Ataúd Blanco: El Juego Diabólico

“Who takes the child by the hand takes the mother by the heart.”

This crisp little Argentinian film clocks in at 70 minutes – not even enough to be considered a feature by the Screen Actors Guild. You’ll understand, therefore, there isn’t much fat on its bones. Virginia (Cardinali) has left her husband, taking daughter, Rebecca (Duranda), with her. But a moment’s inattention at a gas-station proves fatal, as Rebecca is abducted, and Virginia’s car driven off the road during the subsequent pursuit. Brought back (from the dead?) by a mysterious stranger (Ferro), she is told Rebecca has been chosen by a religious cult as a sacrifice. It’s up to Virginia to stop them, and she can let no-one get in her way. Which becomes an issue, for we quickly find out, she is not the only mother looking to recover a child from the cult – and, it appears, only one can succeed.

It’s a blowdart of a movie, picking nastily away at the scab of “How far would a mother go to save her own child?” – and keeping at it. “No, really. How far?” It does require a certain suspension of disbelief, not least in Virginia’s inexplicable failure even to attempt contacting the authorities regarding her missing child, surely the first thing most people would do. If you are able to get past that – and it is likely the plot’s biggest weakness – then you’ve got a steady descent into hell. The unspoken question which informs everything is whether the stranger actually has her best interests at heart, or is simply pulling her strings. Weird sacrificial cults in rural places tend to do that, as anyone who has seen The Wicker Man knows. And if to you, that means only the Nicolas Cage version: my sympathies on your loss.

However, there are elements of another Cage movie here: Drive Angry, in which he played a criminal who came out of the grave, to track down the cult who are preparing to sacrifice his grand-daughter. This is nowhere near as lurid: save for perhaps one sequence involving a chainsaw, this is more about psychological torment than the physical. For example, Virginia’s quest involves tracking down and burning the white coffin referred to in the title (the subtitle translates as “A diabolical game”). Yet as the film goes on, it becomes clear that any success in this is going to come at a hellish cost to her own humanity – and, arguably, that of her daughter as well.

The quote at the top is a German proverb (or maybe Danish, depending which Internet site you believe), and it’s an appropriate summary, though doesn’t capture the thoroughly mean-spirited nature of this, especially in the final reel. That’s no criticism in the genre of horror, which should go the extra mile to push the viewer’s buttons, yet especially in more mainstream works, tends to bail out at the last minute. It’s something of which this isn’t guilty; when it ends, it’s going further into the same bleak darkness, where the movie has been heading all along.

Dir: Daniel de la Vega
Star: Julieta Cardinali, Rafael Ferro, Eleonora Wexler, Fiorela Duranda
a.k.a. White Coffin

Daemonium: Soldier of the Underworld

“…and one big cup of WTF?”

This is going to be a difficult review to write, and, for once, it’s the synopsis section which will be the problem. Because I can’t honestly say, with any degree of confidence, I know what was going on here. Rather than a standalone, coherent entity, this felt more like being dropped into the middle of a long-running TV show – one based on a series of books I’ve never read, but adapted on the basis viewers would know it well. I’ve seen a few Chinese films which have adopted a similar approach, taking legends familiar to local audiences and creating something all but incomprehensible elsewhere. This Argentinian movie generates similar feelings of baffled amazement. I’m going to start by copy/pasting the official synopsis:

The story of Daemonium begins in an alternate universe to ours, in which Magic and Technology Coexist with Humans and Demons. In Daemonium we see Razor rise to power! (He will be the new image of a dystopic power and seeks a full out war with Hell the demons that dwell there and anyone that stands in his way!), the doubts of Rebbecca (who will question everything she knew for a fact about her life), Lisa, a common woman with an unthinkable destiny (womanly force on their way), and the wizard and con artist Fulcanelli (facing his own destiny regardless of his intentions).

I trust that has cleared everything up. No? Well, it is at least an accurately confusing representation of how I feel. Let me try again. The heroine plays at least five different roles, including fallen angel Azazel, and three different android versions of herself, Loly, Nancy and Victoria. They’re embroiled in a battle between good and evil, alongside the morally ambivalent magician Fulcanelli (Cornás), after a portal to another world is opened, allowing a demonic entity to escape. The demon makes a deal with mercenary, Razor (Casco), for the usual wealth, power, etc, although Razor’s pregnant wife, Lisa (Presedo) is kidnapped and turned into a assassin, targeting her husband. But it’s Fulcanelli and Azazel who may be key to stopping the threat.

Even if I can’t say I comprehended much of what was happening – perhaps its origins as a five-part web series were an issue – I was certainly never bored. Clinging on to any passing scraps of coherence like a drowning man clutching a piece of driftwood, certainly. But bored? Not at all. For it looks very slick, and doesn’t pull any punches at all, particularly at the end, when the heroine enters full-on (and literal) “avenging angel” mode. The director is best known for a series of horror films, Plaga Zombie, and brings much the same enthusiastic eye for mayhem and splatter to this. I’d love to see what he could do with the same universe – only operating with a script which focused on telling a cogent and compelling story, rather than galloping from one cool sequence to the next, like a hyperactive child in a toy-store.

Dir: Pablo Parés
Star: Caro Angus, Walter Cornás, Dany Casco, Rocío Rodríguez Presedo

I’ll Never Die Alone


“Will cross rural Argentina off the list of holiday destinations, in much the same way that Deliverance did for North Georgia.”

