February & March at The Movie Morlocks

eastwoodvcI’ve been neglecting Cinebeats again. Having a hard time getting back into the swing of things around here and other endeavors are keeping me from the blog. But I thought I’d finally update with a quick list of some highlights from my February & Mach contributions to TCM’s Movie Morlocks. You can read all the articles by following the links below.

Wanna Rumble?
Excerpt: “I usually go out of my way to avoid ruffling the feathers of my fellow film fanatics but there are plenty of things that get me riled up on a monthly basis. Sometimes a girl’s just got to let off a little steam . . .”
Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of TCM with a free screening of CASABLANCA
Excerpt: “What fires up my imagination (about CASABLANCA) are the peripheral characters that linger around the film’s rough edges. The shady rogues, crooked cops, war criminals and usual suspects are the glue that holds this movie together for me.”
Play it Again, Morricone: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965)
Excerpt: “While Leone’s camera lovingly lingers on dust covered streets, decaying buildings, weather worn leather boots, gleaming gun barrels and the expressive faces of the actors that make up his cast, Morricone breathes life into them through his music and sound design. Together they’re one of cinemas most extraordinary and ingenious duos and it’s become impossible to think of one man without acknowledging the talents of the other.”
Unfinished Films: Where Can I Buy My Ticket?
Excerpt: “Jodorowsky’s story isn’t uncommon and there are thousands of forgotten unmade movies that we’ll never get the opportunity to see although they may not have had the same ambition or scope as the long lost DUNE. With this in mind I decided to compile a list of some particularly intriguing film projects that never made it to the big screen. These are the forgotten dreams of frustrated directors and writers but from time to time I find them unspooling in my head…”

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Ancient Evil is Now a Modern Industry: THIRST (1979)
Excerpt: “Few film subjects have been as exploited, examined and scrutinized as vampires. These blood sucking monsters are a favorite topic of horror filmmakers and fans, morbid romantics and angst-ridden pubescent teens. In recent years the vampire has lost some of its bite thanks to a spat of predictable and tired films made for kids and indiscriminate adults but this wasn’t always the case. The 1970s was a particularly inventive time for our fanged friends…”
The Nightmarish World of Maya Deren
Excerpt: “MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON appears to take shape within the troubled mind of its doom-laden female protagonist. It’s propelled by dream logic without any familiar narrative structure but it contains elements and visual metaphors found in countless horror movies beginning with a locked door that leads viewers into a vacant house that seems alive with apparitions..”

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Ken Russell 1927-2011


The news about Ken Russell’s death hit me hard. Just last week the great man actually took the time to befriend me on Twitter (I’d been following him there for a year or more).  I exchanged a brief note with him and got the opportunity to tell him I was honored that he had taken the time to follow me. And I hope that he knew he was one of my favorite directors. He was jovial online, seemed extremely friendly and still very young at heart. I had imagined sending the 84-year-old director some interview questions soon that I hoped he would answer about the upcoming DVD release for my favorite Russell film, THE DEVILS (1971), which featured production design by Derek Jarman. He seemed very excited about that upcoming DVD release but also disappointed that his work was still being censored in 2011. Obviously that email interview wasn’t meant to be. Que sera, sera! You will be greatly missed Unkle Ken. You and your amazing movies made the world a much more interesting place to live in.

Update (12-1-11): At The Movie Morlocks I briefly memorialized Ken Russell by sharing a bunch of insightful quotes from his 1989 autobiography, Altered States: The Autobiography of Ken Russell.

Ken Russell: In His Own Words @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

Some Recommended Links:
Ken Russell: A True British original @ BBC
Ken Russell Dead: Film loving stars lead tributes on Twitter @ The Daily Mirror
Ken Russell Obituary @ The Guardian
Ken Russell: A Life in Photographs @ The Guardian
Ken Russell: His Film Career @ The Guardian
The Musical Legacy of Ken Russell @ The Guardian
“Pity we aren’t madder”: Ken Russell links in his magnificent memory @ Film Studies For Free

Cinema Retro #21

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The new issue of Cinema Retro arrived in my mail box this week, which prompted me to write a little something about the magazine for The Movie Morlocks. From my post:

