Monday, December 13, 2010

Black Candles (1982): or, Sometimes You Get the Goat, and Sometimes the Goat Gets You

José Ramón Larraz's 1982 Satanic cult thriller Black Candles starts off with a bang. And by that I mean it begins with a balding, middle-aged man whiling away his afternoon by banging his much younger, much more attractive mistress. Rightly pleased with himself, the elder lover chuckles at his girlfriend's silver necklace, calling it, "The Devil's Paw" in a dismissive, smarmy way. Things go from titillating to tragic, however, when somebody spears a voodoo doll with a nasty looking hat pin, leading our depiliated debauchee to suffer a massive coronary while wrapped in the arms (and legs) of his lady. To her credit, the girl seems completely unfazed by this turn of events. The camera then  pans to a photo of the man's newly widowed wife Fiona (Helga Liné), which glares disapprovingly from the nightstand at her late philandering husband and his paramour. Could she be behind the supernatural assassination that abnegated his assignation?

Spoiler: yup.

Originally titled Los ritos sexuales del diablo (The Sexual Rites of the Devil), Larraz's film is jam packed with dysfunction, depravity, and sex sex sex, sprinkled with enough outrageous cult-centered shenanigans to keep horror/exploitation fans happy. You want an old dark house filled with evil family secrets? You got it. You want a hapless, disbelieving heroine menaced by a Satanic cult with its fingers in every strata of village society? Happy to oblige. You want necro-incestuous dream sequences and an extended sex scene involving an actual, factual goat? Step right this...waitaminnit, what kind of fucking sicko ARE you?

"It's a family heirloom. My grandmother had it fashioned from the first farthing she made as a prostitute!"
 After the credits, we join the deceased man's sister Carol (Vanessa Hidalgo) and her husband Robert (Mauro Ribera), who have come to comfort Fiona in her grief and to see about the dispensation of her brother's estate. Unfortunately it's a very dark and stormy night when they arrive, and the electricity has been knocked out at the mansion. Luckily Fiona has a metric shitload of BLACK CANDLES around to light the way. When Robert--a defrocked priest and now professor of theological studies at some unnamed university--comments on the occult symbolism of the light sources, Fiona admits to a fascination with demonology, laughing, "Intelligent people all over the world continue to make pacts with the devil!" I hope for their sake they don't also bet a lot of money on poker.

Despite her misgivings about her sister-in-law's interests and her already burgeoning suspicions about her brother's death, upon being shown to her room Carol immediately strips down to lingerie and knee-boots to make sweaty Eurolove with her sacrilegious hubby, who in these scenes looks a lot like an Italian Jamie Gillis. A hot and bothered Fiona fondles herself while spying on them through a peephole in the wall, making good the old saying that the lady of the house comes first. And third. And fifth.

Helga just had an orgasm. And boy, is she pissed about it!

That night Carol dreams of wandering the estate's gardens in her white stockings and garter belt, followed by her brother's ghost. After a few vaseline-coated fish-eye lens shots and some nonsensical jump cuts, she finds herself in her bedroom, suddenly having hot passionate sex with her dead brother! Fiona pounds on the door, then teleports inside to make out with Carol while her brother licks her legs. She wakes up in a sweat, and 15 minutes into the movie we've already sent the "taste" bar through the floor.

Think there's nowhere to go but up? Keep dreaming.

"Well here's a bush that needs tending!"
 With nothing left to be gained by keeping the audience in the dark, Larraz next has Fiona talking to a devilish-looking fellow in priest garb about how they need to get rid of Carol and her husband by the Sabbath, since there's a big party planned and they haven't got enough place settings. To that end Fiona's maid pilfers a necklace from Carol's suitcase, which will be useful in their scheme to mystify her into leaving. (Apparently just chucking them out is not an elegant enough plan.) While Carol continues to hear ghostly voices telling her to leave the place forever--which she ignores, naturally--the maid and a stable hand make suggestive small talk in the barn. (Her: "I'm sure you've never seen a billy goat mounting a woman...and later coming inside of her." Him: "No, never.")

Lest you think these Satanists are all talk, we cut almost immediately back to the barn, where the brother's lover from Scene One lies on a tuffet of hay in her knee-high, fringed suede boots (and little else), waiting for--wait for it--A GOAT. And if you're thinking they won't go there...well, I didn't think so either. But here we are.

"Wait, Mr. Larraz...what's my motivation?"

Turns out the goat's...erm, needed for their ritual, which is some convoluted thing to make Carol believe she's going crazy before she tumbles to the fact that everyone around her is actually worshiping the devil. Which is a long way to go for Gaslight, but I guess just because you're a devil worshiper doesn't necessarily make you a great planner. Still, I shouldn't judge too harshly, since the plan seems to work like goatbusters: Carol sees all kinds of crazy visions (though nothing as crazy as what the audience just saw), and Fiona seduces Robert like a rabid minx, several times, finally making him a member of their coven. (We know he's completely gone over to the dark side because he stops wearing the gold crucifix that has decorated his tufty chest mane for the whole flick--well, that and he forces anal sex on Carol, to her moderate, understated distress.)

