Wednesday, September 4, 2013

SATÁNICO PANDEMONIUM

Gilberto Martínez Solares, 1975
Starring: Delia Magaña, Enrique Rocha, Cecilia Pezet

“From Bride of Christ to Slave of Satan!”

Satánico pandemonium, also known as La sexorcista, is not only my blog’s namesake, but has the distinction of being my 666th review. It’s a little overwhelming that I’ve written that many articles and reviews in the last few years, but here I am and I certainly would not have come this far without my love for films like Satánico pandemonium. 

The lovely and penitent Sister Maria lives a quiet life in rural, convent and spends most of her time praying and healing sick villagers and animals. Things are interrupted when she begins to see a menacing, naked man out in the woods. He repeatedly leers at her and offers her an apple. Her sanity begins to unravel and she has a tryst with another nun, who professes her love for Maria. This turns out to be a fantasy induced by the naked man, who she soon recognizes to be Satan. Maria seduces the local shepherd boy, attempts to seduce another nun, and begins killing anyone who suspects her or gets in her way. She desires only one thing: to worship Satan, reach the heights of her lust, and bring the convent with her. 

While Sátanico pandemonium doesn’t quite reach the heights of Ken Russell's The Devils (but what can?) or its more famous Mexican nunsploitation cousin, Alucarda, it comes pretty close and is an excellent genre offering. Despite its lurid and wondrous title, this is a surreal, dreamy, and introspective film, basically Alucarda’s complete opposite in tone. Blood and violence are used sparingly, but when they are present, director Gilberto Martínez Solares does not hold back. There are plenty of scenes of blood drench and/or naked nuns, a satanic possession, Inquisition style torture, an orgy scene with naked dancing (and guitar playing) nuns, self-torture, murder, suicide, and even rape. The visuals are incredibly impressive, ranging from scenes of desiccated corpses, snakes slithering at a communal convent meal, a procession of nuns carrying burning crosses, and so on. It is also worth mentioning that this predates Alucarda and likely gave Moctezuma some ideas to build upon.

Genre fans should keep in mind that thought this is unmistakably a nunsploitation film, it is definitely of the art house variety and the pace is often slow and meditative, more so than other nunsploitation films with the exception of Walerian Borowcyzk’s impressive and erotic Behind Convent Walls. As with Alucarda and Behind Convent Walls, there is something pastoral about the setting not reflected in most other nunsploitation movies, which generally unfold solely in dank, medieval convents. Nature is Maria’s source of freedom, but her moments alone in the woods also seem to invite Satan into her life.

There are many mature and potentially scandalous themes at play here, more so than the run of the mill torture and lesbian in other nunsploitation films, particularly the many Italian offerings. A black nun is distraught about racism inside the convent and eventually hangs herself. Instead of helping her, as she did earlier in the film, Maria pushes her feet from the table and gleefully watches her strangle to death. Maria also attempts to seduce and then rapes and murders a young teenage boy, Marcello. This scene is probably the most shocking in the film and remains quite horrifying. Not many nunsploitation films deal with pedophilia and when they do the victim is usually a girl in her mid to late teens (who is then sent to a convent for more abuse). She is not gender specific and also assault a nun and stabs the woman when she rejects Maria.

As with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the country’s censorship issues required the writers to make it seem like the events were the result of a bad dream, in this case plague induced delirium. There is a final, curious scene where Satan reappears. Was he just a normal man that Maria’s brain transformed into the Devil or is this the screenwriters’ way of saying that Satan was really responsible for it all? Another clever jab (revealed in the special features) is that many of the naked nun extras were played by prostitutes, not actresses, even though the film was shot at an actual convent in Mexico.

Cecilia Pezet is perfect in the lead role and it is clear that she is equally delighted and horrified by her own descent into madness, lust, murder, and satanism. At first she resists by whipping herself and wearing a painful belt of thorns under her habit, but soon her most forbidden desires (murder and pedophilia) become irrepressible. Prolific actor Enrique Rocha is effective as Lucifer during his nude scenes, but looks kind of silly with a cape and red and black suit. But if you’re used to ‘70s satanic horror, his cheap costume is pretty easy to ignore. Director Gilberto Martínez Solares was probably the most prolific man working in Mexican horror, churning out a number of Santo films, Face of the Screaming Werewolf, and many more. Though I haven’t seen them all, I feel comfortable taking a gamble and declaring Sátanico pandemonium his finest and most memorable work. 

I love this film and it comes highly recommended, namely the Mondo Macabro DVD release. There are some nice extras, including "The Devil Went Down to Mexico," an interview with screenwriter Adolfo Martinez Solares that discusses a number of interesting things about the production, including Luis Buñuel’s involvement. There is also "House of the Writhing Nun," an interview with Redemption’s Nigel Wingrove about all things nunsploitation that includes a few great clips. Nunsploitation.net’s Anthony Hartman also included a written guide to the genre, there’s a promo reel, and more. Highly recommended. 

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