Monday, June 18, 2012

the Blood Spattered Bride (1972)

The Movie: Young bride Susan (Maribel Martin) and her new, unnamed, husband (Simon Andreu of Beyond Re-Animator) are headed to a hotel for their honeymoon; after which they will move into his castle estate where he grew up, but hasn’t been to for years. Unfortunately, the hotel is spoiled for Susan with two unpleasant encounters right off the bat. The first is when she spots a disturbing, predatory looking blonde (Alexandra Bastedo of Casino Royale) watching her from a car as she enters the motel. The second is when she gets to her room and has a very violent fantasy about her husband jumping out of the closet, a stocking over his head, tearing off her wedding dress and brutally raping her. When hubby gets back from parking the car, she convinces him to cut their stay at the hotel and just head right to his estate.

At the estate, things look to be improving for Susan at first. She automatically gets on well with the estate’s two servants (Angel Lombarte and Montserrat Julio) and their twelve year-old daughter, Carol (Maria Rosa-Rodriguez). However, when the couple retires for the night, she looks out the window and sees a strange woman dressed like a bride roaming the estate grounds. Then, when the couple consummates their marriage, hubby shocks his new bride by ripping off her dress just like he did in her vision. As the next few days pass we kind of have to wonder if Susan is precognitive, because hubby turns out to be a domineering prick with a very definite sadistic streak. Naturally, Susan starts having second and third thoughts about the whole marriage thing.

One day Susan asks Carol why there are no portraits of female family members. Carol answers that there are, but they’re all in the cellar; hubby’s grandfather put them there in a fit of rage when his wife tried to poison him and then ran off to Paris. Carol shows them to Susan, and one particularly catches her attention. The face of the portrait has been cut out, but it shows a woman in a wedding dress. One hand holds a distinctive looking knife, and the other has rings on all the fingers, the stones all turned inwards. The little plaque on the portrait has the name Mircalla Karstein; and strangely, while it has a birth date, the death date is missing.

Hubby arrives at that time and offers to tell Susan all about “Crazy Aunt Mircalla.” Mircalla married an ancestor of his two centuries ago, but stabbed him to death on their wedding night when he tried to make her do something “unspeakable.” They found her slumped over the body in her wedding dress, clutching the knife, comatose but not dead. After two years they just decided to bury her at the now-ruined chapel in the woods behind the estate. Now, all that’s there are some water damaged bones.

However, that very night the dreams start. Susan dreams that the bride she saw on her first night (who she and the movie audience now recognize as both the blonde at the hotel and Mircalla Karstein) comes to her bedroom. The woman gives her a knife, the same one from the portrait, and exhorts her to use it on her husband before biting Susan on the neck. Susan’s husband tries to convince her it was all a dream, but that doesn’t explain the appearance of the knife in Susan’s bed. She begs her husband to hide it where she can’t find it.

However, the next night Mircalla again visits Susan’s dreams. This time she leads Mircalla to the grandfather clock in the hall, and removes the knife from under the clock face. The two women then go back to Susan’s sleeping husband and go to town on him with the knife. When Susan wakes up, she leads hubby to the clock and shows him the knife. However, that only raises further questions; because hubby didn’t hide it in the clock.

Hubby tries to bury the knife on an isolated beach. However, in the process he discovers a woman buried in the sand, wearing nothing but a scuba mask and rings with the stones turned inward. At a loss, hubby takes her home and puts her up; but Susan and the woman immediately recognize each other. Now, hubby is growing disturbed and jealous over the closeness between his wife and their guest. Meanwhile, Susan has bottled up a ton of festering, negative feelings regarding her husband; and Mircalla actively works to pull the cork on them. Things are about to get really ugly really fast…

The Review:
The good ones are those who are content to dream what the wicked actually practice."

For the curiosity of some of my more astute readers, I will confirm that yes, all of the movies I have reviewed this month share a general theme. And no, I’d rather not elaborate on the whys of it. I’d prefer to just jump into the review.

The above quote is shown to us just before the opening credits roll on Blood Spattered Bride, and then quoted again by one of the characters later on. I feel that the quote from Plato perfectly sums up this rather nasty little movie. Something I’ve long noted in Spanish horror cinema, particularly from this time period, is a sense of negative emotions, long suppressed and left to fester, suddenly bubbling to the surface in all their toxic glory. Historically this makes sense. This period saw the end of Francisco Franco’s decades long repressive, fascist regime; and a period like this in any culture would see a lot of nasty, festering emotions suddenly free to break forth, not to mention a need to channel them.

