Tuesday, June 9, 2009

La semana del asesino (1973)

... aka: Apartment on the 13th Floor, The
... aka: Cannibal Man
... aka: Week of the Killer

Directed by:
Eloy de la Iglesia

Even though there's only a hint of (accidental) cannibalism in this misleadingly re-titled effort, Cannibal Man is an undervalued psycho-thriller / character study well worth checking out. Vicente Parra stars as Marcos, a disturbed slaughterhouse worker who lives in a small one bedroom house with his (usually-absent) brother. With his sanity barely in check as it is (notice the loud, ticking clock sound a la Repulsion, an obvious influence), Marcos finally snaps when a lecherous taxi driver attacks him and his girlfriend Paula (Emma Cohen). After fatally clubbing the man with a rock, Marcos and Paula can't agree on what to do and, during an argument about whether to go to the cops or not, Marcos ends up strangling her to death, sticking her under the bed and closing the door (out of sight... out of mind). His brother rolls into town, Marcos confesses to the murder and his sibling also tries to talk him into turning himself in and is immediately clubbed over the head with a wrench. More people will show up to the house (the brother's fiancée, her father, a slutty / lonely waitress from a cafe down the street...) looking for missing loved ones and none are ever heard from again.

The bodies, all kept in the bedroom, are beginning to stink and the neighborhood dogs aren't the only ones to notice. Marcos decides to dispose of the corpses a little at a time by chopping them up with a meat cleaver, sticking them into a small bag and taking them to work with him, where they're mixed in with the meat. He stocks up on perfume and air fresheners in the meantime. And all the while, he's befriended by a peculiar young man named Nestor (Eusebio Poncela) who lives on the 13th floor of an upscale high rise apartment right down the road and keeps an eye on what's going on around him with a pair of binoculars. It's this aspect of the film, the subplot about Nestor and Marcos, very different but social outcasts all the same, and their ability to relate to one another, that gives this film an extra spark of originality and much needed subtext.

Though there are some gruesome scenes at the slaughterhouse where real cows are butchered and some fairly bloody murder scenes, the climax is surprisingly non-gory, mature and believable and the director seldom dwells on blood-and-guts aspect of his film, but more on the psychological aspects of his characters. The production values are pretty good, the English dubbing is tolerable and the acting (particularly the two male leads) is competent, if not excellent, throughout, plus there are even a couple of black comic suspense scenes worthy of Hitchcock, particularly one with some neighborhood bullies playing keep-away with Marcos' bag.

Originally titled La semana del asesino ("The Week of the Killer"), but released to U.S. theaters first under the title The Apartment on the 13th Floor (with an exploitation ad campaign reminiscent of the one used for Last House on the Left). Supposedly banned in many countries upon release (it was a video nasty), the version I saw from Anchor Bay claims to be uncut and uncensored. Director De La Iglesia also made several other horror films. Too bad they're so hard to find. The cast includes Charly Bravo and Fernando Sánchez Polack (both from the director's MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD), Goyo Librero (from the director's NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM, which also featured Parra in a lead role) and Rafael Hernández (the director's GLASS CEILING).


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