H: La Herencia Valdemar (2010)

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Seems like we were in Spanish horror land just a few letters ago, doesn’t it?

Things are getting a little intense at a real estate firm, as the Valdemar estate is coming up for auction and the agent dispatched to the remote mansion 20 days before has not returned. Desperately the freelance antiques appraiser Luisa (Silvia Abascal) is contracted to pick up where the missing man left off. She finds the house deserted, nothing catalogued, and a nearly empty attic – empty except for the mangled body of the missing man. And something shadowy stalking her.

She barely escapes, aided by the somewhat simple handyman Santiago (Santi Prego) and Domáso (Jose Luis Torrijo), who is rather pissed that Santiago let her go in the mansion. She faints, and awakens hours later in their home. Possibly a prisoner, but certainly trapped there by a storm.

Interesting cane you have there, my friend

But never mind that, as another investigator, Nicolás (Óscar Jaenada) has been hired by Colvin, the head of that real estate firm (Eusubio Poncela) to work with the President of the Valdemar Foundation, Dr. Cervía (Ana Rusueño) to find the missing Luisa. She describes the Valdemar mansion as a classic “shunned house”, and explains why in a lengthy flashback that will be the majority of the movie.

At the fin de siècle of the 19th century, Lázaro and Leonor Valdemar (Daniele Liotti and Laia Marull), though themselves childless, run an orphanage (standard for modern Spanish horror #1). Lázaro is also a devotee of the emerging science of photography, and in his experimentation with double exposures, sets off a small cottage industry in which people come to seances, are startled by a levitating table, and in that instant are photographed; the resulting double exposures of “spirits” are much sought after, and fawning rich patrons are quite free with their donations to the orphanage. Lázaro and Leonor hope to use these proceeds to adopt a child of their own.

An opportunistic journalist, however, threatens blackmail, and when Lázaro refuses, has him arrested for fraud. Things look bleak until Lázaro is visited by an unexpected ally, none other than Aleister Crowley (Francisco Maestre), who devises a campaign to discredit the journalist and free Lázaro.

The price for this: Crowley has examined Lázaro’s spirit photos, and found, apart from the fakery, actual evidence of the supernatural lurking in the corners. He feels that not only is the mansion a spiritual nexus, but Lázaro is unconsciously a spiritual medium. These are two things that are necessary to conduct “The Dunwich Ritual” during an upcoming lunar eclipse. This will unlock secret knowledge for the participants; for Lázaro’s part, an answer to his and Leonor’s childlessness.

Despite his misgivings, Lázaro agrees, and Crowley brings in his fellows, including Bram Stoker (Lino Braxe), Lizzie Borden (Vanessa Suárez) and Belle Gunness (Laura Toledo). Crowley, though, has made a chauvinistic miscalculation, and the ritual releases what he terms “a devourer” into this world. The ritualists run away, leaving Lázaro wounded and the room aflame, and it is only the eventual sacrifice of Leonor that saves him.

The movie wraps up with the end of that story, reminding us of Nicolás, Luisa, and a couple of other folks, in an ending that confused a lot of people, apparently… I guess they ignored the brief snippets from the second part, which ends with a glimpse of something that definitely looks like Cthulhu… but that is something for the other end of the alphabet.

Now, for the good parts: this is a very handsome movie, well-shot and acted. Adding a lot of resonance and production value is Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy, in his final role as the Valdemar’s devoted manservant, Jervás. There is a lot of suitably creepy stuff, and some nicely humanistic moments, as well.

The bad part is this might as well be called Set-up: The Movie. Anyone expecting any resolution to the modern portions of the movie are going to be disappointed, those will all be left to the second part, The Forbidden Shadow, which looks to be a much rougher, more nasty, more… modern movie, perhaps. I look forward to it.

Though I am still puzzled by the fact that when Nicolás arrives, it appears he arrives by blimp… but perhaps that is another mystery which will be solved in the second part. We’ll see. (Spoiler: it won’t be.)

The Valdemar Legacy is available on Amazon Video. Bizarrely, its sequel is not.