Monday, February 18, 2019

Tears For Fears: Tears In The Witch House

Welcome back to my Tears for Fears marathon, where I will be covering every movie featuring the Mexican folk legend La Llorona in anticipation of her newest movie in April...

Year: 1963
Director: Rafael Baledón
Cast: Rosita Arenas, Abel Salazar, Rita Macedo
Run Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

I suppose you could say the cinematic Llorona boom began in in the 1960's. Although it wouldn't really catch hold until the turn of the millennium (when digital filmmaking made regional cinema much easier to produce), the several decade-long gap between Llorona films ended here, with 1960's La Llorona being followed almost immediately by La maldición de la Llorona AKA The Curse of the Crying Woman (the English-translated titles always end up sounding like Billy Wilder comedies). It came out in either 1961 or 1963 depending on who you ask, but this is the first one that really gained traction in America at all, given the fact that it has a credited translator and "American director" on the awful English dub I was forced to watch.

And as we know, America has the best taste in foreign cinema.

The Curse of the Crying Woman begins in true gothic style, with a young woman Amelia (Rosita Arenas) and her husband Jaime (Abel Salazar) arriving by horse-drawn carriage at the house of her estranged aunt Selma (Rita Macedo), who has mysteriously invited them after a sixteen year silence. After a series of creepy events occur, they learn that Selma has pledged herself to her ancestor, a powerful bruja known as The Wailing Witch (Beatriz Bustamante). She wants Amelia to join their ranks, resurrecting the Witch (who cries because she has exchanged her soul for immortality and pledged herself to evil and suffering) and turning to the dark side at the stroke of midnight on her 23rd birthday.

Also some randos die because they need to drink blood or whatever. It's a whole thing.

If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that this plot summary has jack all to do with la Llorona. And you're quite right, imaginary reader. There is no ghost, there are no drowned kids (seriously, we're 0 for 4 on the drowned kids so far), and there's only a little bit of crying. I think this is what we here in America call a "rip-off." Rather than a faithful (or even reasonably informed) take on the Llorona legend, this is a hodgepodge of Old Dark House tropes tossed in a Yahtzee cup and dumped all over the frame.

Fortunately most of these things are pretty fun, in a 60's B-movie kind of way. This film is all about the things that go bump in the night, and around every corner of the mansion is a strange deformed beast, a rotting corpse, or a mirror that shows not all is quite as it seems. If William Castle had been making movies in Mexico, this is exactly what he would have churned out.

Plus, the effects that bring these clichés to life are honestly pretty great. There is some terrific mirror-work here (even if the "reflections" don't always match the motions exactly), the monster lurking in the attic (don't ask) has deliciously macabre mottled skin, the moment where the sky behind Amelia lights up with glowing eyes is a surreal slice of expressionistic horror, and when Aunt Selma assumes witch form (with empty eye sockets and a wicked grin), it's a skin-crawling image.

She doesn't need eyes to see that you're freaked out.

This film also continues the Llorona tradition of being surprisingly nasty for the time period. It's not gory per se, but the opening scene involves a knife being thrown into somebody's chest and a woman's neck being run over with a wagon wheel. It's just implication, sure, but it's brutal implication. 

Unfortunately, even though this film embraces its genre elements well, the characters who are thrown up against these elements are a complete waste of time. When God was handing out character traits, Jaime must have been playing hooky. And Amelia is a completely reactive protagonist, wandering blankly around and being shocked at various things until the movie just sort of ends around her. And what an egregiously dull ending it is! A film that's at least on paper all about the power struggle between two women ends with a fistfight between the men in their lives (a monstrous ex-husband and a scarred butler, to be precise), following a scene that's just five minutes of Amelia sloooooowly tugging on a saber with absolutely no musical underscore.

And this comes after a second act that keeps circling back around to Selma explaining her evil plan over and over again to anybody within earshot. The Curse of the Crying Woman has an incredibly thin, repetitive narrative that desperately stretches on and on to hit feature length. At least it has one saving grace in the form of Rita Macedo. Although the English dub completely obliterates an important facet in judging performance, she still shines as the lip-smacking evil vamp. She has a movie-star face that demands the attention of the lens, and a delectable combination of elegant poise and deep commitment to the silliness of her role. She's a great joy to watch, as is a lot of the haunted house routine she puts her victims through, so it's not like the movie's a waste of time. It's just... you know. Not the best. What're you gonna do?

TL;DR: The Curse of the Crying Woman is a fun hodgepodge of familiar 60's horror clichés, but it's not a great Llorona movie and it completely fails to stick the landing.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 941

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