Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Devil's Kiss (1975): or, We Blew the Budget on Candelabras and This is What's Left

It's an old, sad story: an underprivileged high school football player, a good kid if none too bright, nevertheless has a certain amount of talent for the game he loves. He's got big ideas, creative play plans that could change the fortunes of his team, and enough enthusiasm and confidence to put them into action. But on the day of the big game when the time comes to put those plans into motion, sadly, he finds he and his teammates lack the skills in football fundamentals to implement his plays appropriately. Creativity and hard work keep them in it, but you can only go so far without those basic aptitudes; passes are dropped, balls are fumbled, and despite scoring a few spectacular touchdowns, eventually the scores-against total overwhelm even those could-have-been-legendary goals. The buzzer sounds and the underdogs, dejected, bruised, and beaten, slink off the field to a chorus of boos from the very throngs they hoped to impress.

Now, replace "football" with "Eurotrash Horror Movie" and "fundamentals" with "basic filmmaking skills," and you've got a pretty good analogy for this 1975 Spanish horror wannabe, La Perversa caricia de Satán, aka Devil's Kiss.

Or maybe not. Still, though--hoo boy.

The movie opens as promisingly as you'd like, with creepy, profundo-basso butler Joseph (Carlos Otero) bearing a twisty-tapered candelabra down to the basement of a Gothic chateau, which the Duke de Haussemont (José Nieto) has converted into a swingin' 70s night club for the amusement of his aristocratic friends. As a bikini-clad dancer shakes it like a Polaroid and writhes on the floor while a black man in full African Tribal war dress dances around her, the jaded aristocrats stand around sipping scotch, fondling their monocles, and stroking their goatees, completely unimpressed.

She loves the Night Life

Hoping to fire up his bored friends with a little something extra, the Duke has invited an old friend back to the chateau, the Countess de Moncourt (Silvia Solar of Naschy's Night of the Howling Beast). Having fled society years ago after her husband's suicide and her subsequent financial and social ruin, the Countess has changed her name to Claire Grandier and made a new life for herself as a medium and an occultist. Even though she's obviously still upset about the Duke's having bought her husband's stables out from under her for a song, she has agreed to come back and perform a seance for his party guests' entertainment.

This opening party sequence gave me high hopes about the film, despite some really atrocious dialogue (I know it was dubbed, but even so--serious info-dump exposition with absolutely NO style). The jaded gentry coming to the antique building for wild entertainments (after the Native Dance there's an avant-garde fashion show where models in plastic jump suits strut through the crypt clumsily on platform shoes--which is pretty awesome) reminded me not unpleasantly of the best parts of Eyes Wide Shut--you know, the parts without Tom Cruise.

While the Duke and Claire set up for the seance, the jumpsuit models are changing clothes and showering upstairs, and we get a WTF episode where a totally cadaverous butler accuses one of the models of stealing before getting all rapey and slappy, then stopping when she gets bitey. Afterwards the near-rape victim is calmly getting dressed while below Claire prays to Satan to bring forth the spirit of the Duke's dead brother. The model sees something, screams and faints, and the seance is brought to an end. The aristocrats leave in a disappointed huff, and neither the spirit of the Duke's brother, the rape, nor the girl's experience are ever mentioned again.

Good Grief!

Despite the failure of his party entertainment, the Duke invites Claire to stay and teach him "the occult sciences." He also invites her consort Dr. Gruber (Eurocine mainstay Olivier Mathot) to move in and continue his experiments, which as it happens involve telepathy and "the regeneration of dead animal cells." Short on research funding, the pair readily agrees.

As it turns out Claire has gotten over her social failing NOT AT ALL, and has returned to the chateau with a view toward vengeance on those stinking rich folk what wronged her. The plan, like many such in Eurotrash horror lore, is elegant in its simplicity: Dr. Gruber will use his SCIENCE (mad variety) to build a body of rejuvenated cells, which Claire will then use her occult prowess to instill with a demonic spirit, thus completing the soul/body pairing necessary to revive dead flesh. The doctor will then use his telepathy to control the demonic Frankenstein's monster, ordering it to kill Claire's enemies and right the scales of justice to her liking. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

In pursuit of this goal, Clair also rescues a dwarf (Ronnie Harp, in his only screen appearance) from an angry mob who are after him for molesting a village girl. She installs him in the lab unbeknownst to the Duke, because hey, you know--a Mad Lab is simply not complete without a rapey dwarf assistant.