“The latest issue of Cinema Retro (Vol. 7: Issue #21) features an in-depth look at A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1970) from author Raymond Benson, which includes interviews with the film’s star, Malcolm McDowell and Stanley Kubrick’s producer & brother-in-law, Jan Harlan. McDowell is always engaging in his interviews and Harlan offers up some surprising insights and speculations on the possibility of unreleased Kubrick material finally seeing the light of day. John Exshaw provides the magazine with a lengthy look at another one of my favorite films, Ken Russell’s highly controversial THE DEVILS (1971), which begins from the perspective of British film censors and Stephanie Callas casts a distinctively female eye on Bernardo Bertolucci’s X-rated erotic classic LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972). Other movies covered in this issue include Don Siegel’s excellent crime thriller THE KILLERS (1964) and Guy Hamilton’s notorious British beatnik drama THE PARTY’S OVER (1965). And special attention is given to John Carpenter’s autumn holiday classic, HALLOWEEN (1978).”

You can read my entire piece if you follow the link below.
Exploring the past with Cinema Retro @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

A Ken Russell Interlude

Ken Russell

Just taking a brief break from putting the final touches on the last half of my Favorite DVDs of 2008 list and wanted to point out a few Ken Russell related reading and viewing suggestions.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ken Russell is one of my favorite directors and with the recent unfortunate death of actress Natasha Richardson I’ve had his 1986 film Gothic on my mind a lot. In the film Natasha Richardson does an incredible job of bringing Frankenstein author Mary Shelley to life. Marilyn Ferdinand has just written a nice piece about this often under-appreciated Russell movie that you can find on her blog, which I highly recommend reading: Gothic (1986)

I also thought it was a good time to mention that I’ve recently watched some great interviews with Ken Russell that are available online. The BBC Film Network site has a interesting and lengthy video interview with the director on their website right now that you can view here: Ken Russell: Interview. And on Youtube I highly recommend the Media Funhouse video interviews with Russell, which you can find here and here.

And last but not least, in 2008 Ken Russell updated his autobiography and the paperback version of the book will be published in April. It’s a great read if you’re a fan of the director or just want to know more about one of British cinema’s most original artists. You can find more information about the book at Amazon: A British Picture: An Autobiography by Ken Russell.

DVD of the Week: The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970)

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In 1969, the talented British director Ken Russell impressed critics and audiences with his excellent film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. The film would go on to win many awards and inspire greater interest in D.H. Lawrence. It would also inspire other directors to try their hand at adapting Lawrence’s work.

One of those directors was the 32-year-old Christopher Miles, a talented, but often unappreciated British filmmaker and sibling of the great actress Sarah Miles. Before making The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970), Christopher Miles had only made a few films, including the little-seen mod musical Up Jumped a Swagman (1965). The Virgin and the Gypsy was Miles’ first attempt at a literary adaptation and serious drama as far as I know, and he does a fine job of bringing what many consider to be one of D.H. Lawrence’s lesser novels to the screen.

The story revolves around a young British woman named Yvette, who has returned home with her sister after years of education abroad. Both girls are unhappy with their strict and conventional home life and long to escape it. After coming across a handsome Gypsy during a casual outing, Yvette becomes obsessed with him. The Gypsy seems to set fire to her imagination and awaken her repressed passions.

The film is beautifully photographed and features some good performances from its cast including the talented Italian actor Franco Nero as the mysterious Gypsy and actress Joanna Shimkus as the virginal Yvette. The lovely Honor Blackman also appears in an interesting role as the unconventional and very modern Mrs. Fawcett, who helps rescue Yvette from her stifling family in the films final moments. Franco and Shimkus create an interesting chemistry on screen which makes their erotic scenes together very believable. The film also manages to maintain its romantic and melancholy atmosphere throughout its 95 min. running time, which is partly due to composer Patrick Gowers’ haunting score.

The Virgin and the Gypsy has a lot going for it if you enjoy British literary adaptations, but it’s nowhere near as good, transgressive or engaging as Ken Russell’s brilliant Women in Love. Filmmaker Christopher Miles clearly doesn’t possess Russell’s imagination or visual flair, but I think The Virgin and the Gypsy is still an effective film that is often overlooked. The movie has much more in common with Merchant & Ivory’s early productions such as The Europeans (1979) and The Bostonians (1984), then with any of Russell’s movies and it should appeal to anyone who enjoys good period dramas.

