Juan López Moctezuma
1 Hr., 17 Mins.
Alucarda February 18, 2019
t is reductive to call 1977’s Alucarda a movie about female hysteria. But it certainly is female-centric and does feature a lot of overwrought shrieking on the part of its women characters. (“So much screaming,” I wrote in my notes, on two separate occasions.) But granted, if I were put inside its hellacious, nonsensical world, which was devised by the Mexican filmmaker Juan López Moctezuma, I might find myself incessantly
The movie is set in 1865, at a convent that also operates as an orphanage. At the movie’s outset, a brown-haired, brown-eyed teenager named Justine (Susana Kamini) is being dropped off at the property. Both her parents have recently died, and she has no other family members with whom she can stay. Though the convent is secluded, and is, as we will soon find out, borderline extremist in its teachings and ideologies, it is Justine’s only option.
After touring the place, which is sparsely decorated and almost cavernous, she is led to her room. Suggestions of rest have been made perennially by almost all the nuns who have crossed her path. But, to the chagrin of the nunnery’s staff, there will be no afternoon siestas. Almost immediately after setting her suitcases down, Justine is waylaid by a 15-year-old girl named Alucarda (Tina Romero), who is dressed in a pitch-black quasi-ball gown and is distinguished by her long, black, frizzy Manson-girl hair. She has lived here all her life.
Friendship is offered. But it is clear, almost from the get-go, that Alucarda is bad news. She leads Justine deep into the nearby forest, where they are accosted by stereotypically rendered Romani people, who speak to them with a sinister edge. Then they wander into a nearby burial site, where Alucarda impulsively opens a 15-year-old casket and unleashes what seems to be a vengeful spirit.
These events both braid and end up playing a part in what seems like demonic possession. Not long after, the girls participate in a blood-trading ritual hosted by one of the aforementioned Romanis, and soon start exhibiting weird behavior. (In one of the movie’s best moments, which takes place in a classroom setting, the girls are asked to recite what their teacher has just relayed after they seemed to be chatting up a storm; creepily, they unleash a synchronously delivered, Satan-focal monologue. When confronted about it, Alucarda hollers to her teacher, “I only repeated what you said!”)
The film continues to nightmarishly devolve, to a point where the school’s higher-ups attempt exorcisms (which don’t work), and where Alucarda, with some sort of demonic power undergirding her, is able to set people on fire just by looking at them. As an occult-oriented movie — like 1971’s The Devils, 1973’s The Exorcist, or 1974’s Lisa and the Devil, to which Alucarda has been compared — the feature primarily fizzles. The early scenes, supposed to depict how Satanic vigor has infiltrated these young women, are unconvincing and, on occasion, laughable.
Moctezuma, beset with a low budget, is of course persuaded to go the practical effects route. But because his actresses tend to be maladroit, and because the camerawork is stilted during moments where intricate cutaways and close-ups might have been beneficial, the pre-exorcism, newly possessed scenes have the scare factor of a bungled horror-tinged stage play.
Alucarda is better, then, as a teenage rebellion sort of movie with an occultist underbelly rather than the other way around. The Satanic lore isn’t what’s intriguing about the film. What sticks, and what I think ultimately makes the movie a pretty enthralling Z movie, is how these young women, so in danger of being repressed (if they aren’t already) via out-of-touch authority figures and extremist theological standards, are able, even if not through their own will, challenge a status quo that has for so long been oppressive.
The finale, which is a fête of explosions, crashes, bangs, death — all otherworldly effects of our eponymous heroine’s rage — is so invigorating because it is so pointedly an undermining of social and cultural norms. For once, ever-victimizing rules and expectations, and the people ferociously defending them, are the ones being duped. Much is inept about the feature, from its bumbling acting to its disjointed dialogue. But in the moments where Alucarda is turbulent and mutinous — of which there are many — the feature becomes an unsettling, visceral merry-go-round of horrors. B