Sunday, August 4, 2013

La señora Muerte (1969)

... aka: Death Woman, The
... aka: Madame Death
... aka: Mrs. Death

Directed by:
Jaime Salvador

Since the best offers John Carradine was getting in America at this time were in Grade Z productions like Ted V. Mikels' The Astro Zombies (1967) and Al Adamson's BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE (1969), he decided to head to Mexico to try his luck down there. Carradine wasn't the first veteran horror star to do this. Lon Chaney Jr. paved the way by playing a were-mummy in 1959's THE HOUSE OF TERROR. Carradine also wasn't the only one who'd be doing this a decade later. Basil Rathbone and Cameron Mitchell had both been in a 1967 Spanish-language horror-comedy called Autopsy of a Ghost (which Carradine was also in). Even the late, great Boris Karloff ended his long and distinguished career by appearing in four (very bad) U.S. / Mexican co-productions, which combined footage Karloff shot in Los Angeles with director Jack Hill with footage shot in Mexico by Juan Ibañez.

So what was this short-lived trend - drafting English-speaking stars into Spanish-language films - all about? One would assume it was to have more internationally-known names so the films could be released to a wider market, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Only the Karloff films were dubbed. The rest of these weren't even released outside of Spanish-speaking countries. Still, having 'name' stars never hurt anyone's movie, even if the 'names' had to be dubbed over by someone else at the end of the day. Why well-known actors would appear in these to little fanfare probably is as simple as getting a paycheck mixed with lack of opportunity elsewhere; perhaps Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were hogging all the good roles? Carradine was a blue collar actor who simply liked to work and never seemed to turn down any role - so it's not surprising that he was the most prolific English-speaking actor to do these. It was just a one-time thing for Chaney, Rathbone and Mitchell, while Carradine did a handful: Anthology of Fear, Pact with the Devil, Secret of Death, The Vampire Girls and this one; which were all filmed in 1968.

Andres (Victor Junco) is dying of cancer and is so desperate that he's enlisted the services of sketchy mad scientist Dr. Favel (Carradine), who has a bad reputation around town and was expelled from the medical academy for ethical violations. Andres' wife Marlene (Regina Torné) hates Favel, but decides to play along if it means being able to save her husband. As his patient nears his death, Favel puts him inside a glass preservation contraption that puts his body into a state of suspended animation. He then tells Marlene he needs "fresh young blood cells" to put into his body in order to save him. She agrees to be the donor and is hooked up to a machine she thinks is going to pump out some of her blood. Instead, Favel gives her some kind of degenerative disease that sometimes withers half of her face and body. Now with her husband on ice and cursed with a Jekyll & Hyde style affliction, Marlene starts to go a little mad. Favel promises that he'll restore her beauty and save her husband if she'll just get him blood.

Marlene owns a successful fashion design business with her partner Tony (Miguel Ángel Álvarez), who's having an affair on his wife Patricia (Alicia Ravel) with a model named Lisa (Isela Vega). There are always lots of attractive young women hanging around her home, and since Favel requests only blood from young woman, there are plenty of donors at Marlene's disposal. She strangles some with a steel wire and stabs others, using clear tubing to extract their blood once they're dead. After Patricia and Lisa are both killed, Marlene implicates Tony in the murders to buy herself some more time. Unfortunately for her, Dr. Favel has no real intention of helping her and is just using her as a pawn for his own egomaniacal desires to become a world famous scientist.

Fernando Osés leads up the boring police investigation, with help from a doctor played by Mário Orea. Elsa Cárdenas co-stars as Julie, Marlene's personal assistant, who becomes one of the targets. Also thrown into the mix is Favel's pitiful hunchback assistant Laro (Carlos Ancira), who has the hots for Marlene. During one Ed Wood-esque moment, the hunchback attempts to rape Marlene and Favel pulls out a whip and starts lashing him.

There's absolutely nothing new or novel about this low-budget production. The sets are cheap, the police scenes are dull, much of the dialogue is poor, the color photography is pretty flat and the mad scientist's agenda is generic and silly. The makeups are good, though, and some scenes are pretty fun. Marlene chases a victim around in a room full of mannequins and has a nightmare where she envisions Carradine's disembodied head ordering her to "Kill! Kill! Kill!" There are several lengthy fashion show sequences featuring lots of butt ugly lace tablecloth "high fashions" of the day, so those are pretty amusing. The best scene takes place in a horror wax museum with replicas of Dracula, The Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster, where Marlene throws acid in some guy's face and then decapitates his girlfriend with a guillotine. 

The real saving grace is its female star. Torné gets to play both tortured victim and demented, over-the-top maniac and does a good job at both. She also appears topless, something not all that common in Mexican genre films at the time. Despite having star billing, Carradine's role is a supporting one and he disappears from the film for long stretches. The actor also gets to introduce the film in a pre-credits prologue.


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