2/22/16

Double Feature #21: Occult Schools for Girls


Voodoo Dolls (1991) and Alucarda (1977)

The first feature is a Canuxploitation film about a new girl (whose father has died) who comes to live at an isolated private school only to become involved in a voodoo cult.

The second feature is Mexploitation film about a new girl (whose parents have died) who comes to live at an isolated convent only to become involved in a satanic cult.

Enjoy!


Voodoo Dolls (1991)


The movie starts in black & white, so you know it's depicting an event from the past.  A headmaster is frollicking in the hay with a couple students, when a chick with a grudge comes calling.  She stabs the girls and the headmaster....

Cut to present day (in living color)....


Vanessa (Grace Phillips) is transferring from California to a Louisiana school, The Hanley School for Girls.  Her puffy sleeved mother, Evelyn Forbes, is played by Pascale Devigne.  They're from Beverly Hills, their last name is Forbes, and mother has gigantic shoulder pads - so, you know they're filthy rich.


Vanessa gets settled in her room, and then meets a couple of her fellow students: a Tina Yothers-esque girl, Ingrid (Nathalie Gauthier), who immediately starts yammering about her drug addict mother, and weird-girl  Rickie Webster (Beth Lachance).

Anyway, in this scene we learn that Vanessa's father was a rich oil baron who passed away last year.  (I wonder if this will become important to our story?)


Abruptly, we move to the next scene where the drama teacher, Ms. Sayers (Nicole Jacqueline), is exploring the school basement for no reason.  She happens upon a mysterious doll atop a chest.  Inside the chest: a manuscript titled "White Darkness by Lisa King, 1950-1951".


At the cafeteria, we're back with Ingrid and weird-ass Rickie.  They're discussing how all the girls at Hanley have a crush on the headmaster, Matthew Hanley.

It's always odd to me when I find an actor or actress who just appears in one or two things, and then disappears off the face of IMDb.  The girl who plays Rickie, Beth Lachance, was in this and a straight-to-video flick called With Friends Like These, then never acted again.  What happened to her?

Another mystery: Nathalie Gauthier, the girl who plays Ingrid, was also in With Friends Like These. What's the story with that?  Were they friends in real life?  We need a DVD commentary to clear things up.


Ms. Sayers is reading "White Darkness".  I understand the director wants us to see that the drama teacher is engrossed in this old mysterious text because it'll be important later... but I also think the director wants us to see Carin Sayers' amazing legs.  Sadly, this is Sayers' only film; and, thus, your only chance to see her hall-of-fame gams

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Next, we meet Vanessa's intensely annoying roommate, Laura Nash (Maria Stanton).  She's the school slut, and says, of Matthew Hanley, "He can bang his eraser on my blackboard anytime."

Laura tells Vanessa the story of Headmaster Maxwell Hanley and how he was murdered a long time ago when he was caught cheating with two pupils.  Sound familiar?  We just saw this played out in the opening scene not ten minutes ago.


The next morning we get a good look at the girls' room: a Marilyn Monroe poster, a Garfield doll, a crucifix, a picture of Vanessa's dead dad, and... what the hell is that red helmeted head?


... and back to Ms. Sayers clutching "White Darkness" and saying nothing.  Okay, now I'm sure this is just an excuse to show her gams.  And who am I to argue?


Slutty Laura and Weird Robbie are in the locker room getting spied on by a creepy janitor.  (If I had a nickel for every time I've seen this happen in film, I'd have a dollar for sure.)  We get to see each of their boobs, and it's totally 100 percent gratuitous because I cannot see how this scene is integral to the story in any way.... not that I'm complaining.


Leggy Ms. Sayers presents "White Darkness" to Studly Matthew Hanley, and says she wants to use this for the school play.

Hanley is played by Howard Balaban; Voodoo Dolls being his only acting role listed on IMDb.


Ms. Sayers announces to the student body that the school play will be "The Darkness" by an anonymous author.

That night, Vanessa reads the play by candlelight and a perfume bottle mysteriously slides off her dresser.  She cuts herself on the broken glass and becomes transfixed by the blood.  Ingrid finds the play freaky, but Vanessa thinks it's "kind of beautiful".


Slutty Laura is getting primped for a rendezvous with Studly Mr. Hanley, when Weird Robbie makes a pass at her.  We glimpsed that maybe Robbie had a thing for her back in the locker room scene (so, perhaps, it wasn't completely gratuitous).

Laura calls her a mixed up freak, and Robbie runs to her bedroom, humiliated and ashamed.  Oh, and there's the creepiest doll ever in her room, by the way...


 I should also mention this damn thing is expanding and contracting as if it is breathing.