Solar-powered Villainy

So as you can see, the pieces are all there for a Eurohorror puzzle that could well be put together into something beautiful: occultism meets Dr. Frankenstein, jaded aristocrats and a witch's revenge, and an old dark house full of eccentric servants. The ideas are interesting--but the execution is so horrendously botched that the MADNESS just cannot overcome the BADNESS. The aforementioned exposo-dump dialogue goes on and on; sometimes the principals even offer their lengthy, detailed exposition of baffling events several scenes AFTER they occur, which doesn't help anybody. (For instance, after the vivified creature murders the Duke, the police search the whole chateau and find "nothing out of the ordinary." A good five minutes later, Claire and Gruber go back to the basement and Clair blurts out "Fortunately we were able to hide in time--the coffin and the dwarf!" Thanks, babe, I was wondering about that!)

Also working against the movie is the garish lighting setups (could you sleep with a blue-gelled spotlight blazing on your bed? Not I), the musical score that disappears for long segments and is none too good when they remember to put it in, and NUMEROUS "walk from here to there without edits in REAL TIME" sections that absolutely stop the movie cold. Add a murderous Frankenstein's creature who's barely taller than his creator, and you've got quite the Suck Cocktail there. I don't know where Gruber went to Mad Science school, but really, that's just inexcusable.

The one bright spot in the dank darkness of this movie--or really just a dim appliance bulb, but it still shines brightly compared to the rest--is the character of Loretta, the Duke's maid, played by busty blonde beauty Evelyne Scott. Not only is her maid's outfit of the Sexy Halloween Costume variety (zang), but she must have the largest collection of exciting underwear ever amassed by a domestic servant. Seriously, she's often shown in her bedroom, and never in the same lingerie twice. Check it out:

Change my linens.

Trouble Sleeper

Diaphanous Decolletage

For a while I thought Loretta might end up as the heroine of the flick--the Duke seemed more than a little interested in her, and after his death, his inheriting nephew (Daniel Martín, who looks like a cross between David Hasselhoff and Mickey Dolenz) also seems ready to put the moves on her. In addition, her stable hand boyfriend shows up now and again for a refreshingly intense sex scene. I was way more interested in her than in any of the other characters...IYKWIM.

However, it's not to be--she's killed by the creature when Gruber loses telepathic control because he's suffering from an annoyingly prolonged heart attack. (Really, for half the movie he's gasping and groaning and ready to drop dead--by the time he finally dies, I was ready to cheer from relief.) Claire and Gruber reanimate her corpse in order to hold off suspicion, again setting up an interesting idea on which the movie fails to capitalize--she murders the stable hand, is taken into custody by police, hooked up to a colander-based brain scan, and then dies when they give her electroshock...for some reason.

Oh, and somewhere in there the creature kills Claire, chases the new Duke's girlfriend (a slumming María Silva, who would prefer you remember her for Tombs of the Blind Dead and Curse of the Devil), and is shot down by police. The end.

Win Ben Stein's Beakers

I wanted to like Devil's Kiss, but the movie thwarted me at every turn, and committed the one cardinal sin: it got boring. In fact, the more I think of it, the more its failure to entertain irks me. It was all RIGHT THERE, Devil's Kiss! All you had to do was haul it in! But it bounced right off your fingers into the end zone.

A sad, drooping 1 thumb rating for this one. Fast forward to Loretta's scenes and enjoy Silvia Solar's shiny shiny boots, but otherwise, don't waste your time.

"Wha Hoppend?"

1 comment:

Tenebrous Kate said...

But... Silvia Solar is Spain's answer to Dyanne Thorne! I don't want to admit that this could possibly be as awful as you say and yet... you have an even higher tolerance for junk-cinema than I do so... I'll defer to your opinion here.

+10 points for the Mike LaFontaine ref at the end of the review, though :)

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