Of all of the horror genres, Malevolent Dark possesses a particular taste in fine 70’s Satanic films. Many of these films such as, The Devil’s Rain, The Devil Rides Out and To The Devil a Daughter hold a special place in the the annals of horror history. Somehow, a little known classic called Alucarda managed to slip through Malevolent Dark’s radar for decades. Thanks to the wonders of social media, and the great people that share their knowledge on platforms like Twitter, we caught wind of this little gem. Alucarda offers a fantastically visual journey through the evils of witchcraft and devil worship.
South of Heaven, South of the Border
Juan López Moctezuma, a Mexican film maker, directed Alucarda. Mexico is not overtly famous for horror cinema. Apart from a few select entries from Guillermo del Toro and Robert Rodriguez, not many Mexican horror films come to mind. It may be the relative obscurity of Mexican horror films that make Alucarda so unique. It possesses a certain style as if made from a much different cinematic point of view. Moctezuma favors a visual style over a strict narrative format. In fact, from a pure plot perspective, this film offers nothing especially unique. However, this hardly detracts from the overall impact of Moctezuma’s film.
Ordained for Evil
Moctezuma begins his film with the birth of a daughter who is to be named Alucarda. Fearful that the devil will come for her daughter, Lucy Westernas (Tina Romero) enlists the help gypsies to secret her away to a convent where she hopes that she will find protection from evil. Shortly after, Lucy dies from complications from child birth.
Flashing forward, an adolescent orphan named Justine (Susana Kamini) is dropped off at the very same convent. Immediately, Justine forges a bond with young woman named Alucarda (also Tina Romero). Their adventures lead them to an old castle in the woods. There, they find a crypt and unwittingly disturb the grave of Alucarda’s mother, Lucy. At that moment, the forces of evil overtake them. Thus begins the duo’s descent into demonic possession.
Tina Romero puts forth a tremendous performance as the lead. She carries a certain charm of innocence but switches effortlessly into projecting evil barbs from her eyes. She possesses a sexual aura that at times feels warm and at other times exudes a Manson-girl sexuality. She can switch from evoking sympathy to sowing destruction in the span of seconds. Susana Kamini’s portrayal of Justine offers a much more innocent and pure role. She willfully gets involved with Alucarda and eventually pays a heavy price for the relationship.
As the accusations of witchcraft come into the convent, both women are put on a tribunal. in a tragic mistake, the clergy kills Justine during the process. In response, Alucarda channels the powers of evil to exact a decisive revenge.
Dark Politics and Pagan Rituals
Moctezuma’s film embodies an ambitious work of modern art. Moctezuma tells a tale about witchcraft and sorcery, but under the covers lies so much more. The obvious undercurrent to the film concerns the evocation of evil. Not the evil of witches and devils, but the evils of the Catholic Church. Moctezuma’s criticism of the Catholic patriarchy becomes evident as evil men torture the nude body of Justine as they bleed her dry.
Still, a layer deeper Moctezuma tells a more abstract story. A structured and patriarchal society abhors the sexual freedom of women. As with many films of its kind, the power of the coven is channeled through the fully nude, dancing bodies of its members. The feminine sexual energy exuded by both female leads as they brushes with lesbian tendencies juxtaposes against a dearth asexual nuns bound in rags. More than devils, the church fears the power that these women wield through their sexual prowess.
By leveraging the character of Dr. Oszek (Claudio Brook), Moctezuma also makes the case that science and the modern world will soon replace the barbaric practices of the old. However, reality shows that these antiquated practices defy the advances of science, even today.
Primitive, Yet Fantastic
Alucarda clearly enjoys a much smaller budget than Ken Russel’s The Devils (1971) or even Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971); however Moctezuma refuses to use that as an excuse for mediocrity. Arguably, it’s Moctezuma’s lack of a big budget that allows him to prosper. The film carries a gritty honesty that burrows onto the viewers attention. Some of the sets are comically contrived, while others are fantastic. Regardless of the trappings, but artful direction on-screen remains strong. The special effects manage to pack a visceral punch, even while revealing their meager means of production.
Xavier Cruz takes credit for the films cinematography. Craftily, he uses subtle technics to keep the action interesting. He uses a variety of zooming techniques and employs interesting angles of attack in his shots. His style is distinctly Not-Hollywood, but compelling nonetheless.
Moctezuma also uses Tina Romero and Claudio Brook in a dual roles. Romero plays Lucy Westerna, conspicuously named after The Count’s victim in Bram Stokers Dracula. Claudio Brook also plays a hunchbacked gypsy that represents the mystical mysteries of the old world. At first glance this seems like a money saving device double up roles. Further inspection suggests that this technique actually reflects the duality of man. Much like this technique’s application in The Wizard of Oz, Claudio Brooks represents both the old guard as the hunchback, but also the ascending world of science and sophistication as Dr. Oszek.
An Ending Fit for a King
Alucarda packs a finale that would make Stephen King’s Carrie green with envy. Igniting the nuns, monks and anyone that stands in her way, the films namesake torches people by simply invoking the names of demons. She continues this reign of destruction until she finally crumbles to dust on the floor. This scene perfectly exemplifies the power of Alucarda as a dramatic film. The combination of the questionable set-pieces and the primitive effects could could fizzle into pure comedy if not for the fantastic direction of Moctezuma. Somehow, he creates a torrential fervor that has the audience laughing, but not in pity… pure entertainment.
Alucarda –Fantastic In So Many Ways
As horror veterans, it feels somewhat shameful that this decades old masterpiece evaded Malevolent Dark’s radar. We would like to give another shout out to the Internet, specifically horror writer @alexvorkov for turning us onto this one. Alucarda provides a fantastic example of what can be done with meager means and a vivid imagination. Much like the low-budget films Evil Dead (1981) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) the gritty underproduced patina adds a striking allure of the film. This results in a brutally honest film that easily shrugs off any perceived limitations in its production value.
Malevolent Dark considers Alucarda to be a shining example of competent low-budget film making. It’s a must see for anyone expanding their horror journey into the realm of international horror. It will find a comfortable fit in any collection exploring the Satanic Panic sub-genre of horror films.