is triumphant,
but also defeated. He was fighting with Charlie downstairs while his
wife was being assaulted upstairs. His wife called out for help not
from him, but from the man he was fighting! After the ordeal,
realizing that his marriage is finished, Hoffman offers the retarded
guy a ride home. As they drive through the rural countryside, the
lummox says "I don't know my way home." Hoffman thinks about this, and
starts laughing. "Neither do I", he responds, and they drive off into
In the past, I have nattered on interminably about
actors who were "born" or "destined" to play certain roles.
Katharine Hepburn was descended from both sides of Eleanor of
Aquitaine's family, French and English. When she was cast as her
remote ancestor in The Lion in Winter, Hepburn was exactly the same
age that Eleanor was supposed to be. The voice of fate doesn't get
any more specific than that.
Other good examples include Greg Kinnear ("the
hardest-smirking man in show business") as his spiritual ancestor,
the paterfamilias of the smirking clan, Bob Crane. And then there's
Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, for other reasons which I really don't
want to think about.
Add another one
to the list. Crispin Hellion Glover, the oddest character actor in
Hollywood, a man who makes Christopher Walken seem as white bread
normal as Tom Hanks, was born to play Willard, a socially awkward
man who has a special relationship with rats. In 1989, the supremely
eccentric actor recorded an album called "The Big Problem?". Pat
Reeder, the supreme expert on eccentric albums, wrote the
following in his hilarious "Hollywood Hi-Fi":
Large portions consist of Glover reading excerpts
from Rat Catching, a dreary 19th century book he republished after
altering passages at random and adding his own bizarre illustrations
of dead rats.
Mind you, this was an album Glover released in
1989, more than a decade before he was cast as rat-obsessed Willard.
You think DeNiro researched his role in Raging Bull? Glover has been
researching this role ... well, maybe all his life.
In addition to weird CD's and books, Glover now
makes his own weird films as well. "What Is It?" stars, and was
written, produced, and directed by Mr. Glover, and is enigmatically
described by Glover himself as "being the
adventure of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt,
a pipe, and how to get home...as told through the eye of an
hubristic, racist, monarchy..." As Pat
Reeder wrote in Hollywood Hi-Fi, "If there is a thin line between
genius and insanity, Crispin Glover completely erases it."
His personality has more irregularities than Dick
Cheney's EKG. Glover may indeed be insane if one accepts the
definition of that word as "completely out of touch with reality". How nuts is
he? I'll let Time Magazine pick up the
ball on that one:
And his immersion in character, he
says, explains his reclusiveness on the Willard set, his darkened
trailer and the way that before his first rat scene, after much
discussion with his director on how to handle it, he screamed, "I
didn't expect there to be any rats!"
He took the lead in Willard, but he didn't expect
there would be any rats.
We have to credit director Glen Morgan for perhaps
the best stroke of casting genius since Sir Tony Hopkins was hired
to play Hannibal Lecter. Morgan actively pursued Crispin
although some Hollywood types told the fledgling director not to
hire the offbeat actor. It worked out fine. After you see Glover in
the part, you'll swear he wasn't acting at all and, says Morgan:
Crispin was wonderful to work with. I
had been subjected to all the rumors before shooting. High powered
people told me we would never get the movie done because he's so
crazy. He is… different… but I like him a great deal. He certainly
knows his cinema. It's a good thing I am versed in Kubrick and
foreign films or he would have run circles around me. Yes, I had
heard his CD. His cover of "Those Boots are Made for Walking" is a
work of genius. He sings "Ben" over the end credits of "Willard."
And he directed the music video that can be found on the
Aside from the universally acknowledged offbeat
genius of Glover, opinions about this movie were strongly polarized.
- Film Threat gave it a rare 5/5, it received
better than 60% positive reviews, and it is rated a solid,
near-classic 6.8 at IMDb. Dark genre films, and this is one of the
darkest, don't get up too much higher than that in the IMDb
- On the other hand, the box office has been
limp, and the CinemaScore exit interviews were poor. (F's from
people under 21 and over 34).
