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Plot: kept woman is targeted by psychotic killer in luxury high-rise tenement.

Amidst the mid-80s slasher deluge Mexico contributed an old-fashioned suspense and terror flick in the British and American tradition that feels a decade older than it is. It might not have the sheer weirdness of The Mansion of Madness (1973) nor the brazen insanity of Satánico Pandemónium (1975) or Alucarda (1977) but taken for what it is Terror y Encajes Negros (or Terror and Black Lace internationally) remains enjoyable. Often wrongly described as either a very late giallo or an incredibly mild slasher Terror and Black Lace actually is neither. Boil it down to its essentials and you have a fairly typical Latin domestic melodrama enlivened only by a truly mesmerizing lead actress in the habit of parading around in skimpy lingerie and a thriller subplot amounting to a very tense 20-30-minute conclusion. Above all else Terror and Black Lace echoes The Centerfold Girls (1974) or When A Stranger Calls (1979) in varying degrees and sometimes borders on a Maniac (1980) character study. Hell, it even has a giallo-inspired title, if all of the above wasn’t enough. Next to that, more often than not, it feels like a 90-minute pilot to a very deranged (and unproduced) telenovela.

Luis Alcoriza was a respected Mexican screenwriter, film director, and actor who was born in Spain. He fled the country in 1940 to escape the Spanish Civil War and persecution by fascist dictator Generalísimo Francisco Franco because of his Republican affiliation. He emigrated to Mexico where he wrote 90 screenplays over half a century (1946-1996) and directed 24 films in 29 years (1961-1990). His Tlayucan (1962) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and his Life Is Most Important (1987) was entered into the 15th Moscow International Film Festival. Terror and Black Lace is an offering from Alcoriza’s twilight years and probably not representative for the rest of his repertoire. It’s decent enough for what it is but it’s telling when Argentinian genre precursor The Curious Dr. Humpp (1966) was far more risqué some two decades earlier. Which doesn’t mean that Terror and Black Lace isn’t distinct in its own ways. Unbelievable as it may sound Terror and Black Lace won an Ariel Award by the Academia Mexicana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas (Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences or AMACC) for Best Supporting Actress (Guzmán) with further nominations for Best Actress (Guardia) and Best Score (Pedro Plasencia). There’s a lot to like in Terror and Black Lace even if it’s more regressive than innovative. But, as always, you could do far worse than this.

Isabel Chabel (Maribel Guardia) is the beautiful stay-at-home trophy wife of overzealous, bovine entrepreneur Giorgio Martinez (Gonzalo Vega). Giorgio is an abusive impotent wretch of a man riddled with petty insecurities and hang-ups. Plus, he systematically fails to treat Isabel with the dignity and respect she deserves. Isabel is a kept woman living her best life in a golden cage of opulence and abundance. The couple own a penthouse in a state-of-the-art high-rise tenement bustling with life where their every wish is indulged by either errand girl Coquis (Claudia Guzmán) or the building manager/administrator (Ángel Domínguez). Isabel spends her days sunbathing on the deck, working out in the health club, and going for shopping trips in the city. On one such trips she meets strapping young man Rubén (Jaime Moreno) and is swept off her feet. Temptation briefly looms for Chabel as she considers embarking on an affair with the young man. When things turn hot and heavy she submits to Giorgio and his terrible mood swings again. In the studio below hers live three party girls (Olivia Collins, Martha Ortiz, and Gabriela Goldsmith, as Gabriela Goldsmeith) and above there’s musician César (Claudio Obregón). When a prostitute (Alejandra Espejo) and shopping mall patron (Leticia Lamas) die under mysterious circumstances the police (Ángel Heredia and Francisco Rolon) are called in for help and start conducting an investigation. One night the girls below Isabel are having an extremely loud party and her phone is out of service. It’s exactly on this night that Isabel witnesses Coquis getting slain by an unseen assailant and the figure disposing of her body. What Isabel doesn’t know is that the harmless looking César is in fact deeply psychotic and obsessed by manes. Coquis was the latest to fall victim to his homicidal proclivities. Trapped in the same building and with nowhere to run – will she survive?

How do you even begin to describe someone as enchanting and multi-faceted as Costa Rican belleza Maribel Guardia? Famous for her long and voluminous black hair and curvaceous figure Guardia is ubiquitous and omnipresent and has left an indelible mark on Mexican popular culture at large. You name it, marvelous Maribel probably has done it. Born in May 1959 Maribel’s initial claim to fame was being anointed Miss Costa Rica 1978, the same year she competed in the Miss World 1978 in in London, UK and Miss Universe pageant in Acapulco where she was Miss Photogenic. Almost immediately Guardia was offered a development contract with Televisa producer Sergio Bustamante. As an actress Maribel was flexible and comfortable doing anything from chorizo westerns and action movies to light-hearted (and more often than not sexy) comedies and dramas. In Mexico By Hook or By Crook (1986), The Scorpion (1986), Cabaret Woman (1991) and Persecuted (1991) are well liked and to the cult world she’s forever associated with Terror and Black Lace. On television she starred in multiple telenovelas (soap operas) and as a singer she released a series of albums in the Norteño music genre on a variety of label imprints. Whether you know her as an actress, model, singer, television hostess, or media personality Maribel was, is, and continues to be, everywhere. Back at home in Mexico she’s one of most photographed celebrities and the domestic media collectively refers to her as 'La Bella' (the beauty, the beautiful). As of 2022, it’s clear that Guardia has been impervious to infirmity and decline and is remarkably well-preserved for her blessed age. At a ripe 63 Maribel continues to effortlessly turn heads and she remains as stunningly elegant as ever.

