Friday, February 5, 2010

El techo de cristal (1971)

...aka: Glass Ceiling, The

Directed by:
Eloy de la Iglesia

As it turns out, Roman Polanski isn't the only person with an apartment trilogy. Combine THE GLASS CEILING with CANNIBAL MAN (1972; originally and more aptly titled WEEK OF THE KILLER) and NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM (1973) - all of which prominently feature apartment house backdrops - and overlooked Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia has one as well. Though his films are quieter and less showy than Polanski's horror masterpieces, all three films in de la Iglesia's series are certainly strong enough to merit another look. Specifically I should say they're strong enough to merit a look since not many people outside of Spain have been able to actually see these movies. Two of the three have never been released on video or DVD here in the U.S. and, to further complicate matters, the one that actually has been released is the recipient of a very misleading English-language title that has resulted in some backlash. You know, people who were expecting gore and cannibalism running around claiming it's "boring" and feeling cheated by the title. In reality, none of these movies were made to cater to the exploitation/gore crowd regardless of how they're packaged. Instead, they'll appeal more to viewers who like slow-building suspense and a more psychological horror grounded in reality.
Ceiling is set in a small, rural apartment house and details the deceptively normal everyday activities of around a half dozen characters. Because her husband Charles (Fernando Cebrián) is always out of town on business, housewife Martha (Carmen Sevilla) spends most of her time alone with only her pet cat to keep her company. Already prone to fantacizing away her boredom and lonliness, Martha begins to suspect that her upstairs neighbor Julie (Patty Shepard) - who she's caught telling several lies - may have murdered her husband. Their landlord Richard (Dean Selmier), a sculptor and artist, has picqued the interest of farmer's daughter Rosa (Emma Cohen), who delivers milk there every morning, but finds himself being drawn to Martha instead. Pete (Javier De Campos), a grocery delivery man, also seems to have a thing for Martha and may be having an affair with Julie. Meanwhile, someone's spying on and taking provocative pictures of all three of the women. Sounds pretty simple, and in a way it is, but the good stuff comes in the details.

You'd be hard pressed to even consider this a genre film until around the final half-hour, but the fact the director doesn't play by the rules is part of the beauty of his work. By the time the terror finally does hit, you feel interested in and invested enough in all of the principal characters he's created that the horror content has that much more of an impact. de la Iglesia also does an excellent job slowly ratcheting up the suspense here. Once you've settled into the film's quiet pacing and the seemingly innocuous everyday events of the characters (though we're still kept a bit uneasy throughout by the women constantly being photographed) that's when he decides to knock you out of your comfort zone. The apartment setting, where one is generally surrounded by people they sort-of know but not that well, is naturally an ideal location when you're dealing with themes of voyeurism and paranoia. It's exploited here the same effective way Polanski exploited it in his apartment-set films.

All of the performances are very good. Sevilla (also the lead in NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM) is outstanding playing a woman who's either very clever and observant or one who's becoming increasingly unhinged. She won a major award in her home country (the Cinema Writers Circle Award) for this performance. Shepard, who's probably best known for appearing alongside Paul Naschy in several films (including THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN), is also effective as the mysterious upstairs neighbor.

The version I saw (a British VHS release on the EKO Video Films label) was English-dubbed. A restored, subtitled release would certainly be welcome, but I don't expect one anytime soon.


1 comment:

CavedogRob said...

Way kool review. I'll be checking this out!

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