Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Night of the Sorcerers (1973)

Original title: La noche de los brujos

Post-colonial Africa, probably Kenya. A very small expedition is making its way through the countryside to do something ecologically important discerning the reasons for the dying out of the local animal population. The group consists of Professor Grant (the inevitable Jack Taylor), his younger colleague Rod Carter (Simón Andres) who will later turn out to be the kind of guy you really don't want to have on guard duty, Liz (Maria Kosty), the bitchy and whiny daughter of the rich man financing the whole business, Carol (Loreta Tovar), who is frequently nude, and Tunika (Kali Hansa), even more frequently nude and Rod's girlfriend. There's some jealousy plot or between everyone and their mothers, but it's never going anywhere.
When our heroes (cough) camp at their first point of interest, a trader in furs (living in exile?) named Tomunga (José Thelman) attempts to warn them off, for the area is supposed to be cursed by the ghosts of a dozen sorcerers once (as seen in the movie's first scene) killed by the colonial powers during a sacrificial ceremony meant to create a were-leopard. Supposedly, the sorcerers rise from their graves every night to do Very Bad Things™ to whoever they come in contact with - preferably white women they like to turn into wereleopards too.
The merry gang waves Tomunga's warning off, and - what do you know? - soon are one after the other killed or wereleopardized. Will anyone survive? Do I look like I care?
I harbour a deep and abiding love for Spanish director Amando de Ossorio's first and fourth Blind Dead film, and am therefore always willing to give his other movies a chance. Unfortunately Night of the Sorcerers is much closer to the much-hated third of said Blind Dead films, mixing a bit of the old ultra violence, stupid plotting, and huge amounts of sleaze into a concoction that's often pretty boring. I'd say surprisingly boring, but then I have been bored by a lot of things that sound exciting in movies.
As frequent readers of this blog will probably understand by now, I have hardly any moral qualms about violence and sleazy nudity in my films, so it's not that its mind is in the gutter that bothers me about Night of the Sorcerers. In fact, de Ossorio's desperate attempts to shoehorn nudity into the least fitting situations (personal favourite: a completely pointless "character moment" taking place with one of the female characters discussing her emotional life while sponging herself off) is one of the film's more sympathetic features. It's just too bad that all that sleaze stops the rest of the film dead in its tracks and really does a good job at hindering any attempt at mood building that could turn this into an atmospheric horror movie too.
It's not as if the film did not have other problems: there's the sluggish pacing, characters who only ever act like idiots, a male hero who is responsible for people's death by skipping his guard duty for a long sex scene with his girlfriend not once but twice, and the little innocent fact that an actual plot only makes an appearance in the film's last thirty minutes or so. Before that, it's all women undressing, a bit of murder, and people doing and saying nothing of consequence.
Ossorio also attempts to use some of the stylistic tricks that worked so well for him in the first Blind Dead movie made the year before, but never manages to get the all-important details right that would let the film work on that rewarding non-naturalistic level. In fact, I don't think de Ossorio actually realized why the respective tricks did work in his earlier movie. Just take the use of slow-motion: where the blind dead in their decrepit state are made more threatening and unreal by being filmed in slow motion so often, the skimpy fur bikini leopard women are only ever made more ridiculous (and the acting surely doesn't help) and less threatening.
Where the earlier film oozes a strange and dream-like quality all of its own, Night only ever works as more than a mild piece of softcore sleaze in a handful of scenes during its final thirty minutes: there, Ossorio seems to find his lost horror filmmaker again. Suddenly, the director shows the return of a murdered character as a zombie in a red-lit scene (again very reminiscent of another scene from the first Blind Dead film) that is actually as dream-like and frightening as its content deserves, treats the abduction of another (sleeping-pill addled) character by a leopard woman as a moment right out of a fairy tale or dream, and - in an imaginary moment that for once positively reminds of the strange rules the Blind Dead have to follow - explains why the leopard woman all wear little green collars round there throats.
These few scenes aren't exactly enough to turn Night of the Sorcerers around - there's still a very dumb climax standing in the way, and too much boredom before - they do however make the film worthwhile beyond the ogling of pretty women and Jack Taylor (if he floats your boat), and demonstrate how strong a director of the fairy tale-like and strange type of horror de Ossorio could be when he applied his talents to it.

No comments: