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Friday, October 26, 2012

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2012-Day 26: THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1963)

The utterly creepy visage of Aunt Selma (Rita Macedo).

Like the presumed majority of American horror movie junkies, my experience with Mexican cinema of the macabre is limited mostly to the numerous cheapjack efforts that made their way across the border in terrible dubbed versions and more often than not showcased popular masked Mexican professional wrestlers — most famously El Santo, Mil Mascaras, and the Blue Demon — defeating an unending parade of psychopathic murderers, evil scientists, robots, dastardly doctors, space aliens and, of course, monsters like vampires, werewolves, witches, Frankenstein-style man-made abominations, and what have you. Promoted under the blanket tag of "Mexican horror wrestling" movies in the early days of FANGORIA magazine (much to the confusion of the average young American reader in those days of slasher movie dominance), the films of that ilk that most interested me were the ones involving creatures of a uniquely Mexican origin and cultural flavor, and when such films were crafted with good scripts, decent budgets, solid acting (which sometimes came across in spite of the horrendous/ludicrous dubbing) and intelligent respect for the genre, they could be treasures indeed. Such is the case with THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN, a film that I only heard of for the first time a couple of years ago, and it came from out of nowhere to become one of my very favorites.

Aunt Selma, awaiting innocents to savagely murder for her unholy agenda.

Back in the days in Mexico (presumably sometime in the early-to-mid-1800's), pretty young newlywed Amelia (Rosita Arenas) is summoned to the lonely hacienda of her aunt Selma (Rita Macedo), whose husband is said to have recently died under mysterious circumstances. Aunt Selma is about as creepy as a human being can get — what with her not having visibly aged during the twenty years since her niece last saw her, possessing jet-black almond-shaped eyes when in witchy mode, having the ability to change into a bat, casting no reflection in mirrors, and  hanging around in the local wastes with her pack of murderous Great Danes and a hunchbacked henchman, waylaying travelers and brutally orchestrating their merciless exits from this mortal coil— but she welcomes her niece and her niece's husband, Jaime (Abel Salazar), and in no time clues Amelia in on exactly why she has summoned her to her ancestral home. You see, Aunt Selma has kept the dessicated undead corpse of the legendary "La Llorona ("The Crying Woman"), a witch from Mexican folklore who was kinda/sorta executed by a tribunal, in her cobweb-festooned basement/dungeon, and  barely maintains its immortal existence by murdering the jurors' descendants and feeding it their blood in order to restore her and gain her dark powers (as was demonstrated at the very beginning of the film).

The undead remains of La Llorna, awaiting resurrection.

Now, at midnight, Amelia turns twenty-five years old, at which time she is prophesied to remove the lance that kinda/sorta killed La Llorona, restoring the witchy creature to life and granting Aunt Selma the blackest of omnipotence. Unwilling to be a part of so diabolical an agenda, Amelia opts to take her husband and leave immediately, but her aunt ominously tells her that her fate is irrevocably linked to the curse of La Llorona thanks to them being her direct descendants and there's not a damned thing she can do to prevent the prophecy from playing out as written. For her part in all of this, Amelia is promised immortality and tremendous power, and as the fateful hour draws near she finds herself in the thrall of the curse's baleful influence, craving human blood to replace her own, which is being leeched away by the curse's effect. And as if that's not bad enough, part of the curse upon the women of their line is that their men will inevitably be driven mad and end up as crazy, hideously deformed wildmen (Guess what happened to Selma's allegedly deceased spouse?), and Jaime is next in line for that unfortunate process (with no small amount of voodoo-style assistance from Aunt Selma)...

THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN is simply drenched in old school atmosphere and I would not at all be surprised to find out that it was a loving and wholly intentional evocation of the classic Universal horror flavor/aesthetic, with a good helping of the Italian witchery classic BLACK SUNDAY (1960) thrown in for good measure. The film meets all of my personal criteria for classics of the Mexican horror genre and it does not disappoint for even one moment of its eighty-minute running time. All of the performances are top shelf and the actor who plays jaime, Abel Salazar is familiar and beloved by American fans who will never forget him thanks to his starring turn as the title character in the following year's THE BRAINIAC (about which there will be a full discussion in a few days, so stay tuned). Kids and adults will eat THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN right up and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Thankfully, it's available in a fantastic DVD edition from Casa Negra that gives the viewer a great restored print and Spanish and English language options (go for the the Spanish with subtitles). If you call yourself any kind of true fan of the horror film as an art form, you need this in your collection immediately.


Poster from the original Mexican theatrical release.

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