They Gave Their Souls to Hell… But the Devil Wanted MORE!
After the death of her parents, young Justine (Susana Kamini) is installed in the orphanage with Alucarda (Tina Romero), another girl of the same age. Fast friends with a penchant for exploring the countryside together, they happen upon an old crypt where they accidentally unleash an ancient evil force and find themselves under a dark and demonic influence.
ALUCARDA is something of a surrealist Satanic masterpiece, operating on a nightmare level that makes more sense instinctually than it does in reality. It toys with the taboo and morality in uncomfortable ways, mixing beauty and the profane in an amazing manner. It’s dense and oblique, demanding more than a single watch for those who wish to unlock its secrets.
The nuns who run the orphanage are the only line of defense between the girls and the devil. There are a few monks on hand to assist with the the heavy lifting, but they are mostly silent background figures and nothing more. The true forces of good here are the nuns—though they’re not quite like the nuns that we are used to. They do not sport the traditional black-and-white habits, but are attired in unusual garb that makes them look almost like mummies, and they flagellate themselves with whips in religious ceremony. Perhaps their bandage-like attire is due to the wounds from their self-flagellation.
The sisters are assisted in dealing with the devil by the local doctor, Dr. Oszek (Claudio Brook) who is initially skeptical of and outraged at the exorcism treatment, but has to quickly reevaluate his belief system.
While Justine appears to have been a victim of circumstance in these proceedings, Alucarda was destined for this from the very beginning. The opening scene shows her being birthed, and immediately ushered away from her mother before “He” can get to her. “He” is certainly Satan, and after the baby is removed from the premises, some unseen force attacks the mother, resulting in her death. Alucarda is unaware, but it is her own mother’s tomb that she disturbs, unleashing the evil that was residing within. No mention is ever made of the girl’s father, and it is conceivable that her daddy is the devil himself.
Having such a tainted bloodline would account for Alucarda’s strange behavior from the start. When we first see her as a teenager, she emerges from the shadows behind Justine, almost as if by magic. She is at home there in the darkness, hiding from the light, and yet she is instantly drawn toward Justine, an innocent. Evil loves to corrupt.
When the girls arrive at the tomb—a strange building strung with red vestments—Justine wants to leave. Alucarda, though, finds it beautiful and insists that they go inside. Being surrounded by death and earthly remains puts most people in a somber mood, but it has the opposite effect on Alucarda. As she was goth long before The Cure came along and made it cool, Alucarda chooses this place to declare her love for Justine, and they make a solemn pact: “If we ever depart from this life, we shall do it together.”
The relationship between the girls only hints at lesbianism at first, but it is shown more blatantly later on. In order to seal their bond, Justine and Alucarda consume the blood from each other’s breasts (sliced open with a ceremonial knife bestowed upon them by a malevolent gypsy fellow), and then follow this up with a kiss. If there were any hope for Justine’s innocence, it is lost following this encounter as Alucarda’s tainted blood has now intermingled with her own.
Poor Justine. With her soul promised to God, her heart promised to Alucarda, and her body owned by Satan, there’s not much left for herself.
For a movie whose primary characters are nuns and underage girls, there is an awful lot of nudity. This is probably why some refer to it as a nunsploitation film…though I don’t really feel that it falls into those parameters. Taboo as it may appear on the surface, it’s worth noting that the two actresses playing our leads were both in their twenties during filming—though that does little to alter the feeling of exploitation that comes with that element of the story.
ALUCARDA, imported from Mexico, was reportedly based on the novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, though the more overt acts of vampirism have been replaced with a different breed of evil. The screenplay was written by Alexis Arroyo and the film’s director Juan López Moctezuma. It was Arroyo’s one and only screenwriting credit.
Moctezuma was born into an affluent family, but opted not to become a judge like his father, instead entering into the world of art, theater, and cinema. He was a fan of surrealist film, especially fond of of the work of Luis Buñuel, and he strived to make movies in that tradition as opposed to the “Mexican tradition”. It’s likely no coincidence that he cast Claudio Brook, as he had previously appeared in five of Buñuel’s films—THE YOUNG ONE (1960), VIRIDIANA (1961), THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962), SIMON OF THE DESERT (1965), and THE MILKY WAY (1969). Moctezuma was also a friend and contemporary of filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, and even produced two of the man’s masterworks: FANDO AND LIS (1968), and EL TOPO (1970). The rest of Moctezuma’s filmography is sadly brief, consisting of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptation THE MANSION OF MADNESS (1973); vampire artist film MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY (1975); the thriller TO KILL A STRANGER (1987), with the impressive cast of Dean Stockwell, Donald Pleasance and Aldo Ray; and EL ALIMENTO DEL MIEDO (1994), which was left unfinished at the time of his death in 1995. Susana Kamini appeared in all but the last of these.
Tina Romero is an American-born actress who works primarily in Mexican entertainment, including a number of telenovelas. She can also be found alongside Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek in MISSING (1982, now part of the Criterion Collection); the divorce comedy MIRACLES (1986); and crucifixion reenactment drama THE PENITENT (1988). In the 1980s, she married Mexican director Gabriel Retes, who directed her in PAPER FLOWERS (1977) and MUJERES SALVAJES (1984). One of their two children, Cristina Mason, is also an actress, appearing on numerous Mexican television series.
Fans of this film should definitely seek out the rest of Moctezuma’s work. It’s just a shame that there is so little of it to go around.