Hysterical in both senses of the word, director Juan López Moctezuma's ALUCARDA is one of the wildest films in the annals of Mexican horror cinema and considering some of its peers, that's really saying something. Way over-the-top and far too loaded with a panoply of classic '70's exploitation elements — translation: gore and naked women — to have come from within the country's mainstream studio system, this indie classic saw release in the United States in 1978 as SISTERS OF SATAN, coming late in the wave of films packaged to cash in on the success of THE EXORCIST (1973). (NOTE: this film is listed with a number of release dates when researched on the Internet, but it’s stated as having come out in 1975 in the footage found on the documentary that comes with the DVD, and that makes sense since one would think the filmmakers would have rushed to get it into theaters as soon as possible after THE EXORCIST.) With its sensibility based in the "panic theater" movement of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, a genre whose goal was "to create a whirlpool of emotion" (and from which also sprung genius/lunatic director Alejandro Jodorowsky of EL TOPO, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, and SANTA SANGRE fame), ALUCARDA is less of a fully coherent narrative than a series of connected Catholic and occult images and tropes cranked up to eleven (that is, cranked up to eleven for its era and country of origin).
The film opens with a young woman (Tina Moreno) having just given birth in an abandoned tomb and handing her newborn daughter to some weird old crone. The old hag spirits the child away as the exhausted mother fearfully awaits the coming of…something. An unseen presence apparently arrives as the mother lets out a scream (the first of many in this movie) and is never seen again, presumably taken away to someplace dire by the presence. This is the first of many scenes where bizarre things happen and little or no explanation is given, so the viewer just has to roll with it. In this case, it’s my theory that the mother was some sort of which who had become pregnant by the Devil himself or some other unspecified demonic entity, and she escaped from a coven or something to save her child from whatever fate, possibly sacrificial, that may have awaited it. Again, this is all just supposition on my part, and some of my theory is based on the most tenuous of “clues” garnered from the rest of the flick.
The story then skips ahead to show us the arrival of the orphaned Justine (Susana Kamini) at a convent/orphanage where she meets the intense and rather creepy Alucarda, who’s the spitting image of her mysteriously disappeared mother. (Alucarda is played by the same actress who portrayed the mother at the beginning, thus forming a possible connection to my witchy theory as evidenced by her later behavior throughout the film.) Why anyone would name a girl “Alucarda” is anyone’s guess — especially since the name is a feminized version of “Dracula” spelled backwards, which is one of the lamest of all horror tropes in the first place, and it makes no sense here since she is not a vampire, but there you go — but weird nomenclature aside, the girls form a fast friendship, despite Alucarda’s eerie obsession with death and dying.
The two spend a good deal of time frolicking around in the local woods and engaging in borderline-lesbian conduct, and they eventually run into a pair of dodgy gypsies, one of whom reads Justine's palm and sees something so dire that she refuses to comment. Immediately thereafter, the girls enter a decaying mausoleum that I believe is where Alucarda was born (also not made clear) and Alucarda suddenly launches into a manic declaration of jealous love and a bid to get Justine to join her in a suicide pact. But before any blood can be drawn with the knife Alucarda had hidden upon her person, she’s distracted by an overwhelming urge to open a nearby casket. Once opened to reveal a rotting corpse — Is it Alucarda’s mother? Don’t ask me… — the casket releases an invisible Satanic presence that possess both of the girls, with Alucarda being by far the more blatantly possessed of the pair. (Perhaps because of some sort of inborn witchy nature? Again, who knows?)
Up to that point, the film almost lulls the viewer into thinking they accidentally stumbled into what looks to be a softcore porno, but once the possessed girls return to the convent, all hell very literally breaks loose. The remainder of the film is a steadily escalating deluge of stuff guaranteed to titillate lapsed Catholics everywhere, including screaming and crazy histrionics, much invoking of Satan and sundry demons, loads of bloody nudity, replete with thick, dark '70's bush, a ton of creepy Catholic imagery, lots of mention of burning in hell should one fail to keep faith in Christ, nuns and priests engaging in bloody flagellation, a multi-participant nude pagan ritual in the woods that leads to an orgy, blasphemy and outright rejection of God and Jesus, lethal torture passing itself off as church-sanctioned ritualistic testing, and of course, considering when this film came out, there's an exorcism, only this time involving nudity and faux crucifixion, followed by a dousing with corrosive holy water that reduces the naked and blood-covered Justine to a smoldering, goo-covered skeleton. All of that gets crammed into a briskly paced and balls-out insane seventy-four minutes.
Moctezuma’s work here wears the influence of Jodorowsky and the Hammer vampire films on its sleeve and the movie looks and feels like a Catholic-influenced art film as made by seasoned exploitation filmmakers. The film is certainly not scary but it is transgressive in its juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane — at heart, it’s very much an anti-clerical narrative — and it works as sort of an exploitation companion piece to Ken Russel's THE DEVILS (1971), a film I’m willing to bet was more than a little bit of an influence on ALUCARDA. And while not quite operating in the erotic horror territory of Hammer classics like THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) or TWINS OF EVIL (1971), this film does not disappoint in the nudity and gore departments, so I say check it out. Just don’t expect it to make all that much sense. Oh, and though the film is Mexican in origin, it was very obviously shot in English and yet it was dubbed. I have no idea why.