... aka: Prezzo del demonio, Il
Ricardo Souto (Abel Salazar) gets more than he bargained for upon arriving in the small village of San José to interview world famous pianist Samuel Magno (Enrique Rambal). Samuel was at the height of his career, and dubbed one of the world's greatest musicians, when he curiously decided to retire from the business altogether and retreat to the small community to live a hermit-like existence. He now lives in a country home with his domineering mother Cornelia (Ofelia Guilmáin) and his talented female protégé Laura (Martha Roth), who plans on carrying on where Samuel left off and will be making her big concert debut very soon. Ricardo's first night in town, he stumbles upon a dying woman who was involved in a minor car accident right outside the Magno home. When he goes to ask for help, Cornelia refuses and closes the door in his face. The police write the whole thing off as an unfortunate accident. Ricardo learns that Cornelia is rumored to be a witch and all of the townsfolk refuse to enter their home for obvious reasons.
The next day, Ricardo attempts to get some information about Laura's upcoming concert and is met with open hostility by Cornelia, who isn't actually a witch, just overly protective and apprehensive others are going to discover a dark secret her son is hiding. Samuel acts like he's a nervous wreck and tells Ricardo he can no longer play. Laura later refutes those claims by saying her mentor only plays late at night. In fact, any time Samuel plays he has to lock himself inside his room and throw the keys outside. And that's because he's sold his soul to become "the greatest artist in the world." Several years earlier, Samuel had been in the shadows to a virtuoso named Alejandra (also played by Roth) and, jealous of her success, plead with whoever out there was listening; offering up his soul to become the best pianist in his world. Someone takes him up on that offer, but things don't work out as planned. Samuel murdered Alejandra with a pair of scissors and has kept her body hidden away in a room ever since.
Now Samuel is both blessed and cursed. He's blessed because, with Alejandra out of the way, he has indeed become the most gifted pianist in the world. He's cursed because he cannot play the piano without turning into a werewolf-like beast in the process, which almost renders his talents meaningless since he cannot share them with the world. And that's where Laura comes in. Samuel hopes to live vicariously through her, though things don't go quite as planned.
This entertaining, well-made film - one of the best South-of-the-border genre offerings from its decade, no doubt - mixes up elements from sources such as Faust, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Beauty and the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera and The Wolf Man to very good effect. The normal Samuel is meek, gentle, kind and passive, while the monstrous Samuel is a laughing, sneering, jealous and arrogant creature. The dueling personas, with the normal Samuel not able to remember a thing he's done as the monstrous Samuel, follow your standard Jekyll / Hyde format, yet this really has something to say about the dangers of ego, pride and taking shortcuts to fulfill your dreams. The addition of the character of Samuel's mother, who is able to keep her son in check regardless of what form he's in (even the monster cowers at her mere touch), gives this an interesting Freudian touch.
Reasonably well-shot in black-and-white and utilizing expressionistic, shadowy lighting, this is adequately atmospheric in the same Gothic vein of the tales its takes its inspiration from. The monster makeups are really pretty great for their time. The beast has untamed hair, thick black eyebrows, a flat nose with large nostrils and crooked teeth, though Rambal's exaggerated, intense eyes under all that makeup is what really brings the creature to life and makes it menacing. I'm not familiar at all with the lead actor, but he gives a performance here that is very much in league with what classic horror stars like Chaney and Karloff were capable of doing; playing both a gentle character and a dangerous monster with equal pathos. The rest of the cast - particularly Guilmáin - is also very good.
Director Baledón also made SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS (1957), THE HELL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1960), the well-regarded THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1961), GHOST JESTERS (1965), THE SHE-WOLF (1965) and others. His young daughter, Ana Laura Baledón, plays the little girl who gets a fatal Tchaikovsky lesson at the hotel.
The DVD is from CasaNegra Entertainment, an unfortunately short-lived company who specialized in restoring and releasing Mexican genre films.