17 March, 2007


We've discussed the influence of the films of the prolific Mexican director Chano Urueta (1895-1979) on the career of Jess Franco in a previous blog. Urueta made over 100 films in many genres between 1928 and 1974 and is probably best known in the US for his ultra-bizarre THE BRAINIAC [EL BARON DEL TERROR-1962], which is now out in a superior CasaNegra DVD presentation along with his 1960 THE WITCH'S MIRROR. We also look forward to a future CasaNegra edition of THE LIVING HEAD (1961). Urueta was also an actor who appeared as bandidos in Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1977). One assumes that Chano and Sam got along famously. Urueta's 1954 THE WITCH (LA BRUJA) is also out on DVD from Phoenix: Cine Mexicano Collections. This 2005 disc is in Spanish language only and not as impressive as the CasaNegra DVDs. The image is fullframe and not exactly in High Definition in terms of sharpness, detail and contrast. It is quite watchable but makes one wish this fascinating item will be considered as a future CasaNegra release.

Urueta hasn't quite achieved the kind of critical reputation of his colleague Fernando Mendez (EL VAMPIRO-1957) but at his best this reliable journeyman can conujure up a delirious Primitivism. Just as THE WITCH'S MIRROR has many parallels with Franco's GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (1961), probably coincidentally since it wasn't released until after GRITOS was produced, LA BRUJA uncannily anticipates the surgical horrors of MISS MUERTE (THE DIABIOLICAL DR. Z-1965). Dr. Boerner (Julio Villarreal) transforms a facially deformed woman (Lilia Del Valle) into a beautiful seductress who lures several men responsible for the death of the Doctor's daughter to their doom. The character of La Bruja is a kind of composite of the disfigured female scientist (Mabel Karr) and the seductive nightclub perfomer (Estella Blain) in MISS MUERTE.

The basic idea of a sexy enchantress murdering a group of scientists whose intolerance resulted in the death of a mad doctor's loved one also resonates in Franco's later Soledad Miranda vehicle SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (1970). Urueta's film is in some ways even wilder as he includes a cult of black robed beggars, drawfs and assorted freaks who aid in the elaborate vengeance scheme from their subterranean temple dressed with human skulls, stuffed animals, occult symbols, along with numerous macabre details in Urueta's outlandish mise en scene. The Tribunal of the Night sequence is a surreal highlight with elements from Fritz Lang's M and the 30s Lugosi serial RETURN OF CHANDU woven into the plot and visual design. The scientifically manipulated "ugly woman" would be a recurrent feature in other Mexican films (the markedly inferior John Carradine Mexican excursion LA SENORA MUERTE-1968) as well as many 50s and 60s Eurohorrors (notably the fumetti inspired SATANIK).

LA BRUJA really deserves the kind of deluxe DVD treatment, complete with English subtitles, that other Mexican fantasy films are finally realizing.

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

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