Monday, October 26, 2009

Jose Maria Elorrieta's Feast of the Devil (1971)

Whether the cinema brought on the sleaze or the sleaze brought on the cinema Hans A. did not know. Gothic horror cinema, with its first images brought in 1910, alongside other modern technological advances by Thomas Edison, of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, continuing with 1931 and Bela Lugosi in Bram Stoker's Dracula, directed by Tod Browning, up to Terence Fisher's Horror of Dracula in 1958, with villain Christopher Lee and hero Peter Cushing, as Dracula and Van Helsing, respectively, became a cinema that Hans knew well to a preternatural and intolerable degree: dreary, moldy, unhallowed gabled castles, high above a hill top, surrounded by darkness, while within, amongst the sinister scurrying of rats in wormy partitions, bats huddled on rotting rafters, and spiders of inordinate size weaved webs which hid even darker, danker catacombs within, were monsters. Born of superstitious folklore, such as shape-shifting men into ferocious animals, corpses reanimated from freshly-dug graves, and centuried noblemen, existing on the life blood of others, these elder monsters eventually gave way to newer ones. The Deep Ones could never be destroyed. For the present they would rest; but some day, if they remembered, they would rise again.
In the haunted cinema of Spain, which had borne its King's Men, Jesus Franco Manera and Jacinto Molina Alvarez, this cinema harbored Jose Maria Elorrieta, whose cinema Hans had witnessed firsthand with Curse of the Vampyr (1972) and could not explain its bodaciously curvy ladies, often starkly nude, and odd angles of atmospheric sinister scenes smeared on the gray celluloid with some red, sticky fluid. Not under lock and key in his film library, as filmed and released in the year before Elorrieta unleashed Curse, was Feast of the Devil, with its lurid tale populated by actors and actresses of its day with the evocation that the Old One would appear again on Candlemas, May Eve, or Walpurgis night. Would this be killing time at a cheap cinema show, seeing the inane performances over and over again without paying any attention to it? or would Feast of the Devil be a fancying of every contour of blasphemous overflowing unknown and inhuman evil with sleaze, now unleashed, unstoppable?
No, not really. Feast of the Devil is a tepid affair. Gorgeous Krista Nell is Hilda Salas who arrives at a train station to reunite with her sister, Maria (Veronica Lujan), who, previously missing after a thirty-day vacation, reappears looking disheveled and traumatized. At the hospital, Hilda meets young doctor, Carlos (Ennio Girolami), who's immediately taken with Hilda. Maria disappears at the hospital under circumstances as mysterious as her original disappearance, and Hilda goes to the seaside town where Maria vacationed, hoping to find answers. Inspector Gonzales (Julio Pena) promises to help: he tells Hilda of some of the local culture and its denizens, specifically of Dr. Tills Nescu (Espartaco Santoni), a wealthy physician and philanthropist and playboy, who lives in an old castle, atop a hill. Hilda begins to investigate by showing Maria's picture around. A DJ at a local disco (oh, yeah, baby) says he last saw Maria with Dr. Nescu. Hilda calls bingo, but the doctor's beautiful assistant, Andrea (Teresa Gimpera) has already tipped Dr. Nescu off. On his yacht, Hilda swims to meet the good doctor and Andrea for bikini cocktails. Dr. Nescu has a date for tonight but would Hilda meet him tomorrow for dinner? Yes, she will.
Santoni's Nescu looks like Sgt. Pepper, and his beautiful first date gets taken back to his castle where she's dispatched. Guessing from its English-language title, Nescu is making sacrifices to the Devil in exchange for worldly powers. During a swinging disco sequence, a truly awful band begins to play. Nescu and his colleagues are having a discussion about the paranormal. In a demonstration of his hypnosis powers, Nescu uses his mind to collapse the throat of the singer. What a favor. Bigger powers are at work, however, as there are intimations that Nescu's wealth, success, and love life are all tied into his Satanic work. Hilda, initially forthright in the search for her sister's captor and (possibly) murderer, gives into Nescu's charms. Poor Carlos doesn't stand a chance with Hilda. Andrea is becoming more and more agitated with Nescu's behavior: is she jealous of Hilda or fears that Nescu's doings are becoming way too dangerous?
No matter. Feast is conservative cinema done dully. The would be lover's web of Nescu, Hilda, Andrea, and Carlos is woefully unexplored. Nescu and Hilda is a slow courting, and when Hilda meets Nescu, she for all purposes, abandons her investigation. Hilda does nothing but change her clothes or sunbathes. Carlos does nothing but huffs and puffs. Andrea huffs and puffs. Nescu looks like Sgt. Pepper: different day, same outfit, different color, new medallion. All of this inane action could be spiced up and made interesting, but Elorrieta stalls. Even the real Gothic good stuff in the castle is reserved for the final act and delivered dryly. Bored himself, perhaps that is why Elorrieta threw the Gates wide open for Curse of the Vampyr with nothing held back. Nonetheless, Feast of the Devil is 70s European Cult Cinema and has its distinctive vibe but nothing else.
[Throat clearing. Back in character.] The passage through the vague abysses could have been frightful, for the Walpurgis-rhythm was vibrating, and at last Hans could have heard that hitherto-veiled cosmic pulsing which he so mortally dreaded. And relished. Just before he made the plunge the violet light went out and left him in utter blackness. Shub-Niggurath! Nothing, now, to be seen here from the depths.

I've culled the language from this review from Howard Phillips Lovecraft from primarily his tale, Dreams in the Witch-House but also from The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Dunwich Horror. Some of the language is directly quoted from Lovecraft while others I have corrupted. His literature is some of the most imaginative that the English language has ever seen and is perfect for this Halloween season.


Neil Fulwood said...

Full marks, sir! Perhaps your most unique review yet.

Hans A. said...

Thank you, Neil. You've been a very good friend to this blog and I always appreciate it when you comment. Writing about films sometimes is more fun than watching them.

Neil Fulwood said...

Very true. I watched 'Exorcist Part II: The Heretic' earlier this year as part of an overview of the whole 'Exorcist' franchise. I spent a thoroughly miserable two hours watching that POS then spent a gleeful hour writing a piece that happily trashed it.

Mr.LargePackage said...

Very creative review, Hans. Mr Large Package sat at his computer reading the review. Deep into the screen he peered, wondering, fearing, doubting. What he found was large and in charge.

Hans A. said...

Thnx Mr. LP for peering deep into the darkness of my review. Much love.