Monday, July 14, 2014

La muerte incierta (1977)

One of the things that the majority of the most well known films from José Ramón Larraz are known for is their high level of sex and violence, particularly Vampyres (1974) but what’s interesting about that is Larraz went on record several times (including during his often hilarious commentary track on the DVD for Vampyres which also featured producer Brian Smedley-Aston) claiming to not be a fan of having a lot of blood in his films. Larraz was also quoted in Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill’s 1995 book Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies, 1956-1984 that his debut film Whirlpool (1970) perhaps wasn’t the best choice for a debut feature as it pigeonholed him in the eyes of many as strictly a sex film director. While its true that Larraz’s films had a tendency to be quite visceral at times, anyone who’s seen a handful of his films will attest that Larraz was much more interested in the psychological as the sex and violence in his films was balanced out nicely by the unique psychology Larraz brought to his films. This is especially evident in his early British thrillers like Whirlpool, Deviation (1971), Scream and Die (1973) and Symptoms (1974), although there is considerably less violence and overt sexuality present in that film. La muerte incierta, one of Larraz’s Spanish films, is a perfect example of Larraz’s creative psychological approach to horror.

Clive Dawson, a wealthy English plantation owner returns to his estate in India with his new bride Brenda (Mary Maude). Prior to leaving India and getting married Clive had ended his relationship with Shaheen (Rosalba Neri), a native girl who felt used and thrown away by Clive’s ending of the relationship, promising to place a curse on Clive and all who lived on his plantation. Shortly after arriving Clive is informed by his son Rupert that while he was away Shaheen commited suicide and most of the superstitious servants have left in fear of Shaheen’s curse. Clive remembers Shaheen’s curse threat very well and not long after settling in his own superstitions take hold as Shaheen’s presence begins to be felt all over the plantation.

In the hands of a lesser director a film like La muerte incierta (The Uncertain Death) could have easily been turned into a lazy and pedestrian ghost story but in the hands of a master like Larraz it becomes a brilliant supernatural psychological thriller. While the film does make use of certain ghost story tropes it really isn’t fair to label the film simply a “ghost story” as the places Larraz takes the film travel far outside that one subgenre. Larraz makes things ambiguous early on and the film becomes even more so as Larraz delves deeper into the Dawson family history which raises the question of whether or not the plantation is really haunted or what Clive is experiencing is the result of paranoia. This exploration of Clive’s past also gives Larraz license to create a fascinating mystery involving superstition, mental illness and murder all of which make the curse angle all the more intriguing not to mention create some incredibly tense moments. The subplot involving Clive’s past also serve some of the films more supernatural elements which are in turn aided immensely by the films Indian settings with the surrounding jungle becoming a character in itself, which Larraz puts to use masterfully during one of the films most memorable moments involving a tiger hunt which ends with a truly innovative visual metaphor. On top of all that Larraz even throws in a seriously uncomfortable semi-incestuous side plot involving Brenda and Rupert, a quintessential Larraz character, as most in the film are.

There seems to be a bit of confusion as to when the film was actually made. IMDb lists the film as having a 1973 release while the Immoral Tales book claims it was 1977. Considering the amount of research that went into that book plus the actual time the authors spent interviewing Larraz 1977 would seem like the more likely release year. That would also place it alongside The Coming of Sin (1978), another film dealing with familial curses and superstitions so it makes sense if the film was made around then. For the longest time La muerte incierta was a pretty hoarded film until it became more widely circulated among collectors. When the film was first unearthed the print had turned completely red until a fan color corrected it and English subtitles were added. Most of the DVD-R’s seem to be sourced from the color corrected print although some of the red does make an appearance on occasion. Watching it is another one of those cases of just knowing how amazing the film would look if given a proper restoration. Still though the film is available which has to count for something, and although Rosalba Neri technically isn’t in the film for long the fact that a film exists that was directed by Larraz and features Neri, two giants of European cult cinema, that alone should make La muerte incierta required viewing.

1 comment:

  1. Hey tom

    where could i download or get movie "pieces"?
    what year pieces was released?