You'd think there'd be no trumps left once you've played the Fucked By a Goat card, and in fairness you'd be right. The filmmakers give it a go, however, by having the middle-aged maid cuckold her drunken husband with a young farm hand--while the husband is right there in the bed, egging the sweaty stud on! Later the drunk tries to warn Carol about the cult, and for his trouble is skewered with a sword Edward II-style by his former friends. Thereafter it's a short trip to the Final Sacrifice, where Fiona initiates Robert into the coven by letting him do her on the altar (a fair trade, imo), then takes on the Evil Priest before they all hold Carol down for similar treatment and sacrifice. Completely overpowered by the cult and with no savior to be seen, it looks like Carol is doomed...

"That's Fred, Sheryl, Bobby, Johnson...and of course you know our accountant Maury."

In the excellent book Immoral Tales, authors Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs quote Larraz on the director's opinion of Black Candles: "I don't like that film. That film made a lot of money...No one in that film could act. So what do you do with them? You put them in bed and have them jump on each other!" And that's bad because...? Still, from a serious artistic point of view, you can't really argue the point. The movie suffers from nonsensical plotting, bad dialogue made worse by the usual atrocious dubbing, and a cop-out ending of the sort that usually infuriates me. And to Larraz's point, the acting across the board is pretty bad, except perhaps in the case of Helga Liné, who is a fine actress in my humble and does what she can with an underwritten role.

That said, for fans of the more outrageous end of the Eurotrash sexploitation spectrum, Black Candles more than delivers the goods. The movie is jam packed with sex, most of it about as explicit as a softcore movie can get. (Though for what it's worth, the goat sex scene is pretty tastefully done.) In addition to the bestiality and backdoor forcing, Larraz betrays a real oral fixation here, with Fiona on the giving and receiving end of such on more than one occasion. (Ed. note: zang.) Most of the girls are gorgeous, particularly the young Satantic "vessel" (Lucille Jameson, maybe?) who displays remarkable dedication in a nonspeaking role. It's worth noting that Helga Liné performs several nude scenes, and still looks gorgeous in lingerie, thigh-high boots, and the altogether despite being over fifty years old at the time of filming. However, for the "full-length" shots, as it were, an obvious body double is used.

"Don't mess with me, dear. I crap bigger than you."
 Sex aside, the Satanic Panic elements are handled reasonably well, and the way the whole village from the doctor to the local constable is part of the cult--a cult that kills Carol's brother and absorbs her only other protector into its ranks--really works to generate some suspense for our the hapless damsel in undress. (There are some clear nods to Rosemary's Baby, as contractually required.) I also found the sets and some of the lighting very effective, and for all his sniffery Larraz does manage some stylish shots and compositions. Art will out, one presumes.

In closing, Black Candles is sexy, outre, never boring, and entirely MAD, and for that I can only salute it. Sure it has its shortcomings, but don't we all? 2.25 thumbs. 

Some more photos from Black Candles (1982):

Looks like someone's horny.

Markie Post in an early role.

She'll eat your heart out.

It was the last time Mario agreed to "go first" at Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey.

"Honey, would you still love me if I'd had sex with a convict when I was younger?"
"Why of course, darling!"
"Well...what if I'd banged a goat? Like...yesterday?"

Resuscitate Me

"Relax, baby--I'm a professional."


dfordoom said...

It's a weird little movie, no doubt about that. Larraz is one crazy guy. I liked it.

J. Astro said...

I loooove the filth-factor in this one; it actually kinda stirred me out of my usual jaded mindset when I first saw it, which is rather rare. And the mistress chick at the beginning gets my votes for one of "mainstream" cinema's hottest young lasses EVAH.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

I was traumatized by this film. The goat definitely got me. What a weird little film that I have no urge watching again. I did laugh while watching it though due to its absurdity. Great review.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@dfordoom--Larraz is a director I need to see more from. VAMPYRES is probably my favorite lesbian vampire movie of all time, and this one definitely shows his other work to be well within my ream of interest. I'll definitely be seeking out more.

@J. Astro--it's kind of refreshing when you discover something that still has the power to shock, isn't it? And I agree with your assessment of the mistress chick...sadly, if my imdb deductions are correct about her identity (the cast list hasn't got character names for most of the players), I think she didn't make another least under that name. :P

@Fred [The Wolf]--It definitely packs a wallop! And you're right, it's so far over the top that you can't help laughing at some of the absurdities. Thanks for the kind words!

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