Satan's Blood (1978)

FEBRUARY 11, 2021


One fun thing about the various Rosemary's Baby/Exorcist knockoffs of the 1970s is seeing what particular things the filmmakers deemed necessary to recycle for their own version, as if they felt explicitly tipping their hat would keep them safe from plagiarism ("it's an homage!"). For example, I've always been tickled about Beyond the Door having their weird kids drink pea soup straight from the can, and of course my beloved Cathy's Curse certainly seemed to think a swearing little girl was essential. In Satan's Blood (Spanish: Escalofrío), director Carlos Puerto lets you know that we're in Polanski territory instantly by having the elderly neighbors of our heroes stare at them in a knowing way, as if to say "Yes, these people are the Minnie and Roman of this film" before anything else remotely spooky has happened.

In fact the only other thing that might remind you of Rosemary by that point (only about five minutes into the film) is that Mariana Karr's character Ana is pregnant, a plot point that has no bearing on pretty much anything that follows. Despite the similar vibes, her pregnancy ends up being a total non-starter in the grand scheme of things; her husband Andres (José María Guillén) tells her she shouldn't go dancing, but that's about it - she spends the rest of the movie smoking and drinking without any concern. And she isn't even remotely showing (at four months! Bless her!) so if they snipped out the quick conversation about it early on I don't think it'd even cause any continuity or plot hole issues.

It also provides a very flimsy excuse for why Ana is bored, so much that when another couple pulls up next to them at a stoplight and the man claims that he went to school with Andres, she quickly agrees to their invitation to come over their house for a while ("We have wine and cheese" the man's wife offers, sweetening the deal to hang out with strangers). They barely even flinch when the drive turns out to be an hour away, and let's not discount the fact that Andres has no memory of the man whatsoever. I myself wouldn't accept this sort of out of nowhere invitation from someone I DID remember, but that's why I have never found myself as the lead in a Spanish horror film.

Or why I've never gotten to be in an orgy. See, they don't care about the baby, but the new couple is... well, horny. I'm not exactly sure what other motives they had (I'll get into spoilers in a bit for one possible explanation), but they sure enjoy having lots of sex with our heroes. After playing with a Ouija board (per 1970s supernatural movie law) all four of them disrobe and begin enjoying one another in all possible combinations except male on male (though we do see a penis or two, so they're not THAT conservative). Later when it's time for bed the couples enjoy each other on their own, as if reinvigorated by their little foray into group sex. And the woman (Sandra Alberti from Trauma, also recently released from Vinegar Syndrome) tries seduce Andres AND Ana on separate occasions, for good measure. These people would be absolutely miserable if they were still alive to deal with covid!

But in fact (spoilers here!) they're actually already dead. After a number of weird things happen, most of which are never explained (why is there a random would-be rapist hanging out in the house? No one - even the woman he attacks - ever really looks into his whole deal), our heroes finally escape the house and return home, only to discover their belongings are gone. The couple from next door - apartment 66 by the way, because subtlety - invites them in to calm down, and when they enter they see all the people from the house they just escaped. Everyone surrounds them and stabs them to death, and then we cut to a new couple who is out for a drive. At a stoplight, the couple looks over and sees... Andres! Telling the driver they're old friends. So the cycle begins again, which is cool, but I couldn't begin to tell you what the purpose of any of it was. If the only goal was to kill these people why did they drag it out for so long? Can't even say it was "to have more sex" because the horniness dies out by the next morning and there's still plenty of time left (and thus, chances to kill them).

That said, please don't take this as a criticism on the movie, at least from my perspective. I found the whole thing delightful, and - as noted on the historian commentary by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger - it's part of the "anything goes" mentality for Spanish horror that makes them so appealing. Unlike (most, not all) American films that have similar setups, there's really no way to predict how this one would end, even with the telltale shifty eyed look from the neighbors early on. Even when I was rewatching with the commentary I found myself surprised on occasion, like "Oh yeah, I forgot there was a random bit of possible cannibalism at one point." There's even a random evil doll element in this movie that would cause enough nightmares for a specific killer doll movie, but instead it's just one of the many oddities you'll find. I love that!

Apart from the historian track (which echoes some of their earlier ones in that it spends a lot of time on the general sub-genre as opposed to anything about the specific film) the disc also offers a lengthy retrospective documentary featuring Alberti, writer/director Carlos Puerto and editor Pedro del Rey. Alberti appears more than the other two combined, I think, but it makes sense since she has the most colorful anecdotes, discussing the film's nudity, a ripoff she saw (she doesn't say the title; from the historian track I THINK she is referring to Black Candles), the other actors, etc. For his part, Puerto sighs about some of the changes that producer Juan Piquer Simón (yes, the Pieces genius) imposed on the film but also takes responsibility for the film's lapses, so that's refreshing. An English dub track - which apparently changes the tone of some scenes by sounding more comical - is included for the film as well, for those who don't want subtitles.

Deighan and Ellinger point out that so many of these films are hard to find nowadays (and even those that are available are often presented shoddily), feeling that Spanish horror has never been given as much reverence from these companies as genre efforts from other European countries (namely Italy and France). So I'm glad Vinegar Syndrome has been focusing so much on it lately; it's a pretty sizable hole in my own viewing history (due in part to the aforementioned availability issues) and I've been having a blast diving in with their nearly monthly releases (I missed the second volume of their Forgotten Gialli boxed sets though, so I gotta pick that up to do my part to help convince them for a third volume). I can see a younger version of me hating this movie for its hazy plot details, but as I get older and more mellow, I find myself drawn to this kind of thing more often, and I look forward to more.

What say you?


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