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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

El refugio del miedo (1974)

... aka: Creation of the Damned
... aka: Refuge of Fear

Directed by:
José Ulloa

Not usually well-regarded by the masses and often written off as being boring, this post nuke tale from Spain managed to keep me reasonably entertained for 90 minutes. It's talky, set-bound, low on action and not particularly original, but the film manages to undermine many of our early expectations in a good way, especially in regards to its characters. After establishing a sensible, level-headed hero in one of them and painting another as a demanding, uncooperative adulteress, the film slowly and effectively does a 180 with both, turning the presumed hero into a raving lunatic who ends up seriously cracking under the pressure and a presumed victim into a resilient type who does whatever it takes to survive a pretty dire situation. Risking turning the latter into someone completely unlikable in doing so, the filmmakers refreshingly never paint her as some kind of saintly super-woman. She survives simply because she's selfish enough to know that she's best off looking out for number one... even if that means locking herself inside her bedroom while one of her unhinged shelter mates is trying to kill one of her friends!

Refuge gives no real details about the nuclear holocaust that's occurred in the United States (where this is set), but we can only assume it's war based, especially since two of the central characters are high-ranking military officers. Aside from the two brief scenes, the entire film is set inside an underground bomb shelter that's basically decked out like any other 70s house. Well, aside from having an elevator going up to the surface and its own miniature mortuary in the basement. Five people; Robert (Craig Hill), his wife Margie (Teresa Gimpera), her teenage son Chris (Pedro Mari Sánchez), Robert's army pal Arthur (Fernando Hilbeck) and his wife Carol (Patty Shepard), plus a Siamese kitty cat, are living there and - as the film opens - have already been down a good deal of time. Supplies are running short, tensions are on the rise and being stuck in the claustrophobic confines of the shelter for God knows how long is starting to seriously wear on everyone. Via radio, they do have contact with other pockets of survivors and everyone's just playing the waiting game until radiation levels to drop to a safe level. There is mention of a sixth member of the group who we learn had to be "put down" when he went crazy and tried to set fire to the shelter.

Because Robert paid to have the shelter built to begin with, he feels licensed to be a complete control freak and balances his time between playing billiards and doing inventory on the supplies to make sure no one is taking more than their share. Likely because of his military training, he expects everyone else to show "discipline" and even goes so far as telling one of the women she can't wear a revealing outfit to dinner! His wife just stays drunk and knits sweaters all the time, while her lonely son mans the radio and pines for his (most likely dead) girlfriend on the surface. Arthur is so stressed out he's taken to pills and has to heavily medicate himself in order to sleep. Carol spends most of her time in her bedroom, feigns illness so she doesn't have to fraternize with the others and is so prone to boredom she's not above performing a strip tease in front of everyone. She also finds herself drawn to the teenage son and the two eventually start having sex... starting with a tryst in her bedroom with her husband zonked out right next to them! When Carol finds herself pregnant and reveals the affair, things go from bad to worse.

With food, water and oxygen all in short supply, cabin fever setting in, personal relations in shambles and seismic activity creating cracks in the shelter's foundation causing it to shift, the stress finally takes its toll on Robert, who snaps and starts injecting the others with poison. The cat is the first to go and, needing the food, it's skinned and put in the refrigerator. Robert also starts sneaking down to the mortuary to cannibalize the corpses; serving the meat to the others. When blamed for one of the deaths, the teen son decides to leave the shelter. He finds a house full of shriveled corpses before succumbing to radiation poisoning. Eventually, only Carol and Robert remain and a game of cat-and-mouse in close confines is underway. In a scene VERY reminiscent of THE STEPFATHER (1987), Robert merrily sings "My Darling Clementine" while cleaning blood off his tie in front of the bathroom mirror.

Though some of the actors appear to be speaking English here, it was still obviously dubbed and suffers a bit because of that (Gimpera's character's dub is especially whiny). That aside, the cast acquits itself fairly well under the circumstances. I'm not too familiar with Hill (who's married to Gimpera in real-life), but he does an especially fine job as the psycho. Hill and Shepard had previously appeared together in the Paul Naschy vehicle ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1969) and Shepard and Gimpera also shared the screen in the same year's vampire tale CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1973).

The DVD is from Substance, who unfortunately use a full-screen VHS print of the movie.


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