Starring: Tina Romero, Claudio Brook, David Silva, Susana Komini, Tina French
Alucarda, a wild girl seemingly not of this earth (she really reminds me of Pearl in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter) has been orphaned and is growing up at a convent. She may or may not be the child of the Devil. When young Justine is brought to live at the local convent after the death of her parents, Alucarda immediately befriends Justine and comes to love her. Despite the naiveté and innocence of both the girls, they flirt with lesbianism and satanism. They form a strange pact over the coffin of a supernaturally deformed corpse (named Lucy Western!), which begins their subsequent demonic possession and downward spiral into exorcism, death, nudity, and blood a-plenty.
Alucarda, la hija de las tinieblas aka Alucarda, the Daughter of Darkness holds a very special place in my heart and indeed is a very special film. Made in Mexico by Juan Lopez Moctezuma, close friend of the great Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alucarda is one of those films that both blends genres and defies convention. There was a brief period of time in Mexican film history where horror or fantasy weren't given much attention aside from the schlocky, but lovably Santo canon. Alucarda slid in to cult and horror cinema at the proper time and place. Though it is undoubtedly part of the satanic horror canon, there is nothing quite like it. If you’re a big fan of genre cinema, chances are high that you will absolutely love it. If you’re more into classic or mainstream cinema, you may be a bit confused. There are some parts that come across as a little silly, but for the most part this is a powerful, effective film that expresses the unique vision of a director overshadowed by his more imaginative friends and sadly overlooked by a government with other priorities.
There are a number of things that set Alucarda apart. First and foremost are the disturbing and interesting costumes. Instead of the traditional black and white habits, the nuns look almost mummified, wrapped tightly in white shrouds. The shrouds are oddly stained with red, giving the nuns the appearance of having bled all over themselves. The set is beautiful and sufficiently creepy, alternating between the woods and the cave-like convent. The plot blends elements of Satan worship/possession and vampirism, yet unusually presents both girls -- Justine and Alucarda -- as inherently innocent. Though Alucarda invokes the Devil on a number of occasions, it seems to be some sort of inherent compulsion, given to her by genetics rather than a real desire to spread evil. Like Walerian Borowczyk’s nunsploitation masterpiece Behind Convent Walls, this plot element gives Alucarda a piercing commentary on the Church, which adds another layer to its already interesting and complex framework.
Based loosely on Sheridan le Fanu’s popular horror novella Carmilla, Alucarda has plenty of shocking subject matter. Aside from lesbianism, vampirism, and Satan worship, there are orgies, blasphemy, exorcisms, and murder. Ignored at the time of its release and still somewhat neglected, Alucarda has deservedly attained cult status.
Sure, there are some silly and cheesy moments, but this is more a product of the time and less a criticism of the actual film. Overall it comes very highly recommended. There is a nice DVD available from Mondo Macabro, which is affordable, readily available, and has a number of nice special features. There is a 15-minute long documentary, which goes in-depth about Moctezuma, his involvement with Jodorowsky, the Mexican avant-garde scene, and the political issues of the Mexican film industry. There is a well researched text of Moctezuma's life, a filmography, and an interview. Randomly, there is a brief interview with director Guillermo del Toro, who comes across as intelligent and well-informed, and, as always, wildly excited.