The Curse of the Crying Woman Review

Exposure to Mexican horror cinema has been somewhat limited in the UK. Contemporary examples have been represented almost solely by Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, whilst more vintage titles have so far amounted to a pair of DVDs released on the Mondo Macabro label a few years back, namely El Vampiro and Awakening of the Beast, a demented but disappointing entry in the Coffin Joe series. Much the same picture has existed in the US – and this despite that country’s high percentage of Spanish speaking peoples. As such CasaNegra, a wing of US label Panik House, has been set up to redress the balance; furthermore, their discs come with regional coding thereby making them all the more accessible in the UK and hopefully leading to some rediscoveries.

This particular release, The Curse of the Crying Woman directed by Rafael Baledón in the early sixties and starring Rosita Arenas and Abel Salazar, takes the legend of La Llorona as its inspiration. In this respect its appearance on DVD makes sense: the legend – which involves a blind woman crying out for her drowned children and whose appearance is viewed as a portent for death - has deep roots in Mexican culture and has resulted in a number of horror pictures on the subject of which Crying Woman is considered to be the best. Moreover, English-speaking filmmakers have generally left La Llorona alone making the film doubly interesting; it certainly makes a change from countless remakes and further reimaginings of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson originals. Particularly intriguing is the manner in which the filmmakers have chosen to respond to the legend, the resulting picture by no means being a piece of trash but rather respectful of its subject. Production values are generally high, the black and white photography in particular being a highpoint as is the set design. Ultimately this is a B movie as opposed to an A picture, but there’s an underlying quality nonetheless.

That said, The Curse of the Crying Woman does elicit a curious feeling. Essentially, its storytelling and dramatic syntax are no different from those of a 1930s Hollywood production (any of the Universal cycle, say), yet it also harbours a number of stylistic impulses which are more akin to the decade in which it was made. As such there’s an interesting clash between the stagier means of telling the story (Baledón seems particularly fond of showing his cast walk every step of any given staircase without resorting to cuts) and such sixties’ devices as the crash zoom, not to mention the overall earthy nature. The ‘Crying Woman’ herself is a particularly stunning example: a rotten, hairy corpse tied to a wheel and impaled by a giant spear. Similarly the opening sequence demonstrates that our director had been keeping an eye on contemporary horror models – it’s similarities to Mario Bava’s Black Sunday are far too overt to be deemed coincidental.

This mixture is echoed throughout the film. The plotting on the one hand is busy enough to sustain its mysteries (it also attacks the legend from a slightly removed angle; much ado about curses, predestination and the like) and yet also contains the kind of genre standards that seemingly transcend geographical borders: police procedural, folklore and touches of humour courtesy of a spooked coward all appear. Likewise Crying Woman also has to strike a balance between a whole host of standard performances – no-one in particular stands out either way – and a tremendous imagination. Baledón throws in some truly striking camera angles (witness any of the scenes taking place in the bell tower) and has a undoubted talent for making the cheaper special effects work despite themselves. One standout moment involves nothing more than a made-up dummy on a few strings, yet the effect is quite remarkable nonetheless. There’s even a sequence which inverses the film stock à la F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, yet another unexpected touch.

The end results, then, are a mixture of the solid, the standard and the spectacular. It’s the kind of combination which could prompt a cult following in some corners, yet may leave others ultimately cold. Personally speaking, I’m opting for the middle ground: The Curse of the Crying Woman offers its pleasures, undoubtedly, and yet it also never quite becomes the rediscovery we may have hoped for. It’s an interesting piece of horror filmmaking, but sadly not a major one.

The Disc

CasaNegra clearly have a passion for their product as is ably demonstrated by this release. Though issued on a single-layer disc, The Curse of the Crying Woman always looks good, occasionally even superb. The print itself is in fine condition, contrast levels are excellent, whilst the differences between shots (some being a little crisper than others) would appear to be inherent in the film’s production. The soundtrack – the original Spanish mono – comes across as well as should be expected given the source. English subtitles are optional (the menus incidentally are bilingual – either English or Spanish can be chosen). The English dub, which has occasionally been seen in English-speaking territories, is also present and should be avoided at all costs. Certainly, it may offer a certain historical value given that many Mexican films were impossible to see other than in this bastardised form, but the effect is really quite cheapening.

As for extras, the major addition is something of a disappointment. CasaNegra’s Vice President Michael Liuzza offers up a feature-length audio commentary, but sadly it’s a bitty affair. He points out various players and offer potted biographies/filmographies which is handy, yet any real analysis is out. He notes one shot as being “very Hitchcockian”, but never goes any further (presumably he’s referencing Vertigo - this being one of the aforementioned bell tower scenes – but it’s a tenuous connection). Elsewhere, this disc offers up sundry filmographies, a stills/poster gallery and a bilingual booklet which informs further on the legend of La Llorona and also gives swift mention to the many Mexican adaptations.

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