Sunday, December 4, 2011

El monje loco (1984)

... aka: Crazy Monk, The
... aka: Mad Monk, The

Directed by:
Julio Aldama

Organist, singer and church music director Martín Liceaga (Júlio "Augurio" / Aldama, son of the director) and one of his "flock;" the lovely Carmen (Luz María Rico), start collaborating on music together. The two badly lipsync to an operatic version of Ave Maria (for four minutes!) and then Martín finds himself so caught up in the moment that he must resist the urge to get more, uh, physical with the young beauty. He instead goes to pray for strength, but can only see visions of Carmen's face over top those of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. The guy just can't get her out of his head, so he confesses his feelings of lust to the elderly Padre Superior (Paco Pharrez), who gives him a pep talk and an ornate crucifix... and reminds him his faith is most important of all. Carmen ends up meeting a potential suitor, which enrages Martín. He has a dream of her passionately begging him to kiss her, but she turns into a skull-faced topless demoness instead. One day during confessional, Carmen discusses some sordid details about her new relationship, which is enough to send Brother Martín over the edge. He chases her, starts trying to rape her and accidentally knocks her off the roof. He sneaks her body off to a cemetery, but is haunted by visions of Carmen and the gets his comeuppance from God himself. A one-eyed monk laughs maniacally. The end. Well... the end of this segment.

The film then jumps ahead to a second story: "El talismán maldito" (the first story is never named). Hard-working, depressed farmer José Martinez (director Aldama) and his wife Susana (Queta Lavat) are having financial problems and might lose their ranch. To make matters worse, their son Alejandro (Jorge Aldama) is injured working on his truck and the jack falls out from underneath of it. Jose tries to hawk his prized crucifix (the same one seen in the first story) but the pawn broker isn't interested in it. Desperate, José makes a deal with a shady guy, who gives him a three-pronged wooden fork which is supposed to grant his wishes (with each wish granted a prong disappears until they're all gone). Feeling he's exhausted his options, José raises the fork up to the sky and prays to try to get his family out of debt. It ends up working... but not without an unexpected cost to the family: his son's life. But he still has two more wishes to grant...

El monje loco ("The Crazy Monk" or "The Mad Monk") begins and ends with a cloaked Grim Reaper-ish figure walking through an empty field. Who it is isn't made clear at first since he's not seen at all during the first story. However, the character (who has something that looks like a ping pong ball over one of his eyes) pops up a lot in the second segment to provide running commentary and cackle maniacally as the events unfold. Obviously these scenes were added to bulk up the run time. The first story runs 40 minutes, while the second runs 30 and would probably only run 20 without the monk scenes (the rushed finale is also indicative of some production problems). As is, the whole package runs 77 minutes.

A remake of 1940's EL MONJE LOCO, this was shot-on-video and has production values comparable to public access TV 'productions.' The videography is a little shaky at times, with the camera jerking from left to right for no reason, images sometimes blurred and lots of cheap overlapping effects. The sound is also occasionally a little muffled, with dialogue difficult to hear at times.

Heavy on talk and religious moralizing, low on production values, originality and artistry, this is not going to appeal to many people out there. You might have more fun counting the amount of times flies swarm in front of the camera and land on the actors than actually watching the movie. Still, if you can ignore the cheap, stagy feel, the amateurism and don't mind simple, straight-forward storytelling, you could probably sit through this. At the very least, it's sincere and the actors aren't bad.

It was written by Rafael Portillo (possibly best known for directing the AZTEC MUMMY films) and Roberto G. Rivera (who - like director Aldama - is best known as an actor). It was released on VHS only in Spanish-speaking countries.


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