Monday, July 27, 2015

El ser (1982)

... aka: Being, The
... aka: Ectoplásma (Ectoplasm)
... aka: Psychophobia
... aka: Psychophobia: Der Killer aus der 4. Dimension (Psychophobia: The Killer from the 4th Dimension)

Directed by:
"Seymour Darbowitz" (Sebastián D'Arbó)

When Psychophobia fell into my lap, I didn't know what to think. I'd never heard of this one before and there was very little information about it online. I first examined the video box. Directed by Seymour Darbowitz? Who? Starring Mary Saint Peter, Ramsey Oliver and Nelson Mentley? Nope, never heard of them either. Produced by Orgaro Wax Museum? Ha! WHAT?! I then put on my Sherlock Holmes cap and began snooping around online. I first found the IMDb page, which claims this is an Italian production released in 1985 but otherwise contains the exact same scant information that can be found on the box. The only difference is that they say “Darbowitz” is is a pseudonym for “Stefano D'Arbo;” someone else I'd never even heard of before. A click on D'Arbo's name revealed this was the only film he'd ever directed. Damn, I'd hit a brick wall and was back to square one. Still, I didn't let this little setback discourage me. I looked over the video box once again to see if I could pick up any clue or think of any actors who may match the Anglicized names. It was then it finally hit me: I recognized the distinctive-looking actor pictured on the box. Well, he's not exactly pictured on the box, it's more like a painting, but I knew this guy from something and my first instinct was that it was something Spanish.

After plugging many names into Google Image, I finally uncovered the mystery man's identity: Narciso Ibáñez Menta. Once a big horror star on Argentinian television, Menta went on to act in numerous later Spanish genre films, often for director León Klimovsky. I'd already seen no less than three of those plus an Argentinian Poe portmanteau called THE MASTER OF HORROR (1960) he starred in. It then clicked that Menta was the “Nelson Mentley” listed on the box, which meant the other names also had a real identity that somewhat closely matched the fake one. After that, all of the pieces quickly fell into place. Psychophobia is actually the English-dubbed version of a film originally called El ser (“The Being”). It was first released to theaters in 1982, not 1985, and is Spanish in origin, not Italian. The director isn't Darbowitz nor is he Stefano, but a guy named Sebastián D'Arbó. The other two stars aren't “Mary Saint Peter” and “Ramsey Oliver,” but Mercedes Sampietro and Ramiro Oliveros. Both Psychophobia and El ser are listed on IMDb, so this is another of those instances where they have the same film listed two separate times. There's also a run time discrepancy, with IMDb claiming the film is 90 minutes while the version I watched was 77 and shows none of the usual tell-tale signs of having been cut.

Now that this long-standing mystery is finally solved (even if I'm not the first person to crack the case, let's pretend I am so I can at least feel justified for all the wear and tear I put on my brain trying to figure this out), on with the show...

Unemployed housewife Eva Serkovich (Sampietro) has recently lost her beloved husband Charles (José Gras, star of such gutter junk as MAD FOXES) in an airplane crash; forcing her to raise their two young children; son Alex (Daniel Arbones, the director's son) and daughter Miriam (Giordina Reinón), all on her own. Running low on funds, Mary goes to beg real estate agency manager Mr. Presley (Alfred Lucchetti) to wait until she collects on insurance to start up her house payments again, but he sends her out the door and tells her it may be years before her husband's employer, the powerful Atomic Cell corporation, actually pay up... if they pay up. Seems there's a complication that may keep her from getting any money at all. Mary then goes to see her brother-in-law George (Jordi Serrat) and his wife Rita (Asunción Vitoria), who pretty much echo the bank president's sentiments. Already at her breaking point from losing her spouse and the associated stress from all that, strange, creepy and possibly even supernatural things begin happening in and around her home.

Things start out with bizarre nightmares, strange noises (like the sound of footsteps on the roof) and some unusual though minor events (like a doorbell ringing all on its own) before escalating into scarier territory. Alex and Miriam spook their mom late one night with a werewolf mask, but both claim they were put up to it by a man they'd never seen before who came in through the window and seemed to know the layout of their house without having ever been there. And then, after Mr. Presley swings by late one night and offers to relieve Eva's debt if she'll have sex with him, he's found dead right outside the home in his car. An autopsy reveals he'd been strangled by someone with enough brute strength to sever his spine. Eva also has the uneasy feeling she's being watched at all times by someone or some thing hiding in the home.

