Wednesday, July 30, 2008
To the best of my knowledge, "Alucard"--the backward anagram of "Dracula"--first appears in 1943's SON OF DRACULA, used there as a (frankly poor) disguise for Lon Chaney, Jr.'s portrayal of Dracula. In all honesty, the exact reason behind its use for the title character of Juan Lopez Moctezuma's masterpiece, ALUCARDA escapes me. If nothing else, the name adds to the aura of a character already shrouded in mystery. Born under mysterious circumstances and brought to a convent as an infant, Alucarda grows to a young adult and befriends another young woman, an orphan named Justine. Already full of vibrant madness and free will, Alucarda encourages Justine to reject the teachings of the church, and in the time-honored tradition of nunsploitation, the two of them waste no time in getting all naked and bloody (apparently the best way to sell your soul to the devil in these things).
Moctezuma himself refers to Alucarda as "an apocalyptic creature," a fitting label for a character who eventually brings the film to a (literally) fiery climax. Before this happens, her seduction of Justine leads to the latter's exorcism (a bloody one, through needles), her death, and her eventual "resurrection," memorably emerging from a coffin filled with blood. While Alucarda does not seem to possess explicitly vampiric qualities of her own, it does seem possible that she can call forth vampirism in others, particularly when we get to see Justine take a juicy bite out of one of the film's nuns, right before a dousing of holy water causes her to burn down to a charred skeleton.
Hence, Alucarda's name serves as a hint of the kind of supernatural power she possesses. At the same time, Moctezuma leaves the film ambiguous; to be sure, this is no straight-forward Hammer-style film, where good and evil exist as clear-cut polar opposites of one another. The "evil" of the film--manifested in the bizarre resurrections taking place--could easily come about because of the excesses of the church, as seen through the aforementioned exorcism as well as the prayers and incantations that rise to orgasmic heights. We also see nuns and priests who take to whipping the devil out of themselves, so the film's wildly excessive bloodletting extends to them as well. One of the most memorable set-pieces of the film comes when the charred remains of nun (one of Justine's victims, apparently) comes back to life on an altar, only to have its head violently removed by a priest.
ALUCARDA is a delight. It's a film that resists straight-forward viewing while still exhibiting the kind of exploitation thrills that surely satisfied the drive-in crowd of the 1970s. THE MEXICAN CINEMA OF DARKNESS, by Doyle Greene (published by McFarland) contains an excellent analysis of the film, so anyone interested in exploring this film's many layers would do well to seek out a copy.