I have no problem with rape/revenge movies, providing the balance is skewed more towards the revenge than the rape. Ms. 45, for example, has about five minutes of rape and 60 of revenge. This is fine by me. I am all about the revenge, which should be nasty and brutal, exactly what sexual predators deserve. Actually, so should the rape be, because portraying it any other way is very, very questionable. But that’s something which hardly needs depicting: I’m quite happy taking it as read, thank you very much. Here, the depicted brutalization of four young women goes on far longer than necessary to serve any point.

They appear to be heading home from college – it’s a bit vague – when they see a girl lying beside her bike, injured at the side of the road, and some men with guns nearby, who might just be hunters…or might not be. The women load her into the car, only for the victim to die before they reach the next time. They report it to the two-man police force, who seem less that enthusiastic about investigating. As they leave town, they find themselves being chased by the hunters’ truck, and it’s soon very apparent that their intentions are very, very unpleasant.

To be honest, I largely tuned out the middle portion of this, for reasons explained earlier. That said, when the tables are finally turned, it is certainly satisfying, especially in the final moments of vengeance. Bogliano takes his time in all aspects, which is a double-edged sword: some scenes benefit from the unflinching approach, such as the filling in of a grave, which unfolds in real time and is chilling viewing. However, others are simply dull and pointless, for example, the one where one of the girls goes into a bathroom, smokes a cigarette, changes her shirt and leaves. Really. That’s it. There’s a serious lack of characterization as well, to the point that it’s hard to care too much about the victims, as you’ve been given no reason to do so, or insight into their characters.

The film does improve markedly in the final reel, though this may be as much due to my personal prejudices as any actual change in the direction. But the revenge is certainly memorable, in particular the use of a strand of barbed-wire, in another sequence where Bogliano’s unblinking camera lens comes out as a positive. Much credit is due to all the actresses involved, for going to hell and back in the name of their cinematic art, and the overall impact is certainly better than some of the entries in the genre, as linked below. However, it may simply be too brutal, and the tuning-out mentioned above is something likely to be experienced in an even greater degree by viewers that are more sensitive than I.

Dir: Adrián García Bogliano
Star: Gimena Blesa, Magdalena De Santo, Andrea Duarte, Andres Aramburu
a.k.a. No Morire Sola

Amazons (1986)


“More Argentinian sword ‘n’ sorcery: mostly harmless.”

It’s amusing to see that even New Concorde – who released it – don’t seem to have watched the film, their website describing it as “about the legendary lost tribe of warrior women”. Er, no: the A word doesn’t actually get used in the movie, which is really about the quest for a legendary sword, the only thing which stands between an evil sorcerer and world domination.

There’s something irresistible about a film where it sometimes feels like characters were given names by pulling letters from a Scrabble bag – the sword of Zjiqkl – and for half the movie, we were prepared to swear one villain was called Al Gore. Sadly, it was Balgur. Ah, well, never mind. There’s certainly plenty going on, with plots, treachery, topless human sacrifice, bad blood and an alternate dimension largely realised with dry ice and strobe lights.

The action, unfortunately, sucks, though credit is due to Randolph for struggling with a lethargic snake, making it look like the most ferocious attack in cinematic history. Not sure the animals here were monitored by the American Humane Society either… Less bondage-heavy than the other Argentinian Corman productions, the nudity is still frequent. It’s kinda neat how no-one really makes a fuss about the warriors being female, but this is, at best, a passable waste of 80 minutes.

Dir: Alex Sessa
Star: Windsor Taylor Randolph, Penelope Reed, Joseph Whipp, Danitza Kingsley

Barbarian Queen II


“In which our heroine learns the ropes…and the chains…and the rack…”

Much like the first, bondage fans would probably mark this a grade, possibly one and a half, higher given the amazing length of time the heroine spends tied to racks and other torture devices – or just tied in general. Not that this, per se, makes it a bad movie. No, the severely limited budget (the population of the land where this takes place appears to be about 1/10th that of San Marino) and clunky acting take care of that…

However, the writing helps, since tongue is in cheek, right from the movie’s subtitle: The Empress Strikes Back. It would be churlish to point out the total lack of any empress in the film. There’s also the mud-wrestling bout, carefully set up early on when a barrel of water is knocked over, instantly turning about two acres into the Everglades. As for the story, Clarkson plays Princess Amathea – her character has the same name as the first part, but how she became the king’s daughter is never explained – whose father’s throne has been usurped by the evil Ankaris (Bracho). She escapes and builds a band of curiously large-haired heroines to lead a revolt.

One interesting subplot is Ankaris’s daughter (Tijerina), a genuinely creepy teen with a disturbing interest in methods of torture. She has a crush on Amathea’s love interest and evokes the spirit of her dead mother to help her out. This angle adds a welcome depth, to a story that otherwise is largely what you would expect. The fighting is largely woeful: one participant holds their sword up while the other bangs their weapon off it. Yet, it’s never dull and Clarkson makes a good heroine, independent and feisty from the opening scene.

Dir: Joe Finley [probably a pseudonym for Hector Oliviera]
Star: Lana Clarkson, Greg Wrangler, Cecilia Tijerina, Alejandro Bracho