Nonetheless, a newly-single widow's gotta move on and thankfully her old college friend, lawyer James Ronald (Oliveros), is around to give her legal advice. He's also newly single himself since his wife left him. When the two start getting a little too cozy on the couch, both of Eva's children wake up screaming in pain and have to be rushed off to the hospital. The doctor can find nothing wrong with either. It appears that someone insanely jealous doesn't want poor Eva to move with her life. I couldn't imagine who that may be. Yes indeedy, it appears that the ghost of the dead hubby is intent on making his presence known to his former wife and is using a variety of different techniques to accomplish this. One of these involves possessing the body of comatose, terminally-ill cancer patient Albert Ramsey (Rafael Anglada) and making him rise from his hospital bed to pay Eva and her kids a spooky visit by revealing things only Charles would know.

Of course, the spirit must especially hates James, especially since whatever's responsible has a habit of making household items explode whenever Eva and James attempt to get romantic. Though skeptical, James goes to famous parapsychologist Professor Oliver (Menta), who agrees to help them as long as no reporters and no police are involved. Oliver begins his investigation by questioning Eva and then testing her to see if she's able to “generate psychic energy.” He then discusses a bunch of mumbo jumbo about how the house may not be cursed or even haunted, but instead filled with negative “immaterial forces” that have become trapped there. With help from some of his students, he sets up cameras and infrared lights in an attempt to photograph the condensation of said bad energy, or its ectoplasm. But what's really going on?

During the final half hour or so, the director / writer decides to go into overkill mode with the subplots and twists. Charles' former boss Mr. Evans (Josep Maria Angelat) is killed (off-screen) right after Eva visits. Eva's in-laws claim that James may not be who he claims to be and has ties with the real estate firm that wants to repossess her house. Research into the home's history reveal that its first owners were Satanists who performed black magic there and they, along with everyone else who's ever inhabited the house, has mysteriously died. A gravedigger (Víctor Israel) claims he's seen a still living Charles at the cemetery despite the fact a charred corpse rests in his grave. A pair of police officers (Enric Casamitjana and Carlos Villafranca) investigating the deaths have their own differing theories about what's going on, including suspecting that the real estate company is attempting to scare Eva out of the house.

Professor Oliver, on the other hand, thinks that Eva may be involuntarily responsible, informing her that “... you're under such an immense state of stress that it makes you receptive to that psychic power in the house. Consequently, you transform that energy by altering the frequency of your brain waves and you put it in action, subconsciously projecting it and directing it toward a certain person or place or object.”  Yeah, sure, OK. Oliver then proposes a possible solution: Identifying just whose spirit (or energy) is causing the problems and then destroying him / her / it with “ultra-sonic waves.” Considering the director is also the author of numerous books on otherworldly phenomenon, like the Enciclopedia de parapsicología y ciencias ocultas, we pretty much already know who's right and who's wrong as far as these strange occurrences are concerned.

While convoluted, talky and tame (though we get some brief nudity and an exploding head toward the end), this at least has its own wacky and sometimes interesting ideas that fly directly in the face of both science and organized religion. While some of the English dubbing is laughable, the acting (especially from the leading lady and Menta) is good, and the last ten or so minutes are lively, fun and pretty decent payoff for enduring the film's rocky midsection. The Beatles' “Let It Be” is heard on the radio at one point and there's another scene of the kids watching a Return of the Jedi “making of” special on TV; two things I doubt the filmmakers actually got permission to use.

I could only find evidence of two VHS releases; a German one on the VCL label and under the title Psychophobia: Der Killer aus der 4. Dimension (“Psychophobia: The Killer from the 4th Dimension") and a Finnish one on the Magnum Video label. Though this was never released here in America on video, it did turn up on Commander USA'S Groovie Movies on the USA Network in 1986. That was the first time, and perhaps also the last time, this was widely seen by a U.S. audience.

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