Monday, June 16, 2014

Stigma (1980)

Earlier this year, January 12th to be exact, cancer sadly took the life of actress Alexandra Bastedo who was 67. A classic beauty if there ever was one, Bastedo is perhaps best remembered by mainstream audiences for her role as Sharron Macready in the British sci-fi spy series The Champions which ran from 1968 to 1968. To fans of European horror however, Bastedo is legendary for her role in Vicente Aranda’ brilliant Le Fanu inspired The Blood Spattered Bride (1972). She also had a role in the 1975 Peter Cushing vehicle The Ghoul. On two occasions Bastedo served as the muse for the late, very great José Ramón Larraz, first in Larraz’s 1977 marital drama El mirón (The Voyeur) and again in 1980 for Stigma. Along with Bastedo, Stigma is also notable for being the first Larraz film to feature Eurocult goddess Helga Liné whom Larraz would cast again as the titular Madame Olga in Madame Olga's Pupils (1981) and more infamously in Black Candles (1982). When compared to some of the more well known titles from this mid-point in Larraz’s directorial career, namely The Coming of Sin (1978) and Black Candles, Stigma seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle a bit. Like the majority of Larraz’s films, Stigma is yet another deserving of more recognition, a fascinating little film and one of the most original horror films to come from Larraz.

Following the accidental death of his father, José, the older brother of Sebastian (Christian Borromeo) expresses concern to their mother (Liné) over Sebastian’s lack of empathy for their fathers death and Sebastian’s odd behavior in general. Sebastian is indeed not like other teens as he has the ability to cause death with his mind. All he has to do is wish it and the target of his thoughts perishes, an affliction which causes him to bleed from the lower lip once the death has occurred, as well as hallucinations, a stigma  Sebastian claims to neither understand or accept, although it doesn’t stop him from using it whenever he feels wronged. After being introduced to José’s girlfriend Angie (Bastedo), Sebastian is immediately taken by her and the two immediately hit it off, so much so that Sebastian confides in Angie about his condition who agrees to try and help Sebastian discover the origin of his curse.

Far from the derivative Carrie (1976) riff that most would assume due to the troubled teen with supernatural mental abilities angle, Stigma (Estigma) is a rather ambitious film in the way it presents itself. There are essentially three stories going on at once in Stigma. The first obviously being Sebastian’s ability to murder with his mind. The second being Sebastian’s relationships with his mother, José and Angie and the third being the actual cause of Sebastian’s titular stigma which Larraz uses to craft a mystery that becomes more and more bizarre with the inclusion of psychics and hypnosis until Larraz really turns the tables and eventually has the film switch time periods! Par for the course with Larraz, Stigma is as moody as they come, especially when dealing with Sebastian’s contentious family life with Larraz throwing in some seriously uncomfortable incestuous overtones which also play a major hand in the films central mystery, and Larraz’s trademark atmospherics coming into play during the hallucination sequences. The films third act also sees Larraz channeling the threatening countryside aura found in previous films such as Scream and Die (1973), Emma, puertas oscuras (1973) and Symptoms (1974). Of course also at the heart of the film is the believable friendship between Sebastian and Angie and the film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it does without the casting of Borromeo and Bastedo. Dubbing aside, Borromeo is fantastic making Sebastian much more than just a one note teen with issues and he and Bastedo were perfectly matched.

Astonishingly Stigma did have a DVD release at one point in time as part of a 3 disc, 5 film set released as “Crypt of Terror: A Collection of Nightmares” along with Black Candles, the Tiny Tim (who happens to grace the sets box art) film Blood Harvest (1987), Evil Eye (1975), which was also released as a double feature with Black Candles, and interestingly Naked Dreams which is an alternate version of Black Candles. This set seems to have gone out of print almost as fast as it was released and is now damn near impossible to find for a decent price. For a while Stigma was also made available on DVD-R from Amazon made on demand via Mr. Fat-W Video, the same as Black Candles and Larraz’s final horror film Deadly Manor (1990) although Amazon no longer seems to be selling it, and the instant video streaming option is no longer available for the film either which is a shame seeing as those were the easiest ways to get a hold of the film. Surely there must be some other way of tracking this film down. Euro horror fans, and Larraz fans especially are a persistent bunch so if there’s another way of discovering the film they’ll be the ones to do it, and it’s a film that’s well worth discovering, one that showcases just how versatile a director Larraz was.


  1. I like this movie, and I had the DVD collection you mentioned. I think it was released by the late BCI.

    A few years ago, I purchased a used copy at a local flea-market. It only worked once or twice. After that, it wouldn't play on any of my DVD players, or my computer.

    I only paid two dollars for it, so it didn't hurt too much, but I was still really disappointed.

    I keep hoping that MILL CREEK will get their hands on this film, and release it in one of their upcoming 50 packs.
    There's a lot of other obscurities they could release in a set like that. They've released many rare flicks in their previous 50 packs, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed, they'll do it again.

  2. Well that sucks about your copy only working twice. I wonder if that had anything to do with that set disappearing so fast?

    I'm kind of surprised that this hasn't made it onto one of those Mill Creek sets considering some of the stuff you can find on them.

  3. This sounds extremely intriguing. I'm gonna see if I can find me a copy.

  4. Might be a bit of a pain in the ass tracking down an actual physical copy these days but the film is fantastic so its worth the hunt.