Friday, April 17, 2009

La Mansión de la Niebla – review

Directors: Francisco Lara Polop & Pedro Lazaga

Released: 1972

Contains spoilers

La Mansión de la Niebla or Murder Mansion is less a Euro Horror (it was a joint Spanish/Italian production) than it is a Giallo with a vampire theme. That said it is much less a tense murder mystery than it is a Scooby-Doo mystery. Now that might not be too bad, especially as the cinematography has some lovely colour saturation and there are some sections shrouded in thick, atmospheric fog except… Well frankly it’s blooming boring, ponderous and lost the plot more times than someone stumbling around in the thick fog I mentioned.

For those who have not seen the film this review will spoil most aspects of the murder mystery… you have been warned.

The film starts with a fireplace and then comes the music, music that literally drips with melodrama and, over the top, a female cackle sounds in a way that was far too clichéd…

A car drives along the road. The driver, Porter (Franco Fantasia), is wearing sunglasses. He sees a bike, smirks, and overtakes it. The biker, Fred (Andrés Resino), puts his goggles on (goggles, which in a failure of continuity, are on and off and on again) and races the car. We also see a couple, Mr Tremont (Eduardo Fajardo) and Mrs Tremont (Yelena Samarina), driving a VW Beetle. At one point both the bike and car stop for a hitchhiker, Laura (Lisa Leonardi), she gets in the car.

You’d think that this lot know each other but actually they don’t. The film concentrates on them all for some time, establishing characters but somehow failing to answer any basic questions about them and what we get could have been summed up in much quicker ways. Anyway, Fred stops off at a bar and gets a beer, spotting Laura. She is not impressed with Porter’s wandering hands and so leaves with Fred rather than getting back in Porter’s car – to veiled threats by Porter. Fred has asked about the roads onwards and is told there are two, the old one is quicker but goes through the valley and that gets misty.

The Tremonts are lawyers and are visiting business woman Elsa (Analía Gadé). Her husband Ernest (Alberto Dalbés) is off getting something signed, except he is not. He is actually bedding his mistress and we discover that he stays with Elsa for her money – even though the marriage is for all intents and purpose sexually dead. Elsa tells the lawyers that she has been called by Ernest, his car has broken down and she’ll have to pick him and the papers up. The Tremonts offer to follow her, grab the papers and continue on their way home.

Everyone is driving through the valley and it is quickly becoming very foggy. Fred is lost and can’t read the map in the dark (later he uses the headlight of his bike but at this point such an idea has not struck him). A car is coming and he tries to flag it, nearly getting run down by the Rolls Royce for his trouble – they do note the number plate. The Tremonts have lost sight of Elsa and then crash into another car – it later transpires it is Porter. Elsa is also lost, despite living in the area. She crashes at a graveyard she has never seen before. She enters it and sees two sinister figures, one dressed as a chauffeur, who won’t answer her. Fred and Laura got directions from a farmer with a scythe, who looked like the grim reaper, but still manage to run out of road. They hear screaming and find Elsa, but see nothing of the figures she mentions.

Fred takes the two women around the wall of the graveyard, looking for the village that must be connected to it, and they find a crashed Rolls Royce with identical number plates to the one that nearly hit him, it is apparent it has been crashed for some time. They then spot a mansion, its lights are on. They go over to it and the door is answered by Porter. The Tremonts are there also. Above the fireplace is a portrait of an older woman who bares a striking familial similarity to one Miss Martha Clinton (Ida Galli) who is also in the mansion.

It is, she tells the people, a portrait of her deceased aunt. Martha now owns the house and is in the process of restoring the place; she is also stuck there because of the fog. There are rooms the travellers could use. She explains that the villagers all left the area years ago because of a mysterious epidemic they put down to vampirism. 12 were said to be bitten in one night and killed. Her aunt and her chauffer were the last to leave. They crashed into the graveyard wall, both killed in the crash. Her head was crushed and the chauffeur had the steering wheel impale his chest. As she talks they hear noises from the cellar but Martha asks them not to open it – there are rats in there and they scare her.

We end up with various happenings in the night, Porter dying of a heart attack as he sees the chauffeur and Mrs Tremont apparently being killed and hung on a meat hook. It is apparent, however, that this seems to be about Elsa – who has a nervous disposition due to a nervous breakdown years before. To help establish the back story to this we see her dream of her father (George Rigaud) and getting together with Ernest – a sequence which was ponderous, boring and yet (cynically) mildly amusing as the filmmakers thought putting Analía Gadé in a rubbish wig made her look years younger.

It ends up with the sinister Martha (who clearly is in on the events) getting into bed with Elsa – to keep her company. Elsa wakes and turns towards the woman who has aged tremendously – it is the ultimate 'realising what you are waking up next to' moment and Gadé’s reaction is perfect. Thinking that Martha is some sort of aging psycho vampire or ghost she goes screaming into the night, she can’t leave the house because of the spooky chauffeur and runs straight into the hanging Mrs Tremont. Elsa is subjected to so much she goes positively doolally. So what is going on?

The entire plethora of happenings have been designed to send Elsa mad, and have witnesses that will babble on about ghosts and vampires and thus obfuscating any investigation. It is pure Scooby-Doo, right down to the mask – Old Man Withers at the disused funfair would be proud. Of course this also means that there aren’t really any vampires (I wasn’t sure if Aunt Clinton was meant to be a vampire or the ghost of a vampire victim) but the idea of pretending to be a vampire is one of the sub-areas of the genre.

I’m not going to spoil the identity of the one who devised the whole sordid plan – I am sure you can guess who that was – nor will I spoil who in the house was in on it. However, I will reveal that only one in the house is in on it and the rest of the inhabitants really are strangers, relied upon to be there to be witnesses… I think that is a stretch. In fact I would have accepted that the witness angle was purely opportunistic but they have also relied upon Elsa crashing and getting to the mansion, which in itself is a stretch also. Of course she only got lost, in a region she knows well, because of the very thick fog – so the entire caper relied on the weather.

So not only do we have ponderous moments – the car and bike scenes and Elsa’s remembrance of youth – that really could have been curtailed or cut out all together, we also have a plot that relies entirely on coincidence and happenstance. This was not my idea of good mystery story writing. Some nice photography and some amusingly Scooby-Doo moments were not enough to save this one for me. 2.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


adrien said...

Your screengrabs look pretty good. What DVD is this from?

Taliesin_ttlg said...


these were taken from a version of the film grabbed off TV.

There are a few DVD's flying aroung, but I am not too sure of the screen quality - however if it has been cleaned up for TV I am sure it will be cleaned up for DVD also

adrien said...

Thanks for the info.
I'll keep my fingers crossed for a new (proper) DVD release. Not a great movie but it is kinda fun.