Sex Rites of the Devil.
After the sudden death of her brother, Carol (Vanessa Hidalgo) and her boyfriend Robert (Mauro Rivera) travel to an English village to comfort his eccentric widow Fiona (Helga Liné) and help to settle his estate. What Carol and Robert aren’t aware of, though, is that Fiona and seemingly everyone in the area are Satan worshippers, dedicated to all manner of death and deviancy, and they’ve set their conspiratorial sights on the newcomers in town.
BLACK CANDLES is an exceedingly sleazy outing that wallows in its own filth and never apologizes for it. It is surprisingly sparse when it comes to violence, though the violence that does occur often has a nasty sexual undertone to it. It’s a highly illogical film that won’t be for many people’s tastes, but it also has a perverse, crackling energy that is hard to look away from.
As stated before, these villagers are fans of Satan, and Satan is evidently a fan of sex, so there is an awful lot of it that unfolds onscreen. It’s all softcore stuff, but is just about as hardcore as softcore can be. Standard sex isn’t good enough for a film of this caliber, either. No, a movie such as this depends largely on what is known as the Sleaze Quotient, and so perversity is marched across the screen in such a fashion as to make Krafft-Ebbing roll over in his grave.
Aside from a scene of masturbatory voyeurism that is cribbed from Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, and the expected variety of male-female/female-female vanilla flavorings, we’ve got a laundry list of sexual deviancy that unfolds: a dream sequence in which Carol fantasizes about having incestuous intercourse with her own (dead) brother; Robert forces sodomy upon his girlfriend—though she honestly isn’t too upset about it once the dirty deed is over; when a farmhand is unable to satisfy his insatiable harlot of a wife, a younger glistening stud is called in to finish the job—while the husband lies in bed next to them, cheering him on; and a woman masturbates a goat…which is bad enough on its own, but it is merely the lead-in for some full-on beastiality. It’s all rather cringe-worthy, but I do believe that was the point.
As this movie features a subplot in which the main character is sliding into insanity, this gave the filmmakers free reign to toy with the surreal, without worry if the final product was coherent. And it’s a good thing, too, because it’s all just a collection of weird stuff floating around in space, with little or no connective tissue. All in all, it doesn’t make a lot of sense—at least, not in the conventional manner. Reflecting back after viewing, though, it does seem to follow the unknowable logic of an erotic fever dream, only glimpses of which you can recall the next morning—and no matter how badly you want to shake those memories, they just keep rattling around in your brain.
BLACK CANDLES was written and directed by José Ramón Larraz, who was no stranger to the blending of sex and horror. Among his other credits that dealt with the same themes: WHIRLPOOL (1970); DEVIATION (1971); EMMA, PUERTAS OSCURAS (1974); THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED (1974); VAMPYRES (1974); and THE COMING OF SIN (1978). It is his subversive mixture of these elements, coupled with the relative obscurity of his works, that have secured his place as a cult director.
Larraz thoroughly disliked the film, and all but disowned it. In the book Immoral Tales by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, he was quoted as saying, “No one in that film could act. So what do you do with them? You put them in bed and have them jump on each other.” If he used the sex here as a distraction, he certainly was offering up a lot of distractions.
This is a Spanish film and its original title is LOS RITOS SEXUALES DE DIABLO, which translates to “The Sexual Rites of the Devil”. It is a more descriptive name, but the black candles of the English title weren’t merely some obscure prop. Black candles actually are an important part of many an occult ritual. The major retail store in the small town that I grew up in had a serious problem with black crayons going missing from all of the boxes in the stationary aisle. A few of the kids that I went to high school with would steal them and melt them down to make black candles, reportedly for satanic rites out at the old graveyard known as Devil’s Playground, where the Black Church was said to appear under specific circumstances. Spooky stuff.
A bunch of hogwash, granted, but spooky nonetheless.