After making The Virgin and the Gypsy, Christopher Miles would go on to adapt Jean Genet’s play Les Bonnes for the screen in what is his best and most fascinating film, The Maids (1974). He would also direct an interesting biopic based on the life of D.H. Lawrence called Priest of Love (1981). Both films are well worth watching if you’re interested in seeing more of the director’s work. Unfortunately Priest of Love is still in need of a DVD release.

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Top: Honor Blackman as Mrs. Fawcett
Bottom: Franco Nero and Joanna Shimkus

The attractive actress Joanna Shimkus shows that she had real talent here so it’s a shame that she retired from acting only a year later. She’s mostly known now as the wife of the Oscar winning American actor Sidney Poitier whom she married in 1976.

The Virgin and the Gypsy was released for the first time on Region-1 DVD in the US this week from Televista. As I’ve mentioned before, Televista has been releasing a steady stream of worthwhile films all year and many of them are first time DVD releases, but the quality is often rather poor. The Virgin and the Gypsy is a beautiful movie that really deserves a better DVD release that showcases the lush look of the film’s impressive cinematography. Unfortunately this new Televista presentation contains a gritty and washed out print of the film. The DVD does feature a Slide Gallery with still shots, but that’s the only notable extra. The Virgin and the Gypsy is currently on sale at Amazon and should be available for rent from Netflix and Greencine.

An Ann-Margret Retrospective

Happy Birthday Ann-Margret!

My favorite redhead Ann-Margret was born on April 28 in 1941 and yesterday she celebrated her 66th birthday. To celebrate I thought I’d post an overview of some of the best films she made during the sixties and seventies, as well as share some of my thoughts about her life and her work.

Ann-Margret got her start in showbiz when she was 19 years old after being discovered by the legendary George Burns while auditioning for his annual holiday show in Las Vegas. Following her success in Vegas, Ann-Margret’s career took off and within a few months she had signed a record deal with RCA and a movie contract with 20th Century Fox.

Ann-Margret was a real triple threat when she began her career in the sixties. She could sing, she could dance and she could act. She was also incredibly beautiful, sassy, funny and smart. Unfortunately I’ve always thought that movie studios in the sixties and seventies never really knew what to do with Ann-Margret. She ended up in a lot of lackluster films and had a hard time being taken seriously as an actress. If she had been born 20 years earlier she would have probably had an amazing career in musicals, but musicals where becoming unpopular with film audiences and critics just as Ann-Margret was starting her movie career.

1961-1969

Ann-Margaret’s first movie role was in the Oscar nominated Frank Capra film Pocketful of Miracles (1961), where she played the daughter of Bette Davis. Following that she made State Fair (1962) with Pat Boone and Bobby Darin. She then got her real breakthrough role as the beautiful and spunky Kim McAfee in George Sidney’s great musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

Following her terrific performance in Bye Bye Birdie Ann-Margret made a memorable appearance as an animated character named Ann-Margrock in the fourth season of The Flintstones (1963) cartoon series before starring alongside Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas (1964).

Viva Las Vegas is one of Elvis’ best movies from the sixties and Ann-Margret was easily his best co-star. The two have obvious on screen chemistry together that’s really electric and fun to watch. The musical numbers are great and the movie gave both of them the chance to really show off their comedic skills along with their dance moves.

The meeting between Ann-Margret and Elvis on the set of Viva Las Vegas was the start of a great friendship between the two talented stars. It would also mark the beginning of what might be one of Hollywood’s most tragic and unfulfilled love stories. When Elvis met Ann-Margret in 1963 they embarked on a passionate affair. At the time that Elvis met her he was already in a relationship with Priscilla Beaulieu (a.k.a. Priscilla Presley) and was committed to marrying her. After information about their affair made the celebrity gossip magazines many people think Elvis was encouraged to end his relationship with Ann-Margret by his manager Colonel Tom Parker, as well as Priscilla’s parents who threatened to expose Elvis as a pedophile because he started his relationship with their daughter when she was only fourteen years old. Elvis’ career was having trouble trying to recover from his time spent away from the public when he was in the army. This sort of scandal could have easily put an end to his career altogether.

