Friday, October 14, 2022

El invernadero (1983)

... aka: Greenhouse, The

Directed by:
Santiago Lapeira

Spain was very prolific in the genre in the 1970s but their output decreased by half in the 80s. I'm not sure exactly what happened there, but this is in stark contrast to most other film-producing countries, who ramped up horror film production to capitalize specifically on the growing home video market at the time. Even Spain's #1 horror star, Paul Naschy, who headlined a number of box office hits the previous decade, was having a hard time getting funding for his movies by 1980 and ended up working in Japan instead. This may or may not have something to do with Spain reducing the number of co-productions with other European countries like Italy and France, or it may have just been that Spanish audiences were burnt out from the genre boom of the 70s and these kind of films simply fell out of favor. Taking a quick glance at the films produced in Spain during the 80s, it appears that softcore sex films were the video rental of choice for consumers.

It's also worth noting that the actual quality of the genre films produced in Spain during the 80s was of a lower standard than what they were doing in the 60s and 70s. Sure, there were a few very good Spanish genre films made this decade (Anguish and In a Glass Cage immediately come to mind), and we all love junk like Pieces, but most of the rest of their output was pretty hideous on the whole. Quite a few titles (including the one we're about to view) did not receive any kind of international distribution.

Carlos Jiménez (Ovidi Montllor) is a geeky, awkward, friendless, forty-something loner who works in a bookstore, is really into horticulture, lives all alone and generally lives a sad and lonely existence outside of his plants, which he claims are his friends. One evening while out walking, he bumps into a young biker (Bernard Seray) having an argument his girlfriend, Berta (Berta Cabré), which ends with the guy slapping her, pushing her down and taking off. Carlos takes the rattled girl back to his apartment, where he gives her first aid. She confesses she's always been drawn to affairs with abusive lowlifes because they feel more "passionate" than regular relationships. While that kinda bothers her, she doesn't really know what to do about it, nor does she necessarily want to change it. The two also discover they're neighbors and live across the way from one another. He's actually seen her around town before, but was always too timid to introduce himself.

Though he tells Berta right away that he's not interested in a sexual relationship with her, Carlos becomes obsessed. He secretly starts taking photographs of her and hides an audio device in the home's communal bathroom so can listen to Berta sing in the shower. After talking her into coming over for dinner, Carlos runs out and spends a small fortune on sweets and cognac per her request and then she just stands him up. Regardless, he stalks her to a theater where she works as a stage actress and watches from the back row, then sends her flowers with no card attached, though it doesn't take much sleuthing for her to know who sent them.

Though it is Carlos who initially pursues Berta, she's not who she claims to be and appears to have sinister motives. Though she claims to have not noticed him prior, she's caught staring at him through a store window before he officially meets her. Knowing full well he lives right across the way from her, she decides the best place to strip is right by the window with the curtains open. When she finally does take him up on dinner, she stumbles into his darkroom and finds all of the photographs he's secretly taken of her. Instead of it outraging her or scaring her off, it turns her on and, despite the non-romantic pretext of their relationship, she then becomes the sexual aggressor.

It isn't long after she starts dating Carlos that he catches her sneaking her abusive biker lover over to her place to make love with him in front of her open window, knowing damn well Carlos will be watching. Clearly she wants him to see what's going on, but just what kind of game is she playing? After a heated argument over her infidelity, Berta vanishes without a trace. Carlos tries to track her down but no one, not even the theater workers, know where she is. He's plagued by strange nightmares (like going to retrieve a doll and then getting squashed by an elevator), someone breaks into his apartment and destroys his beloved plants and he begins to suspect he's going crazy. Then, he receives a mysterious phone call from a deep-voiced man who tells him to go to a greenhouse near the highway...

After a serious set-up and some intriguing, Hitchcockian mystery elements are established, this then takes a turn for the bizarre and nonsensical around midway through. There are a couple of supernatural murders, some otherworldly revenge, ghosts appearing to inhabit plants (?!) that start bleeding once they're cut (they also talk!), blood materializing out of nowhere to cover a windshield and cause a car to go over a bridge and explode, a guy getting knocked off a bell tower and a sub-Swamp Thing plant monster only seen in split second flashes. How all of this comes to be, I haven't a clue. Even though I don't think much of this works, I can at least say that after awhile I had no clue what direction this was heading in!

Technically-speaking, this is not poorly made. Even with the poor-quality VHS copy, you can tell this was shot and lit with style and care. There's also a good music score, some sharp dialogue, interesting central characters and mostly decent acting. Though he's been dubbed by someone else (as have all of the other actors in the film), Montllor is especially effective; he's all sad eyes and droopy faced and perfect for the sad, pitiable role he plays here. Carla Dey (aka Carmen Serret) co-stars as a mousy sweets shoppe worker named Elena, who isn't given much to do. Ditto for prolific Spanish character actors Víctor Israel (who shows up near the very end as a groundskeeper who gets possessed) and Alfred Lucchetti (in one throwaway scene as the bookstore owner).

This was given early 80s Beta and VHS releases in Spain on the Vadi-mon label, who also released some other rare trash seldom seen outside of Spain like Horror Story (1972), ¿Por qué no hacemos el amor? / "Why Don't We Make Love" (1981), Depravación (1982), Porno: Situación límite (1982), Regreso del más allá (1982), No me toques el pito que me irrito / "Don't Touch My Dick, I Get Irritated" (!) (1983) and (the atrocious-looking!) E.T. parody El E. T. E. Y el Oto (1983). As of this writing, there's no English-language version of this one available.

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