My notes on Escalofrío (Satan’s Blood) (1978)
In the 2000s, a rash of films had innocent folks approached by friendly, sinister types who claim to have been at school with them, then helpfully ruin their lives. This 1978 Spanish shocker was trying to be an Iberian Rosemary’s Baby, but happens to hit on the ‘old school chum’ plot device decades ahead of Harry, He’s Here to Help or The Serpent.
While driving around Madrid, Andres (José María Guillén) and Ana (Mariana Karr), a young couple with a baby on the way and a dog in the back seat, are accosted by Bruno (Angel Aranda) and Berta (Sandra Alberti), who have a flashier car. Bruno says he was at school with Andres, though he’s obviously a decade or more older and is vague about the details of their previous acquaintance. Nevertheless, Andres accepts an invitation to drop by Bruno’s place for drinks and to look at a supposed photograph of them in the old days. The other couple’s home turns out to be a castle in the wilderness an hour or more out of the city, and Andres and Ana are tempted to turn round and drive back before they get there – whereupon Bruno and Berta turn out to be into witchcraft, ouija, group-sex and Satanism. Over the course of the night, omens get more ominous – from that old photograph, taken well before Andres could have been at school, to the disappearance and murder of the faithful dog – and the victims are torn between running away in terror and sexual fascination with their hosts’ lifestyle. Bruno and Berta snipe at each other about previous ‘suicide attempts’ (even a spirit jeers at them about this via the ouija board). Whenever it seems their guests might flee, the hosts become wheedling or controlling or desperate for help: it’s interesting that the Satanists as often depend on their victims’ better instincts to keep them trapped – by seeming to be ill or dead, for instance – as they do on hokey old devices like the washed-out road that won’t be passable till morning.
The orgiastic group sex (which features every variation except Bruno-on-Andres, of course) is enough by itself to get the film tagged as a softcore item, though it’s also just a step on the way to a full-on Satanic ritual completed after the protagonists seem to have got away, back at their flat in the city (creepily, all their furniture has been removed in their absence) where it turns out their neighbours and everyone they’ve encountered in the last day or so (as in Rosemary’s Baby) are in on the cult and stab them seemingly to death. Oddly, Ana’s pregnancy doesn’t figure in the Satanists’ plot and is rarely mentioned – as if it were a vestigial echo of the Ira Levin story. In typical 1970s horror fashion, the coda finds the whole cycle starting up again: another happy young couple are picked up – this time by a pasty-faced, ambiguously living dead Andres and Ana. Some Spanish horror film clichés are in evidence – Ana has to suffer one of those gratuitous, clothes-tearing rape attempts that were almost obligatory at the time and the demise of the dog can be seen coming from a long way off – but it’s a more measured, subtle picture than the average Paul Naschy effort, and furthermore a rare Spanish horror of the 1970s actually to be set in Spain and make a point of it. Writer-director Carlos Puerto and the small cast make the characters more complicated than they might be, allowing the nice young couple to be a bit smug and snippy as well as letting the villains have flashes of seemingly genuine sincerity, and if it’s a slight storyline it at least has some conviction.
Richard Harland Smith
I reviewed this for somebody but I’ll be damned if I can remember who. Or whom. Or where. Or wherem.
Can you name a few in that genre? I can only think of BAD INFLUENCE, POISON IVY and THIRTEEN.
It occurs to me that this particular plot stratagem in which an innocent person or couple get mixed up with a sexy, probably dangerous, generally weird couple evolved in porn, but has crossed over into thrillers. Other examples – Bitter Moon, Consenting Adults, The Lickerish Quartet, maybe even Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
“The Comfort of Strangers” is another?
wasn’t there a Franco-ist rule that popularist horror films had to be set elsewhere?