Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

El libro de piedra (1969)

... aka: Book of Stone, The
... aka: Stone Book, The

Directed by:
Carlos Enrique Taboada

Clearly inspired by Henry James' The Turn of the Screw (and no doubt the definitive 1961 film version of that story, THE INNOCENTS), you'll notice several similarities between the two right away: the new governess, the haunted or possibly mentally disturbed child, the huge remote mansion filled with whispers and secrets, the lush nearby garden, etc. Unlike the disturbed, overly emotional character of Miss Giddens in Turn (who very well may be imagining the "haunting"), the protagonist here is a kind, very sane woman who is imagining nothing. Something supernatural is definitely afoot and, because she lost a child of her own years earlier, she feels compelled to do everything she can to help the troubled child she's been hired to care for. The lady in question is Julia Septién (Marga López), who - as the film begins - shows up at the home of re-married, very wealthy widower Eugenio Ruvalcaba (Joaquín Cordero). He immediately tells her that his young daughter Sylvia (Lucy Buj) isn't just a normal girl. In fact, he believes she may be mentally ill. Ever since the family has moved to this new home, Sylvia has spent much of her time in hiding and even more time with her (presumed) imaginary friend Hugo. She finds amusement in doing cruel and perverse things and even has the strange ability to predict things before they happen. And every once in awhile, someone dies.

A tough nut to crack, Sylvia is initially rude to the governess, tells her she doesn't like her and that she's not welcome there, but through patience, kindness and an open mind, Julia is eventually able to win over the young girl's trust and affections. She learns that Sylvia pays frequent visits to the garden, where the stone statue of a little boy holding a book - her "friend" Hugo - rests. The statue - which is five centuries old and was brought to Central America from Austria decades earlier - houses the spirit of a young boy who's been dead for many years and the book he's holding is a book of (black) magic spells. We learn that the boy was the child of a witch who may one day return to life. Somehow, evil little Hugo has managed to take possession of lonely Sylvia, coercing her into helping him do evil things... or doing them herself.

Sylvia makes a six-pointed star out of salt to resurrect a dead lizard and, early on, leads the governess to an abandoned church, with intentions of making her fall to her death from the top. Julia isn't the only target, though. A former governess was scared away from the home in horror and a dog belonging to the father's painter friend Carlos (Aldo Monti) is killed after it scares the girl. Sylvia's young stepmother Mariana (Norma Lazareno) wants nothing more than to find a way to connect to the closed-off Sylvia, but Sylvia hates her so much that she decides to make her suffer with help from a voodoo doll. Eugenio and Carlos eventually go to an occult expert for advice, but can they or Julia save the bewitched young girl before it's too late?

This ghost tale is well-regarded by many in its home country and it's easy to see why. The performances are good, it's faintly eerie at times, paces itself out about right by revealing layers of the interesting story a little bit at a time, makes good use of the lush outdoor surroundings and a few of the supernatural scenes, with visions of the little boy's ghost seen several times reflected in mirrors, are well-done. It's a good film, no doubt, but overall it lacks the artistry and depth that makes something like the similar and aforementioned The Innocents an *excellent* film. Still, it's well worth your time if you can find a copy (it's never been released in America, though an English-subbed copy is out there if you look for it) and would make an ideal introduction to the genre for a child.

Director / writer Taboada also made the well-regarded HASTA EL VIENTO TIENE MIEDO ("Even the Wind is Afraid") (1968), DRIFTER IN THE RAIN (1968), BLACKER THAN THE NIGHT (1975) and POISON FOR THE FAIRIES (1984). El libro de piedra was remade in 2009 by director Julio Cesar Estrada.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That damn Hugo was the source of my nightmares as a child!
I still get scared when I watch it.

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