Monday, April 22, 2013

Black Candles (1982)


AKA Los Ritos Sexuales del Diablo (The Sexual Rites of the Devil), Hot Fantasies and Naked Dreams

It was inevitable. Just as when I covered Mario Bava’s masterpiece The Whip and the Body (1963) late last year I’ve once again run into the conundrum of not having the slightest idea how to introduce this, and instead of waiting for something to come to me and failing miserably I’m admitting defeat just as I did back then. There’s no sense in stalling any longer, so let’s get right down too it. While Vampyres (1974) may be the most well known film of José Ramón Larraz, Black Candles is easily his most notorious,  and although it may seem like an odd choice to purists, Black Candles also happens to be my favorite Larraz film.

Following the sudden death of her brother, Carol and her boyfriend Robert travel to England to spend some time at her sister in law Fiona’s (Helga Liné) country home. Almost immediately after arriving however Carol begins to feel some very strange vibes from Fiona, the house and Fiona’s group of friends whom she’s been introduced too. Her suspicious are not without warrant, as Fiona and her friends happen to belong to a Satanic cult who are not only responsible for the death of Carol’s brother, but have managed to seduce Robert into their ways, and they’ve got their sights set on Carol.

Unquestionably the sleaziest film in not only Larraz’s repertoire but also within the spectrum of Euro trash/sleaze cinema of that era, there’s absolutely no pretense to a film such as Black Candles. Incest? Check. Girl on goat? Check. Sword sodomy? Check. There’s not many perversities this film leaves unchecked. Make no mistake, Black Candles is European Satanic sexploitation at it’s finest. You really have to hand it to not only Larraz, as this film is audacious even for this type of film from that time period, but also the cast. It’s safe to say that Larraz really found one of the most uninhibited group of exhibitionists imaginable for this film. While it’s true that some of them obviously aren’t the most experienced of thespians (although it’s difficult to really tell thanks in part to the at times awkward dubbing), you have to applaud their willingness to just go for it, no matter what the scene calls for. The highlight of the cast is of course Helga Liné who fit the role of Fiona the sinister sister in law to a T. She not only looked the part, possessing a plethora of presence, but also a mysterious aura about her appearance and simply owned every scene she was in. Believe it or not there actually is a story here. Granted, it’s thin and isn’t the same level of engaging as say Whirlpool (1970) or Scream and Die (1973) but it’s there so the film isn’t as one dimensional as it sounds.

Black Candles is a classic example of Larraz getting the most out of his locations. Obviously operating under a low budget, Larraz manages to sidestep most of the shortcomings normally associated with such things the way he’s always done throughout this career by smothering the entire film in atmosphere, which, with a story like this comes naturally. Once again he returns to the device of the creepy house in the English countryside to great effect, not just the house but all it’s surroundings as well. Scenes such Carol simply visiting her brothers grave in broad daylight have an eerie feeling to them only enhanced by the scenery of the graveyard not to mention the shots of Fiona staring intensely at Carol while she mourns. Naturally the black magic element of the  storyline gives Larraz license to craft some pretty delirious moments, Carol’s unforgettable dream early on in the film being a highlight as well as the her constant hallucinatory “is this really happening” episodes. Even a scene Carol being introduced to Fiona’s odd group of friends, or said group of friends managing to give Carol the creeps by just lounging around Fiona’s living room take on a sort of surreal quality when taking into consideration the black magic/occult aspects of the story. The set design is quite nice as well, especially the basement of Fiona’s house where the black masses are staged, complete with red curtains and of course, black candles. Simple, yes, but it sets the mood perfectly.

Sadly Larraz himself isn’t so fond of the film which is a shame. Unlike a lot of films in Larraz’s body of work, and I’m sure in part due to it’s sheer notoriety, Black Candles actually has been officially released on DVD as a double feature along with the 1975 film Evil Eye directed by Mario Siciliano. I’m assuming that released has since gone out of print as it commands a pretty high price these days, so unless you want to pay $30, I’d say the best way of going about attaining a copy of Black Candles is to go with the DVD-R courtesy of Mr. Fat-W Video, made on demand when ordered from Amazon. VHS quality, true, but it’s watchable and completely uncut and believe me, completely uncut is the only way to go with this one. If you’re not already a fan of this type of cinema Black Candles isn’t likely to change your mind. In fact it’s liable to cause you to run even farther away from it. If however you are a fan and you’ve yet to see Black Candles, run do not walk to this film. A quintessential sex ‘n Satan film more than worthy of its reputation.

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