A Candle For The Devil Review
Eugenio Martin has ruined my sleep ever since I was 9 or 10 years old. I have had the same recurring dream where I am chased along train carriages by cossack zombies, and it is all the veteran Spanish director's fault. I saw about 30 minutes of Horror Express as a child and it has stayed with me ever since, occasionally entering my head at night to wake me up and disturb my rest. I can now appreciate that Martin, before running out of money, did an impressive job on the film, turning an unlikely story of frozen aliens, Rasputin and drunken cossacks led by Telly Savalas, into an effective frightfest. Martin has brought his intelligence and craft to a number of other genre flicks to raise them above their raw material of bad titles and nonsense scripts like Bad Man's River and The Bounty Killer. A Candle for the Devil finds the director in earlier horror territory and back in Franco's Spain with a story which may be seen as having political parallels.
Numerous authors have claimed that repression can create great art, as artists find subtle ways of speaking their experience despite the confines of censorship and political control. Whilst it is perhaps stretching it to call horror movies art, they often serve as catharsis and escape from social convention and lend themselves to subtle analogy. Think about Romero's Dead films, the rebellion of the Coffin Joe films against the Brazilian juntas and even the escape from fifties British restraint that early Hammer suggest. In recent years, Spain has shown it has a plethora of stories about fear through the work of Balageuro, Amenabar and De La Iglesia, and, during Franco's time, cinema was often at its most free and most popular when it was sharing the everyday anxiety of its audience in stories of fantasy and terror.
A Candle for the Devil features two sisters who run a guest house in an old convent. Both are middle aged, unmarried and repressed by religious faith. They are often revolted at the antics of the foreign tourists that stay in their house, and in attempting to throw one topless sunbather out of their establishment they accidentally kill her. They cover the death up when the girl's sister, Laura, arrives the next day, and soon another outrageous guest has pushed their buttons in the wrong way and the kitchen furnace is working overtime. Single mums and a snooping Laura may be next, and the authorities will only accept the truth once it stares them in the face.
The two sisters, Veronica and Marta, are lost in envy and disgust. The kinder one, Veronica, steals from the hotel and pursues an affair with their manservant, and her sister is taunted by the memory of being jilted. The vitality of the tourists, their ability to live their lives, scandalises these two weird sisters, but most of all it reminds them of the confines of their own existence. The lack of life and love has perverted Marta beyond her sanity, and she comes to see her murderous actions as the work of an instrument of judgment.
Martin orchestrates some notable sequences which bring the sisters' frustration to life. Marta, driven by a sexual urge, goes to the manservant's home and finds him gone, ironically having just serviced her sister, and she wanders by a stream and sees naked adolescents bathing. She becomes dizzy at the flesh she wants. She tries to escape the sight of her eyes and the needs of her body, but thorns tear at her skin and dress. This testing of the flesh is repeated later when sexual provocation leads this time to a release of nauseous anger, and a phallic blade stabs deep into the body of the flirt who unwisely taunts Marta.
Eventually, the envy which drives the moralising reaches its inevitable conclusion when the sisters decide that they are more fit mothers than another tourist who arrives. This desire for a child without the nasty business of sex is the apogee of the madness and jealousy of the women. Their campaign of decency will only stop when the evidence of the crimes become flagrant and exposed to the eyes of the community around the women.
As a mere horror film, this is a perfectly serviceable tale not unlike Tigon's Beast in the Cellar but the direction and style brought to the sexual repression are of a higher order. It may be that politics were far from the film-maker's minds but it is hard to believe that the dictatorship around them didn't inform the themes so obvious from seeing the film now. A Candle for The Devil may not interest a casual viewer the way it did me, but being someone whose nightmares have been choreographed by Martin, I am only happy to say that he has provided me with more to trouble my sleep for years to come.
Odeon Entertainment, I hope, will forgive me if I describe them as a small label, and the DVD debut of this film is quite a coup for them. The materials used are quite limited and you will be able to recognise what it a rather worn print with a good deal of fading in the colours and the appearance of bleaching at times. Reds have a brownish hue and damage is visible throughout, although it is far from distracting. The transfer is non-anamorphic, and the disc used is a single layer affair, compression artifacts are very rare and the levels of grain are wholly appropriate. The image is sharp, a little too dark and lacking in contrast, and the capture below is about as poor as the film gets in terms of A/V quality.
The film is presented with a mono English dub which has plenty of rumbling and background hum, and a minor amount of distortion throughout. Geeson's voice is definitely her own but some of the synching is rather patchy. The film comes with eight trailers, four of which are for Hershell Gordon Lewis films, some Pete Walker and some fifties British horror. The only other extra is that of a stills gallery for this film which is part black and white, part colour and is cast pictures and shots from the film.
I don't like knocking small labels but it is crucial to note that the A/V quality here is far from A1. This is though, a DVD debut of a good movie which will appeal to Euro-cult fans like myself.