Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – El Fantasma de la Casa Roja (The Phantom in the Red House) (1956)

My notes on El Fantasma de la Casa Roja (The Phantom in the Red House)‘A woman like you is breathtaking on a Friday or a Wednesday night.’

A Mexican knock-off of The Cat and the Canary which trundles along nicely until comedy star Antonio Espino (aka Clavillazo) shows up and does an act so extreme in its straining for laughs which don’t come that he almost makes it into the ‘perversely entertaining’ category.

Before the film starts, a wealthy eccentric – he owns a stereotypical old dark house with no electricity and a hell-themed nightspot that serves as an excuse for regular mariachi numbers – has died and left the requisite will whereby all the property and half the fortune goes to Mercedes Benz (Alma Rosa Aguirre), his pretty but dim goddaughter, on the condition that she spend three nights from midnight til dawn in the house. Also in the running are a pack of grasping suspects who have to spend two nights in the house meditating on their sins in order to qualify for a third night searching for the treasure hidden somewhere on the premises. Among the traditional gathering: a hypocritical harridan housekeeper who makes doomy religious pronouncements but still wants the money, the dead man’s ageing ‘fiancée’ (in the dubbing, his term of endearment for her is ‘Mulehead’), an inept and cranky little doctor, a smoothie leading man, sundry schemers, and a very abrupt, glowering lawyer. Also lurking about is a wrestler-masked, cloaked, wide-hatted ‘phantom’ (actually, several of them) who pops up and acts menacing without especially doing anything.

Halfway through, the heroine hires private eye ‘Diogenes Holmes’ (Espino), who has a checked ulster and a battered funny hat (the badge of any Mexicomic), and hops up and down contorting his face in a manner Jerry Lewis would find excessive. Maybe the K. Gordon Murray dubbing has stripped the star of a barrage of verbal witticisms which qualify him as a great comedian, but it’s not likely. Parodying something which was a comedy in the first place is a tricky proposition, so points should be awarded for the amazingly dim heroine (told her new car has a lot of horsepower she has a routine about how horses are old-fashioned and she abhors them). The house is an overlit, overfamiliar set, and director Miguel M. Delgado gets few shots at real creepiness, though there’s a nice hands-reaching-out-of-the-closet bit in homage to a Cat and the Canary money shot which dates back to the Broadway first act curtain. NB: the title on the DVD sleeve (Phantom of the Red House) varies from that on the print.


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