Last night was the night I’d been waiting for all month, featuring three rare, restored flicks from Argentina that I’d never even heard of. I know there are lots of people who come to a film noir festival to see familiar favorites, and I love SUNSET BOULEVARD as much as the next Noirhound, but this is the kind of shit that really gets me jazzed to hit the theater. Of course, now I’m totally fucking tortured, because I hate to rave about a film that most of my readers will probably never have a chance to see. Unless the Film Noir Foundation finds a way to release this subtitled version on DVD.
Meanwhile I guess I’m going to do it anyway. The film I’m going to rave about is EL VAMPIRO NEGRO, an Argentine reimagining of M.
This film absolutely knocked me out. If you’ve seen M, you already know the bones of the plot. An elusive child killer terrorizes the city until underworld denizens take the law into their own hands. But this isn’t just a cheap knockoff, it tells it’s own, uniquely Latin American story.
For starters, this version is much pulpier and more straight forward. None of this complicated cultural subtext or deeper meaning, just lots of gripping suspense, brutal violence and hot chicks in their underwear. Now, this may not be a good thing for everybody, but that’s always been the way to my heart. I’m a lowbrow kinda girl.
And speaking of chicks, unlike the original or the American remake, this movie has plenty. It’s actually centered around a beautiful nightclub singer struggling to support her young daughter while trying keep her from finding out how mom makes a living.
Curvaceous Olga Zubarry, known as the Argentine Marilyn Monroe, gives a surprisingly powerful and sympathetic performance. There’s also a bitchy best friend and the police inspector’s crippled wife forming the strong female backbone of this film. Because these dames aren’t just set-dressing with tits. They’re real, flawed and complex human characters.
Opposite this feminine trifecta is the killer himself, brilliantly played by Nathan Pinzon (who was apparently known for light comedy before tackling this role.)
It’s hard not to compare him to Peter Lorre, but I thought he nailed it and made it his own. The scene where he squeezes the razor sharp knife blade in his bare fist while trying to hold back from killing the cabaret singer’s daughter is both disturbing and weirdly poignant.
This is also a gorgeous film. Shadowy, gritty and at times claustrophobic with lots of super tight close-up of sweaty, disheveled faces. Hollywood was always too kind to its female stars, softening and smoothing away every flaw with pancake makeup, special lighting and gauzy filters, but the women in this movie are refreshingly raw and earthy, with messy hair and smeared lipstick, which somehow makes them seem even sexier.
And I wish I could find some stills of the disgustingly filthy yet hauntingly beautiful Buenos Aires sewer systems in which the climactic scene takes place. Weird, almost freakish homeless people who rake through the raw sewage for coins and other dropped valuables are the ones who take it upon themselves to chase the killer down in a sequence clearly inspired by the Third Man but WAY more vile and smelly-looking.
Mistress Christa says check it the fuck out. Even if you have to watch it on YouTube in 12 swimmy, subtitle-less chunks, find a way to make it happen. You won’t be sorry.
Did I mention Olga Zubarry is a hammer?
Next up was a curious three part anthology based on stories by Cornell Woolrich, which had been chopped into two separate films. First up, NO ABRAS NUNCA ESA PUERTA
This film contained the first two segments “Alguien al teléfono” and “El pájaro cantor vuelve al hogar” connected by intro sequences featuring a mythical door between good and evil.
The first one was the story of an over-protective brother whose pretty kid sister has gotten in over her head with gambling debts.
She kills herself and he swears to get revenge on the loan-shark whose creepy late night phone calls drove her to despair. Only he winds up killing the wrong man.
I think I liked this vignette the best out of the three. It was short and not-so-sweet and I loved all the interesting detail in the sleek, ultra-modern apartment and the lurid Congo club.
The second was the story of a lonely old blind woman whose no-good son comes home to roost, bringing trouble and murder with him.
Like the first, there’s a twist at the end, giving them both a Twilight Zone kind of flavor. Also lots of great, tense, suspenseful scenes of the blind woman feeling her way through the house to take the guns and lock the bad guys in their rooms.
I like that both of these have dark, down endings and both were beautifully shot and pretty to look at, but the first film was such a knockout that it would kinda be hard for anything to measure up.
Which brings me to number three, SI MUERO ANTES DE DESPERTAR.
A lovable young rascal gets mixed up with (another!) child serial killer and has to track down the monster himself to save his friend.
Now, anybody who knows me and reads this blog is well aware of the fact that I don’t make claims to be any kind of expert or have the power to make definitive, objective rulings on the merits or lack thereof in these movies. Just because I loved something doesn’t mean it’ll lift your skirt and vice versa.
That being said, I didn’t like this one. My main reason for this is very specific: I hate child actors.
Like most child actors of this time period, this kid spends the whole film chewing the scenery and mugging for the cheap seats. I really wanted the killer to forget about his cute female friends and get him instead.
There were things to like about this film. There’s a weird, creepy dream sequence and the hunt for the killer at the end is well shot and suspenseful, but it was WAY too long and we just saw a really good film about a child killer. In the end, it just didn’t work for me.
Your milage may vary.
Tonight, it’s the big closing night shindig, featuring a spanky new print of THE GUILTY.