Friday, October 12, 2012

Empusa – review

Director: Jacinto Molina

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

For those not in the know, Jacinto Molina are the forenames of Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy. I mentioned back in 2007 the fact that the film was being worked on, following Naschy’s death in 2009 I suspected that the film might be lost to the mists of time. I was pleased, therefore, to discover that it has become available for download.

The premise of the film always promised to be a little strange, an empusa is said to be a “cross between a vampire, a snake and a seagull”. Actually that belies the lore connections. Empusa was the name of the ship that transported Orlock in the original German intertitles of Nosferatu. More so Bane tells us (in the Vampire Encyclopaedia, p60) that Empusa is a variant of Empouse, a type of Greek demon often classed as a vampire who were attendants to and daughters of Hecate. The director Emilio Vieyra used a seagull motif, as opposed to bats, in the film Blood of the Virgins. Incidentally the film Stardust has three witches, Lamia, Empusa and Mormo… Mormo, like Empusa is a variant of Empouse. However, we will look at lore again later… onwards with the film…

find a hand
It begins in black and white and on a beach walk old friends Abel (Paul Naschy) and Victor (Antonio Mayans, Revenge in the House of Usher & Snakewoman). They bicker, both Abel’s lost fame (it later turns out he used to be an actor, he now makes a living as an occult researcher/tarot reader) and his lover Natalia (María Jesús Solina) are mentioned. Indeed, through the film these two bicker and at first it is fun, lively dialogue but it quickly wears thin and we wonder why they are actually friends. Be that as it may, they find a hand and severed forearm in the sand. Victor wants to go to the police but Abel argues he should take the arm home (along with its strange tattoo) for two days and do research on it, then they will return it and call the police. They leave and the film melts into colour as a topless girl, Cristabel (Cristina Carrión), emerges from the sea.

examine the mark
At home Abel receives a phone call from Natalia and his dialogue reveals him to be an old letch who consumes a diet of coffee, pills and absinthe. Be that as it may, his research has led him to the empusa. The empusa is a witch that destroys their victim and leaves upon them the mark of Lilith (the tattoo), worships the goddess Isathar (or so the subtitles said, I assume that they meant Ishtar) and enter the land of the dead. He also mentions Necurat – the accursed name, but this isn’t mentioned again. A quick look at the Urban Dictionary tells us: “Ancient romanian origin. Necurat means "dirty soul" and was used as euphemism to avoid words as "vampire" or "witch" -or any other supernatural or evil creature- which was belived (sic) you'd run into if you name 'em”.

Abel and Cristabel
Okay, I could go on but I won’t do so in great detail. There is an unbelievable amount of dead wood in the script, including a sub-story about a dangerous Baron (Paco Racionero) who is murdered, which goes nowhere. There is the meeting of Abel and Cristabel (presumably named for the Samuel Taylor Colleridge poem) who claims she is from Greece – who is an empusa – and then with Justine De Winter (Paco Racionero) who is credited as Lilith, who appears to be a vampire at war with the empusa.

Victor being grabbed
In the town there are many killings, the victims all have their right arms cut off, and also an attack on tourists by vicious seagulls. Abel is captured by Cristabel (via the medium of eye mojo) but then released unscathed (and manages to change clothes twice, between being caught, waking and then waking on release). Victor himself is grabbed by a taloned hand and then has his arm cut off (as well as his privates) and is fed upon. His rotting shade (think Jack from American Werewolf in London) then visits Abel and helps him by possessing his printer and printing out a map to the empusa lair and giving him a musical score that, if played, causes the vampires pain.

blood at mouth
We get three types of vampire. The police lieutenant (Saturnino García), commissary (Marco Sanz) and priest (Alfonso Dorbe) all indulge with Cristabel (off screen) and become second-class vampires. These are sensitive to light and more like your a-typical vampires. A stake through the heart would kill. It has to be said that it seems (given the use of comedy soundtrack) that the scenes with these characters were meant to be comedic relief – though they weren’t that funny. The priest had also given Abel the 7 daggers of Zion.

stabbed by a dagger of Zion
Abel uses these to kill female vampires in the lair that are described as vricolacas (according to to the subtitles, presumably a misspelling of the Greek vrykolaka). There is nothing remarkable about these except to say that a dagger of Zion in the heart will kill. One vampire killed like this comes back as she was not actually vrykolaka but empusa. Lilith, who takes the form (unseen) of a panther, is killed by heaving the pendant she wears thrust in both her eyes. That action seems to burn them and makes her vanish into smoke.

stake in the forehead
As for the empusa it seems that a stake into the forehead is the order of the day. Yes it’s all jolly japes but Abel is the saviour of the day… or is he… with a false ending that is cheese itself and then another ending, which is even cheesier it is not the greatest cinematic event ever. A shame really as it is Naschy’s last outing (there was also a two part Lovecraftian film he had worked on, that I have not seen, which I trust is better than this.)

the bottom line... its a Naschy film
Other than Victor and Abel (whose bickering eventually grates) there isn’t a single piece of decent acting in this. The comedy pieces are just not funny (or at least not intentionally so) and the filming looked cheap and actually reminded me of some of the later Franco films – not a good thing, believe me. And yet… it is Naschy and it has to be watched for that reason if no other. There are plenty of pert breasts on show, some outrageously bad plotting and effects and a barrel-ful of unusual lore, mostly used out of context. Oh. And the movie poster is nice. 3.5 out of 10 – go and get it anyway.

The imdb page is here.

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