This being a Guardia star vehicle Luis Alcoriza sees to it that 26-year-old Maribel gets to parade some of the finest haute couture and director of photography Xavier Cruz ensures that her beauty is properly captured for the ages. Alcoriza and co-writer Ramón Obón invent every sort of imaginable situation to have Guardia modeling various dresses, business suits, a pastel-colored g-string spandex during her workout routines, and even some skimpy black lace lingerie. This movie bears its giallo/slasher title for a reason and it makes sure the audience knows too. If that wasn’t enough marvelous Maribel gets to take more than plenty of long, hot showers to satiate anybody’s craving. What other way to describe Maribel Guardia than the predecessor to Salma Hayek and what is she if not the Mexican Helga Liné, Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri or, god forbid, Edwige Fenech. Maribel Guardia looks absolutely ravishing in whatever she’s wearing as does Claudia Guzmán in her more casual attire. Surprisingly, guest star Gabriela Goldsmith later became a pillar in Mexican television and cinema despite not being much of a presence here. Guardia and Guzmán both won Ariel Awards for their performances here which sort of suggests that this was a foray into horror light for the award season. Terror and Black Lace is under the mistaken impression that it is a high-brow social realist drama with an important message, something for the elite and the intelligentsia. Clearly it wants to say something, anything, about the role of women in mid-eighties Mexico yet it’s never exactly clear what. Alcoriza and his writers desperately want this to be some grand work of socio-political importance but it’s lost on us what exactly that’s supposed to be. If nothing else, it goes a long way in explaining why Terror and Black Lace never really commits to being horror. It apparently was very progressive for its time as well.

Then there’s the question how much, if at all, it was representative for the state of Mexican horror in the mid-to-late ‘80s. The most obvious and simple answer to that would be a resounding “no.” Rubén Galindo, Jr., for example, released Cemetery Of Terror (1985) the same year and Grave Robbers (1989) a few years later. What’s clear is that we’re a long way from the ecclesiastical horror of Satánico Pandemónium (1975) and the general insanity of Juan López Moctezuma and his The Mansion of Madness (1973), Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975) and his magnum opus Alucarda (1977). None of which really takes away that Terror and Black Lace can be an effective, unassuming little shocker whenever it can stop focusing on the telenovela melodramatics and embrace its murkier, sleazier side. Unfortunately, that happens not nearly as much, enough, or at all to work. The best thing that can be said about Terror and Black Lace is that at least it’s interesting from a structural standpoint. Plot wise it nearly isn’t as rigid (or as formulaic, whichever you prefer) as the typical slasher from around this time, neither is it for that matter a carefully crafted slowburn on the model of Maniac (1980) or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). In a post-Maniac (1980) world Terror and Black Lace feels more like an old-fashioned terror and suspense flick in tradition of Wicked, Wicked (1973), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) and When A Stranger Calls (1979). Except without any of the tension, atmosphere, or dread. Its closest cousin is probably Pete Walker’s Die Screaming Marianne (1971) and it never gets as vile as, say, The Centerfold Girls (1974) or The Toolbox Murders (1978). Marvelous Maribel makes it worthwhile regardless of what you think of it.

Plot: pious, virtuous nun is offered the temptations of the flesh by Satan.

While it was Great Britain that had the dubious honour of kicking off the nunsploitation cycle with Ken Russell’s iconoclastic The Devils (1971), it were the most devout contries of continental Europe (Spain and Italy, in particular) that gleefully embraced imitating The Exorcist (1973) and exhibited an almost religious zeal in indulging in its more sacrilegious inclinations. In France Joël Séria’s Don't Deliver Us From Evil (1971) had a dedicated segment and from there nunsploitation was the only next logical avenue. In Poland there was Walerian Borowczyk's Behind Convent Walls (1978) and Czechoslovakia’s Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (1970) is a lot of things, but it certainly was not nunsploitation the way it was typically understood. That Mexico would end up creating one of the subgenre’s more defining and enduring works should come as no surprise. The country had a long history in horror, and it was and is both deeply superstitious and devoutly Christian. The only to surpass Satánico Pandemónium in sheer blasphemy, scorn, and irreverence was Brazilian filmmaker Juan López Moctezuma’s unparallelled masterpiece Alucarda (1977). In the company of such greatness it’s easy to forget that Italy got there earliest with The Demon (1963) preceding both The Exorcist (1973) and nunsploitation as a whole.