What is the explanation for the wide range of
reactions? Why did it bomb so badly at the box office if the critics
liked it? Don't audiences often like genre pictures better than
critics do? Why were the audience "exit scores" so unfavorable?
The last question is the easiest. CinemaScore
measures the reactions of people relative to their expectations. If
you go to Willard expecting a tone like "Scream", you will be in for
a grave disappointment. Expect a tone more like "A Touch of Evil",
or the last two thirds of "Blue Velvet", invariably ominous and
dripping with malice. Expect to see an old woman deformed by age and
decrepitude, a cat beset by an army of rats, Glover's nose dripping
with snot when he cries. Don't expect any light moments, hope, or
The set design reinforces the ugliness of the tone.
It looks like what the world might look like today if Charles
Dickens had been sane. Think about the world of Tim Burton's films
or The City of Lost Children. Willard occupies a Dickensian
nightmare of an office, decrepit and old-fashioned, with rusting
cage-style elevators. Willard's boss is an overbearing ogre who
berates Willard and everyone else in public, as if he were a drill
sergeant with a platoon. (Not coincidentally, the role is played by
the guy who played the vicious drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket).
Willard's home is no more inviting, a paneled, underlit Edwardian
with squeaky iron gates and barred windows, cobwebbed and crawling
with rats, covered with rat shit, dominated by a mother who seems to
have lived 120 years, during the last 100 of which she has gone
unbathed. Those two locations represent the entire Willard universe.
There is no place where Willard or the audience can go for
sanctuary. To borrow a term, there is no clean, well-lighted place.
This is actually quite a good movie if you view it
objectively. Critics look for whether a film is good or not, so many
of them praised it, and justly so. Willard is clever, consistent in
tone, dripping with atmosphere, and totally creepy. It is
unrelentingly intense, sometimes disgusting, and sometimes blackly
funny. (Products seen on screen included Tora Bora Rat Poison, Numm
Nuts, and Amish Oats).
I left the film feeling creeped-out and a bit
nauseated, and I didn't want to walk down any dark, empty corridors.
That indicates that the film was quite effective, and I suppose that
is exactly the effect that the director intended to produce. He
succeeded, but perhaps there aren't that many people who crave that
particular movie-going experience. Audiences don't care much about
the genius of filmmaking. They only care about their visceral
response to the final product. There is nothing wrong with the film
at all. Many people loved it, but it is a niche film, and its bleak
vision simply didn't appeal to a large enough niche. Simple as that.
Laura Harring (the dark-haired beauty from Mulholland
Drive) was in this film as a co-worker who was sympathetic to Willard,
and somewhat attracted to his awkward sensitivity.
I think I may be related to Laura Harring. It's a long
story, but when I was in Norway I was fascinated by the Norwegian
obsession with herring. I mean they eat it for breakfast the way
Americans eat eggs. They eat it in vinegar, in mustard, in tomato
sauce, in curry, in so many different forms that
seems to be ubiquitous, like their version of ketchup. I
think each Norwegian carries it around in his ryggsekk. When they go
to the ballpark to watch their favorite soccer team, they don't buy
French fries. Instead they just quietly reach into their backpacks for
some cheese, some knekkebrřd (those extra dry and crispy crackers they
eat), some herring, and maybe a good, depressing book. Anyway, I made
so many herring jokes that the locals called me Sildekongen. Literally
meaning "the king of herring", the Sildekongen is a character in a
Scandinavian fairy tale. I was, for my brief stay in Scandinavia, the
I've pointed it out before, but
in case you missed it, Laura Harring's birth name is Laura Herring.
She was married to Count von Bismarck. She is, therefore, the
Countess von Bismarck Herring.
The Countess of Herring, the King of
Herring ... can it just be a coincidence? Actually, she may be from a
different royal family of food fish. She is the Countess of Bismarck
Herring, and I think I am actually the King of Maatjes Herring. And
maybe Numm Nuts.
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