Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Immortal Sins (1991)

Susan (Maryam d’Abo) follows her husband Mike (Cliff De Young) to Spain where he is renovating the mansion his family once lived in before they went to the USA some generations ago.

Things for and between the couple seem fine at first, but Mike is plagued – well, perhaps not plagued exactly – by dreams and what amounts to visions of having sex with a beautiful woman (Shari Shattuck). These dreams do have a sinister undercurrent, and it becomes increasingly unclear if they truly are dreams. Particularly once Mike and Susan encounter Diana, who introduces herself as a very remote cousin of Mike’s. Diana, you see, does look exactly like the woman from Mike’s dreams. It doesn’t escape Susan’s notice that her hubby has the look of a guy on his face who just got a very enthusiastic physical reaction whenever he meets Diana, nor that he becomes increasingly withdrawn, sickly, cranky, and unwilling to fulfil his husbandly duties. That’s not just an opportunity for some fine rows between the couple. Susan also rather quickly decides something truly strange is going with Mike, some malignant influence hanging over him far beyond mere infidelity. Susan’s my kind of heroine, so she quickly starts on a campaign of research, and learns about a family curse.

On paper, this Corman-produced film shot in Spain by a Spanish director and with a Spanish crew, sounds a lot like a pure bit of Skinemax horror. However, while it does contain its share of sex scenes – which feel as if they were shortened by someone’s censorship knife in the VHS-based version I’ve watched - is actually a pretty serious and effective effort at evoking the virtues of traditional Gothic horror while adding quite a few Gothic romance tropes to the genre mix. Just, you know, Gothic horror with a few more naked breasts and more shots of Cliff De Young’s naked chest than you usually get to see. So if even one of these things floats your boat, you are rather in luck with the film. Generally, Immortal Sins’s approach to what amounts to a rather standard erotic horror set-up feels not so much like the US cable TV that probably inspired its existence but like a lost European horror film from the 70s, Spanish director Hervé Hechuel clearly putting quite a bit of effort into making the eroticism a bit more dreamlike than an American director would and well, actually, turning the rest of the film rather more dreamlike also.

Ironically, quite a bit of that dreamlike effect of proceedings is based on the director’s atmospheric approach to location shooting that turns an actual picturesque Spanish village, woods and roads (and a nifty building and cellar) into rather sinister places where the idea of a curse, a succubus, and the sins of the fathers coming down to first provide the sons with a lot of sex and then to crush them seem just par for the course.

While the dialogue is often – but not always – a bit rough, the acting is generally fine. Cliff De Young has always been good at playing this particular kind of libidinous asshole, while d’Abo does fine shouting matches with him but is also genuinely fun to watch when she goes on her research spree or when she starts seeing things. Sexploitation expert Shari Shattuck knows her stuff too.

This all adds up to a surprisingly effective low budget flick, certainly one of the more interesting Corman productions of the early 90s and a film I’d rather like to see uncut and with decent picture quality.

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