on 20 March 2006
I dont't know what to make of this film at all, but it certainly had me hooked all the way to the end. The story is pretty unique, and the turns of events are all surprising and unexpected.
The central character is John, a dashing but rather unpredictable man whose behaviour is impossible to interpret for the entire running time of the film. He starts off the story by being released from a criminal asylum on probation, but it is not clear whether he is still dangerous and/or insane. I don't know if this is down to the script or just his indifferent acting. Sadly, as is the case with a lot of 70's and 80's Euro horror films, the English dubbing takes away most of the nuances of any acting performances. Anyway, he immediatley revs up his motorbike and sets off for the nearest cattle slaughterhouse where he takes a job and learns the art of killing. Let me say first off that any animal lovers should switch off right now, as what follows is about 5 minutes of the most upsetting slaughterhouse footage I have ever seen. I flinched when I saw a live pig knifed in "Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll" (a Spanish horror flick from around the same era as this one), but this is far worse as we get to see live cows strung up, knifed, bled, dismembered and disembowelled. All the time, their harrowing death screams are recorded on the soundtrack. To my disbelief, the actor playing the part of John is clearly seen carrying out these tasks for real on camera. I guess this must have been par for the course in 1970's Spain, but you certainly wouldn't get any of today's Hollywood stars doing anything remotely similar! As thoroughly unpleasant as this is, it does have the desired effect of making you dread the possibities that may lie ahead in the film.
With this nasty business is out of the way, John returns to his former home which is an ornate mansion. Soon after this he meets up with his aunt and her three daughters, and it transpires that the two sides of the family have some kind of fued over to whom the estate and its accompanying riches should legally belong to. The aunt has been paying to keep John incarcerated, and at the same time taken control of the family fortune. From here on, the rest of the story charts Juan's warped plot to terrorise and generally have his revenge on the aunt and the three girls for keeping him in the asyum, alongside their plots to try and stop his demented behaviour and claim the inheritance for themselves. It's quite hard to work out who is the innocent party in this war-zone, but it's made pretty clear that Juan is one sick individual. He plays bizarre pranks of all and sundry, often taking great pains to gross people out or otherwise terrify them. But he also saves an innocent girl from a gang of would be rapists, albeit in a scene which seems unconnected with any other events of the plot. However any sympathy the viewer has for Juan soon fades when he actually starts to carry out his designs on the rest of his family, which involve some quite fiendish ideas, culminating in the climax of the film, as Juan takes all three daughters prisoner in a private fully functioning slaughterhouse that he has created by using his experience in the real thing as training. This is the most powerful scene of the movie, and it creates a sense of dread almost on a par with parts of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". The slaughterhouse footage makes a brief re-appearance here and I guarantee that a lot of viewers will be watching through their fingers as the terrified girls await their gruesome fate. Be aware, though, that the film has more twists and turns to play out before the final credits roll, and it's well worth seeing through to the end.
The atmosphere throughout is superb. The locations and camera work are wonderful, and there are many unusual camera angles along with some creative editing and montage sequences. Although Renaud Verley makes a thoroughly indecipherable leading man, Viveca Lindfors is superb as the aunt, and her character is a masterpiece of understatement. I think the actress probably dubbed her own voice, and it is the only really effective vocal performance on the soundtrack. The three daughters are typical mid 70's Euro starlets, including the lovely Maribel Martin as the youngest.
I have read that the Pathfinder DVD edition misses out a scene involving John and the youngest daughter exploring grounds as well as some important lines from the aunt. The version of the movie I have seen retains this short sequence and although not vital to the plot, it is a nice sequence to watch. The DVD is also apparently framed incorrectly, and this I would find a major issue as it would undoubtedly mar the entire viewing experience. However as it is nigh on impossible to seek out the full version, which appears to only be available on the incredibly rare Duplivision pre-cert video from the 1980's, then at least the film can be seen in this better-than-nothing DVD version. It's a good enough movie to put up with a few framing issues and cuts (be assured that none of the violence or slaughterhouse footage has been cut), but a properly remastered version would be worth adding to any collection of the greats among European horror cinema.