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, November 6, 2016

El extraño hijo del Sheriff (1982)

... aka: El hijo del Sheriff (The Sheriff's Son)
... aka: Sheriff's Strange Son, The
... aka: Strange Son of the Sheriff, The

Directed by:
Fernando Durán Rojas

In 1890, a plague is ravaging the small town of Santa Rosa and surrounding areas... a bad time for the very pregnant Mary (Alicia Encinas) to go into labor. Her husband, Sheriff Frederick Jackson (Eric del Castillo) and his deputy, Jeremias Santos (Alfredo Gutiérrez), race to town to retrieve Dr. Jack Miller (Mario Almada) only to find he's far too busy dealing with dozens of plague victims in his hospital to tend to a mere child birth. He recommends they find a midwife and then sends them on their way. Mary ends up dying after giving birth to twin boys just as a lunar eclipse occurs. According to legend, the combination of the plague and the eclipse signals the birth of the Antichrist. Seven years pass and the Sheriff has had to raise the boys; Fred and Erick (both played by Luis Mario Quiroz), on his own. Because they're conjoined at the back and he's afraid of people making fun of them (and him), he's kept them locked up in their home away from everyone in town. He also blames the doctor for his predicament and wife's death, but he's able to put his grudge aside because he needs his help...

Sheriff Jackson lures Dr. Miller to a remote cabin to show him his sons and asks him to perform the operation to separate them. When Miller refuses because it conflicts with God, his ethics and his medical knowledge, the Sheriff holds him at gunpoint and forces him to try. Mid-surgery, Dr. Miller notices that the two boys are connected at the spine and it will be impossible to separate them without the weaker of the two, Erick, dying. The Sheriff forces him to continue. Suddenly, wind starts blowing, the cabin starts shaking and both men are knocked unconscious. When they come to, Erick is dead and Fred is alive but the boys are finally separated. They bury Erick in the hills by a tall tree in an unmarked grave and hope to just go about business as usual afterward.

Once Fred recovers, dad and Jeremias set about teaching the boy how to ride a horse and shoot a gun and do all of the other things you have to do in an Old West town. But things aren't right. Fred can't shut up about his brother and even goes around town telling people he's actually Erick himself and that he was killed by his father. Or is it really the ghost of the dead brother? Fred somehow gets his hands on a horse toy that was buried with his brother and other strange things happen. The mystery is solved rather early when Erick's ghost pays Dr. Miller a threatening visit. Since the Sheriff oversaw the hanging execution of his teenage son (who supposedly robbed and killed an elderly woman), Sam (Alfredo Wally Barrón) has a bone to pick and starts paying extra close attention to the son's strange behavior. Soon enough, Fred leads Sam to his brother's grave and the body is exhumed. Sheriff Frederick is promptly hauled off to jail and then taken before a court.

After hearing the case, the judge (special guest star Roberto Cañedo) rules that Dr. Miller lose his license to practice medicine for ten years, little Fred is to be immediately placed in an orphanage and the Sheriff must be put to death by hanging. After Fred is dropped off at an orphanage run by kindly Miss Julia (Rosa Gloria Chagoyán), the Sheriff makes his way to the gallows. There's an earthquake and then Erick's ghost shows up to make sure his father dies at his hands, not theirs. But if you think the bratty, jealous child ghost is pacified by the death of his father, think again. He now wants his surviving twin dead so that he can take his place and get all of the attention. It's up to Dr. Miller, Julia and Jeremias to protect the still-living boy and hypnosis is used in an attempt to finally banish the evil spirit.

I wish I could say this was a memorable killer kid movie but it's all rather bland, by-the-numbers, melodramatic and hokey. Like most older westerns, it shoves its “morals” right in our face with no subtlety whatsoever by blatantly insisting one should turn to God over medicine and science. (I'd love to know when the last time a seriously sick or injured Christian sat at home and wanted God to take care of their medical problems instead of, ya know, going to a hospital.) Discounting that, this doesn't really offer up much else of note. The actors are all sincere and try their best, the filming locations and outdoor scenery are both nicely captured at times and there are some minor special effects like eyes glowing red and a yellow spirit floating around a room but that's about it. Star del Castillo also wrote the original story and script with actress Bárbara Gil.

Strangely enough, this was released the same year as BASKET CASE (1982), which also featured a plot about separated-against-their-will Siamese twins, with the one left for dead coming back for revenge. The separated twins in this film also share a telepathic link just like in Henenlotter's film. This also had a lot in common with the made-for-TV movie Don't Go to Sleep, another 1982 release involving the spirit of dead child coming back to kill off members of her own family. But there's a reason the above mentioned movies are still talked about today and this one isn't. It's just not very good.

The director was another of those extremely prolific Mexi filmmakers, like the Cardona's, who had his hands on well over a hundred different films. Some of his other genre credits include Hot Snake (1978), Night Killer (1987), Angels of Death (1993) and Revenge of the Wheelchair (1993); none of which has ever been released in the U.S.


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