Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Leyendas macabras de la Colonia (1973)

My initial aim was to just show the entrancing primitive cover for an old Mexican video release of Leyendas macabras de la Colonia (shown above), but then I decided make a DVD-R of the video and subsequently started to watch the film, which I had already seen some time ago, but forgotten much about.

The film is, in a word, bad, but with that exquisite badness of certain Mexican fantastique that qualifies it as a low-grade mescaline trip or a dazed tequila dream (not potent enough to be a nightmare) of an incomprehensible walk among the weird and the strange. The Rogelio Agrasanchez production stars three lucha libre heroes--Mil Mascaras, Tinieblas, and El Fantasma Blanco, and the high-cheekboned actress, Lorena Velazquez, best known to Mexican horror fans for her role as Queen Thorina in El Santo contra las mujeres vampiro (Santo vs. the Vampire Women, 1962). The story has Tinieblas buying a haunted painting, which later in the evening transports him and his wrestling buddies and two girlfriends back to Mexico's colonial times. This fivesome is mostly kept out of the action and the action takes place all in one night, as a sorceresses, played by Velazquez, takes vengeance on those who tortured and executed her mother, now a mummy who looks like the Aztec Mummy's better half. The characters of La Llorona and El Monje Loco make embarrassing appearances.

The plot is good for a half-hour TV show, but it's padded out with one of the longest lucha libra matches committed to film (nearly twenty minutes long), a couple of uninspired sword fights, and a slowed-down pace that surprisingly isn't boring, but mind-tripping instead. A mind-trip that induces a honeyed languor and an understanding that life makes no sense, but it's okay, because sleep will come again and then another dream will take over.

You can well imagine movie patrons in Spanish theaters going to see this film in the early 1970s with high expectations and then being trapped into watching something so awful, yet so insightful as to the human condition. I've been in theaters in Central America where I've had such other-worldly, yet equally earthy, experiences, and they humanize one and give one a calmness of the body, mind and spirit. Perhaps it is only through a certain type of bad film that we look at ourselves and realize the co-existent duality that we and life are unreal, as well as real. Good films never present this type of learning. Not even close.

The ending of Leyendas macabras is amusing, however, even naively ridiculous, so the film does leave a viewer on a relative high note, which is always a good note to leave on after you've been through the ringer in primal philosophy and dumbfounding meditations. You can actually leave this film feeling satisfied, which is remarkable considering it is not a satisfactory film.

The print I saw seemed to have the murkiness and color bleed of 16mm, which just made everything more captivating.

The title is flavorful a la español (I believe there was a Mexican horror comic with the same title), and the poster artwork wonderfully evocative. The film was completely shot in Antigua Guatemala, one of the best persevered cities from Spain's colonial past in the New World, so your trip will be in actual historically heady locales.

The film is available on American DVD from BCI's Brentwood, double-billed with El robo de las momias de Guanajuato, another picture produced by Rogelio Agrasanchez and filmed in Guatemala. Spanish language only.