Monday, April 18, 2022

Census Bloodbath: In Case of Emergency

Year: 1982
Director: Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo
Cast: Jack Taylor, Mirta Miller, Claudia Gravy
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

Plot: El cepo/The Icebox Murders follows Chantal (Mirta Miller of the previous year's Bloody Sex, bless her heart), a prostitute who is taken by her rich sugar daddy Dr. Beneau (Jack Taylor of Edge of the Axe and the same year's schlockterpiece Pieces) to an isolation mansion along with her friend Sylvie (Claudia Gravy). They discover he and his creepy assistant Jean (Juan Meseguer) are very protective of a mysterious icebox in the basement that may be linked to the recent disappearances of a slew of French women.

Analysis: A note: The single battered copy of this film that exists in the world has... a few flaws. The first act loses 2 seconds of footage every 20 seconds or so. And then there's a 20 minute period in the middle where there's no audio at all. After that it's relatively flawless, but there might be some nuances I have missed, shall we say.

That said, the movie has done an excellent job of making sure that every boring scene that occurs is repeated at least once, just so we don't miss anything. Instead of kill scenes, like most slasher movies come liberally stocked with, El cepo is content to watch Sylvie and Chantal wander around this giant house and be vaguely creeped out for 80% of the run time, a feeling that does not transfer through the screen to the viewer via osmosis, as it turns out.

It doesn't help that the film's inevitable Bluebeard twist is visible from space, so whenever the film thinks it's ratcheting up the tension, it's just reminding you that you're still farther from the reveal than you wish you were. Also the red herring at work here is one of the most bizarre in the business. We're not meant to recognize that the wealthy man who approaches Sylvie at the bar is also Jack Taylor, just because Dr. Beneau wears sunglasses that he refuses to take off, even when in the bedroom with his lover. You know, like normal, non-suspicious characters always do.

The slasher element, which begins anemic, proves it has nothing to offer once the few kills actually kick in. You'll notice in my body count below that two out of three victims are shot, but what is not mentioned there is that another victim who is believed dead until a third act twist was also shot. Unless you're in the third act of a Scream movie, there is no need to have a gun in your slasher, and centering multiple kill scenes around people clutching parts of their body then keeling over highlights the film's excruciating lack of personality.

Most of the atmosphere it succeeds in creating is glommed off of Psycho, down to the swinging lamp that lights a climactic moment. There's also one good original shot (pictured below), and while I have certainly committed the sin of bumping up my score of some Census Bloodbath entries because of one good shot, the inane goings-on of the rest of the film prevent that from proving to be much of a boon in this case. The best I can say about this unimaginative slasher entry is that it suffers from Good Poster Disease like so many of its illustrious contemporaries, where the film imagined by its promotional material is oodles more exciting than the way it actually turns out.

Killer: Dr. Beneau (Jack Taylor)
Final Girl: Chantal (Mirta Miller)
Best Kill: Sylvie (pictured above) is shot while standing in a herd of cardboard stand-ups of women with targets on their chests.
Sign of the Times: Chantal works out in a monochromatic peach tracksuit.
Scariest Moment: Jean screams at the women to take off their blouses while he photographs them on a boat.
Weirdest Moment: Although Jean is believed to be dead for half the film, he shows up in the end to save Chantal from the killer, at which point she promptly hitches a ride and drives away from him, leaving him running behind the car like Sweetums in The Muppet Movie.
Champion Dialogue: "I want you to give up your ridiculous profession."
Body Count: 3; not counting several mangled bodies discovered in a nightmare sequence on a train.
  1. French Woman is strangled.
  2. Sylvie is shot.
  3. Dr. Beneau is shot.
TL;DR: El cepo is a boring, arid film that barely crosses the line into being a legit slasher.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 748

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