Friday, March 15, 2024

Almohadón de plumas (1988)

... aka: Feather Cushion
... aka: Feather Pillow

Directed by:
Ricardo Islas

This was made by the same fella who'd just done the ultra low-budget shot-on-video vampire film CROWLEY (1987). Since I already wrote a bit about him on that review, I'll give you the Cliffs Notes version here: Islas was a horror-movie-loving teenager living in Uruguay, a low population country (around 3 million when this was made) that didn't have much of a film industry to speak of. Still, he didn't let that stop him from making his own camcorder-shot features, which appear to have only been shown on TV in his home country. Islas churned out quite a few of these in the late 80s into the mid 90s (including a Crowley sequel) before relocating to the U.S., where he continues to make ultra low budget horror films to this day. This one is an adaptation of a short story (a very short one) of the same name by Horacio Quiroga, who's sometimes referred to as "The Edgar Allan Poe of Latin America" and was born in Uruguay but spent most of his professional career working in Argentina. El almohadón de plumas was first published back in 1917 in a collection of eighteen short stories from the author titled Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte ("Tales of Love, Madness and Death"). Though he's mostly unknown here in America, apparently his work is frequently praised in Spanish-speaking countries.

The cheap-looking title screen and opening wobbly shots around a curio shop looking at dolls, masks and the titular pillow set to synth music is oddly charming, but we're also immediately slapped right in the face that this is an amateur home movie. The camerawork is shaky, the videography is sometimes blurry, everything is blindingly bright in the day yet too dark at night and there's almost no attention whatsoever paid to making sure we can actually hear what the actors are saying in the first scene. As our protagonist is discussing some kind of construction deal with his colleague Antonio (Richard Perlas) the audio is muffled and voices are drowned out by passing cars. Cars can even sometimes be heard in some of the scenes taking place indoors and a faint hissing sound is present over most of the dialogue from relying on the camcorder's built-in mic.

The story centers around Jordan (played by the director) and Alicia (Norma Morgan), former college sweethearts who have just gotten married, yet sleep in separate bedrooms. He's so preoccupied with work that he usually brings it home with him and it seems like it's all he can ever talk about. She doesn't seem to have a career or much to do aside from sleeping a lot. Alicia has recently purchased a fancy red feather pillow with a curious, hand-painted design on it (a six-pointed star with an eyeball in the middle) that she seems to be pleased with.

Alicia starts getting headaches and passing out. A doctor is called in and recommends she change her diet. However, her issues continue and she starts getting even worse. Woken up by a noise, she thinks she sees a black-clad figure lurking around their home and follows it into the cellar, where a ping pong ball eyed woman with rotten teeth charges at her. After hearing his wife screaming, Jordan rushes down to the cellar to find her unconscious. Back to the doctors they go. This time they run some more tests and question whether she's on drugs, vomiting blood and / or suffering from "nasal or vaginal discharge" (?!) They finally come to the conclusion she's having hallucinations brought on from anemia and recommend she get more rest. No problem there. All this chick ever seems to do is lie around in bed! Nevertheless, Jordan has his sister Nancy (Beatriz Rossi) come stay with them to help around the house so Alicia has even less to do.

Further encounters with the mysterious lady follow, which leads to more screaming and more passing out, plus dramatic physical changes like dark under eye circles, paleness, rapid loss of weight, rapid loss of blood and small sores on her face that resemble bug bites. After the doctors assure Jordan there's nothing to worry about, Alicia suddenly passes away in her sleep, just five days after first becoming sick. The doctors complete their analysis postmortem and reveal that she had been drained of her blood by something of a parasitic nature.

Considering what medium was used to make this, the unavoidable pratfalls of using said medium and the fact very little money was spent here, this showcases enough care, talent and ambition to keep it enjoyable if you can tolerate zero budget videotaped horror. Though there are awkward, bland and / or technically inept moments sprinkled throughout, a surprising number of scenes are professionally staged, paced and edited, to the point where you sometimes actually forget about this being a home movie. It's almost as if scenes were (gasp!) planned out by the director in advance to the point he may have actually (double gasp!) storyboarded them. Faults and all, I genuinely appreciated the effort that went into this, especially when compared directly to most other SOV horrors from this same time period.

This is also one of those instances where I don't recommend reading the source material before seeing the movie. You can breeze through that in just a couple of minutes afterward like I did, but watching the movie version play out with no knowledge of what's going to happen offers up some surprises you won't be getting if you familiarize with it beforehand. The film does a pretty nice job respectfully staying faithful to the story while also elaborating upon it, especially adding an ambiguous element about the source of the pillow that sends it into faintly supernatural territory.

There are a number of other filmed versions of the same story. It was adapted by Mexican filmmaker Alicia Violante in 1990 (which appears to have been a student film), was the subject of Cuban and Chilean shorts in, respectively, 2000 and 2007, was an episode of the Argentinian TV series Fantasmagorias in 2018 and an episode of the Paraguayan TV series Relatos Clásicos de Misterio y Terror in 2020. There's also Japanese TV movie version from 2022 and it's been featured on several Spanish-language podcasts. To my knowledge, this particular version has never been given an official home video release, nor has it ever been released with English subtitles.

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