Innocents from Hell (1975) Innocents from Hell/Sisters of Satan/Alucarda/Alucarda: La Hija de las Tinieblas (1975) -***½

     One of the first things you learn watching bad movies is that any film whose title is an oxymoron is a must-see. Another thing you learn early on is that the same is true of any movie that features nudity in the stills on the back of the box. So there was little question what would happen once I stumbled upon this obscure Mexican flick, with its internally contradictory title and its box art consisting mainly of pictures of crucified, naked girls. I was not disappointed, even if a good two thirds of its 78-minute running time is devoted to women screaming incoherently.

     Innocents from Hell tells the story of Justine (named after a Marquis de Sade character-- another good sign), a girl sent to live in a convent after the deaths of her parents. Shortly after her arrival, Justine (Susana Kamini, who played small parts in Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon and Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary) meets her roommate, a dark, intense girl about her own age, by the name of Alucarda (Tina Romero, who resembles a bargain-basement Jennifer Jason Leigh, and who apparently went on to have a fairly successful career on Mexican TV). We know not to trust her immediately, and we would even if we hadn’t seen her appear literally out of thin air behind Justine. Why? Cut off Alucarda’s terminal “a” and read her name backwards. Here’s another introductory lesson in bad movies: anyone the letters of whose name can be rearranged to spell “Dracula” is bad news. Alucarda falls madly in love with Justine for no apparent reason, and takes her out to the woods for a black mass, after which both girls become possessed by the Devil. They cause a scandal by renouncing Christ in the middle of a lesson on the teachings of St. Theresa, and Father Lazar (David Silva, from The Brainiac and The Batwoman), who seems to run the convent (not exactly standard procedure, if my understanding of Catholic monastic norms is any good), has them exorcised. Big mistake there. Justine dies during the exorcism, though why she should have is far from clear, and Dr. Oszek (Claudio Brook, of Santo in the Wax Museum and The Devil’s Rain), the convent’s atheist physician (another departure from Catholic monastic norms as I understand them), breaks up the ceremony and has Alucarda taken back to his villa. Now, earlier in the movie, Alucarda and Justine made some mumbo-jumbo pact about not departing from life except together. Although it kind of sounded like a suicide pact at the time, in practice, it works more like a return-from-the-dead-and-seek-vengeance pact, and while Alucarda seduces Dr. Oszek’s blind daughter (Lili Garza), Justine runs around in the nude, setting nuns ablaze with the fires of Hell. Dr. Oszek, a monk, and a nun track Justine to a crypt (which, unbeknownst to them, is actually Alucarda’s birth-place), and dissolve her with holy water after an extremely bloody catfight between her and the nun. They then head back to the convent, where Alucarda has also been busy lighting up nuns... and I don’t really know how to tell you what happens next, except to say that it involves lots of fire, lots of screaming women, the nun whose throat Justine ripped out being pressed into service as a giant crucifix, and Alucarda turning to dust for no readily apparent reason.

     You may have noticed that the preceding synopsis was shorter than is usual for me. This is because most of what goes on in this movie doesn’t make any kind of sense at all, and going into detail would simply render a summary unintelligible. Nevertheless, I really do need to touch on some of this stuff, because it absolutely makes the movie. First of all, there’s the issue of setting. I have no idea where Innocents from Hell is supposed to take place. I do know when, because Alucarda conveniently tells us that the year is 1865, but not a single point of the movie’s story is consistent with that date. For example, Dr. Oszek professes the sort of radical anti-religious ideology that was, to say the least, extremely rare in the West outside of communist circles until the 1960’s, but his practice of medicine is straight out of the 1790’s. Meanwhile, the religious figures in the movie behave as though it were the 1340’s-- not only are there exorcisms, but also ecstatic trances and gory orgies of self-flagellation. And I have to say that I’ve never seen a habit that even dimly resembled those worn by the nuns in this movie. Frankly, their costumes look more like maternity dresses for Peruvian mummies.

     And then there’s the hunchback (also Claudio Brook). I guess he’s supposed to be the Devil. He’s got the beard for it, and he does seem to play a role in the possession of the girls. He gives Alucarda the dagger that she uses in the scene where she tries to talk Justine into sealing their pact with blood. He appears out of nowhere in Justine and Alucarda’s room during the scene where they actually become possessed, and conducts some sort of ritual. I suppose it’s even possible that he’s the “He” of whom the woman who gives birth in the crypt as the movie begins speaks with such dread. Then again, there’s another obvious interpretation of that scene which may be closer to the mark, and which may hold the key to explaining Alucarda’s name. Certainly, it needs to be explained, as it is never really asserted that she is a vampire. I’ve already mentioned that the crypt woman’s baby grows up to be Alucarda. Well, after the baby is born, her mother stays in the crypt, and it is suggested that she is killed there rather nastily. In a later scene, when Alucarda and Justine are playing in the crypt, Alucarda is struck by a feeling of deja vu, and they open a coffin marked, “Lucy Westenra, died 1850.” That, of course, is the name of one of the principal female characters in Dracula, and the scene seems to be suggesting that Lucy is Alucarda’s mother. And if that’s so, then there’s a good chance we know who the father is, too.

     Now, a couple of sentences ago, I said that Alucarda is never called a vampire. That’s technically true, but there are some goings-on in Innocents from Hell that are familiar from vampire movies. First, there’s the time Alucarda materializes behind Justine in their room. Then there’s the fact that, in the possession scene, the hunchback makes the girls drink each other’s blood. Most dramatically, there’s the scene where Justine is discovered lying in a blood-filled coffin, and emerges to kill the nun who found her by ripping her throat out with her teeth. Finally, there’s the fact that both Justine and Alucarda disintegrate when they die.

     Confused yet? Good, because my guess is that puts you in company with the people who made this movie. If its creators knew what they were trying to do here, they didn’t do a very good job of telling us. And that right there is why you should watch this movie; that and several dozen naked girls having orgies in the woods or being whipped by monks in the basement of a convent.

 

 

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