However, the seething mess of unhealthy emotions on display here is far more personal than just the emotional atmosphere of the culture in which the movie was made. What we are shown is no less than the total collapse of a relationship that has been decaying from within for a long time. The bond between Susan and her husband is obviously a shaky one from the very beginning, and gets more so as the movie progresses. While some of the issues on display are probably derived from Spanish culture of the time, most of them are pretty universal; at least in the West. So much of what happens in Blood Spattered Bride resonates with my own life experiences. Admittedly, I’ve never had a relationship that got anywhere near as bad as this one does; but considering how all my attempts at a love life seem to end up, it’s probably only a matter of time.

One of the ways in which the movie gets it right is that both sides are at fault. Starting very early on, it’s made very clear that hubby is a grade-A prick weasel. He’s domineering, possessive, jealous, cruel, and self-centered. The movie leaves it vague how much of this Susan has been consciously aware of beforehand (although she had to be a least somewhat subconsciously aware of it, considering her hallucination at the beginning), but we are quickly led to understand and sympathize with her doubts and her growing desire to escape her situation.

Some doubt is even left as how much choice Susan (and, to a lesser extent, hubby) had or felt she had in the marriage. A scene where the husband is talking to the doctor he had brought in to help is wife reveals that he and Susan knew each other from childhood, and that their parents had always been close. This suggests that the marriage may not have been his and Susan’s choice, that it was something preordained by their families for most, if not all, of their lives.

Another set of clues comes up in the fact that hubby’s family tree has had a pretty hostile and conflicted relationship with its female members. What with Mircalla Karstein and that nasty incident with hubby’s grandparents, you have to wonder what other skeletons are in the closet involving his female ancestors. There is a suggestion that the atmosphere hubby grew up in was very hostile toward the female sex; and that that’s a large part of why he turned out the way he did.

However, as I stated, Susan is not without fault either; although in the early part of the film she is a lot more sympathetic. It’s clear from the start that she’s uncertain about this; that fantasy/hallucination/whatever the hell it was at the beginning is definitely a big, red, neon warning sign in my book. As the movie goes on it becomes clear that Susan is feeling more and more helpless about her situation; and as with anyone else in a situation where they feel helpless, this generates all sorts of negative feelings that, without a healthy channel for them, collect and fester into something far worse.

Susan is obviously torn between how she feels and how she thinks she’s supposed to feel. In the scenes where she tells her husband that she really doesn’t hate him, she loves him; it’s clear that she’s really trying to convince herself. Then comes the next part of any unhealthy relationship, the games. Hubby starts out, but Susan tries to regain some power for herself by playing destructive games of her own. Just watch their interactions at about the middle of the movie; this isn’t the behavior of people who truly love each other, this is two people who are trying to make each other jump through their destructive hoops for their own sick pleasures.

Mircalla Karstein is an interesting villain due to the fact that she’s not actually the cause of the couple’s woes; she’s just the catalyst that fully unleashes them. If this were anything like a healthy marriage Mircalla would have a lot less power over Susan; but by the time Mircalla becomes an active player in the situation, Susan is already eager for a way to strike out at her husband, however much she might try to deny it at first.

Hubby doesn’t help the situation any, either. Probably the perfect signal for the oncoming storm is the scene right after the couple has had dinner with their new guest, and the three are now gathered in the parlor. Hubby is talking, trying to impress the two women; and the women are very clearly ignoring him for each other. Hubby eventually notices this, and just as clearly resents being ignored. Following that scene, as Susan and Mircalla visibly grow closer; it’s obvious that hubby is clearly upset not over the threat to his life (which, to be honest, he probably either doesn’t believe or is unaware of), but that his wife has somebody whose company she so plainly prefers to his.

When the inevitable blowup finally comes it hits badly in a major shitstorm of hostile emotions that pretty much destroys everyone even tangentially involved. In the flurry of violence that follows, even the most innocent bystanders get sucked in and destroyed. The movie and its ugly situation climax in a pretty brutal ending; but apparently it was fairly tame compared to how the director really wanted to end it.

On all technical points, the Blood Spattered Bride is well made. The filmwork makes excellent use of the beautiful, gothic looking scenery in evidence. Admittedly, the movie does start out slow; but it uses that time to build up the plot, making it all the more effective when the ball starts rolling. Also, the movie is nowhere near as exploitative as one would expect. There is female nudity, but the most graphic is at the very beginning. Considering that, for the story’s purposes, it very obviously supposed to be exploitatively sexual; I don’t find it all that sleazy or off-putting at all. For most of the movie, the nudity is actually rather reserved. Ditto the blood; the movie doesn’t use the blood and violence if it doesn’t have to, but when it does it doesn’t skimp.

So in conclusion; the Blood Spattered Bride is a very well made and effective little European vampire film that is really about pent up emotions and destructive relationships. I really have to wonder what issues the director was going through when he wrote it. Very much worth watching if you’re in the mood for a slightly less exploitative, slightly more cerebral eurohorror flick.

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