Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Don't Panic (1988)

... aka: A Maldição de Ouija (The Ouija Curse)
... aka: Dimensiones ocultas (Hidden Dimensions)
... aka: El secreto de la ouija (The Secret of the Ouija)

Directed by:
Rubén Galindo Jr.

Because of a father who's always away on business, teen Michael Smith (Jon Michael Bischof) has been yanked out of Beverly Hills High and taken down to Mexico City to finish out high school. After his 17th birthday party clears out, his depressed drunk of a mother (Helena Rojo) goes to bed and six of his friends pop out with a surprise b-day present: his very own Ouija board! And it's the same Parker Brothers Ouija board pretty much everyone had back then. Though Michael's more interested in the unibrow charms of sweet new girl in school Alexandra (Gabriela Hassel), he's eventually talked into messing around with the board by his obnoxious best friend Tony (Juan Ignacio Aranda). They ask it a few basic questions and then Tony, who's really into occult stuff, decides to summon a spirit called Virgil, which may or may not be Satan himself. We all know that's gonna spell trouble. But first! The most cliché 80s love montage imaginable that includes balloons, bike rides, pictures in the park, sitting by a lake throwing bread to ducks, feeding each other ice cream and sunset canoe rides. All that's missing is a shot of him giving her a rose as she blushes. Oh wait...

Michael goes to visit Tony, who takes a break from puking to give him a “magic rose” that supposedly will stay fresh and beautiful as long as the love between him and Alexandra is pure. It's enough to get Alex to sacrifice her virginity to him but otherwise things are anything but rosy. Michael begins suffering from terrible headaches, nightmares, blurry visions of things like a bloody hand bursting out of his ceiling and then begins sensing an evil presence is around. His eyes sometimes turn red and then he starts hallucinating a face emerging from a TV set, a girl in his classroom gushing blood and a teacher warning him that he needs to take one of his friends, Cristy Higgins (Melinda McCallum), out of the city before midnight or else she'll die.

After learning from a news broadcast that two of his other friends who messed with the Ouija have been mysterious murdered, Michael rushes to the hospital but is too late to save Cristy, who get stabbed to death with a large sword. He does however succeed in making himself a suspect in her death and making people think he's gone crazy. Michael goes home in hysterics and finds that his mother doesn't believe his story. Instead, she calls a doctor, who comes over and sedates him. Michael's estranged father Fred (Eduardo Noriega) comes back and gets into a huge fight with the mom. While that's going on, Cristy's foul-mouthed brother John (Roberto Palazuelos), who's been bullying Michael in school, sneaks in and kidnaps him. He takes him out in the woods and threatens to shoot him unless he tells him what happened to his sister.

As expected, the night of Ouija birthday fun had left Tony open to possession and now his body's been taken over by Virgil. Tony's spirit however has its own life and sometimes shows up to give Michael advice a la An American Werewolf in London. So what does Virgil want to accomplish? Well, other than killing off everyone who played with the Ouija, hell if I know.

This has clearly been heavily “inspired” by the Nightmare on Elm Street series, from the hallucinations / nightmares to the drunk mother to the “don't make me sleep” scene to the facially-scarred killer having a deep, Freddy-like voice and making dumb wisecracks. The end even takes place inside a dark warehouse / boiler room. What this lacks in creativity it hardly makes up for in other areas as the plotting, dialogue and most of the acting / dubbing is downright terrible. I couldn't even tell what language this was shot in as some of the actors appear to be speaking their lines in English while others don't. Screaming Mad George was imported in to do the special effects and, while he does a typically solid job, the kills themselves (all stabbings and throat slashings) are unimaginative. The man does use a hilarious amount of blood at times, though!

What may save this for certain viewers is the generous amount of 80s cheese on display. The funniest part for me was that our hero runs around wearing dinosaur pajamas (I thought he was seventeen... not seven!) half the time. Like with Dream Warriors, this also has its own title theme song, which is performed by the lead actor (who also wrote it) and is pretty catchy if you're a fan of music from this time. The director also makes sure to plug his previous, and much better, CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985); clips of which are seen multiple times playing on TV sets. The cast also includes Jorge Luke (TREASURE OF THE AMAZON) as a police lieutenant looking into matters, Edna Bolkan (GRAVE ROBBERS) as a teacher and Raúl Araiza. The copyright date in the credits is 1987.

There's some confusion and misprinted information about the home video releases for this one so hopefully I can clear that up right now. Mogul released a video titled Don't Panic here in America (above, top) in 1987, but it wasn't this Don't Panic. Instead, that was their new title for Carlos Puerto's trashy Satanism flick Escalofrio (1978), which is better known now as Satan's Blood. However, in the UK, another company called Colourbox used the same exact cover art and tag line (above, bottom) Mogul used for Escalofrio for their release of *this* Don't Panic. Several other countries (including the Netherlands) did the same. Though an English language version was always available (this appears to have been at least partially shot in English), I'm not quite sure if there even was an official U.S. release until the 2008 DVD from BCI / Eclipse.

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