Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The People Who Own The Dark

1976, Spain, Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Colour, Running Time: 82 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R1, Code Red; Video: Anamorphic 1.78:1, Audio: DD Mono

A selection of bourgeois individuals gather at an isolated mansion to participate in a series of anonymous (via masks) games where their desires are allowed freedom, aided by the attendance of a group of models and prostitutes.  So far, so promising.  However, the party is broken up by an earthquake-like shock that runs through the house, shaking items from walls, upturning ornaments, etc.  Mystified by the occurrence, the masks quickly come off as they contemplate what just happened, although a scientist present already has some idea.  The landscape outside is strangely desolate as the silence is broken only by a distant warning siren.  Obtaining nothing on the radio the scientist reveals that it's likely an atomic bomb has been detonated a good distance away, but close enough for potential radiation poisoning depending on wind direction, etc - they're advised to stay put while the situation outside sorts itself.   However, whilst most of the guests are healthy, anyone above ground (the others were in the cellar at the time) has gone blind.  When the survivors head down to the nearest village to pilfer some supplies they find hordes of blind people, who are also kind of off their heads with anger - the 'tribes' immediate take a dislike to one another and the mansion is soon under siege from rock-throwing, weapon-wielding crazy people with no good senses of aim.
Último deseo, as the film was less appropriately known in its Spanish territories, was very hard to come by up until recently.  Paul Naschy is present amongst the cast members, but he takes a back seat in comparison to some of the films he's better known for.  I like the way the plot crosses over from a story that would appear to be going in one direction to one that goes somewhere else entirely (sort of in the fashion of From Dusk Til Dawn).  Logic is not at the forefront of the thinking here, but this is Spanish exploitation cinema so that's not a mind-bending shock, and the dialogue/character actions are somewhat questionable in places.  There are factors that work surprisingly well, however.  The minutes following the blast are shrouded in mystery as the characters come to grips with what's happening, and the pause as one character looks across a barren landscape from the mansion balcony hearing nothing but a distant air-raid siren is poignant and eerie.  Furthermore, an inevitable mounting drama unfolds among the group as characters have different ideas on how to survive, and this actually reaches an intensity I didn't expect, particularly in the film's final fifteen minutes or so.  In fact, the conclusion itself was quite a bit darker than anticipated.  The blind people are little on the goofy side but even they eventually prove to be a snowballing threat as their numbers increase and they learn, somehow, where the healthy survivors are holding up.  No doubt you will guess that there are elements of Night of the Living Dead, The Last Man on Earth, and The Earth Dies Screaming within, all these wrapped up nicely within a Euro-horror type of context.  Overlooking the meagre budget, and some of the aforementioned allusions to issues with the blind assailants, dialogue, and character behaviour, there are a few things going on in this film that shape a very worthy ride for the viewer.

After looking forward to locating this film for some time I would say it generally lived up to expectation - certainly I'm extremely glad Code Red took the time to release it.  Apparently, because it's a very limited appeal product, the press run will only extend to 400 copies, plus can only be ordered direct from Code Red (or ebaying sharks determined to rip off film collectors).  The breadth of features is understandably restricted.  A 35mm print was found for the main anamorphic transfer, but condition is rough to say the least - there are scratches and marks throughout, with frames sometimes being lost altogether.  Otherwise detail is actually good when not obscured by print damage.  This makes up the 78 minute version of the film.  There is a slightly longer cut, running around 82 minutes, which has been culled from a video source (labelled on the back as fullscreen, it was more like letterboxed widescreen).  Here there is significantly less damage, but detail is blurred as you would expect with anything coming from VHS.  I sampled the latter (a good couple of minutes of the difference actually occurs during the opening four minutes, where Naschy is seen spending more time shooting birds) but opted to watch the shorter cut - despite the state of the print I found the experience to be more satisfying.  Audio is English language dub and plenty of pops/cracks/hiss abound.  Shame a Spanish language version couldn't be exhumed.  Despite this, I certainly think this is a groovy little piece deserving a position in your collection, and I somehow doubt anybody will be scrubbing this up for a full HD restoration.  Also on the disc are a bunch of nutball trailers for various films that you are unlikely to see at the multiplex.

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