Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Devil's Kiss (1976)

I think my desire to live in an actual, honest-to-God, medieval castle lasted about as long as my desire to be a professional skydiver.  Just so the suspense doesn’t kill you, the time lapse on that would number in the negatives.  I might reconsider if it were Castle Greyskull, but even then, the drawbacks (aren’t you glad I didn’t do a drawbridge pun?) would outweigh hanging with the Sorceress (maybe).  First of all, there’s no insulation.  I can’t imagine how cold they must get in winter.  Sure, there are all kinds of fireplaces all over the place, and they do throw a nice amount of heat when in use, but that’s problem number two: keeping the fireplaces lit.  My memory is fair to middling (yes, they’re basically the same level), but I wouldn’t remember what I had for breakfast if it weren’t the same thing every day (see previous reviews in regards to me being a creature of habit), so I’d be a popsicle in a couple days, tops.  Problem number three is slightly related to number two.  Fireplaces tend to get dirty, and the only thing more of a pain in the ass than keeping my current house clean (which I’m moderately good at) would be a house that could fit several of my houses inside.  And it’s made of stone.  Have you ever washed stone?  It’s like washing dirt.  No matter how much you scrub, it’s still dirty.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but you’ll still never see me living in a castle (not that there’s any real threat of that actually happening anyway).

Duke de Haussemont (José Nieto) throws a soiree in the basement/dungeon of his chateau (French for “castle”), complete with scads of Eurotrash present and an authentic “native” dance number.  Claire Grandier (Silvia Solar), a former member of the aristocracy now in disgrace and in attendance to perform as a spiritual medium, shows up with her pal Dr. Gruber (Olivier Mathot), who (in a totally not random bit of convenience plotting) is not only a telepath but also a researcher in the area of the regeneration of human tissue.  The Duke decides that, what the hell, he’ll let Claire and Gruber stay at his manse and conduct their experiments in exchange for instructing him in the ways of the paranormal.  So, naturally there’s more going on than meets the eye.  Or is there?

Jordí Gigó’s Devil’s Kiss (aka The Wicked Caresses Of Satan) will never be considered a great film, even by genre standards.  Like so many films of this time (and an inordinate amount of Spanish films in that number, to boot), the plotting feels like it was done on a Colorforms playset.  For those who don’t know (and, man, you missed out, in that case), Colorforms were playsets, each of which had a set theme.  For our example here, let’s say the theme is Batman.  Now, by “playset” what is actually meant is a glossy piece of cardboard with a fairly crude city background drawn on it, and it’s about the size of a board game box.  Included with your playset is a set of figures, which are basically crude drawings of a couple of characters on cut-out pieces of colored vinyl (think of those decorative snowflakes some folks put on their windows in Winter).  Each character typically has a couple of arm pieces in different positions that can be put on and peeled off, so that as you stare at the totally rad tableau you’ve created, one or more vinyl pieces will invariably fall off and just ruin everything.  And that’s how films like this one are put together.  It consists of seemingly disparate bits and pieces, thrown around to look neat for a couple of seconds, and if one or two pieces happen to fall off and/or get lost, it doesn’t really matter, because none of it made any sense from the moment you opened the damn box.  Does that make sense?  Don’t misunderstand.  This doesn’t make the film unenjoyable; it just makes it a little incomprehensible, if not in clarity then certainly in logic.

It’s this Colorforms logic, this apparently haphazard mélange of elements that gives the film a surrealistic, dreamlike quality.  For all intents and purposes, Devil’s Kiss could be described as a Mood Gothic.  The wilder and more lascivious aspects are enough to keep a viewer watching in that same tilt-the-head fashion as Nipper, the RCA Victor trademark dog, but it’s the texture of the piece that carries it along and makes this and films like this the bizarro journeys that they are.  I’ll give you a couple of “for instances.”  While out horse riding, Claire comes across a mute dwarf (billed simply as “Dwarf” in the credits and played by Ronnie Harp) who is by all appearances wanted for attacking a young woman.  She takes him into her room and disrobes in front of him.  Do they have sex?  It’s implied, but we never find out.  We’re too busy cutting to the next scene.  The techno jargon that flies around this film is total gibberish and will have you squinting at the screen in a vain attempt to figure out any of it.  The police who show up in the film serve absolutely no purpose other than to give us scenery outside the chateau.  Gruber’s methods can kickstart dead tissue, but Claire needs to perform a satanic ritual in order to imbue the body with an evil spirit and animate it.  These zombies are controlled by Gruber via a combination of narcotics and mental telepathy.  And did I mention that Gruber has a heart condition?  By all accounts, there’s no reason any of this should work, and it mostly doesn’t, to be fair.  But as I said, it’s not meant to make sense in any traditional manner.  It’s meant to evoke dreams (or in this case, nightmares), and to that end it does pull it off to some small degree.

Outside the film’s more outré elements, there is an interesting theme of class warfare at play as well.  Claire was once down with the hoi polloi, but she lost everything, including her husband, at the hands of others in the same class.  She comes back to take revenge on the upper class, but she also aligns herself with those of the lower class like Dwarf.  That she doesn’t do so publicly is telling.  On the one hand, she saves Dwarf from certain death and gives his life purpose (kind of).  On the other hand, this relationship must be kept a secret for criminal reasons, but Claire still uses the man for cheap labor.  The upper class is the enemy, yet Claire both is and isn’t in the lower class now.  Nevertheless, she maintains the air of superiority of her former station in life, and it lends a hint of disingenuousness and hypocrisy to her schemes and a slight bit of nuance to a film that, perhaps, shouldn’t really have any to begin with.  

MVT:  I love that Spanish Gothic atmosphere Devil’s Kiss and others of its ilk have.  Like the better Paul Naschy films, it feels both classic and modern while also never feeling overly forced.  In a way, it’s transportive, and that’s a quality I long for in more movies.  

Make Or Break:  The Make is the scene when Claire and Gruber bring their zombie (Moisés Augusto Rocha) back from the dead.  It contains the old and new school atmospherics I mentioned before, evincing both classics like Frankenstein and then-recent Occult works like Rosemary’s Baby and so on.  Plus, the zombie’s makeup is gruesome as well as theatrical, (un)living in two worlds like so much of the rest of the film.

Score:  6.25/10

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