So, let's take stock for a moment.  Vanessa is experiencing things falling off desks, she's seen a vision of the B&W headmaster, there's a heaving doll in Robbie's room, and a play called "White Darkness" which the drama teacher is utterly hypnotized by... the same leggy drama teacher who found a doll in the school basement.

Will all of this come together in the end?  We shall see...



When Laura returns from getting her blackboard banged by Mr. Hanley's eraser, she finds Vanessa crying.  Vanessa informs her that Robbie was found dead in the bathroom this morning - a suicide.

Shortly thereafter, the pervy janitor is killed by a band of tiny voodoo dolls in what has to be one of the silliest death scenes in cinema history.


It has to be mentioned: Vanessa's boyfriend, Dennis (Brett Halna Du Fretray - yes, that's his name), is unbearably annoying.  He is constantly playing the Romeo and acting like a badass.  He needs to die. He needs to die soon.


Ms. Sayers wanders into the school basement, apparently under the spell of the token black in this film - a groundskeeper we've been introduced to earlier, only briefly.  There's also the room mother on campus, Blanche Tisdale (Jessica Dublin), who's also a part of this underground cult... and, of course, douchebag Dennis.

Poor, leggy Ms. Sayers ends up getting sacrificed on a voodoo altar, while Blanche, Dennis and the token black guy chant crap like: "Let your body and soul be cleansed by white darkness."


Laura and Ingrid are getting sloppy drunk.  The girls, in a state of complete inebriation, decide that they're going to go to Matthew Hanley's place for some headmaster action.

Meanwhile, Vanessa, looking hypnotised, grabs a sharp object and walks zombie-like in the same direction.  I don't think it's too hard to predict that we're about to have a replay of the opening scene?


Vanessa kills Ingrid, Laura and Hanley, and history repeats itself.... but why?  What's the connection to voodoo?  Why would Blanche, Dennis and the token black want this to happen?  It's never explained.  Instead, we get a brief look at the lamest play in the world - "White Darkness"....


Lo! It is B&W again, and the dead (Robbie, Laura, Ingrid, Ms. Sayers, etc.) are all a part of the macabre performance.  Ghosts, I assume?

Ultimately, Voodoo Dolls makes no sense.  There's no scares, precious little nudity, and the only real gore comes from the tiny voodoo doll attack, which is more embarrassing than anything.  However, I have to say, the film was unusual enough to hold my interest.  I know things are compared to Twin Peaks all too often, but I think it applies here.  Everything is just unexplainably odd and slightly dark... like a nightmare.

The girls aren't good actresses by any stretch, but they are easy on the eyes - and the director never shies away from leering.  Despite the fact that none of this really made any sense, I still have to recommend it.  Not everything needs to be explained - sometimes it's fun to just leave your intelligence at the door and just enjoy the ride.



Alucarda (1977)


This is a film I rented on VHS a couple decades ago, and the miserable feeling still hasn't left me.  I recall picking it up at a locally owned video store - I chose it because its cover was fairly lurid, promising some wicked horror. I think it was called "Innocents from Hell" rather than its original Mexican title.

But all happy expectations of an entertaining night of campy, devilishly fun horror went bye-bye very quickly. The movie had a very dark and evil vibe; nothing fun going on in Alucarda whatsoever.  It left me feeling depressed and disturbed all those years ago... so, naturally, it's time to revisit this flick twenty-something years later and see if my feelings have changed. A film with memories this troubling simply must be re-watched.  Let's begin...


It starts with a short scene of baby Alucarda being born and then it's off to the convent many years later.  A new initiate has arrived, Justine (Susana Kamini), and things have already gotten weird - notice what the nuns are wearing?  WTF?

As far as I know, there's no religious order which requires the sisters to dress like bloodstained mummies. Why have them dress like this?  Why not use normal nun habits?  Is director Juan López Moctezuma trying to say something by this?  I'm not a cinema scholar, and I've no desire to interpret statements or messages in movies.  This is just a Retrospace Double Feature, so we're just passin' through...


Anyway, we learn that Justine's parents have died, so now she's in the care of nuns who dress like used feminine hygiene products.  She's led to her modest room where she meets her new roomie - the creepy Alucarda (Tina Romero).  The two become fast friends (with heavy handed lesbian overtones).

By the way, I'm not sure I understand the name Alucarda.  It's Dracula backwards, with an extra "a". Any ideas? Moving on...


The girls wander from the convent into the forest where they meet someone even creepier than Alucarda - a gypsy who tries sell them crappy trinkets.  It looks silly, but this guy gives me the heebee-jeebees bad.

