Monday, July 9, 2012

#18: Murder Mansion

Drive In Movie Classics
Disc 5: Side B

Motorcyclist Fred (Andres Resino) picks up hitchhiker Laura (Lisa Leonardi), and together they journey through a remote and foreboding valley. The locals warn them not to continue. Like any self-respecting horror-movie-protagonists, Fred and Laura go on. A thick fog descends. A ghostly Rolls Royce bears down upon them, nearly swiping them off the road. The sky grows dark. Suddenly, the motorcycle drops into a ditch.  

“What happened?” asks Laura.

“No more road,” Fred says. “That’s what happened.”

Unfazed, Fred decides to put the moves on Laura. He’s interrupted by Elsa (Analia Gade), an heiress who has crashed her own car and been chased through a nearby cemetery by two shadowy figures: A woman in a dress and a man in a chauffeur’s outfit.

“The only thing that really makes any sense is that your car has broken down and here we are, all three, lost in a fog,” says Fred, semi-coherently and largely non-reassuringly. “What we’re going to do about it I don’t know,” he adds. Together they decide to venture through the fog in hopes of finding a village where they can get help, careful to skirt the cemetery. “I’m afraid the village will be as dead and dark as those unattended graves,” Fred says, offering more of his patented inarticulate and generally dispiriting wisdom.

To their surprise, they come across a mansion on the far side of the cemetery, where an assortment of secondary, subplot-ridden characters are already gathered: There’s sleazy, hard-drinking, gun-toting Mr. Porter (Franco Fantasia), bickering couple Mr. and Mrs. Tremont (Eduardo Fajardo and Yelena Samarina), and Martha Clinton (Ida Galli), the owner of the mansion. They, too, have seen the shadowy figure in the chauffeur outfit.

“I keep having the sensation we’ve crossed the realm between the real and the unreal,” says Mr. Tremont, rather casually. Martha then happens to mention that the residents of the nearby village were killed by vampires. This elicits a few raised eyebrows, but otherwise Elsa is the only one who seems particularly troubled. Martha adds that her aunt, whose ominous portrait hangs above the fireplace, was a witch. A few more eyebrows are raised. Martha goes on to explain that her aunt and her aunt’s beloved chauffeur were both killed many years ago when the chauffeur crashed his Rolls Royce into a wall.

Does this revelation strike any of Martha’s guests as strange? Not really. Like most thinly-drawn horror movie victims, they all seem to lack a sense of fear, curiosity or self-preservation. In fact, they immediately decide to disband and retire to their separate bedrooms. Ghostly sounds are soon heard. Corridors are wandered down. Secret passageways are discovered. Voyeurs grow voyeuristic. Flashbacks are flashbacked to. Finally, the chauffeur shows up, looking pale, menacing and generally undead. Mr. Porter, who’d been stealing into the bedrooms of the various female characters to offer free swigs of whiskey from his flask, is killed. Elsa is chased by the specter of the witch. A floating, disembodied head is seen. Corpses are discovered. Eventually, Fred and Laura decide to investigate. Things get convoluted fast.

To be fair, there are a few surprising twists and turns to the plot, and the atmosphere, cribbed from the gothic fever-dreams of Mario Bava, is generally effective. No surprise: Directors Francisco Lara Polop and Pedro Lazaga are both veterans of the genre. However, the real pleasure in this Italian-Spanish co-production lies in its atrocious dubbing, which lends Fred's dialogue the quality of disjointed blank verse poetry: After all, the only thing that really makes any sense is that here we are, all of us, lost in a fog. It's like a metaphor for life, man.

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