REVIEW: A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL DVD/BLURAY RELEASE
By Robert Monell (*)
Director Eugenio Martin and screenwriter Antonio Fos (THE VAMPIRE’S NIGHT ORGY) present an early 1970s Spanish horror allegory, set in an isolated, backward Spanish village, of what today is called “slut shaming”, the practice of publicly reviling women for their sexuality, their mode of dress, their deportment and social behaviors. The results in this case lead to bloody murder, however this film carefully exmaines the perpetrators in a cultural and psychological context.
Veronica (Esperanza Roy) and Marta (Aurora Bautista) are the proprietors of an inn in rural Spain called The Two Sisters, referring to the aging spinsters who run the busy bed and breakfast/tourist lodge/restaurant in the center of the remote village. Tension mounts between the sisters when the bitter, self-hating, violently jealous older sister, Marta, accuses Veronica of stealing funds from the business to give to her much younger lover, Luis (Charley Pineiro). Veronica actually is stealing from her sister and desperately trying to hide the sordid affair from her judgemental scrutiny. More tension results from Marta’s psychopathic hatred of the young female clientele who are daily arriving from International locations, scantily clad, party loving young women who sleep around, stay up late and confirm Marta’s viewpoint that women in general are either Madonnas, like herself, or whores, like all other women. One afternoon Marta causes the death of a topless sunbather (Loretta Tovar-THE SINISTER EYES OF DR ORLOFF) who is thrown down a flight of stairs for scandalizing the neighbors. When a shard of a stained glass window is removed from the neck of the victim, a stream of blood flows down the sword of the medieval avenger depicted on the religious scene. This confirms to Marta that she is the righteous upholder of morality in the village and so begins a cycle of gruesome murders of a series of young female guests whose bodies are then hidden in the huge wine vats in the basement after being chopped up. Veronica is emotionally blackmailed by Marta into going along and helping in the crime spree, all for a good cause. A major complication arises with the arrival of Laura ( Judy Geeson), the sister of the murdered sunbather, who shows up at the inn with persistent questions about the missing sister’s whereabouts.
This is a ironic moral fable in the clothing of a horror film, and it works more as the former, with a strong character driven narrative, superb performances by Ms. Batista, Eperenza Roy and Judy Geeson. Generalissimo Francisco Franco still had Spain in his non democratic, albeit slipping grip in 1973 and cultural fashions were rapidly changing and invading the extant Catholic culture, which held fast in the sun-baked villages such as this one. This is one of the so-call “tourist horrors” of the early 70s, which include such Spanish terror films as Jose Elorrieta’s FEAST OF SATAN (1971). Spanish exile Luis Bunuel had returned to Spain to make the controversial VIRIDIANA (1961) and the bitter, ironic TRISTANA (1970), which further disturbed the censors, who mostly took it out on Spanish horror films by Paul Naschy and Jess Franco.
The imposing local Cathedral, classic religious murals, icons and statues seem to look down on the action, which finally spirals into a confrontation which will expose the crimes of the sisters. The twisted psychology of the sisters is explained by the Mayor (Fernando Hilbeck) who points out that Marta was jilted on the eve of her wedding for a younger woman, who had already been the mother of a out of wedlock child. She calls the young tourist women “whores” because of their scanty clothing and easy going attitude toward men and partying until late at night. One of the tourists(Lone Fleming-TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD) makes a display of herself in the village square, catching the attention of the men and the two sisters. She is another victims of the sharp knives of the sisters, also used to cut meat for their restaurant meals, ironically made clear in the introductory shops of animal parts in the kitchen. One particularly horrifying scene occurs when a seemingly unwed mother (Blanca Estrada) is murdered, by meat hook, in front of her screaming infant, by the increasingly violent Marta. Involuntary cannibalism enters the narrative when the body parts hidden in the wine vat accidentally get mixed in with the restaurant meals. While not gory in the literal sense, such scenes have a nonetheless powerful impact and are played down by director Eugenio Martin (HORROR EXPRESS), which makes the them all the more disturbing.
Shot on remote locations, the white washed, primitive houses, ancient streets and mountainous surroundings are effectively intercut with Laura’s jet flight from London at the opening, making it clear that she is traveling back in time as well heading for Spain in 1973, but the Spain she arrives in is stuck in another era, still abiding by the morals of previous generations and cowering under the dictatorship. Considering the local censorship of the era, this was a pretty daring film in terms of themes, nudity and relating religion to the problems of the Spanish culture. The sinners referred to by the Pascal quote at the opening are those who judge without thinking and consider themselve morally superior to others. Perhaps including the Spanish censorship as well as the pathogical Marta.
The music, ranging from jangling modern riffs to Bach like organ interludes which might be appropriate for a high Mass, underscore the action effectively. The atmospheric cinematography of Jose Aguayo further cements the film in a high place among Spanish horrors of that era. This is a horror film which also takes cultural, historical, gender, political, geographical and psychological depths into account, making it all the more layered and worthy of repeat viewings
The new Scorpion Releasing DVD, a Blu-ray is also being released, is the best home video release yet of this film which I have seen. It’s had a rough history on home video, including a severely truncated release on bargain DVD compilations as IT HAPPENED AT NIGHTMARE INN.
A previous VHS presentation I had seen presented only a washed out look of the Spanish exteriors and extremely dark and fuzzy interiors with very faded color. The DVD presents a brand new 16X9 HD master, re-color corrected for optimum picture. The print used is not perfect but the image quality if good to very good most of the runtime, with sharp video quality, rich colors and detailed definition. The sound leaves a bit to be desired, with the memorable music score being consistently on the high end side and not as full bodied as one might desire. The dialogue is crisp and clear. Most importantly, this presents the complete, uncut film at 87 minutes in Anamorphic widescreen and English Mono.
The original trailer and a detailed interview with Judy Geeson (INSEMINOID) are also included. The high spirited English actress remembers it as a rather rugged shoot, especially considering the conditions of the village location and that Esperanza Roy, who could apparently speak English, insisted on delivering her lines in Spanish, making it difficult for Ms. Geeson to play opposite her while delivering her lines in English.
The presentation can be watched with or without the NIGHTMARE THEATER MODE, which is basically a giggly, fact strewn introduction by the chattering, bimbo-like Katerina Lee Waters!
(C) Robert Monell 2015
Robert Monell is a filmmaker, writer, critic and blogger. He is the creator and editor of I’M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND and CINEMADROME www.cinemadrome.yuku.com. His films include the screenplays for the web series RETURN OF THE BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES, the short feature ZOMBIE 2024