Sunday, September 6, 2020

La mansión del terror (1989)

... aka: Hasta que la muerte nos separe (Till Death Do Us Part)
... aka: Mansion of Terror, The

Directed by:
Ramón Obón

Hugo Stiglitz (in a ridiculous poofy wig that doesn't match his beard) stars as Orlando, a well-to-do, turn-of-the-century pianist obsessed with a theater actress named Griselda (Luz María Jerez). Griselda's recently been cast as the female lead in a small production of Othello. Orlando makes sure to attend every single one of her showings (where he gets to see her being strangled on stage every night), sends her flowers nightly and makes his romantic intentions pretty obvious as he intently watches her from his balcony seat. Late one night at a trolley station, he approaches Griselda and, despite his intense and persistent nature (and the fact he initially creeped her out), charms her into having dinner with him. He then invites her to attend one of his performances. The two develop a mutual admiration for each other's talent and become lovers. Soon enough, Orlando is presenting her with expensive jewelry and asking her to become his wife. Griselda is initially apprehensive and has no interest in giving up her career for marriage and family. However, she ends up caving in and the two have an impromptu wedding on the theater stage in the presence of Griselda's friend / roommate Emilia (Lizetta Romo) and the rest of the Othello cast.

Orlando takes Griselda to his home, a secluded but well-kept mansion, located deep within the desert. She almost immediately regrets her decision as the ice cold maid Tencha (Dacia González) gives her dirty looks, almost completely refuses to acknowledge her and clearly doesn't want her to be there. Not just that, but she hears voices coming from the cellar, hears Orlando arguing with someone upstairs and then has a vision of a blonde woman being strangled by someone wearing a wedding gown while she's in the middle of trying to make love to her new hubby. Was it a ghost? A hallucination, perhaps? The next morning, she finally meets Orlando's mother, Eloisa (Rosita Quintana), who's surprisingly bubbly and friendly and eases her mind by letting her know that the mansion is now also her home. She gives her a tour of the estate, including of her beloved greenhouse.

The relief doesn't last long, however, as Eloisa casually reveals that Orlando was previously married, something he never bothered telling her. The family may even keep a portrait of her on the wall and a weird shrine for the dead woman, with her wedding gown as the centerpiece, in the home, though it's also claimed that the woman is a relative. According to Eloisa, the woman in the portrait is her sister, she went crazy and then had to be locked up in an institution. She also looks an awful lot like Orlando's new wife. When Griselda confronts her hubby about her, he shouts at her, clutches his head as weird sci-fi sounding music plays, almost strikes her with a lash and then storms off. Griselda then begins seeing a wedding gown-clad figure lurking around the mansion grounds, which leads her to an abandoned, overgrown old church filled with creepy religious statues that's unfortunately never used again after this one brief scene.

While she's in the bathroom washing her hair, our heroine is vicious attacked by the bride. She pulls her hair, wrestles her to the floor and slices her up with a wire before Griselda's able to lock her out of the room. Meanwhile, Orlando starts mentally deteriorating into a piano key-pounding, migraine-suffering maniac and the two older ladies are both harboring their own dark secrets. There are character revelations, black-and-white flashbacks, nightmares and ghostly visions, plus a corpse hidden under the floorboards in the cellar.

By late 80s genre standards, this is incredibly tame, old-school, talky, slow-paced and non-exploitative. In other words, it's something that could conceivably be shown on television with just a few minor trims. It's also one of those movies that doesn't quite have the budget to effectively realize its period setting (though effort is at least made with the costumes, hair, vehicles, sets, etc.) nor is it fully able to achieve much in the way of gloomy Gothic atmosphere because the bulk of it takes place in a pristine, brightly white, sparsely decorated house. That said, this is competently directed, written and shot. There's decent camerawork, stylish touches using colors and lens flares and, most importantly as this is a dialogue-driven film, a strong cast who's able to sell it. Jerez is strong in the lead and gets solid support from veterans Quintana and González. Top-billed Stiglitz is OK but gets overshadowed by all three of his female co-stars.

This was the directorial debut of Costa Rican-born Obón, who had previously written or co-written around 100 (!) other films, including The Empire of Dracula (1967), MADAME DEATH (1969), The Perverse Doll (1969), PANICO (1970), The Whip Against Satan (1979) and a number of Santo adventures. He was clearly heavily-inspired by a number of Hitchcock films here, most notably Rebecca (1940). There's also a bit of Flowers in the Attic in here, especially at the end.

I'm not sure what the original release title for this one was. It's listed on most websites as Hasta que la muerte nos separe ("Till Death Do Us Part"), though I was only able to track down a later VHS release utilizing that title. The original theatrical lobby card calls it La mansión del terror ("The Mansion of Terror") so that's the title I'll be using here. Like many other late 80s Mexican films, this has never been available in English.

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