Saturday, October 16, 2021

Mujeres de medianoche (1990)

... aka: Midnight Women

Directed by:
Christian González

A guy dressed in all black and wearing a leather cap picks up a hooker and takes her back to his mannequin-filled apartment. There, he presses a knife up against her crotch, tears off her clothes, cuffs her hands behind her back and then bends her over a table. While in the middle of raping her from behind ("No! Por favor!") as she screams and cries, he then drives a grand total of six knives into her back as she screams and cries some more. Just in the first five minutes we've already half-filled our exploitation movie bingo card with T&A, rape, blood, gore (including close-up shots of the knife blade going into the victim's back) and a complete lack of good taste and subtlety. This also looks just as cheap and grimy as the subject matter. But just when you think this has nowhere else surprising to go, well, it does... by suddenly becoming a lightweight sex comedy! And then it bounces back and forth between being funny (er, well, at least TRYING to be funny) and the bloody, nudity-filled exploits of the serial killer!

At first I thought I was going insane, but then I started looking into matters and this strange production kinda sorta started making a little more sense. This appears to be at least a partial remake of a Rear Window-inspired comedy called El chismoso de la ventana / "The Gossiper from the Window;" which was directed and co-written by Gilberto Martínez Solares all the way back in 1956. The plots of the two films are nearly identical, as are a lot of the character names, and Martínez Solares is also credited here as a producer and writer. So what we likely have is a case of penny-pinchin' producers wanting to make a cheap exploitation movie for the video market and, in lieu of writing an entirely new script, simply opting to recycle an old one. Lazy? Sure. But this still somehow results in a film that's not only unique but also oddly enjoyable.

After the opening murder, we venture off to meet the rest of the characters. Much of the action is set at an antique shop managed by "El jefe" (Claudio Báez), who's your typical obnoxious asshole manager with a superiority complex. Two women work there (both subject to some very questionable behavior from their boss), along with another guy played by Roberto 'Flaco' Guzmán, who is listed as playing "Anacleto" in the credits but is referred to as "Flaco" in the film itself. As for why this tiny little store needs four employees, your guess is as good as mine.

The employees all bicker, randomly start dancing and then the manager gets mad, starts to strangle one of the women (?) and then grabs a bunch of vases and flings them around, eventually nailing one of the girls in the back of the head with one and knocking her out (??) One would almost suspect the filmmakers were trying to make this guy out to be a red herring in the murders except for one little thing: We've already seen the killer. So I really don't know what in the hell that was all about.

Thanks to a mix up in the mail, wealthy antique store owner Mr. Godinez (played by wig-wearing dwarf José René "Tun Tun" Ruiz) receives a plantain in the mail while Flaco receives an expensive telescope meant for his boss. Instead of taking it back, Flaco and his friend Leandro (César Bono) use it to spy on the neighbors, especially the ones who also happen to be young, female and enjoy stripping in front of open windows. They first become interested in a punk girl (Lizbeth Olivier), who dances around topless, smokes a lot of weed and "entertains" two guys who stop over. They then check out a hot little number dancing around in a lime green thong bikini and high heels. Most of the action is seen through a telescope POV circular cut-out. Other "comedic" scenes center around Leandro's hot-blooded Cuban wife Lorena (Yirah Aparicio), who's a terrible cook and is constantly screaming at him, hitting him, pulling his hair, beating him with her shoe and bossing him around. I'd imagine if the genders were reversed on these roles, the audience would have far less to laugh about.

The two plot threads intersect a little bit, with the people in the comedy scenes watching news broadcasts and reading the paper about the killer's exploits. Dubbed El descuartizador ("The Ripper") by the press, the psycho (played by Roberto Ballesteros) ties his next victim up in the bathtub, slaps her around, drowns her, stabs her to death and then fills the bloodbath with flowers. All of Flaco's peeping eventually finds him turning his telescope the killer's way just in time to catch him playing with the decapitated head of a victim. Except Flaco barely pays any attention to that and just moves on to another half-naked lady!

Flaco becomes smitten with one of the girls he's watching, who spends most of her time crying and praying while strutting around in lingerie. The girl - Gloria (Michaelle Mayer) - is sometimes seen arguing with another man who brings a little boy over (whom he assumes may be an ex-husband and her son but are actually her brothers) and suffers from a lot of Catholic guilt over to her chosen profession as a nude model. In an earlier scene, she's shown confessing her sins to a local priest (played by Santos Soberon, also one of the producers) and then immediately skipping on over to an artist's studio and posing topless. Not content with just spying on her, Flaco starts stalking her in an attempt to ingratiate himself into her life.

Meanwhile, "The Ripper" chloroforms a girl, takes her back to his apartment, strips her naked, uses a lipstick tube to draw circles around her nipples (in a bit stolen from the Linda Blair teen vigilante classic Savage Streets) and then sinks six knives into her stomach. Next up is green bikini girl (Ivonne Bardett), who gets kidnapped after taking a shower. He hangs her upside down in a closet, rips off her top, slashes her throat with a switchblade and then spray paints her corpse. Hey, did I forget to mention that "The Ripper" is also a pretentious artist who seems to take styling tips from Walter Paisley?

While the slapstick silliness (which is not above comically sped-up chase scenes, usage of a slide whistle and the two stars constantly fighting over use of the telescope and bumping their heads together trying to get to the eyepiece first) don't gel with the serial killer's sadistic murder spree at all, this is never boring and it's at least something different in the overcrowded serial killer / slasher genre. The horror scenes are all played dead seriously, are unpleasant and fairly gruesome and actually done quite well. The gags are a bit more hit-and-miss, though there's a smile-inducing goofiness to this entire bizarro production that helps you sometimes overlook that.

Adolfo Martínez Solares, son of Gilberto, co-produced and co-wrote this along with his father and also has a cameo as a TV reporter. This one's currently available only in Spanish and the print quality (as you can probably tell from my screen caps) is pretty rough.

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