Both a guilty pleasure and a skilled work of transgression, this “nunsploitation” movie from Mexico blends artful visuals with pure sleaze. It has (as Psychotronic’s Michael Wedlon has astutely pointed out) more blood, nudity and screaming than just about any other movie I can think of, but was made with undeniable intelligence.
1978’s ALUCARDA—released in the US and Europe under the titles SISTERS OF SATAN, INNOCENTS FROM HELL and MARK OF THE DEVIL PART 3—is arguably the crowning achievement of the late Juan Lopez Moctezuma. A former associate of Alejandro Jodorowski (he worked on the latter’s early films FANDO AND LIS and EL TOPO), Moctezuma is best known for (in addition to ALUCARDA) the surreal Poe adaptation LA MANSION DE LA LOCURA (aka DR. TARR’S TORTURE DUNGEON, 1972) and the perverse CARMILLA variation MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY (1976). Other Moctezuma films include the lame 1982 kidnapping thriller TO KILL A STRANGER and a number of intriguing sounding titles from the late eighties, which, sadly, were never released.
Moctezuma is often cited as Mexico’s finest fantasy filmmaker despite his scant filmography. His best films, which include ALCURADA and LA MANSION DE LA LOCURA, demonstrate a sensibility as defiantly individual as that of the aforementioned Jodorowski. Needless to say, his films were not met with much enthusiasm in their native land, where they were dismissed as, alternately, too arty and too exploitive.
Justine is a new recruit to a secluded nunnery. Her roommate is the mysterious Alucarda, a mischievous young woman who leads her new friend on several clandestine frolics through the countryside. It’s on one of these that the two meet up with a strange traveling magician and his redheaded female sidekick. He offers them some magical amulets; Justine is apprehensive but Alucarda is fascinated. They’re called away from the man and his wares, but he visits them again that night.
It turns out that the strange magician is in fact the Devil Himself, who leads Justine and Alucarda in a Satanic ritual culminating in a mass outdoor orgy that inspires a rain of blood. A counter force is introduced in the form of one of the convent’s Mother Superiors, who manages to put a halt to the orgy through prayer so intense it causes her to levitate and the magician’s companion to drop dead.
The next day Alucarda and Justine proclaim their allegiance to Satan in front of the convent superiors. This results in an outrageous exorcism in which Justine is stripped naked, tied to a cross and pierced repeatedly with a sharp stick until she dies. Alucarda is set to undergo a similar treatment, but an educated city doctor bursts in and calls a halt to the proceedings before the event can occur.
From there things grow horrific in the extreme, as a nun designated to watch over Justine’s corpse is found burned to death. Justine’s carcass is nowhere in sight, but before anyone can worry about this the charred corpse abruptly springs to life; luckily a quick thinking priest beheads it before it can do much damage. Justine’s body is eventually discovered inside a blood filled coffin by the Mother Superior who earlier stopped the nighttime orgy…and has her neck bitten by the reanimated Justine for her efforts, from which the poor woman quickly bleeds to death. The priests manage to put down Justine with Holy water, but Alcurada witnesses the whole thing and embarks on a CARRIE-esque psychic rampage, telepathically burning up everybody in sight—she’s eventually vanquished, though, by a fiery crucifix.
The film is standard nunsploitation fodder in most respects (see IMAGES IN A CONVENT, EXORCISM, BEHIND CONVENT WALLS, etc.), but it has a probing intelligence and eccentric sensibility you won’t find in too many nunsploiters. Many of the film’s flaws can be blamed upon its exploitation veneer (such as the fact that the women all look like Playboy models rather than nuns), and the borrowings from CARRIE and THE EXORCIST are hardly accidental, yet Moctezuma still manages to bring much of his own to the film. The bizarre set design, for one, which makes all the interiors look like rocky caves rather than manmade buildings, topped off by an altar that stands before a wall decorated with a multitude of stone figures in a surrealist dance. Most of the camera shots are of the extremely wide (to the point of near-distortion) variety, which further enhances the hallucinatory aura. Also notable is the unforgettable end credits sequence, consisting of a freeze frame of a burning crucifix over which all sound is expunged but for the roar of a crackling fire.
But, as the story and characters are nothing to shout about, none of the film’s technical flourishes would mean much if Moctezuma didn’t deliver in the gore department, and that he most certainly does. There’s enough bloodletting to satisfy the most jaded gorehound, and LOTS of female nudity. The acting isn’t bad either, particularly that of Tina Romero as Alucarda, but if you haven’t figured it out already, the real “star” here is behind the camera throughout.
ALUCARDA [aka ALUCARDA, LA HIJA DE LAS TINIEBLAS] Yuma Films
Director: Juan Lopez Moctezuma
Producers: Max Guefen, Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Eduardo Moreno
Screenplay: Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Alexis Arroyo
Cinematography: Xavier Cruz
Editor: Max Sanchez
Cast: Claudio Brook, David Silva, Tina Romero, Susana Kamini, Adriana Roel, Martin LaSalle, Tine French, Lili Garza, Betty Catania, Manuel Donde