Sunday, October 12, 2014



 "CRIMEN", as I'll call it for short, is generally considered the film that launched the horror film genre in Mexico.  The film was produced by Sergio Kogan and Abel Salazar; the latter would bring us many of the Churubusco-Azteca productions of Mexican horror films including "EL BARON DEL TERROR" aka "BRAINIAC" in which Salazar also starred.  The film is directed by veteran Chano Urueta ("EL BARON DEL TERROR, "THE WITCH'S MIRROR").  "CRIMEN" is mainly a mad scientist film but it's crammed full of many other horror tropes; the result, however, doesn't feel cheap but instead more like a tribute to the classic Universal horror films of the 30s-40s (as well as other movie studios of the time).  We get the strong flavour of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, FRANKENSTEIN, MAD LOVE, Boris Karloff's series of "mad doctor" films at Columbia and even a presaging of future medical horror flicks like EYES WITHOUT A FACE. 

A bored reporter named Nora (Miroslava) is assigned by her editor Mr. Gherasimos (Fernando Wagner) to answer a "lonely hearts" ad from a well-to-do man "ripe in years" looking for female companionship.  When she meets the man down by the docks, Nora encounters a mysterious cloaked figure whose face is entirely covered by black cloth and dark glasses underneath a slouch hat. 

This is Dr. Hermann Ling (Jose Linares-Rivas) who is a famous plastic surgeon with a face ironically so deformed that he has retreated to his remote castle to conduct his experiments away from the world's prying eyes. 
The castle, of course, is on the edge of a cliff and only reachable through a cemetery!  Dubious, Nora makes the trip and hears the tragic circumstances of Ling's life story beginning with his rejection and abandonment by his parents.  Nora's heart seems to melt and she convinces Ling to unmask and promises she won't run away screaming.  Well, she keeps her promise -- if indeed she promptly faints.  When she comes to, she gives him a nice little kiss (after attempting to go for his ghastly mouth she subtly moves up to his forehead).  Ling is so ecstatic at Nora's tenderness that he leaps about with vigor uncovering all the mirrors and promising to be her lapdog. 
Filled with a newly-kindled love for humanity (inspired by Nora's love), 
Dr. Ling gives up on his previous revenge plans to purposely disfigure the beautiful and notable and vows to help humankind.  Unfortunately, when Ling surreptitiously overhears Nora talking to her editor about what a great series of newspaper stories she can get outta the poor, tragic doctor, Ling is quickly soured on Nora's sweet intentions and tries to murder her.  She gets away but Ling vows revenge.  Ling digs up the corpse of a recently deceased but handsome young man (Carlos Navarro) and reanimates him as his automaton of vengeance whom he rechristens "Ariel" and controls through mental telepathy.  Ariel is sent to woo Nora at the local restaurant and succeeds in tricking her back to the wharf nearby Ling's castle.  Nora is knocked unconscious and returns to the clutches of Dr. Ling in his nefarious castle.

The direction by Urueta is sure-handed and the cinematography by Victor Herrera is sumptuous, moody and expressionistic.  Herrera (who also shot such Mexican horrors as "THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M" and "THE LIVING COFFIN") is a master of chiaroscuro lighting and "CRIMEN" is a beaut from beginning to end.  There is judicious use of backscreen projecting but it somehow is made to look less artificial than I've ever seen it in any movie; it almost becomes an artistic statement which is quite beautiful! 
The acting is also top-notch with Miroslava and Carlos Navarro turning in naturalistic, understated performance; Linares-Rivas is required to give the necessary madman performance as Ling but he never goes over-the-top and is also quite touching in his pre-unmasking sequence where he unveils the tragedy of his life.   Sadly, Miroslava committed suicide in 1955 allegedly over a broken romance; her bullfighter lover Luis Miguel Dominguin left her for screen siren Ava Gardner.  If you can manage to find it (and my copy is a quite nice print from Sinister Cinema)  I can heartily recommend "THE MONSTROUS DR. CRIMEN" by whatever name you can find it.

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