Thursday, December 1, 2011

Las amantes del diablo (1971)

... aka: Feast for the Devil
... aka: Feast of Satan, The

Directed by:
José María Elorrieta

After going away for a month-long holiday, a young nurse named Maria (Verónica Luján) has an experience so frightening that she emerges from it crazed, prematurely aged (wrinkled and with white hair) and blubbering incoherently about "Sheba!," "The music!" "The medallion!" and "Those eyes!" She's taken to an insane asylum for observation, undergoes tests and is diagnosed with something called "The Hammer Syndrome." Someone manages to sneak inside the hospital later that night and, with help from a patient (who later has his throat ripped out by a dog), kidnaps her. Maria's sister Hilda (Krista Nell) decides to get to the bottom of things and travels to the same coastal resort village Maria had gone to before going crazy. She checks into a hotel under an alias ("Hilda Torras") and almost immediately receives a beautiful bouquet of flowers from one Tills Nescu (Espartaco Santoni), a former medical doctor who stopped practicing. He's obscenely wealthy, popular with all of the ladies, seems to possess superhuman hypnotic powers ("Magic is the art of using means which are invisible to produce effects which are physical.") and may be involved in the black arts.

Initially believing that Tills has something to do with Maria's disappearance, Hilda begins indulging in the jet-setter lifestyle with him, his loyal "secretary" Andrea (Teresa Gimpera) and his current lover Paola (Carla Conti). They sit around on his yacht sipping drinks laced with "Indian herbs," go to a cocktail party and attend a nightclub where Tills seems to be able to make a singer forget his lyrics by simply staring at him. Against her better judgment, Hilda finds herself drawn to the seductive Tills and then the two begin getting romantic. Sure, he has intense eyes whose stares seem to make anyone do his bidding ("Those eyes!"), wears an ornate medallion around his neck ("The medallion!"), plays creepy tunes on the organ ("The music!") and is linked to the female reincarnation of the devil ("Sheba!") on more than one occasion, but is he really the one who's terrorized and then abducted Maria? Well yeah, actually he is. And it seems pretty obvious to everyone except for our heroine.

I reckon we're supposed to believe that Hilda has somehow been placed under Tills' spell, except for the fact that at one point she clearly manages to break free from him only to senselessly allow herself to get suckered right back in. Andrea warns her not to get too close (though Hilda assumes she's just jealous), a psychic woman (Elsa Zabala) warns her that he's evil (though she's told that the woman is a psycho) and all of the possible signs are there that he did terrible things to her sister... and yet Hilda still cannot keep away. Eventually, she finds herself at Tills' castle home sucking down some cloudy drink ("a mild sedative"), having nightmares of cultists sacrificing a goat and chanting "Hail Satan! Hail Sheba!" and at the mercy of her host and his voyeuristic Asian butler, Britta. Flashbacks show that as a child, Tills had an evil mother (Inés Morales) who flaunted her infidelities in front of his father and liked abusing daddy with a whip. Because of the abuse, Tills' pop hung himself and now Tills hates women.

I can usually find redeeming qualities in these European Gothics, but this lethargic film fails on just about every level. The writing is poor, the plot is uneventful and the pacing is slow. The Satanism scenes are underwhelming and mostly saved for the conclusion where, truth be told, they don't have much of anything to do with our antagonist's motive for killing. Unless you thrill to gratuitous slow zooms into eyeballs, the film is seriously lacking in style as well, especially when compared to other Gothic films from the era. If it's not bad enough to have a film weak on story and weak on visual presentation, the film also decides to skimp on blood and sex. There's nary a drop of the red stuff, leaving only a handful of nude scenes as compensation. Even those are rather brief.

Ennio Girolami (billed as "Thomas Moore") co-stars as Carlos Ferrer, Hilda's doctor friend who is secretly in love with her and gets jealous that she's spending all of her time with Tills. Julio Peña is the police inspector on the case (who doesn't decide to really "inspect" anything until the last few minutes of the film) and Tomás Blanco plays another doctor. Star Santoni also co-produced and co-wrote the film.

It was a rare lead role for Nell, an attractive Austrian actress who tragically passed away in a car accident not long after this was made. Usually cast in support roles, Nell's brief career saw her filming movies in Egypt (1970's Shadow of Illusion), Turkey (1971's The Red Headed Corpse), Spain (this one) and Italy (1972's The Slasher Is the Sex Maniac!). Though she looks great here, her character is so naive and boneheaded that's it difficult to really get behind her.

Director Elorrieta (billed as "Joe Lacy" here) also made The Witch Without a Broom (1967) and Curse of the Vampyr (1972).


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