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.

D: The Dunwich Horror (2009)

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H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” is my favorite of his stories; at its heart I feel it’s the closest thing to a solid B-movie he ever wrote. Therefore, there have actually been several filmic versions. And yet each one I’ve seen so far has managed to miss the mark.

In the story, the Whateleys – an outcast New England family, one of Lovecraft’s standard cultists – has worked a ritual, the result of which is twins – Wilbur and his brother, who is never seen, imprisoned in a section of the family house. Wilbur manages to get himself killed trying to get one of the very few extant copies of the forbidden magic book, the Necronomicon, revealing that he is not entirely human. With no one left to feed his rapidly growing brother, it smashes out of the house and starts ravaging the countryside – Wilbur’s brother, you see, favored the father more. And the father was the exiled god, Yog-Sothoth.

The birth of the twins is shown at the beginning (there are tentacles involved), and the next thing we’re going to notice is that the movie is titled Witches: The Darkest Evil. And the changes won’t end there.

The one I bought at Kaybee didn’t do this.

Dr. Henry Armitage (Dean Stockwell, who played Wilbur in the 1970 version, the first instance of stunt casting) attends to the exorcism of a young lady (Natacha Itzel) who sprouts bat wings, among other things, and attacks his assistant Fay (Sarah Lieving). Armitage is even more adept at magic than his literary counterpart, shooting lightning from his fingers. The cause is a “Sumerian Ritual Pyramid” hidden under the floorboards (which I recognize as a knock-off from the Rubik’s Cube craze of the early 80s, re-painted). It’s a pretty good sequence, even with some iffy CGI, but has nothing to do with Lovecraft.

The locale has also been switched to Louisiana, we find. Armitage and Fay (Fay Morgan, incidentally. Cute) call on his old protege, Walter Rice (Griff Furst), Head of Antiquities at some university. The exorcism points to “a portal” being opened, and Armitage wants Rice to find the one page missing from all copies of the Necronomicon – page 751, which involves the rituals for opening and closing said portals. Rice departs to investigate a lead Armitage provides, accompanied by Fay – which is going to cause some problems, as the two are former lovers. Also, Rice may be steeped in the lore, but he does not believe. This will change.

The Whateleys, meantime, are also seeking out that page. Wilbur is played by Jeffrey Coombs, the other instance of stunt casting. He spends most of his time kidnapping hapless travellers to feed to the monster upstairs. All these plot threads will of course come together by the end, but getting there is, um, shall we say interesting.

Rice has a lunch meeting with a colleague, Dr. Ashley (writer-director Leigh Scott), who mentions a similar ritual that took place in Innsmouth (a brief flashback provides us with fairly effective glimpses of a Cthulhu-like figure). Armitage’s clue leads Rice and Fay to Olaius Wormius, a translator of the original Necronomicon, who is somehow still alive, and who directs the two to a house owned by a “Mr. Ward”…

Essentially, what this American/German co-production tries to do is act like a Unified Field Theory for the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and that is a double-edged sword. It’s a fun game for fans, but is going to seem needlessly complicated to the uninitiated. The wisest move the production made was casting Coombs, who gives the otherworldly Wilbur his all. The unwisest move was attempting the apocalyptic ending on a TV movie budget. Given my history, I tend to be forgiving of attempts to do Lovecraft on a budget, but even scrappy little outings like The Void are a more solid attempt.

Not terrible, but diffuse. I’m still looking forward to a movie version that has the power of the original story.