It’s October!! Time for us to begin our annual celebration of all things spooky movie wise. So…. how about starting off with a Spanish horror film… featuring the weird fantastic mythos of classic horror author H.P. Lovecraft? Writing back in the 30’s, he was pretty much the Father of all the “Pulp Era” stories about such weird horrors from beyond Space & Time. He’s had lots of imitators over the years since then and every now and again, somebody tries to capture on film all those freaky “unspeakable things” he was always writing about in his stories…. usually without much real success. So… when I heard about a new Spanish horror film inspired by Lovecraft and his writings, called “La Herencia Valdemar”, I was initially somewhat skeptical.
Our synopsis, short and sweet, goes like this: “Luisa Llorente, an assessment expert of old properties, travels to the mysterious Victorian mansion of the Valdemar Family to conduct an inventory of property ownership for her company in preparations of selling the property. Once there, she soon discovers the grisly fate of the previous assessor only to then mysteriously disappear as well. Maximilian, the president of the company she works for, engages the services of private detective Nicholas Tramel to try and locate her. But he soon finds she is not the first disappearance in the old Valdemar mansion… nor will she likely be the last….”
Haunted houses, creepy family curses, and ancient Eldritch evil… sounds like I’ll be a happy Lil’ Catgirl alright. If… that is, they finally manage to actually get it right. Can’t say I’ve been too happy with a Lovecraft style horror film since Brian Yuzna’s “Reanimator” and his equally gooshy and horrifying “From Beyond”. Will this one catch the right “vibe” of overwhelming, mind numbing Cosmic Evil? Guess you’ll have to “Read On” and find out…..
OK… so once I located a copy of this one, I was immediately hit with the information that it wasn’t going to be a complete film. Nope… seems it was merely the first part of a planned couplet of films… and the story wouldn’t be complete until the release of it’s sequel, “La Sombra Prohibida”. Grrrr!! Shades of “Harry Potter and the Quest For Yet More Lucrative Ticket Sales”. There’s really nothing more…. annoying… to this lil’ Catgirl than this particular marketing tactic. Especially when… once in a great while, the money-men behind these productions weasel out on funding the sequel. Just ask the people who plunked down their cash to watch “The Golden Compass” just what they though of having a movie with no ending….. and no sequel to finish off a story satisfactorily. I imagine many of them uttered words the likes of which would curdle milk…. So was I ready to take that kind of risk for this one?
Well… given that these were the last films of the late great Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy, and the sequel was due out soon, I erred on the side of caution and waited… patiently biding my time till both got their DVD release before plunking down my money to have them shipped in from Spain. At least that way… even if they were terrible… at least I’d have the whole story. So then… without further adieu, let’s all take a look at what sort of story transpired in the first of our films….
It begins in a fairly standard Gothic fashion. Our heroine Luisa Llorente (played by Silvia Abascal) has her impending vacation cut off by a call from her employer. Seems there’s been some trouble with one of their estate assessors… he’s out of contact and they desperately need a property assessed for sale before the week is out for a mysteriously secretive client, the shadowy company “Inmoberance”. As their best assessor, she’s the only one capable of pulling such a daunting assignment off in such a short time. She’s not happy with the assignment… but the property in question, the Valdemar Estate, will just about make her the most lucrative commission one could imagine. That… and she manages to leverage the existing portfolio of her missing rival for her own as part of the deal to take the assignment. Yep… plain old greed… seems to be the main motivation for many of our characters in this one as we soon find out.
It doesn’t really take long for Luisa to regret her choice… for minutes after her arrival at the creepy Victorian mansion she discovers the remains of her predecessor Orquicia chained to a bloody gurney under a sheet of plastic in the attic. There’s no doubt that he’s dead… and that someone… or something… has been snacking on him something fierce. While poor shocked Luisa is trying to recover from the shock of her grisly discovery, that ghoulish “something” finally finds her and begins to chase her through the deserted house while she desperately seeks a way to escape. Luckily for her, the helpful groundskeeper Santi (played by Santi Prego) is around to help her…. apparently very aware of the hungry thing in the house. Kind of makes you wonder why he even let her go in there in the first place, doesn’t it?
Once out of the house of horror and overwhelmed by sheer terror… she’s taken unconscious to the home of Santi and his friend Dámaso (played by José Luis Torrijo). So now she’s safe? Right?…. Naaaww. Lovecraft never made things that easy in his stories. Instead she gets locked in a room… for her own safety (Yeah… right, we’ve all heard that one before haven’t we?…). Then…. we get a creepy lil’ bit as Dámaso goes a lil’ bit “Renfield” on us… eating a big ol’ bug from off the top of the door to Luisa’s room.Yep… no more doubts…. she’s in trouble.
But before we get comfy following the misadventures of Miss Llorente, our story shifts focus (and you’d better get used to this… ’cause it’s gonna happen again later on in the story…) to our second main character private detective Nicolás Tremel (played by Óscar Jaenada). He gets hired by the creepy boss of the Inmoberance Corporation, Maximilian (played by Eusebio Poncela) to find her and Orquicia before the police have to be brought into the affair. He’s not our only person playing “Scooby Doo” either… Luisa’s friends and co-workers get roped into helping look for her too. Yep… we get lots and lots of plots and subplots here… but before we get around to unraveling any of them Nicolás ends up asking the mysterious lady doctor, Dr. Cerviá (played by Ana Risueño) who is sent along on his investigation to “help” (keep an eye on…) him by his employer the creepy Maximilian, for some information…. This triggers an extended “flashback” that takes up the majority of our film and goes into great detail about the tragic fate of the Valdemars, who owned the house back at the turn of the century. Not to worry… we’ll get back to Nicolás and the rest, but not until the next movie…..
