Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Valkoinen peura (1952)

... aka: Noidan rakkaus
... aka: Noita
... aka: White Reindeer, The

Directed by:
Erik Blomberg

Plot-wise, this is a familiar tale, but whatever shortcomings are present in the writing are almost entirely overcome by the striking visual presentation and a highly unique setting and atmosphere you won't see in any other genre film. Set in a desolate, mountainous area of Lapland, The White Reindeer paints a fascination portrait of what people do to survive in an extremely harsh climate while also delivering a less-compelling, though still interesting, supernatural horror story. Villagers who live in this area are greatly dependant on the reindeer population to meet their needs and live side-by-side with the animals. Reindeer are not only their primary food source, but they're also used for transportation and for entertainment, with villagers holding races where reindeer pull their sleds down icy tracks. Much like in other cultures throughout the world and ages, the animals are held in such high regard because they're essential to life itself. So important, they've even been integrated into the villager's spiritual beliefs. There's a shrine built in their honor right in front of a graveyard where the skeletons and antlers of reindeer past rest.

Things center around Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen), a young woman born of a witch. Though she's oblivious about her past and was (presumably) adopted by another family as an infant, her subconscious ends up drawing her over to the dark side anyway whenever things don't go her way. Pirita marries Aslak (Kalervo Nissilä). Like many men in the region, Aslak is a shepherd whose job is to lasso and then wrestle down reindeer to add to the village's large herd. He's gone for weeks at a time and, a result of the hard work, isn't always attentive to his new wife's needs. Frustrated by her situation, Pirita goes to see Tsalkku-Nilla (Arvo Lehesmaa), a seer / shaman who lives outside the village in a little shack and brags about being able to bring the dead back to life. He makes a love potion for her from special herbs, death mold and the testicles of ten deer. As part of the agreement, Pirita must sacrifice to the great altar the first living thing she comes across after she leaves his cottage. After completing her task, she'll be irresistible to any man who lays eyes upon her... but not quite in the way she was expecting.

Pirita ends up sacrificing a baby deer her husband had given to her as a gift and for good luck. Afterward, she occasionally transforms into a snow-white reindeer that the men in the area feel compelled to capture because of its rarity. Pirita then leads them down into an area called Demon's Valley, reverts back into human form and kills them. Aside from withcraft, this also incorporates elements from lycanthropy and vampirism into its mythology. Though she's never seen feeding on blood, Pirita does sport fangs. She also seems to only transform during full moons and must eventually be killed with a spear fashioned from a particular metal. It's usually silver in werewolf tales, but here it's cold iron.

This film respects and worships its locations just as the villagers respect and worship their reindeer. There are numerous striking long shots of the empty horizon, the sun setting or rising, trees dotting the landscape above a deep blanket of white and winds constantly shifting the top layer of snow giving the landscape an appearance of continual change and subtle instability (an effect also well-utilized in the Japanese classic WOMAN IN THE DUNES [1964]; though they used sand there). There's a definite silent film feel to the proceedings. It has very little dialogue, exaggerated facial expressions from the actors and expressionistic lighting with characters cast in and out of shadow. Perhaps the most successful aspect is its ambience and evocation of time and place. I've not seen this way of life depicted elsewhere and just watching the people go about their daily lives in these particular surroundings is pretty fascinating to watch. Moreso than the fantasy content, really.

Director Blomberg also (superbly) photographed the film and co-wrote the script with the lead actress. Never officially released in America on a home viewing format, this was one of the only genre films of its year and remains the only Finnish film to take home a Golden Globe (for Best Foreign Language Film in 1957). It also took home awards at Cannes and several others in its homeland.


La endemoniada (1968)

... aka: Endemoniada: De la serie historias de amor y aventuras, La
... aka: Possessed: In a Series of Love and Adventure Stories, The
... aka: Possessed, The
... aka: Possessed Woman, The
... aka: Woman Possessed, A

Directed by:
Emilio Gómez Muriel

For the crimes of practicing witchcraft and murder (including her first husband), Princess Fausta de Santillane (Libertad Leblanc) is stripped of her nobility, has a spiked mask pushed onto her face to destroy her beauty and is then bricked up behind a wall where she will die a slow and agonizing death and her evil soul will forever be trapped. Before her death, the Princess's henchman Gonzalo del Benetto (Enrique Rocha), who's rumored to be a vampire, manages to swipe her sacred necklace before disappearing into the night. 400 years pass. It's Christmastime and a wealthy yet unhappy extended family gather together to celebrate. There's Pablo (Rogelio Guerra), his wife Bertha (Adriana Roel) and their little girl Martita (Alejandra MacBride), Marcos (Arturo Martínez) and his wife Lucia (also Leblanc) and the aged matriarch of the clan (Bertha Moss), who's a nasty and bitter old woman who's tight with her purse strings and chews Lucia out for dressing inappropriately in tight black jeans and a loose-fitting blouse when her own daughter is sitting in the same room wearing a peek-a-boo nightie (!) Lucia's childhood friend Ricardo (Carlos Cortés), whom her husband is jealous of, pops in for a visit. And so does another unexpected stranger... Gonzalo.

Gonzalo has just purchased the Santillane castle next door and invites everyone, most especially Lucia, over for a visit. The place hasn't changed over the centuries and, while he waits for Lucia's arrival, he sinks his fangs into a woman (Norma Lazareno) he's lured there using a newspaper ad for a "secretary." The long-dead princess' skeletal remains are still bricked up behind a wall in the castle's cellar and Gonzalo hopes to transfer look-a-like Lucia's soul into her body to revive her. He puts a necklace on her and awakens the spirit of Fausta but the full possession won't take place until the New Year. In the meantime, the film deals with a concept called "bilocation;" where someone possessed by a spirit that had the same physical characteristics in a past life creates a doppelganger. So Fausta is temporarily able to materialize in the world at the same time Lucia is around without actually taking control of her mind or body. This naturally causes much confusion for everyone involved.

People soon turn up dead, starting with the old crone mother, who has her punch poisoned. Lucia's husband, who wanted his mother dead anyway for the money, gets smothered with a pillow, Gonzalo continues to lure young attractive young women to the castle to feed on and Fausta sneaks out onto a farm to take care of a studly blacksmith (played by former bodybuilder, pro wrestler and heartthrob "José Alfonso Torres" / Juan Miranda). Police eventually get involved but have to sort through conflicting stories being given by the various family members.

Ideas have been pinched from numerous sources, including BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and other Italian and American Gothic horrors, for this Mexican production. They even throw in some Picture of Dorian Gray with a painting of the young Princess being both her preservation and, ultimately, her downfall.

This one seems tailor-made to showcase the charms of the sultry, platinum blonde female star. As Fausta, she gets to cavort around in frilly pink lingerie seducing men into her trap and then killing them. Her usual routine involves getting the guy on top of her, reaching under the bed and grabbing a Medieval dagger and then stabbing them on the back. The version that I watched (which runs just 77 minutes) has many abrupt editing jumps, which happen every single time things threaten to get too spicy. In other words, any time Leblanc's top is about to be removed the film immediately jumps to the next scene. It does the same thing several times during violent moments, so it's quite likely that what I watched was a censored TV print. Too bad. This is still watchable either way. I'm not familiar at all with Leblanc, who was born in Argentina and a a major sex symbol in her day, but she's pretty good as the femme fatale and certainly nice to look at.

This is one of many Mexican genre films from this time that has never been released in America. It's pretty fun if you don't mind simple storytelling and can look past the rather cheap-looking sets and unimpressive photography.

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