Elvis and Ann-Margret’s romantic affair came to an end, but the two remained close until Elvis’ untimely death. Elvis’ lifelong nickname for Ann-Margret was “Rusty”, which was the name of her character in Viva Las Vegas and up until the day he died he would send a bouquet of flowers to her every time she performed live. Lots of people who were close to Elvis and knew about his complicated relationship with Ann-Margret have said that she was the real “love of his life” and she has called Elvis her “soulmate.” It’s hard not to wonder how Elvis’ life may have been different if he and Ann-Margret had followed their hearts in 1964. In Ann-Margret’s own words she had this to say about their relationship:

“His wish was that we could stay together. But of course, we both knew that was impossible., and that’s what was so very difficult about our relationship. Elvis and I knew he had commitments, promises to keep, and he vowed to keep his word. Both of us knew that no matter how much we loved each other, no matter how strong our bond, we weren’t going to last.” – From her book Ann Margret: My Story.

After Viva Las Vegas Ann-Margret played a sassy bad girl in the entertaining thriller Kitten with a Whip (1964). Kitten with a Whip is one of my favorite exploitation movies about rebellious teens made in the early sixties and Ann-Margret is terrific as a naughty juvenile delinquent named Jody. The role solidified her reputation as a cinema sex kitten but like most of Ann-Margret’s movies, critics were not very impressed with it.

Jean Negulesco’s The Pleasure Seekers (1964) was Ann-Margret’s next movie and it’s an enjoyable film. Ann-Margret plays Fran Hobson in this updated remake of the director’s earlier picture Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), which itself was a remake of his film How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). The musical numbers and fashions are the best part of this cute comedy, which has a somewhat outdated approach to romance for its time, but Ann-Margret and André Lawrence (who plays her love interest in the film) seem to have worked well together and it’s fun watching them drive around Spain on a scooter.

In 1965 Ann-Margret made Once a Thief with the talented French actor Alain Delon. She arguably does her first really good dramatic acting in Once a Thief but she’s predictably over the top as Delon’s troubled wife and her emotional performance stands out in stark contrast to Delon’s understated style of acting. Even though the two seem like an odd pair, they’re both incredibly beautiful and generate a lot of heat when they’re on screen together. Once a Thief is an interesting crime thriller with a great cast that fans of film noir should appreciate.

After starring with Alain Delon in Once a Thief, Ann-Margret got the opportunity to work with another sixties icon in Norman Jewison’s film The Cincinnati Kid (1965). The Cincinnati Kid stars Steve McQueen as a young poker player and Ann-Margret plays the sexually vivacious and unhappy wife of Karl Malden. She wrestles with Tuesday Weld for McQueen’s affection and does some of her best acting in the film. Ann-Margret and Steve McQueen clearly have on-screen chemistry together so you can’t help but wonder why his character in the film ends up with the cute, sensitive and thoughtful, but much less interesting character Tuesday Weld is playing. According to Ann-Margret she developed a close friendship with Steve McQueen on the set of the film since they both shared a similar interest in fast cars and motorcycles.

In 1966 Ann-Margret teamed up with director George Sidney again for the campy sex comedy The Swinger. In The Swinger she plays a journalist named Kelly who poses as a “swinger” to impress the editor of a men’s magazine. The editor is played by Tony Franciosa who she also worked with in The Pleasure Seekers. The Swinger is a entertaining comedy that takes a humorous look at the swinging sixties and Ann-Margret gets to perform some great songs in the film. She also gets to ride a Triumph motorcycle and after making the movie she was featured in Triumph Motorcycle’s official advertisements.

Following The Swinger she made the entertaining Matt Helm spy spoof Murderers Row (1966) with her pal Dean Martin. The Matt Helm films featured Dean Martin as a hard-drinking, womanizing and often bumbling spy. As usual, Ann-Margret’s performance and numerous colorful costume changes are one of the most entertaining things about the film and Murderer’s Row is definitely one of the best movies in the Matt Helm series. Ann-Margret seems to be having a good time in the film with her fellow Vegas star and the Matt Helm films are well worth a look if you enjoy sixties spy movies.

Ann-Margret spent the next few years making movies in Italy including Dino Risi’s Il Tigre (a.k.a. The Tiger & The Pussycat, 1967) and Il Profeta (a.k.a. Prophet, 1968). These sexy comedies with co-star Vittorio Gassman were popular in Europe but they didn’t have much success in the US. In the late sixties film critics were unfortunately starting to dismiss Ann-Margaret and her talents, which is a shame. She worked well with Vittorio Gassman and I think the two movies they made together are enjoyable films.

