Sunday, February 12, 2017

El Misterio de Cynthia Baird – review

Director: José María Zabalza

Release date: 1985

Contains spoilers

Apparently filmed in the 70s and then languished on a shelf until 1985, the Mystery of Cynthia Baird is also known as El Retorno de los Vampiros (indeed that is what the title was on the poor video print of the film that I watched for this review). It is certainly an odd duck of a film with two principle players and suffers, I think, from not knowing what it wants to be.

There is an almost euro-psychedelia to the vampirism displayed but the film does not do enough to hold that for us as we shall see.

the lovers
It begins with a couple on the beach, Bill Moore (Simón Andreu) and Cynthia Baird (Susan Taff, the Curse of the Vampire), they chase around, fall and kiss and are clearly lovers. We cut to them in bed and they bicker over the covers, snoring and counting sheep. Eventually she gets up to run a bath and he gets a letter out. She wants to know what woman has written to him and it’s his wife (María Salerno). This ends up with her dictating a letter to write back to the spouse.

before Saturn Devouring His Son
The whole set up worked well but then went on too long as the film strayed towards almost a dialogue driven romantic comedy. Anyway, things take a funny turn when Cynthia notices the print of Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. Bill explains the picture to Cynthia but she seems to go into a trance and hears someone say, “I order you in the name of all evil spirits to appear in your ghoul form.” Of course this isn’t the first time ghoul and vampire have been conflated and she sprouts fangs and tries to bite Bill.

first bite
Bill fights her off and then picks up a floor lamp and brains her with it (or brains a stand-in dummy at least). She falls dead to the floor, in a puddle of blood. He quickly dresses, gets a bag, somehow stuffs her in it and then carries her down steep stairs to the gardens below his townhouse and buries her body. He then goes back up and cleans up the blood before seeing Cynthia in bed. He gets a book out and reads that to kill a vampire one must impale or rip the heart out. He goes to the garden and digs up the bag – now empty.

going for the throat
During his sojourn to the garden we see a flashback to the pair meeting in a ruined castle – though they formally call each other by surname. He declares his love for her but she cannot reciprocate, she says, because she wont condemn him to the Hell she lives in and states that she is marked by a stigma. When he won’t take no for an answer she bears fangs and bites him – the scene hidden by a big graphic blood splat! As the film returns to him in the garden we don’t know if this is something that has happened or not.

Guillermo Méndez as Harry
Anyway, Bill gets back to his living room and gives his employee Harry (Guillermo Méndez) a ring. He asks Harry to investigate Cynthia. Cynthia comes in to the room, notices something wrong with Bill and suggests breakfast. Bill doesn’t eat (bar an egg, which he claims traditionally breaks spells) and then Cynthia – in another dialogue heavy moment – suggests that Bill’s wife is probably cheating on him. Bill gets a call back from Harry – Cynthia Baird died on April 17th 1852 and was connected to his namesake Bill Moore.

Bill's fangs
So far you might think that she is a vampire and Bill the descendent of her lover/victim. However he is looking at the Goya and goes into a trance himself where it is suggested he revert back to his true nature. He sprouts fangs and attacks her, biting her until she repeatedly brains him. She goes off to get dressed but, on her way out of the place, he grabs her ankle – his memory disturbed (he can’t remember the town house and is convinced he lived on the street where she now lives and the original Cynthia died). The two try to puzzle out what is happening – convincing themselves that they are both vampires (he even decides his wife’s illness and anaemia was his fault). But can it be that simple?

bite marks
The film drags just a little but speeds up when they reach the point I described above. I really don’t want to spoil the story by revealing what apparently is going on but, although the film’s pace improved its storytelling took a dive off the high board of disbelief leaving us scratching our heads, wondering how the filmmakers ever thought that the story would pass muster. It’s a shame because they could have done some interesting things but they needed to cut down on the banter and pitch in with more vampiric lore. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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