Gilberto Martínez Solares had a long career going all the way back to 1939 and in the six decades that he was active he directed just about every mainstream genre (romance, drama, comedy, etc) under the sun. He even helmed one or two Blue Demon and El Santo luchador movies – but none of his voluminous repertoire has attained the kind of longevity and prestige that Satánico Pandemónium has. On top of that, as near as we can tell, this was Solares’ only foray into horror. Perhaps that is why Satánico Pandemónium is filled to the brim with artful shots and visually arresting imagery. It’s always interesting when mainstream directors decide to helm a genre film. As with any production everything hinges on the lead. For that reason alone Cecilia Pezet was an interesting choice. Not in the least because she hardly ever did horror. Overflowing with enough clerical sleaze and containing enough corrupted Catholical imagery to satiate any agnostic, atheist, or anti-theist Satánico Pandemónium has lost none of its baroque charm and shock value. Even almost forty years later it’s is a towering genre achievement.

22-year-old Lutheran nun María (Cecilia Pezet) lives a virtuous and ecclesiastical life sequestered away in a Protestant convent somewhere in rural Mexico. In quiet resignaton the nuns live an impoverished life of celibacy, prayer, and contemplation. Whenever they are not being harangued or scolded, by Mother Superior (Delia Magaña) for their infractions they submit, as scripture dictates, to corporal mortification and self-flagellation. The closest thing to a friend María has is sister Caridad (Veronika Con K., as Verónica Avila). María is the youngest and described as the purest and most pious of her order. One day she's out picking flowers in a meadow when she's tempted by Luzbel (Enrique Rocha). Running away she encounters her friend Marcelo (Daniel Albertos) and helps him with feeding one of his lambs. On the way home María again is tempted by Luzbel. María tries to live a virtuous and sin-free life and it becomes increasingly difficult for her to balance the crushing weight and burden of her maidenhood with the nigh on insurmountable ballast that is her devotion to God. Matters are complicated by the fact that she’s haunted by visions of Luzbel by day and overcome by carnal lust and perverse desire at night. Sin, it seems, lurks everywhere.

After Compline Luzbel continues to seduce María. She's overcome by temptations of the mind and of the flesh. In her dwelling she's raped by a fellow nun (Verónica Rivas) or so she believes because when she comes to Luzbel’s lying on top of her. Soon sister Clemencia (Clemencia Colín) and a novice (Amparo Furstenberg) come relaying their increasing and continuing struggle with their vows and the natural inclinations that come with their age. Ever since that innocent stroll in the woods the other day María has been haunted by impure thoughts and is sometimes stricken by carnal urges of perverted desire. When Caridad commits suicide by hanging and Marcelo and his aging mother (Velia Lupercio) die under mysterious circumstances Mother Superior accuses young María of bringing sin into the convent. Forced to choose between her two masters María declares that Satan has been living inside of her and strangles the tyrannical Reverend Mother with a rope magically appearing in her possession. Surrendering to a life of blasphemy and vice María swears that if she cannot live her life in service of Christ then she’ll become an apprentice of Satan. Not only does she promise to visit heresy upon her sleepy village - she vows to bring down the convent, and if possible, the Protestant Church in its entirety, with her no matter the cost.

What could possibly be said about Cecilia Pezet in what was more or less her swansong theatrical performance? She would appear in La lucha con la pantera (1975) afterwards and here she’s, thankfully, cast against type for once. This, more than anything, served to amplify her performance manifold. Pezet’s portrayal of María is one of quiet agitation, understated misanthropy, and (during the third act) violent homicidal retribution. It’s at least as powerful, by sheer contrast alone, as Jeanne Goupil’s youthful exuberance and wide-eyed malevolence in Don't Deliver Us From Evil (1971) and Tina Romero’s legendary hysterical, maniacal, hair-raising performance in and as Alucarda (1977). Likewise does Enrique Rocha take great pleasure in his role as Luzbel who introduces María to the pleasures of the flesh and whose corrupting influence will eventually bring down the Church. Delia Magaña was one of the great divas of Mexican cinema and theatre who made a name for herself for her many comedic roles. Magaña attended cocktail parties with Charles Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Verónika con K. was a singer and soap opera regular who just as frequently worked as a television presenter. The remainder of the cast were either enthusiast first-timers while others experienced brief careers that didn’t really go anywhere.

And who could possibly forget Mexican bombshell Salma Hayek as Satánico Pandemónium writhing seductively in Robert Rodriguez’ beloved genre-hybrid From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) where she was dressed in little more than that tiny bikini, feathery headgear, and a slithering snake? If anyone reintroduced Solares’ masterpiece to a mainstream general audience, this was the where and the when. Rodriguez grew up on and in the grindhouse and he has been a staunch defender of exploitation cinema no matter how much Hollywood tries to force him into a mainstream direction. What better way to pay tribute to Mexico's greatest exploitation's than to have the latest superstar proudly bearing its name? Satánico Pandemónium was one of those legendary milestones, that there was something far darker brooding within the collective subconscious. The time of the Universal inspired gothics of the prior decade now was very well in the past. Like its Spanish counterpart Mexican horror is at its best when it bathes in that decaying, mildewy atmosphere and is unafraid to lay fire upon the Church and its adherents. Satánico Pandemónium has something for everybody, and a whole new generation of horror fans should be exposed to its malefic glory and dripping misanthropy.