Sunday, August 23, 2015

Vacaciones de terror (1988)

... aka: Vacation of Terror
... aka: Vacations of Terror

Directed by:
René Cardona III

In a sepia-toned prologue, a witch (Andaluz Russell) vows revenge on her executioners before being burned at the stake. The grand inquisitor (“special appearance by” Carlos East) then has all of her belonging, including a creepy old doll), tossed into a well and sealed shut. Jump ahead to the late 80s and we meet Fernando (Julio Alemán), a wealthy architect who's interested in ancient culture and the old ways... like eating tacos with cow eyeballs inside (!) Fernando's just inherited a new vacation home from his dead auntie and decides to take his wife Lorena (Nuria Bages), who's two months pregnant, and three young children; daughter Gabby (Gianella Hassel Kus) and twin sons Jaimito (Carlos East Jr.) and Pedrito (Ernesto East), there for a little vacation. Fernando's teenage niece Paulina (Gabriela Hassel), who's been staying with them while she's in school, is also invited and is even allowed to let her “funny,” mullet-y unemployed boyfriend Julio (Pedro Fernández) tag along. Thankfully, Julio happens to be really into science, the occult and about a thousand other things and has just recently traded a “little magic box” (a Walkman) to some backwoods Indian (Ernesto Casillas) for a magical medallion that is said to ward off all evil. Naturally, that medallion will later come in handy.

When the family arrive at the once-beautiful home, they're sad to see that the place is now all run down. Not only could it use a coat of paint but the inside is full of dust, dirt, spiderwebs and covered antique furniture. The uptight wife isn't too happy about any of this and bitches up a storm but she'll soon have to contend with even worse things than not having a stove to cook on. Yup, you guessed it: The home was built upon the same cursed plot of land from the opening scene. Pretty soon lots of cliche-ridden, sometimes poorly-edited and staged supernatural scenes start playing out as the family weathers a supernatural shit-storm. The film not only borrows its central plot and family-friendly style PG-13 scares from Poltergeist (1982), but it also swipes two pieces of key imagery from the Hooper / Spielberg film: the living tree and the possessed doll.

Despite the fact the electricity hasn't yet been turned on, the lights manage to come on all by themselves. One of the little boys climbs a huge tree in the backyard (the same one where the witch was tied up and burned years earlier) and claims it won't let him come down. Later, when Fernando and Julio attempt to cut down the tree, it bleeds. Little Gabby is haunted by visions of the witch and nightmares about the execution. She falls down the well (which is actually the entrance to a cave) and finds the cursed doll, which possesses her, turns her “evil” and gives her an echo voice. The doll's eyes move, it jealously rips up all of Gabby's teddy bears and dolls and telepathically communicates grim things to her (“She says that Mother is going to die.”). It also has the power to injure people, make people pass out and make people hallucinate.

The witch's spirit first decides to take out the mother because she thinks the doll is ugly and encourages Gabby to play with her other toys instead. After she starts convulsing to the point where she may lose her baby, Fernando rushes her to the hospital, leaving Paulina and Julio in charge of the kids. The witch / doll then decides she hates Julio and Paulina too and tries to kill them both. It knocks Julio out with a crippling headache, attempts to run him over with his own truck, pummels him with dishes, flings a drawer full of sharp knives and other kitchen utensils at him and eventually sucks him into a mirror (hey, at least it's not a TV set). Paulina has it nearly as bad as she's knocked around a room, has her clothes shredded, burns her hand on a red-hot door handle and is terrorized with frightening visions of bleeding walls, green slime, rotting food, snakes, rats and tarantulas. Because the mom is having nightmares in the hospital and senses her children are in danger, she has Fernando rush home to make sure everything is alright.

Carlos Valdemar's script (based on a story co-written by the director and Santiago Galindo) doesn't do much other than unleash a bag of hoary and outdated haunted house tricks onto the audience. The only thing they seem to have left out from your typical 1930s old dark house flick was eyes on a painting moving but they more than make up for that with a hundred odd close-up shots of the doll's eyes shifting from left to right. They also don't bother linking Fernando and his family to the witch's executioners, so why she's so dead set on getting her "revenge" against a completely random and innocent family is left unclear. Production values are low, the acting isn't very good, the whole thing is incredibly predictable and it's pretty tame for the time (there's no gore, nudity or even profanity). Still, I'd put this into the “mildly entertaining” category. The pacing is pretty fast, it doesn't overstay its welcome at just 80 minutes and provides enough brainless entertainment (particularly in the second half) to keep you going.

The director is the son of René Cardona Jr. and grandson of René Cardona, two of the most prolific and successful Mexican directors of their day who were involved in one capacity or another in hundreds of film productions apiece. While René III hasn't been quite as busy, he has still amassed an impressive 70+ directorial credits to date. Vacaciones was one of his very first films as director and was successful enough to both spawn a 1989 sequel and prompt the director to make a whole slew of obscure low-budget horror flicks like Alarido del terror / SHRIEK OF TERROR (1991), El descuartizador / “The Ripper” (1991), El intruso / “The Intruder” (1991), Colmillos, el hombre lobo / “Fangs, the Werewolf” (1993), Sendero mortal / “Deadly Path” (1993) and El asesino del teatro / “The Theater Murderer” (1996). If none of those titles sound familiar it's probably because most were never released outside of Spanish-speaking countries. Vacaciones became an exception to the rule when BCI Eclipse released it on DVD in 2008. They also released the sequel and a number of other previously-unseen-in-America titles.

Using the alias “Al Coster,” René III also appears in a cameo role as a real estate agent selling the home to potential new buyers at the very end. He's dedicated the movie to his grandfather, who passed away in 1988.

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