Thursday, 8 October 2015

Halloween 31 For 31: The Devil's Kiss (1976)

Director: Jordi Gigó
Screenplay: Jordi Gigó
Cast: Silvia Solar (Claire Grandier); Olivier Mathot (Professor Gruber); José Nieto (Duke de Haussemont); Evelyne Scott (Loretta); Daniel Martín (Richard); María Silva (Susan)

Synopsis: A widowed countess Claire Grandier (Solar) plans to revenge the suicide of her husband on Duke de Haussemont (Nieto), the man responsible for his demise as shown in electric blue hued flashbacks. With the help of Professor Gruber (Mathot), a scientist with telekinetic powers, and a dwarf she saves from being lynched, she intends to combine black magic and science to bring a zombie to life to kill the man responsible.

The small European country of Andorra has less films made in its borders than even the nation of Aruba according to its IMDB page. The well known one in availability is The Devil's Kiss. A troubled production, it's an incredible mess in terms of its plot, but an exceptionally entertaining one, the passion project of its Andorran director Gigó who desired to bring about an industry in his home country but was scuppered while making the film and the final result being delayed in its released. Thankfully, the only one of the couple of films he made you can get hold of easily, was a fun one for me. Openly, this is not for everyone. Produced by Eurocine, who produced various Euro kitsch genre films and a few Jess Franco productions like Nightmares Comes At Night (1970), this is a scrappy production  which combines various plot ideas - magic, brainwashing, Frankenstein, softcore sex, camp - into a messy bowl. It's charm is a lot of what saves the final product for me.

By way of magic and science is a diabolic combination I cannot help but enjoy, trying to cram so many random plot threads around a story that culminates in a thin Tor Johnson lookalike wandering corridors of a mansion randomly strangling people as the film occasionally cuts to Mathot's dynamic ways of showing Gruber having a psychic headache. I have a passion for Euro horror films to the point that not only do the gems of the genre stand out more but even the daft ones like this entertaining. It's as a simple as loving the women who populate these films, as much time spent on the maid character Loretta (Scott) and her various escapades with her lover or wandering around the Haussemont residence even if it's pointless titillation, and adoring the seventies sets and dated aesthetics. A film like The Devil's Kiss could only have been made back in the seventies, a film that rambles within the softcore as much as with the same gothic vein of Hammer movies and fellow Euro horror films of the time. There is a blind devotion to the plot as well, as it goes along and adds Haussemont's dandy son into the fray later on, where it doesn't matter how ridiculous it gets that charming too. Many things that could be off-putting or annoying in other films - the softcore being emphasised over plot, the slow pace - is no longer a problem with these films unless you're dealing with the truly terrible because, as in this case, the sincere silliness of the film's premise and what style it has is likeable.

The film has the same airy atmosphere of other European genre films of that time of being unstuck in their exact geographical setting and time, as much French as Spanish with actors from various nationalities. The exact time frame is as subjective, almost all period Gothic storytelling in a castle mansion only for a random fashion show of women of cat suits or a car to break the presumption. The film is camp, one foot in fifties sci-fi with its conviction of a telekinetic zombie being a sound revenge tool, the other in the area like other Eurocine and Euro genre films where they are completely unpredictable in even what the score is like. There's no Mystery Science Theatre 3000 irony with the film for me in terms of this enjoyment, instead an entertainment in its delicious eccentricity. It's a film as much for people just to enjoy Silvia Solar watching one at her machinations in heavy makeup and alluring gowns as it is the random plot ideas. It's the kind of film where the dwarf assistant gets his own prolonged erotic fantasy in his sleep, in the same blue hue of her flashbacks, where he imagines the countess riding a horse naked for the sake of the moment.  I appreciate the film's conviction even if the plot is a cross-stitch of ideas all over the place.

Technical Details:
For every stylish Euro horror film of this era, there are others which have a similar style to them in how they look, the same as with Hammer's lesser films, where there's few elaborate camera pans, the frame usually stuck in one place only for each shot and basic editing of scenes. What the likes of The Devil's Kiss have, over most Hammer films for me personally, is a more entrenched sense of glamour and distinction even if they are ramshackle. No matter how cheesy and tacky these sort of films can be, they have a lushness from the music to the location sets that stand out more. Just alone the mansion for the film makes up a great deal of the atmosphere for the film as does the dubbing make up a great deal of the entertainment value.

Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Despite its telekinetic powered zombie, cat suit fashion shows and the dubbing, this is far from abstract as you can get. There are a lot of quiet scenes of dialogue exchange or still moments setting up a horror moment which dissipates the elusive atmosphere you need to create a mysterious mood. The film also splices in a lot of softcore nudity and sex which also disarms any mood to the film that is beyond the gothic b-movie charm. Instead its more ridiculous than weird.

Personal Opinion:
Far from the best of Euro cinema, and some may raise an eyebrow for me giving this film the praise I have, I did enjoy The Devil's Kiss immensely. The fact that it's one of the sole films even to come from a European country, even if it was a co-production, does add some addition goodwill to the film. The director-writer was trying his hardest to create something memorable, to the point it was partially funded by his father's money as well, and he managed to still get the film made despite the problems that were said to be happing during its production. Maybe this is letting the film off lightly for major flaws, but since I have a sweet tooth for absurd, silly Euro pudding films from these decades, I was already biased in its favour unless it made the cardinal sin of boring me.


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