L: The Living Head (1963)

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There was a golden age of living severed heads in horror movies for about six years, from 1957’s The Man Without a Body, then 1958’s The Thing that Couldn’t Die (remade as Horror Rises from the Tomb in ’73) up through Germany’s The Head and the amazingly sleazy The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. I’m sure there are more (it’s the internet, I’ll get told), but we’re here to talk about what may have been the last one for awhile, 1963’s La Cabeza Viviente. The Living Head, for all you gringos.

We start with those fun-loving Aztecs, as their high priest Xiu (Guillermo Kramer) sacrifices a guy for causing the death of their mightiest warrior, Acatl (Mauricio Garcés). In fact, all that’s left of Acatl is his head, in his ceremonial headdress. Xiu hands off the Ring of Death to the High Priestess (Ana Luisa Pellufo), and informs her that she and he will be hanging around Acatl’s tomb for eternity. Then he curses anybody who profanes the tomb, and gets sealed in.

This bling is getting out of hand

That Ring of Death is freaking huge, by the way, and crested with the fakest eyeball you have ever seen. It has to be that large for the blinking light bulb inside the eye.

So in the modern day, three scientists (Salvador Lozano, Antonio Raxel, and Mexican horror icon Germán Robles) discover the tomb and make with the profanin’. Acatl’s head and Xiu’s body, in their sarcophagi, are remarkably well-preserved; the high priestess, however, didn’t get a box and is merely standing against a wall. She disintegrates, leaving behind only the Ring of Death, which Muller (Robles) decides to give to his daughter Marta (also Peluffo, conveniently enough), as one does with priceless historical artifacts.

Oh, that’s your answer for everything.

Muller is also keeping all the damned artifacts in his house instead of the museum, including Xiu’s corpse, still clutching his obsidian dagger in a death grip. Marta’s boyfriend Roberto (Garcés again, I wonder if that’s going to be significant) notices some incredibly obvious footprints leading from Xiu’s sarcophagus, and is immediately pish-tushed by Muller.

It’s not too long before Xiu is wandering around and cutting out hearts to leave on Acatl’s altar, guided by the current possessor of the pulsing Ring of Death (Marta) until she refuses to kill her own father. Unfortunately, Roberto has found the Ring (thown out the window by a fearful Marta) and is possessed, but he too will not kill the people Xiu wants. It all looks pretty grim until Acatl points out that Marta and Roberto are played by the same actors as himself and the high priestess, which apparently shocks Xiu so much that Inspector Toledo (Abel Salazar, another horror icon) is able to shoot him to death. The end.

That all sounds pretty silly, but it has to be admitted that The Living Head  proceeds with a no-nonsense pace and rarely has a dull moment. It’s a typical Mummy death-to-the-tomb-raiders story, but the addition of those ancient Aztec blood rites gives it a visceral lift, and as I said, the pace is good – it really is a perfect example of how to do such stories, even if Muller keeping all this stuff in his home stretches the ol’ willing suspension far enough to use it to slice cheese. If nothing else, it’s fun to see Nostradamus the Vampire and The Brainiac being on the menaced side of the plot for a change. This is one of the better examples of Mexican horror cinema; not world-changing, but at least as competently made as its low-budget American brethren, and certainly as entertaining.

¡Prepárese para tener su sangre congelada por esta vista previa con marca de agua!