During this period Ann-Margret married the handsome actor Roger Smith who’s most known for his role as Jeff Spencer in the popular television series 77 Sunset Strip. Coincidentally, they were married exactly a week after Elvis Presley married Priscilla. Roger Smith had been trying to convince her to marry him for awhile but she finally accepted his proposal on May 8, 1967 and they were married in a quick ceremony in Vegas. It’s worth noting that Elvis Presley married Priscilla on May 1st just a few days earlier. It’s impossible to know if these events were in any way connected but Ann-Margret’s marriage fell apart right after she exchanged vows with Roger Smith. She left him after their first night together and went home to her parents but they eventually managed to work things out. Both Ann-Margret & Roger Smith been through a lot of rough times and never had any children, but they’ve been married for 40 years and seem very happy together.

In 1969 she teamed up with Laurence Harvey to make the interesting crime thriller Rebus. Unfortunately the film was not warmly welcomed by the critics but I think it’s an entertaining movie and Ann-Margret performs some nice musical numbers in it that were written for her by the great composer Luis Enríquez Bacalov. Laurence Harvey and Ann-Margret are both over the top performers with a similar acting style who often “play to the back row” so I thought they worked well together in Rebus. They also both look amazing and manage to keep the film watchable even if the script is somewhat lacking.

1970-1979

Following Rebus Ann-Margret made the “so bad it’s good” biker movie C.C. and Company (1970), which was written and produced by her husband Roger Smith. The movie is mainly worth watching for Ann-Margret’s campy performance and she looks terrific on a motorcycle. Unfortunately her co-star and love interest in the movie is the dreadfully dull and unappealing football player, Joe Namath. The rest of the cast is pretty good and biker movie regular William Smith just about steals the show. With another actor in Namath’s role I think the film could have been much better.

Much to everyone’s surprise (particularly film critics) Ann-Margret managed to land a role in Mike Nichols’ critically acclaimed adult drama Carnal Knowledge (1971) next. The film offered her the best dramatic role of her career as the beautiful and troubled Bobbie, who becomes the target of Jack Nicholson’s rage. The emotional scenes between the two in Carnal Knowledge feature some of the decade’s most powerful and raw acting. For the first time in a long time, Ann-Margret got rave reviews for her performance and received her first Oscar nomination for her role as Bobbie.

Following Carnal Knowledge she began shooting The Train Robbers with John Wayne. Ann-Margret has said that she enjoyed working with Wayne and I think you can see that in their on screen exchanges. The Train Robbers was not released until 1973 and received mixed reviews. At a time when directors like Sergio Leone and Sam Pekinpah were exploring new directions with western films, The Train Robbers seems rather outdated and old fashioned but the movie does have it’s charm and I think it’s one of the more interesting and unique films that Wayne made late in his life.

Unfortunately just as Ann-Margret’s film career seemed to be blossoming a horrible accident in 1972 almost killed her. While performing live at the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe she suffered a terrible fall from the stage, which literally destroyed her face and sent her into a coma. The accident was so severe that her face collapsed due to massive bone breakage. Her arm was also broken in the fall and one of her knees was seriously damaged. She lingered between life and death for days and her family and friends wondered if she would ever be able to perform again. With the help of a team of doctors that included a neurosurgeon, a plastic surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon, Ann-Margret managed to fully recover and after just ten weeks she was back performing live again in Vegas.

After her near-death experience, Ann-Margret returned to acting in Ken Russell’s ambitious rock opera Tommy (1975). Russell’s frenzied directing style meshes perfectly with Ann-Margret’s over the top acting in the film and the combination makes Tommy one of the most entertaining musicals of the seventies. Ann-Margret was only a few years older than The Who’s Roger Daltry at the time that Tommy was made but the accident had aged her a little and she does a wonderful job as Tommy’s glamourous mom. Ann-Margret’s frantic performance in Tommy, which peaks with her infamous “nervous breakdown” scene involving lots of gooey foods, is slightly reminiscent of her paint scene from the 1966 film The Swinger. Her performance in the film managed to snag her a second Oscar nomination.

Ann-Margret made a few more films in the seventies including Richard Attenborough’s excellent creepy thriller Magic (1978) where she starred opposite Anthony Hopkins, which is well worth seeking out if you’re a horror fan. But much to my surprise, many of the films Ann-Margret made during the sixties and seventies are not easily available on VHS or DVD. Thankfully Ann-Margret fans can look forward to a new DVD release of her one and only western, The Train Robbers, on May 22.

