Friday, September 17, 2021

La muerte ronda a Mónica (1976)

... aka: Death Haunts Monica
... aka: Il buio intorno a Monica (The Darkness Around Monica)

Directed by:
Ramón Fernández

At the age of 19, German-born beauty Roswicha Bertasha Smid Honczar emigrated to Spain, changed her name to Nadiuska and quickly rose to fame as Spain's #1 sex film star after the fall of Francoist censorship in the country. According to a 2016 article in Vanity Fair, during the height of her fame, Nadiuska was being represented by the most coveted talent agent in all of Spain, was living in a luxurious penthouse apartment, had her own entourage consisting of a personal secretary, chauffeur and trainer, graced the covers of countless newspapers and magazines (including doing a nude tribute to Sophia Loren [whom she resembles] in a 1977 issue of Italian Playboy) and was so popular she was the highest-paid actress in the entire country for a spell. Despite having starring roles in dozens of Spanish films, it was her small though memorable role as Conan's mother in Conan the Barbarian (1982) that she's best remembered for today. However, her career would unravel soon after appearing in that.

Helping to usher in her decline, tabloids reported that she had been having a years-long affair with her well-respected (married) agent. And then it was uncovered that she was involved in a sham wedding with a mentally-ill man just to gain Spanish citizenship. Hoping to invest her money into something else, Nadiuska sunk her savings into numerous businesses, but all ended up failing. An attempt at a career resurrection in the late 90s didn't net many further acting opportunities and next thing people knew she was being spotted among the homeless babbling incoherently. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and has since been residing in a psychiatric hospital. Likewise, Nadiuska's co-star here, Karin Schubert, also fell on very hard times after her stint as a sex film star concluded, though that's another story for another review.

Usually classified as a giallo, this is your standard tale of a bunch of rich, scheming, amoral people who apparently have far too much free time on their hands. At the center is Nadiuska's pouty Monica, a married housewife who's inherited a great deal of wealth, which, in the world of giallo, automatically put her in a world of trouble. Monica has sunk a substantial sum of her fortune into a business called Eurozona that her husband Federico (Jean Sorel) runs. Other partners in this company include middle-aged bachelor Arturo (Arturo Fernández), who has a string of disgruntled lovers all around the city and used to date Monica himself, and the fur-coated glamour puss Elena De Fuentes (Schubert), who's close friends with Monica. At least that's what she thinks. Trustworthy friends are also few and far between in giallo.

Because her husband is always so busy working his high-stress job and been neglecting her, Monica has sunk into a deep depression and become addicted to pills. She sleeps in late and doesn't do much aside from taking long baths and lounging around looking miserable. Elena comes to her with a confession: Her husband has been having an affair with a bitchy, husky-voiced model named Eva Schiller (Bárbara Rey). This not only has the potential of compromising the moral integrity of the company, but also bankrupting them as Elena claims he's also been spending an exorbitant amount of money putting his lover up in a fancy apartment and showering her with jewelry and other expensive gifts.

Monica immediately goes to a photography studio to confront hubby's mistress. While Eva readily admits to the affair, she refuses to give up their relationship and even refuses Monica's generous offer to pay her to go away. Eva, who's also involved in a "special relation" with Elena, tells her to leave and take it up with her husband instead. Meanwhile, Diego (Damián Velasco) has just been released from prison after a ten year stint. Turns out that before Federico hooked up with Monica, he was a criminal involved in contraband, drugs and kidnapping. Diego ended up holding the bag and going to prison for both of their crimes and he's not too happy about that. Sensing (probably correctly) that his former cohort is the one who tipped off authorities, Diego now wants "compensation" or else he's going to make Federico's life a living hell. However, Federico's finances are all tied to other people (wife, partners in the company), so getting him the amount of cash his blackmailer is demanding won't be easy.

After coming to the conclusion she should try to fix her marriage (not sure why considering they've only been married a year and he's already lying and cheating on her!), Monica is attacked late one night by a ski-masked intruder with a switchblade. She shoots at the person three times, but they punch her in face and knock her out. While she's unconscious, the intruder does a little corpse switcheroo and puts his disguise on another dead body and leaves it lying next to her so she'll think she killed him. The corpse left at the scene is extortionist Diego. When Federico arrives back home, he insists they not tell the police because the "scandal" would destroy their business and talks Monica into helping him dump the body into a lake.

Federico flies off to Barcelona for a business meeting the following day, leaving poor Monica all alone. She receives a threatening phone call that night from someone claiming to know what she's just done. The person then tells her to meet them at an old abandoned house... or else. When she arrives there, she finds several dead bodies. After fleeing home, she discovers yet another corpse in her bathtub. Just who is doing the killings and why?

A competently-made though middling "thriller;" this is very dialogue-heavy, slow-moving (though it picks up in an enjoyably ludicrous way at the very end) and not shot or directed with much style. Though called a giallo, it reminded me much more of a made-for-TV movie in its lack of visual flourish and theatrical qualities. The only thing here you may not find in a TV production is a generous helping of female nudity. All three of the main actresses chip in (Nadiuska and Rey more than once), as do a number of other ladies in smaller "disrobe-then-disappear" roles. However, it's also worth noting that the scenes themselves are far from erotic. There's no sex here; just a bunch of "Hey, since you'll be on the phone having this really mundane conversation in this scene, you may as well also be naked in the shower while you're doing it!" moments. Even a lesbian nightclub comes off as boring because it's filmed from a distance.

This was the only genre film for this director, who mostly made comedies. I will give him some credit for generating a little suspense at the end and one well-executed jump scare, though it's pretty obvious he's not very skilled at this particular genre. Some of the posters advertised this as an Agatha Christie adaptation, which it is not. The cast also includes Euro horror regulars Yelena Samarina and Luis Barboo as Monica's servants, Isabel Luque as one of Arturo's lovers and Sandra Alberti, who went on to star in the Spanish exploitation gem Satan's Blood (1978). There's never been an official U. S. release for this title, though a number of outlets like Sinister Cinema offer a washed-out (though widescreen) print with English subtitles.


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...