Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Escalofrío diabólico (1972)

... aka: Diabolical Shudder

Directed by:
George Martin

I'd like to dedicate this review to actress Patty Shepard, who passed away January 3rd at the age of 67. Shepard was born October 1, 1945 in Greenville, South Carolina and accompanied her family (her father was an Air Force pilot) to Spain in 1963, where she would remain for the rest of her life. The dark-haired, blue-eyed Shepard studied philosophy, but show business soon came calling and she found modeling, print, commercial and television work; developing a following for the latter. It wasn't long before she'd begin landing feature films, starting with a small, uncredited role in The City Is Not for Me in 1966; eventually moving on to more significant roles, primarily in horror films and spaghetti westerns eager to capitalize on a mysterious and alluring dark beauty quite similar to that of British horror icon Barbara Steele. Her first genre role came in 1970's ASSIGNMENT TERROR, where she acted alongside the likes of Michael Rennie and Paul Naschy. The film also starred Manuel de Blas, whom Shepard had married in 1967; a marriage that would last until her passing.

Shepard re-teamed with Naschy the following year in the international hit THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1970); playing perhaps her best-known role: the Bathory-inspired 'blood countess" Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy, who wants to use Walpurgis Night to create an undead army of bloodsuckers. Many other genre roles followed. She played a writer who may or may not be part of a coven of witches in THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN (1972), the heroine in the vampire tale CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1973) and one of a handful of nuclear war survivors trapped in an underground bunker with an unhinged psycho in the apocalyptic REFUGE OF FEAR (1974). Her bloody death by buzz saw in the giallo MY DEAR KILLER (1972) is captured on most of that film's ad art. Perhaps her best genre role of all was in Eloy de la Iglesia's unfortunately seldom-viewed THE GLASS CEILING (1971), a Polanski-esque psychological horror film where she played a deceitful woman whose her downstairs neighbor (played by Carmen Sevilla) suspects has murdered her husband. Many of Shepard's genre films (such as this one and 1973's THE KILLER IS ONE OF THE THIRTEEN) never got released in America.

Things slowed down for the actress considerably in the 80s but she made a mini-comeback of sorts toward the end of the decade, playing one of several sinister members of an exclusive gated community (who may be a ghost) in the confusing REST IN PIECES (1987), a target for elimination by a psycho killer in the slasher EDGE OF THE AXE (1988) and a wealthy investor whose lovely business lunch in a fancy restaurant is ruined when a man's eyeball explodes with parasitic worms in SLUGS: THE MOVIE (1988). All three of those late 80s titles received fairy good distribution deals in the U.S. during the video boom era and probably remain amongst the actress' most-viewed films. So here at The Bloody Pit of Horror, we'd like to give a big salute to Mrs. Shepard and thank her for bringing both her beauty and her talent to the horror genre over the years.

Diabolical Shudder is basically your age old tale of good vs. evil set in and around an old castle. In the evil corner we have Alex Montan (Mariano Vidal Molina), who has spent years coveting both his ailing mother Mina's fortune and his deceased stepbrother Clay's lovely former flame Vivian (Shepard). Clay supposedly died years earlier in a mysterious auto accident, but the body recovered from the accident site was burned beyond recognition, so no one quite knows for sure. The mother (Rosario Royo) suffers from a bad case of dementia, makes no bones about her disdain for her greedy son and refuses to sign over the estate to him. She also claims that Clay and her former husband Walter (who is also dead) continue to pay her visits late at night when no one else is around. Alex cannot wait to get his hands on his mom's money and is getting impatient waiting for the "medieval relic" to keel over. Alex is also a Satanist who heads up a small sect of followers called "The Brothers of Satan," who wear black robes with red hoods and are preparing to reap the rewards of the their service to the Dark Lord.

According to legend, every 100 years on the third night of the invocation after the clock strikes midnight, the King of Darkness comes to his disciples to feast on the blood of a virgin and grant power and prosperity to all of his followers. Alex is banking on it. In conjunction with his portly physician friend (Cris Huerta), whom the subtitles call Doctor Batman (!!), they've already lined up the poor virginal orphan Alma Beilan (Silvana Sandoval) to come to the castle; luring her there under the pretense of temp nursing work. At the mother's request, Vivian also flies in for a visit after a long absence, where she has to constantly reject all of Alex's advances. Alex has been sleeping with the housekeeper Simone (Maria Salerno), but refuses to marry her, and she gets jealous of the attention her man bestows upon Vivian. She throws a drink at him when he refers to Vivian as a "delicious girl" and begins spying on them. Rene (José Villasante), a creepy, grinning, mute old butler, lurks around peeping through keyholes and keeps a mannequin hidden in an old grave in some castle ruins that he fondles and dances around with (!?)

Mina pops in to warn Alma to leave before it's too late and the crazed matriarch of the clan has also exhumed her husband's corpse, hidden it inside the castle and talks to it. Vivian keeps having flashbacks to better days with Clay and nightmares about Alex running his brother off the road down a rocky embankment. Rene tries to rape Alma, so Alex beats him with a riding crop. And poor Clay isn't actually dead, he's just been kept drug and shackled in the dungeon. He does however break out for the big finale and gets to machine gun and kung fu some of the cultists.

Never released in the U.S., and it's kind of easy to see why. When distributors were looking for European horrors to import, they certainly weren't looking for films with no gore and no nudity. Still, what the lacks in sleaze it at least partially makes up for in wackiness. They keep saying the big sacrifice has to take place at midnight, but when Clay busts out of his chains and gets to the ceremony it's in the middle of the day. They've also decide to sacrifice Vivian (a virgin?) instead of Alma for some reason. There is no real justification for why Alex would keep his stepbrother alive and prisoner for years (Why not just kill him?), and I'll probably not be the only one a little disappointed that Satan himself doesn't make an appearance.

All that said, this is a very busy movie with lots going on and it's brainlessly entertaining. The settings are pretty nice, the actors are decent and some of the style choices are downright strange. Quick shots of eyeballs flash on the screen, the camera rapidly zooms in and out and in and out on faces and then starts to wobble and go to and fro for no real reason. When I saw that Martin not only starred, but also directed, wrote and co-produced, I figured this would be some kind of vanity project, but it's really not. Though he does get to be the hero at the end, he has less actual screen time than Shepard, Molina and some of the others billed beneath him.

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