Final Thoughts

Ann-Margret has had an impressive career in cinema that was often met with a mixed critical reaction but I think she’s one of Hollywood’s most interesting and beautiful actresses. Her filmography features some of the best musicals made in the past 40 years. She’s a stunning woman and her vivacious personality seems to ignite when shes on screen.

Living in the California Bay Area and working as a music journalist for a brief time has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities. It’s not uncommon to bump into George Lucas or Sean Penn when I’m out shopping, so I’ve become rather jaded but meeting Ann-Margret was one of the few times in my life where I was truly starstruck. I got the chance to pay my respects to the actress in 1994 after her biography Ann Margret: My Story was released. The actress & singer was on a book signing tour and she kindly signed a copy of her book for me. She was very nice and easy to talk to, but I became totally tongue-tied around her. She was still incredibly beautiful at age 53 and while I was shaking her hand I couldn’t help thinking to myself that I was touching a hand that had touched so many of my favorite performers including Alain Delon, Steve McQueen, Laurence Harvey, Oliver Reed and Elvis. Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed and could barely get out a word in her presence. Thankfully I managed to pull myself together enough to tell her how much I had enjoyed her movies and she seemed genuinely touched by my nervous compliments. I still own my copy of her book and its’ one of my most treasured items simply because  it reminds me of the time I got to meet one of my favorite actresses and on screen personalities. Happy birthday Ann-Margret!

Ann-Margret’s Official Website

They gave their souls to Hell… but the Devil wanted MORE!

Alucarda is an extremely stylish Mexican horror film made by the talented Juan Lopez Moctezuma in 1975, who also directed The Mansion of Madness and produced two of renowned director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s early film’s (Fando & Lis and El Topo).

Moctezuma’s Alucarda is an interesting mix of Ken Russell’s The Devils as well as The Exorcist and Stephen King’s Carrie which was published a year before Alucarda was released. Even though some of its possible influences may seem obvious, Alucarda is still a truly original movie that should appeal to horror fans who like unusual films.

The story begins when a pretty orphan named Justine (Susana Kamini) is sent to live in an eerie convent where sin obsessed ‘sisters’ dress in bloody shrouds that make them look like strange mummies. When a mysterious girl calling herself Alucarda (Tina Romero) suddenly appears in her room, Justine is immediately drawn to her. As the girls begin to bond, they find themselves lured deep into the woods by a strange hunchbacked gypsy with a dark secret. Soon after their romantic convent existence is turned upside down.

Possession, vampirism and devil worship (plus LOTS of screaming!) follow and when the girls begin to challenge the authority of the nuns and reigning priests at the convent, they’re forced to take part in a deadly exorcism to “cleanse their possessed souls.” Afterward, the convent has Hell to pay!

The film has plenty of blood and nudity to make gore hounds happy, but it’s far from exploitive in my opinion. Overall the movie is really lovely to look at and fans of Jodorowsky’s films will instantly recognize Moctezuma’s similar cinematic style. The director makes the most of his limited budget and creates extremely atmospheric sets that stand out next to his imaginative editing. The somewhat simple story is loaded with metaphors, but it’s never heavy handed and the dreamy surreal mood of the movie sticks with you long after it’s short 74 minute running time has ended.

Tina Romero is especially memorable as the passionate Alucarda but Susana Kamini also does a great job in her role as Justine. The talented Claudio Brook (The Mansions of Madness, The Assassination of Trotsky, The Devil’s Rain, etc.) is terrific in his duel roles as the hunchback gypsy and the sympathetic doctor. Brook is hard to recognize under the hunchback makeup, which makes him believable in both roles.

The DVD has been digitally transferred from the original negative so the picture and sound quality are both fantastic. The film looks sharp and the colors are rich. The actual soundtrack is a strange mix of curious melodies and odd ’70s synth music. It could be better, but it doesn’t take too much away from the enjoyment of the movie.

DVD Extras include a documentary about film maker Juan Lopez Moctezuma, a text bio/filmography/interview of the director, the original movie trailer and an insightful interview with director Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, etc.) who praises the films of Moctezuma and the performances of actor Claudio Brook. Guillermo del Toro’s passion for horror films is obvious and I thought his interview was lots of fun to watch.

Overall I think Alucarda is a terrific little film and the Mondo Macbro DVD release is well worth seeking out if you’re interested in unusual Mexican horror films.

(Originally written March 2003)