Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

[Satanophobia] Black Candles (1982)

After the sudden death of her brother, Carol (Vanessa Hidalgo) and her boyfriend Robert (Mauro Rivera)
Black Candles - Original Theatrical Poster
Original Theatrical Poster
travel to a village outside London to settle his estate and visit with his widow, the eccentric but enigmatic Fiona (Helga Liné). When they arrive at the estate, it is in the midst of a great storm that has taken the power out. Never fear, Fiona has an ample supply of the titular black candles that she uses to illuminate the household in circumstances such as these.

Robert, a former man of the cloth turned scholar, is immediately taken with the interesting lithographs hanging on Fiona's walls. They represent various aspects of demonology, and these, coupled with the black candles are enough to give Carol pause about their hostess. Carol and Robert retire to their bedroom to gossip, strip naked, and have some hot, sweaty sex. And why not? We all grieve in different ways. 

In a scene that seems directly torn from Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO, Fiona removes a painting from the wall to reveal a hole through which she watches the entire thing...while pleasuring herself.

No, Fiona isn't just your run-of-the-mill deviant. She also happens to be a Satanist (along with just about everyone else around, it seems) and Carol's presence is putting a real crimp in the cult's style. Killing her would be too suspicious so close to her brother's death, and just waiting her out or asking her to leave isn't nearly evil enough. Instead, Fiona and her cohorts opt to mess with her mind using all manner of magic derived from the dark lord.

Carol falls deeper and deeper into madness, never able to tell with any certainty what is real and what is not (and thus the audience is in the same unfortunate boat), while Robert finds himself entwined with the cult, which offers a seemingly endless buffet of perverse delights.

Black Candles - Satan Loves Sex
Satan Loves Sex
These people 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 the voyeuristic incident that has already been mentioned, and the expected variety of male-female/female-female vanilla flavorings, there is: a dream sequence in which Carol fantasizes about having incestual intercourse with her own (dead) brother; after joining the ranks of Satan, Robert forces sodomy upon his girlfriend—though she 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.

You would think that there would be more violence in this movie, but it is decidedly sparse in that area. When you're following a vast satanic conspiracy within the framework of a small town, that doesn't leave a lot of innocents available to step into the role of victim. It should be noted, though, that the most extreme of the few acts of violence here also features a distinct and distasteful sexual element, as a nude man is forcefully impaled through the rectum with a sword. Too bad that the man in question was not Robert, as it surely would have given him cause to reflect on his earlier sexual assault in the moments before he bled out.

As this is a movie 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 and a nonsensical ending that is the beginning that is the ending. 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.

The film 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.


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