Friday 31 October 2014


Happiness Is A Warm Nun

1977 Mexico/USA
Directed by Juan López Moctezuma 
Mondo Macabre DVD Region 1

Alucarda is one of those movies that has been on my radar for quite a number of decades but which I’ve never actually got around to checking out before now, mainly because it always put me off that the DVD on the market place is a 4:3 full frame presentation and in an English language version. However, I recently found out that, indeed, the film was actually shot in, more or less, that aspect ratio and, yes, it was actually shot in English... so the lip synch issues would be fine. So it seems that, once again, the guys and gals at Mondo Macabre have done a bang up job of giving us a  classic exploitation movie in pretty much the best way you can get to see it.

Watching it now, I can see why the film has held it’s appeal and grown a following over the years. 

For starters the vivid... but not transluscent... colours combined with some fairly rich shot compositions in 1.37:1 put me in mind, right off the bat, of a mid to late 1950s Hammer horror film and I can certainly see why followers of Hammer’s movies of that period would take Alucarda to their heart. It certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place as part of a double bill with something like, say, The Curse Of Frankenstein or Brides Of Dracula. 

Also, the plot set up of this film would probably hit the spot in some ways. Following the death of her parents, a woman named Justine is taken in by a convent. Yeah, I know, there’s a name and setting which would ring some bells with anyone familiar with the work of De Sade and there’s certainly some images which are “of a tone” with his work later on in the movie. Here she meets Alucarda, who has a certain sapphic influence on the girl and who leads her on to join her in letting Satan into her soul. So, although this is purported to be based on a novel by a variety of writers, if the opening credits are anything to go by, it’s very close to being yet another movie variant  of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla... a story which was plundered many a time for movies, not least the three movies Hammer made with tie-ins to that title, The Vampire Lovers, Lust For A Vampire and Twins Of Evil.

The film starts off as lesbian tinged satanism with a nod to Dennis Wheatley and then goes into full-on nunsploitation meets the exorcist for a bit, before the persecuted Alucarda and Justine attempt revenge on the former convent, the latter returning from beyond the grave to wreak havoc. I don’t know if it was a particular nod to Stephen King’s novel Carrie but the two girls do seem to have a knack for catching people on fire with just the power of their demon posessed minds. Which is kind of a useful talent to have. They also tend to get into the habit... or should that be out of the habit... of running around with no clothes on for a fair bit... especially Justine, for some reason... so this was all pretty good as far as I was concerned. Although, it has to be said, the two girls do seem to indulge in an awful lot of screaming throughout the movie.

The title is, of course, an allusion to Bram Stoker’s Dracula... but I was surprised to find direct reference to the events of that novel made in this movie, as the girls accidentally open up the tomb of Lucy Westenra in an early scene in the movie... said to have been dead for the last 15 years. Which is kinda interesting considering that there is no mention of where this film is really set but... one thing I know for sure... it’s not supposed to be London.

Asides from the basic plotting and scripting, the film is filled with effective and well executed little moments which make the whole thing quite likeable, it has to be said... if you can get your ears accustomed to all that screaming.

For instance, Alucarda’s first appearance as a grown woman comes from her kind of slowly appearing from the background of a shot (in quite a small room, which is unusal) and walking up behind Justine. However, the way this is achieved, and the way the shot is lit, it appears like she is conjured up by the very air itself, as she slowly gains a richer, denser colour as she approaches the foreground of the shot. It’s hard to describe but it’s a very well executed moment and I was pretty impressed. 

There’s a similarly impressive shot where the rain is “summoned” outside of Justine and Alucarda’s room at the convent, and as their earthly souls are invaded and conquered by the devil, a red light is used on the outside weather, which can be seen through a small window in the wall, and which, quite effectively, makes it appear as if the skies are raining blood. Actually, the theme of being showered with blood is taken on as a recurring element a few times during the course of this movie, the culmination of which would be the very first time we see the post-death character of Justine manifest herself by rising out from a coffin filled with blood and walking around with the sticky fluiid as her only item of clothing. This is great stuff and more the kind of imagery I would expect from a Jean Rollin movie, to be honest, but it really seems to work well here and I’m pleased the director included this particualr vision in his movie... a really nice touch.

Alucarda is, at the end of the day, a nice little horror movie with a few cases of nudity and goriness, an enthusiastic cast, some detailed set dressing, competent editing, nice long shots with fluid camera work and some truly standout moments in terms of special effects and the little bursts of astonishing illusion which make it all worth taking a look. Certainly, if you’re looking for a film which features the kinds of nudity and gore you would expect from a mid 1970s euro trash movie, but tempered with the charm and sensibility of mid-1950s British horror cinema, then look no further than Alucarda. I’m glad I’ve finally seen this one now and I wouldn’t be surprised if its influence within genre cinema is actually quite long and often present in the work of some of the modern masterworks which we take for granted these days. If you are into horror cinema then you should probably put Alucarda in your “to watch” pile. Not exactly a scary movie, by any means, but certainly one that has a certain unique power hiding within the frames, waiting to pounce on you as it weaves it’s hypnotic web of exploitative gore and nudity. Be warned, however... you might need to invest in some ear plugs too, at some point.

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