Sunday, March 27, 2022

Escalofrío (1978)

... aka: Chills
... aka: Don't Panic
... aka: Nuit Infernale (Hellish Night)
... aka: Satan's Blood
... aka: Schock

Directed by:
Carlos Puerto
Juan Piquer Simón (prologue)

Have you ever bumped into someone you didn't know who knew you? They may come up to you and say, "Hey Bob!" and you're like "Hey, uh, um..." trying to put a name to the face and conceal your confused, askance facial expression. That actually happened to me several years ago at a gas station when I back in my home town visiting my parents. A guy walked up to me when I was in line and was like "Justin?" and I was like "Yeah" and then he shook my hand. Forcing a smile, I was like "Hey, what's up?" which led to several minutes of me fielding all kinds of questions about what I was doing, where I was living, etc. The best I could do was try to hide the fact I didn't remember this guy and dance around his questions like I was at some job interview. But the thing is, I never let this guy on to the fact I didn't know who he was. I STILL don't know who this guy was. I even ended the conversation never learning his name or where he knew me from. I probably was thinking the man would feel either dejected or insulted if I said "Who are you again?"

That's basically how memories work. You may have made a bigger imprint on someone else's than vice versa due to any number of circumstances, plus some people just have better memories than others. Maybe mine sucks and is just limited to humiliating moments that happened 15 years ago that randomly pop in my head right when I'm trying to go to sleep at night. Like when I was in high school and my English teacher misplaced my paper yet still forced me to get up in front of the class with some notes and "do your best." I then proceeded to give a completely jumbled and incomprehensible red-faced speech as my peers looked on at me like I was insane. And then there was a moment in college when I arrived to class a few minutes late, tripped and fell in front of around 200 people in an otherwise completely silent auditorium. See, while I very vividly remember these things, chances are no one who witnessed them do. At least that's what I like to tell myself.

The opening scenes of this one cleverly play upon all of that. Would you flat out tell someone who claims to know you, and even provides evidence that he does, that you don't recall them, or would you just kind of go along with the story the other person is selling? That's the situation José María Guillén's character Andy finds himself in when he's out on a leisurely weekend drive with his four-months-pregnant wife, Annie (played by Mariana Karr), and their German Shepherd, Blaky. While stopped at a traffic light, a car pulls up next to them and the occupants keep staring. At the next light, the same car pulls up and the same couple stare at them until the guy finally says, "Andy?" They then motion for them to pull over so they can talk.

The mystery man - Bruno (Ángel Aranda) - claims to be a former college classmate. Andy is skeptical, especially when the story the man gives has a few holes in it. For starters, he looks much older. Second, though he knows what college Andy attended and some of the teachers, he claims the school dean was actually their professor. Still, Bruno knows enough about Andy that he's able to persuade him to accompany him and his wife, Mary (Sandra Alberti), back to their home so he can prove he is who he claims to be. Andy reluctantly agrees, something he quickly starts to regret whenever Bruno pulls off the main road and continues to drive through the country for an entire hour! While Andy did have the balls to question Bruno right away (unlike what I did in my situation), I sure as hell wouldn't have followed the guy an hour away to play catch up! The only one who's as apprehensive as they should be about the situation is the dog, who senses the couple is evil and won't stop barking.

Bruno and Mary take them to a gated old mansion that they claim they only use on weekends. There's also a nameless, mute groundskeeper / guard (Luis Barboo) living there who's just as sinister as the couple. The home is filled with ornate antique furniture and other peculiarities, like a skull, books on the occult and Satanism and an old creepy doll. Andy and Annie are given a "special vintage" of wine to drink and Bruno finally produces that school photograph of he and Andy together, but Andy finds that their names and home address are written on the back of it.

Things don't get any less strange from there as Mary coerces the guests ("Do you believe in the existence of situations that can take us beyond our reality?") into a OUIJA session using a glass goblet. The spirit they call forth then proceeds to pick at one of Andy and Annie's relationship scabs: She once had an affair with his brother. It then claims that Annie is still in love with him; something she denies. Though more than ready to leave at this point, a frazzled and intoxicated Annie passes out. That, combined with a thunderstorm and it already being late, means they'll be spending the night.

Before the night is over, their dog is killed, Annie almost gets raped in the kitchen by a vagrant (who is stabbed to death and dismembered soon after) and the young couple are mesmerized and take part in a Satanic orgy complete with fire, smoke, oil rubdowns and sex in different combinations on the floor on top of a black pentagram. (It's very well photographed and lit and quite an erotic scene actually). The following day, things don't improve as the evil couple do everything in their power to prevent Andy and Annie from leaving the home. Just what do they want exactly?

So, you want to know how Spanish filmmakers celebrated their newfound, post-Franco cinematic freedom? Look no further! This one (given the Spanish 'S' for sex rating upon release) has loads of full frontal male and female nudity, sex, group sex, rape, lesbianism, lesbian rape nightmares, implied homosexuality, cannibalism, dog eating, suicide, blood, gore, a couple of zombies, loads of Satanic iconography, a painting of Jesus going up in flames and more. And it's all good, unclean fun most of the time. Not that this is perfect. After setting up a decent premise and maintaining our intrigue for a good hour plus, the director ends with a hectic barrage of various nonsense that reveals some vague conspiracy then circles us back to the beginning. It will probably leave you scratching your head. Still, this is entertaining, well-made and more skillfully shot, scored and directed than the vast majority of other Satanic sex films from this time.

Puerto only directed one other genre film: the extremely difficult to find La capilla ardiente (1981, "The Burning Chapel"), which was never released in America. The big name attached to this one is Juan Piquer Simón (of POD PEOPLE, Pieces and SLUGS infamy), who was the executive producer, art director and later added two new prologues to the film, including an intro by "Professor Vasallo" (played by Fernando Jiménez del Oso, a real-life parapsychologist, TV host and author) informing us that Satanism is very much real and vouching for the authenticity of the film we're about to watch, and a brief scene where a young woman is placed on a sacrificial altar and is stripped naked, fondled and then stabbed by an old priest (Manuel Pereiro).

Though best known now as Satan's Blood, this was first given a U.S. VHS release from All American Video under the new title Don't Panic. In the UK, the release of Don't Panic from Colourbox re-used the same poster art as the U.S. release but was actually the 1987 Mexican supernatural slasher film of the same name. To make matters even more confusing, Mogul (parent company of All American, I believe) released a 1984 U.S. slasher film called Satan's Blade (1984) reusing the same exact box art they used for Satan's Blood!

There have been a number of restored DVD releases in recent years, from Mondo Macabro, Scorpion Releasing, Redemption Films (out of the UK) and Media Target Distribution (out of Germany). In 2020, Vinegar Syndrome released a 4K restored Blu-ray, which comes with a 45-minute making of doc called Satan's Blood: Recuerdos de Escalofrío featuring interviews with the director, editor Pedro del Rey and actress Alberti, the only one of the four stars still living.

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