Monday, July 02, 2007

El monstruo resucitado (1953)

An investigative reporter, Nora (Miroslava Stern), is sent by her editor to find out if ads in personal columns hold any kind of interesting story element. At an arranged meeting in the dock area of the city, she meets the writer of an intriguing advert--a mysterious man, dressed in black, his face covered by what looks like a black surgical mask and his eyes hidden by dark glasses. Determined to stick to her assignment, despite the man's peculiar, if not frightening, appearance, she accepts to ride back to his house. In the car, he introduces himself as Herman Ling (Jose Maria Linares-Riva).

They arrive at a cemetery and get out. Ling's country hilltop residence is reached through this spooky graveyard of gnarled trees and tombstones jutting up at odd angles, as if the dead under the earth were attempting to push through the ground to seek revenge or succor in the land of the living. As the horrors begin to mount, Nora stifles her fear in pursuit of the story. Ling's house is filled with sculpted figures of women in various tragic poses; at his employ is a peculiar servant who appears either half-idiotic or half-mad. The mirrors of the house are covered in black cloth. Soon, horrid noises and screams will be heard. We have fully entered the land of nightmare....

Trapped by her own desire to complete her assignment, Nora must brace herself for these horrors and more to come. Ling, who is a plastic surgeon, begins to reveal his past to Nora, telling her of his rejection by society and his peers. Nora responds with sympathy in order to elicit more from Dr. Ling--until finally he takes the traumatic step of removing his mask in front of her. The scene and what follows contain the most raw and emotionally uncompromising moments of any such "Phantom of the Opera" moments in cinematic history. At this time, El monstruo resucitado reaches its most impacting, if not shattering point. Soon after, however, another plot element is introduced which quickly turns the film in another direction. Back in a restaurant in the city, Nora relates to her editor the horrors of the night. Unbeknownst to her, Dr. Ling, wishing to make sure if Nora's sympathetic feelings have been real, has hidden himself behind a partition in the restaurant, and he overhears her conversation with her editor. Now there will be revenge. To that end, Dr. Ling restores life to a suicide victim, Serguei Rostov (Carlos Navarro), turning him into Ariel, who will be his automaton of vengeance. The resuscitated "monster" is handsome, while his maker, Dr. Herman Ling, is the repulsive monster. The good-looking and charming Ariel introduces himself to Nora at her favorite restaurant. A relationship begins, while Dr. Ling plots to have Nora kidnapped and disfigured....

Miroslava Stern, who professionally went by her first name alone, received top billing in El monstruo resucitado. Stern was a Czech √©migr√©, who escaped with her father and mother from the Nazi takeover of her country. Her stardom began solidified when she appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1950, for her role in The Brave Bulls. Her suicide in 1957 would give her a future appellation of being "The Mexican Marylin Monroe." Considering her credits in La muerte enamorada (1950), Monstruo resucitado, and Luis Bunuel’s Ensayo de un crimen (1957), one may want to add another appellation--"Mexico’s first scream queen," a descriptive that's admittedly of some tenuous reasoning, but fun, nevertheless.

Carlos Navarro received second billing, to be followed by Jose Maria Linares-Rivas, who as Dr. Herman Ling, is the undisputed star of the film, traveling expertly from stately controlled evil to pathos, then to hysterics and mad laughter, and back again. The Spanish-born Linares-Rivas had already an impressive acting resume before appearing in El monstruo resucitado, with two nominations for the Silver Ariel award for Best Supporting Actor. He died a couple of years after the making of El monstruo resucitado, at the age of fifty-four.

The man behind the mask:
Jose Maria Linares-Rivas

With El monstruo resucitado, director Chano Urueta was on his way to confirming his place as one of Mexico's premier exponents of fantasy and horror. A year later he would helm the classic La bruja (The Witch, 1954), in which a woman this time was the disfigured one. Abel Salazar would employ him for his productions of El Baron del terror (The Brainiac), El espejo de la bruja (The Witch's Mirror) and La cabeza vivente (The Living Head), which would garner Urueta, or at least his films, the attention of many horror fans in the United States.

Arduino Maiuri was responsible for the film's story and part of the screenplay. Born in Italy in 1916, Maiuri spent the 1950s in Mexico, writing many scripts, before returning to Italy in the 1960s, where he became involved in such films as Mario Bava's Diabolik (1968), Sergio Sollima's Citta violenta (1970) and Sergio Corbucci's Vamos a matar, companeros (1970).

For producer Sergio Kogan, El monstruo resucitado was his first horror film. He would follow-up with the aforementioned La bruja, then the pivotal Ladron de cadaveres (1956) and finish off his horror production with Misterios de la magia negra (1958). Though his name as a producer of horror films has been completely overshadowed by Abel Salazar (no doubt due in large part to absence of English-dubbed versions of his films), Kogan is critically important in the development of the genre in Mexico and can, with some debate, be considered the true father of the golden age of Mexican horror.

El monstruo resucitado embraces all the essential components that make a traditional horror film memorable--crescendoing terror, captivatingly weird visuals, plot surprises, and a heartfelt sympathy for the monster (in this case, two monsters--the doctor and the revived killer). There are moments in its latter half when it becomes nearly too outrageous, and the film's lackadaisical back screen projection work is unfortunate, but clearly El monstruo resucitado is just brimming for a major discovery by classic horror fans throughout the world, who should be both astounded by and delighted with the film.

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