The gypsy is played by Claudio Brook, who has 103 film credits in IMDb; although, I only know him from Cronos (1992).  Brook plays another role in Alucarda which we'll get to later.


Next, the two enter a gloomy mausoleum.  God forbid they go to the mall or hang out at the arcade.  No, they've got to go to the gloomiest place on earth.  If I'm not mistaken, this is where Alucarda was born (pictured at the beginning of the film).

The two make a blood pact to always love one another, and if one dies, the other will kill herself.  After this charming ritual, they open a coffin, see some skeletal remains and then proceed to scream for, I swear, a full minute.  This may not sound long - but 60 seconds of unabated screaming is intolerable, and this movie has LOTS of shrill screaming.


The girls attend mass, but something is clearly not right.  They hear demonic voices, and Justine faints. Whether it was the meeting with the gypsy or the mausoleum pact, it doesn't matter - evil is afoot, and they should have listened to me and gone to the mall instead.

I hate to say "I told you so".


Later that night - shit gets real.  Alucarda starts acting certifiably possessed, gets naked waving a dagger and shouting to Beelzebub.  Meanwhile, along comes my worst nightmare - that hideous gypsy who puts Justine under his spell, commanding both ladies to make a pact with the devil.


At Sunday school the next day, Justine and Alucarda interrupt class by invoking the kingdom of Satan. You'll note, the director loves the shot of the two girls side by side: The Laverne & Shirley of the Damned, The Kate & Ally of Darkness, The Cagney & Lacey of Hades.... the two are inseparable satanists that look great together.


The convent decides to perform an exorcism; which means tying Alucarda and Justine to crosses while the nuns writhe around maniacally.  Alucarda is fully clothed while Justine is completely nude, by the way.

Justine is poked enough by long needles till she dies; then, not in the nick of time, a level-headed man of science, Dr. Oszek (Claudio Brook again) busts the place wide open, declaring it an abomination.


I don't mind commentary on religion in my movies - but I do mind the ham-fisted variety. Alucarda is overflowing with exaggerated religious imagery, sadistic clerics, and nutjob nuns - but, enough already!  I'd give anything for Dom DeLuise or Charles Nelson Reilly to show up and give this film a moment of levity!


Let's all cry for dead Justine (while trying not to look at her bush and boobs).  Did I mention there is an implied lesbian attraction between Sister Angélica (Tina French) and Justine?  Oh, how scandalous!

This film has been compared to Ken Russel's The Devils (1971), and I would agree there are a lot of similarities.  Both attempt to cast a negative light on organized religion via heavy-handed medieval religious imagery, focusing on the hypocrisy, the cruelty and the blind superstition.

Does this make for a good film?  (I'll give you a hint: The answer is "not at all".)  But it's not over yet...


Dr. Oszek has taken Alucarda safely away from the convent to stay with him.  He is then called back to the convent and alerted to the fact that Justine has risen from the dead, and the nun who was by her side has been burned to death.

Note to Director Moctezuma: If your goal is to discredit and mock organized religion, don't include in your film a very real satanic supernatural force.which must be destroyed.  Because that basically validates organized religion.


So, Sister Angélica visits the mausoleum we saw at the beginning of the film. She opens the coffin and out jumps a fully nude Justine, covered in blood. (Susana Kamini is naked a lot in this film.) Sister Angélica is able to tame the savage vampire (?) with the power of love, but Dr. Oszak arrives bearing holy water, and kills her ass.

I'm so confused.  Is religion bad or good?  At this point, I'm too weary to care.

Meanwhile, Alucarda is burning down the convent...


"NOOOOOOOOO!"  I kid you not - there is more screaming in Alucarda than any other film I've ever seen.  Alucarda sets the place on fire; some escape, some don't, and we are treated to tons of religious symbols aflame.  The End.

I'll agree with my initial assessment of the VHs 20+ years ago - it is woefully depressing.  However, in my 'old age' I'm not so much disturbed as I am annoyed.  It's so heavy handed, and I'm just too old to want to waste time getting beat over the head with a director's religious (or anti-religious, who knows?) views.  Yes, Susana Kamini is naked a lot, but even that doesn't overcome the incessant shrill screaming and religious imagery over-saturation. The Exorcist may have had those things, but at least it was scary; Gilligan does not recommend.

4 comments:

  1. "We get to see each of their boobs" GILLIGAN FILM CRITIC OF THE YEAR!!

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  2. Well this is certainly a step up for the site - full frontal nudity. No complaints here.

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  3. I f*cking love Alucarda. It's such a weird, over the top movie, if not pretty depressing and creepy (as a lot of nunsploitation and seventies euro horror can be). I still get a kick out of it.

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