The real meat and potatoes of this one concerns the tragic story of Lázaro Valdemar (played by Daniele Liotti) and his wife Leonor (played by Laia Marull) who are devoted to each other and deeply in love but unable to have the one thing they want more than anything in the world… a child. Poor Leonor is weak of constitution and unable to take the strain of carrying a child to term. It’s the one thing that leaves a shadow on their otherwise perfect lives. To somehow make this right, the two throw themselves into the business of running an orphanage… one filled with children they can love and help find worthy parents who will treasure them as much as they do. But that takes money…. lots of it. So, to help make ends meet, Lázaro begins dabbling in Spiritualism…. summoning the Spirits of the Dead for gullible rich clients for a price. It’s all a scam of course… but he tells himself it’s all in the service of the greater good… to help the children. And to keep Leonor happy… Eventually his remarkable “success” becomes his undoing. His notoriety attracts the attentions of a muckraking journalist who expects either to be handsomely paid the hero’s share of Lázaro’s income as blackmail or to make his name by exposing the fraud. Lázaro refuses to be threatened, and so the police are informed, and he is imprisoned for his crime. All seems lost, but then help appears in the form of Aleister Crowley (played by Francisco Maestre). He decides to discredit the journalist… save Lázaro from jail and scandal, all for his own selfish purposes of course.
What’s his angle? Well… it seems that Lázaro, while running his con, actually managed to summon spirits… all without ever realizing it. Crowley needs a man like him… one who has attracted the attention of those from “Beyond the Veil” to act as a catalyst for a ritual allowing Crowley and his cult to contact the Great Old Ones using a dread spell from the legendary Grimiore, the Necronomicon, and each ask for a single request. Crowley tells Lázaro that the solution to Leonor’s problem can be provided by these grim entities. Given that temptation… it’s impossible for him to refuse. Big mistake…. Cosmically big.
Leonor begs her husband not to have anything to do with Crowley… only too aware of his reputation as a Satanist and his notoriety across Europe. But the promise of a child for them both… it’s too much for Lázaro to pass up. One evening, while his wife is away at the Train Station with the children meeting a group of prospective adoptive parents, he allows Crowley to bring his followers to the mansion so they can attempt the forbidden ritual. Only his loyal manservant Jervás (played by Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy) stays with him… not happy with his Master’s decisions, but desperate to be of whatever assistance he can. One by one the cult members arrive… and what a lot they are. Among them lurk such notables as author Bram Stoker (Lino Braxe), ax murderess Lizzy Borden (Vanessa Suarez), and serial killer Belle Gunnes (Laura Toledo) to name a few. You just know things are not going to turn out well…
They muck it up of course… and instead of getting their chance to make their requests of the Great Old Ones, a malignant cannibal spirit escapes from Hell, entering our dimension, setting the mansion ablaze, and possessing a corpse. Oh… so he’s our ghoul from earlier… (or would that be later?) This all costs Lázaro his one most precious thing beyond all else… Leonor, who becomes a conduit for the Great Old Ones before her spirit is drawn away to the Beyond, leaving her body behind… an empty shell. Lázaro tries to revive her… but fails, again and again. Then our flashback ends….
Back in the present, Nicolás is admonished by Dr.Cerviá that although all this “legend” is interesting… he should remember that his job is to find Luisa… and that all that story really didn’t have anything to do with her after-all. (Yeah… right. So why tell him all that stuff then?) Leaving them on the train to finish their journey we move back to Luisa… still locked away and still in deadly danger…. and then our movie ends.
SAY WHAT!? Yes… as unbelievable as it sounds… this is where our film ends, although a quick peek is given of the sequel “La Sombra Prohibida” where supposedly all will finally be revealed. Grrrrr!!! You, like this lil’ Catgirl, will absolutely hate this as an “ending”… and it will leave you hoping as I did that the sequel does live up to all this promise. Will it? Guess you’ll have to wait till my review of that one to find out…
So… how did this one grab me? Well, it’s a somewhat odd tale, jumping about from time to time and character to character the way that it does. That certainly takes a bit to get used to and will not be every movie fan’s cup of tea for certain. However… overall the story does adequately replicate the literary style of Lovecraft, who often did exactly that himself in some of his most famous stories. The acting is good, with particular mention being made of the roll of Jervás. It’s a change of pace for Paul Naschy, usually the villain or monster of a film, cast against type to play perhaps the most sympathetic and honorable character in the entire story. This was his last roll on the screen… and he died of cancer at the age of 75 before the sequel was filmed… pretty much making his roll somewhat brief in that. Here he’s certainly wonderful… and one can only wonder what part in the conclusion he might have been originally destined to take.
The sets… all gorgeous and period, with oodles of great atmosphere. Lots of things they get right… and only a couple of quibbles overall… the “non-ending’ being the biggest for me. If you are a fan of Lovecraft’s work… as I am.. you’ll like “La Herencia Valdemar” quite a bit, and Neko gives it 4 “Meows” out of 5, despite it’s convoluted and somewhat complex plot. Not a problem if the sequel takes all those plot threads and knits them together for a satisfying conclusion. Will that actually happen? Guess we’ll all find out soon….
The Region 2 Spanish DVD is excellent… and presented in wide-screen PAL format with both English as well as Portuguese subtitles. But…. darn it’s pricey!! Getting a copy of this one will set you back 28-40$ US most places and probably need to be imported directly from Spain. It just begs to be released in either the UK or the US, so perhaps those of you interested might be better served to actually wait for a release to happen in either of those countries. How soon? Only the Great Cthulhu knows…. Did Neko wait? Nawwww… but then I’m a goofy horror movie obsessed Catgirl…. whereas you are probably a little more sane and reasonable. 😉
Of course… there’s a Trailer and as always, Your Favorite Catgirl leaves you with it to share the creepy fun….