M: Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975)

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Hey, you remember what I keep saying about my unconscious tendency to access director’s careers in reverse? Starting at a recent point or movie and working my way in reverse like a dunderhead? Well, I sort of foiled my own motif, this time around. Sure, I reviewed Juan López Moctezuma’s third flick, Alucarda a couple of years ago, but I also did his first movie, Mansion of Madness (better known as Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon to us gringos), back in the halcyon days of the first Mondo Macabro releases. So it was high time to watch senor Moctezuma’s sophomore effort, especially since I had been low-key obsessed with its ad art since its first-run drive-in days. I mean, just look at it. Best woman-being-turned-into-a-skeleton-making-a-horror-geek-really-want-to-see-what’s-going-on since Scream and Scream Again.

I am pleased to report I was nowhere near as disappointed in Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary as I was in Scream and Scream Again.

We first meet Mary (Christina Ferrare) while she’s having engine trouble with her van outside a creepy abandoned mansion in Mexico. As rain begins to pour down, she finds an open door and tries to find a phone, only to find herself stalked by a shadowy figure. After the standard running and screaming, we find out the figure is Ben (David Young) a drifter who is also seeking shelter from the rain. He promises to sleep upstairs while Mary stays downstairs and has a flashback.

Mary, we find out, is a successful artist who just sold one of her paintings to a guy from the American Embassy in Mexico City. This guy is also quite set on seducing Mary, with some success – at least until she pulls out a dagger disguised as an ornate hairpin and cuts his throat so she can drink his blood.

“What a waste of a perfectly good morgue attendant.”

This isn’t your typical low-budget vampire movie. Mary doesn’t do the traditional movie vampire stuff; she walks around in daylight, sleeps in a bed – at night – and has no fangs. But every so often she has to drink blood, and at those times she uses knockout drops in her necklace’s pendant to render her victim unconscious, so obviously she’s been doing this for some time. Mary is attracted to Ben, and the feeling is mutual, which is going to complicate her predatory lifestyle. There’s also the fact that the Mexican police are starting to notice the number of exsanguinated bodies, and the death of the Embassy guy has brought in the FBI. And, oh yes, there’s another vampire out there trying to track down Mary, and it’s her father… John Carradine!

If you like your vampire movies offbeat, Mary, Mary Bloody Mary is worth checking out. Some folks point to it as an inspiration for George Romero’s Martin, but I think that’s stretching a point. Mary isn’t deluded, but she has a very definite pathology, what her father refers to as “a disease”. There is one heartbreaking point where Mary’s need for a blood fix coincides with gallery owner Greta’s (Helena Rojo) pushy lesbian seduction. It’s the one time her careful searches for someone “I didn’t know or care about” has fallen through, and the first time she tearfully apologizes to one of her victims.

Yeah, yeah, it’s 1975 so there’s plenty of nudity and blood. I can see that after the surreal, Jodorowsky-influenced excesses of Mansion of Madness, it was brought to Moctezuma as a case of “Okay, can you make a normal movie?” which he does – though his penchant for creative editing and visuals is still evident. The seduction and eventual murder of Greta is shot in a lush bathroom with mirrored walls and is quite stunning. But it’s also 1975 and this is a very low budget movie, so be prepared for some slow spots, though Moctezuma tries to minimize those, and to reward you with things like unexpected car chases when you make it through them.

And now, here’s the trailer for the Code Red blu-ray, featuring a couple of my favorite bits: a newspaper with the headline NIXON CHEERED and, apropos of nothing, some dudes stabbing a dead shark to further death in shallow waters.

 

A: Alucarda (1977)

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You should check out cesardg13's movie posters on Deviant Art.

You should check out cesardg13’s movie posters on Deviant Art.

Juan López Moctezuma is an interesting side-trip in the world of genre filmmaking. A compatriot of Alejandro Jodorowsky in his Mexico City days, he was a producer on Fando y Lys as well as El Topo. Moctezuma is most widely known for three movies made in the 70s – The Mansion of Madness (73) which is loosely based on Poe’s “The Method of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Feather” and was indeed re-titled Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon in the US,’cuz them Poe movies always made serious coin (though audiences expecting gothic horror were not prepared for what is actually pretty dark farce); 1975’s Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary which we’ll be visiting eventually; and this remarkably straightforward, though still weird, occult thriller.

The teenaged, recently orphaned Justine (Susana Kamini) is remanded to the care of the sisters at a convent, where she meets the similarly orphaned Alucarda (Tina Romero), who you know is going to be trouble because she’s the only one who dresses in black. We also know she’s going to be trouble because immediately after her birth, her mother (also played by Romero) was claimed by something dark and scary before the opening titles.

Oh no! It's Satan!

Oh no! It’s Satan!

The friendship between the two girls deepens quickly to a nearly sexual intensity. One day while capering in the woods, they run into a sinister hunchbacked gypsy (Claudio Brook) who offers them enlightenment, even as one of the other gypsies reads Justine’s palm and blanches. Soon after, Justine falls ill and the hunchback appears in the girl’s chamber, making their clothes vanish and signing their souls over to Satan, as one does.

The girls start doing disruptive things like hailing Satan during classes, and things continue to deteriorate until Justine is hanging nude from a St. Andrew’s Cross, being stabbed to find her Witch’s Mark while being exorcised. This scene is interrupted by the local Dr. Oszek (also Claudio Brook), who has no time for such superstitious rubbish. He’s too late to save Justine’s life, but he carries the sobbing Alucarda away to his home, where his blind daughter Daniela (Lili Garza) will keep her company.

alucarda (1)A brief pause for my favorite detail – the learned doctor keeps a book in his library entitled Satan so he can sneer at it whenever he pleases.

Oszek returns to the convent to find it in a panic – the nun tending to Justine’s body has mysteriously burned to death and Justine’s body is missing. Soon after Oszek is lead to the chapel by screams, because Father Lázaro (David Silva) is hacking off the head of the dead nun, returned to demonic life. This where the horror movie really kicks into high gear, as Oszek realizes that his book learning is useless against the forces of darkness, and what’s more, he’s put his daughter in mortal danger, because both she and Alucarda have vanished.

imagesThe first order of business is to find all these missing girls, of course, and Sister Angélica (Tina French) leads them to the ruins where Alucarda’s mom had her opening scene and the girls liked to hang out and get hallucinations. Angélica also lends another forgetful sister her crucifix, which means when she discovers the naked Justine in a coffin filled with bubbling blood, she’s pretty much doomed.

This leads to a major confrontation in the convent, where all Alucarda has to do is say the name of a devil and somebody else bursts into flames. It all looks pretty bad for anybody not named Alucarda, until the girl’s humanity kicks in when she sees Daniela, who was nice to her, injured by all her wild devil-calling and destruction. The end.

alucarda02-594x453Alucarda has a reputation for being a bit of an undiscovered gem, and that holds true, by and large.There is some wild imagery left over from His Jodo days – the convent’s chapel looks like it grew organically out of the walls of a deep cave grotto, and the nuns’ habits are the farthest you can find from the traditional black-and-white – they’re dressed in odd white fabric with a red wash that is not uniform, making the sisters look like they’re dressed in bloody bandages. Quite striking, and in my experience, unique. This being the Internet, someone will let me know if I’m wrong.

alucarda (2)It’s definitely a 70s, movie, though, which means some time spent before you get to the truly weird stuff, though quite a bit of nudity livens up the wait. Should you seek it out? Well, Guillermo del Toro is an admirer of Moctezuma and his films, so let how you feel about one director’s work be your guide as to how you’ll feel about another.

Buy Alucarda on Amazon