Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Colegio de la muerte, El (1975)

...aka: School of Death

Directed by:
Pedro Luis Ramírez

Spanish production, set in turn-of-the-century 1899 London, is fairly well-made, but too tame, slow-going and bland to hold much interest. At the Saint Elizabeth Refuge, a home for orphaned teenage girls, the young ladies are being whipped into shape by ruthless directress Miss Wilkins (Norma Kastel) and her yardstick/lash-wielding assistant Miss Colton, who want to prepare the girls for employ as loyal servants to wealthy local families. School president Mr. Granfield (Tito García) demands "silence, discipline and obedience," but they're been having trouble with a few of their more independent-minded students - Leonor Johnson (Sandra Mozarowsky) and her best friend Sylvia Smith (Victoria Vera). For talking back, Leonor gets lashed and has to spend some alone time in a sound-proof room, while Sylvia is shipped off to a home to begin work as a maid. Her first night there, Sylvia is accosted in her bedroom by a mysterious, facially-disfigured doctor, who promptly takes her downstairs, ties her to a table and jabs a scalpel into her temple. Local Dr. Edward Brown (dull Dean Selmier), who also does routine examinations at the Saint Elizabeth's, chalks the death up to heart paralysis during a brief and not-too-thorough autopsy and Sylvia is quickly buried.

Later, Leonor spots a still-living but seemingly entraced Sylvia being shipped off somewhere in a carriage. When she lets the authorities - led by Inspector Michael Coleman (Ángel Menéndez) - know, they exhume the coffin and find a very dead Sylvia still inside. So what's going on? Well, it has something to do with using brain surgery to lobotomize schoolgirls into a cataleptic states and then selling them off as high-priced hookers! Other than the evil doctor and his accomplice Miss Chambers (Elisenda Ribas), Miss Wilkins and an unseen master criminal named Bob Wilcox are all involved in the scheme. Other characters thrown into the mix include George Allen (Carlos Mendy), a reporter, Lord Ferguson ("Chris Huertas"/Cris Huerta), a wealthy, rotund "client" who ends up getting stabbed to death and Inspector Collins (Estanis González), Coleman's assistant. Not everyone is who they claim to be.

Despite the lurid premise, the film itself is very tame. There's very little blood and no nudity. I'd almost refer to it as being old-fashioned. There's some visual style present. Outdoor scenes, whether taking place in the day or night, are all shot through with large amounts of fog. The night scenes are also colorfully lit and the cinematography in general is very good. Most of the performances are decent enough, and the dubbing isn't too bad either. Unfortunately, after a good opening 20 minutes or so, the rest of the film drags and it doesn't really pick up again until the last 10 minutes or so. It's then the film offers a few twists; one of which totally caught me off guard, so I'll give it props for at least offering one surprise. Also interesting is the mad doctor character, whose face apparently was disfigured in a fire. His name? Dr. Krueger!

Sadly, pretty leading lady Mozarowsky (who also appeared in DEVIL'S POSSESSED, NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS and a few other Euro-horrors) committed suicide two years after this was made. She was only 18 years old. The cast also includes Ana Farra (from LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE, THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN and others). The original American VHS release came in 1984 through All-American/Mogul Video. Sinister Cinema also offers a decent print on either VHS or DVD-R. As far as run-times go, the version I saw certainly seems complete and runs 90 minutes, though I've seen this listed elsewhere as running 110 minutes.


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