Friday, October 23, 2015

Cazador de Demonios (1983)

aka Demon Hunter

A peasant I don’t think whose name we ever learn is convinced Indio sorcerer Tobias (Jose Tablas) is responsible for the dead birth of his son. Seeing as how Tobias chased away the praying women surrounding her and slaughtered and bled out a cock over her belly while her husband was away fetching town doctor José Luis (Rafael Sánchez Navarro), there just might be something to the theory.

Our peasant friend doesn’t take this too well and murders the sorcerer a short time later. Unfortunately, this rather seems to help the guy more than hinder him, for Tobias now turns into a nahual, which in the interpretation of this film is an undead, Satanist were-animal (I never could puzzle out which kind of animal it’s supposed to be exactly). The peasant, ineffectively trying to make up for his badly done job, is the monster’s first victim, but soon enough, it starts to slaughter the sheep of “mayor” (which amounts to “town owner” here) Franco (Andrés García), as well as a few people a night. The former makes Franco very angry, so he puts police chief Aguilar (Roberto Montiel) – a basically decent man clearly chafing against being owned by this particular rich arse – on the job to kill the animal responsible right quick, or else…

The Aguilar’s problem is that he – somewhat reasonably - believes the killer to be an animal and not a monster, and it will take him quite some time to come around to the truth and more effective action. José Luis on the other hand, despite being a scientist, rather quickly teams up with the town’s rather fire and brimstone priest Padre Martín (Tito Junco) to put an end to the horror with the power of God (as embodied in a snazzy dagger with the suffering Christ as a handle, which seems rather dubious to my irreligious eyes, but what do I know) and bullets made out of a communion cup. He’s getting particularly zealous once the monster has realized killing alone just isn’t any fun and kidnaps the doctor’s wife Rosa (Roxana Chávez) for reasons of procreation.

Like quite a few Mexican horror films from this era, fruitful director Gilberto de Anda’s very first feature film Cazador de Demonios is a bit slow-going for the course of its first act, clearly struggling with establishing the characters and their social connections while also shoving in two odious comic relief deputies, and including at least a bit of supernatural fun, all the while having to stay in a tiny budget. Consequently, there are quite few scenes that are meant to give the audience a good understanding of the way the village is built on corruption (not that this point is going to be resolved anyway) but tend to get bogged down with unimportant stuff.

Fortunately, once things do get going, the film gathers speed and drive very quickly, turning into a cheap yet highly entertaining variation on the classic werewolf tale with changes appropriate to a film taking place in the boons of Mexico. I suspect there’s the typical thing about urban filmmakers looking at country people askance going on here, too, but I might very well misreading the state of things in Mexico in the early 80s. In any case there’s much more machismo than in most werewolf movies not featuring Paul Naschy on display, a rather bloody version of Catholicism, an actively Satanist were-creature, and a deep distrust towards worldly authorities, all served up in a picturesque countryside and a very fine looking mission ruin while rather more international things like a torch-wielding peasant mob and very traditional monster stalking are happening around them.

Once he lets loose, de Anda also turns out to be an effective horror director, putting much coloured light, clever camera angles, and the traditional and always appreciated spooky play of shadow and light in the service of some surprisingly creepy scenes, like the Priest’s costly encounter with what amounts to the Devil in the nahual’s lair, the calmly yet nightmarishly staged burning of an innocent by Franco, and the suspenseful (and very pretty) final encounter between Rosa and the nahual.

It’s good stuff, much more in the tradition of that part of Mexican horror cinema that was influenced by Universal horror than I had expected going in, neatly crossed with what I always interpreted as a 70s grimness (and hey, what’s 3 years?). One just needs to be patient with the slow start.

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