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Plot: thirty-something girl anxiously awaits her date… or is she?

Spain has always been fertile ground for fantastic – and horror cinema. With several decades of history to draw from and the old masters rightly enshrined as the innovators that they were Spain never really stopped producing horror or weird cinema. Over the last twenty years Álex de la Iglesia and Jaume Balagueró have been the prime names associated with Iberian terror and suspense and the country continues to produce horror at a steady pace. Over the past several years Norberto Ramos del Val has been producing low budget horror and terror. Lucero is our first exposure to his work and since then he has directed, among others, Heaven In Hell (2016) and Killing Time (2022). It’s impossible to gauge how important he will become to Spanish fantaterror, but new blood is never bad. Whether he is the de la Iglesia or Balagueró for this generation only time will tell.

In the Lucero barrio (neighborhood) of Madrid 34-year old Eva (Claudia Molina) attends the Sacrament of Penance during the Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession. After returning to her apartment it becomes clear that Eva is mentally unstable and deeply unwell. She is interested in witchcraft and has the literature to prove it. On top of that, she’s probably neurotic, is constantly itchy, and possibly suffers from OCD. Her boyfriend Angel (Edgar Calot) has left her – and she’s understandably saddened and frustrated with the whole situation. Tonight she has a date with Lucas (Jaime Adalid) and she’s fighting against the hours for him to arrive. As the shades of night descend it dawns on Eva that her date might not be coming tonight or at all. This triggers her anxiety even further and as memories of her time with Angel wash over her she sinks deeper into depression and loneliness. As Eva is consumed by paranoia and explores the deepest chasms of her soul a terrifying secret is bound to surface…

The opening montage with all the footage from Madrid and Claudia Molina in high couture sort of gives off the vibes that this might turn into a modern day giallo but once Lucero settles on the apartment as its one and only location any such pretensions or ambitions are, sadly, instantly abandoned. At a brisk 68 minutes it still takes forever for something nothing substantial to happen – and when it does, it happens oh so very, very slowly. For a good 53 minutes Lucero sort of flows glacially (or serenely, whichever you prefer) with no apparent direction or specific destination in mind until it suddenly explodes into a phantasmagoria of Satanic covens and full frontal situational nudity. The only novelty (if it can be called that) that Norberto Ramos del Val introduces is that Lucero has no dialogue whatsoever. None. Not a single line is uttered. It might seem like an odd creative choice at first but on second glance it seems perfectly logical.

And then there’s the title itself, Lucero, that can refer to any number of things. For starters, there’s Venus, the morningstar. Second, it’s also another name for Lucifer, which probably goes a long way explaining the skeletally thin Satanic cult subplot that really begged further exploring as well as the international market title Fallen Angel that this has gotten in some territories. If Lucero accomplishes anything it’s making us wanting to see more of Claudia Molina. Molina wonderfully succeeds in carrying what little story there is all by her lonesome. This being Spanish the bathtub scene (and the fact that Eva doesn’t utter a single syllabel for about 68 minutes) suggests that Ramos del Val probably has seen Female Vampire (1973). The solitary kill scene is effective in its brevity and functional minimal gore. It sort of echoes She Killed In Ecstasy (1971) passively and the coven scene indicates that Ramos del Val has seen his fair share of either Jean Rollin or any early seventies Meditterranean horror of your preference. Sadly, this is also where Lucero wastes most, if not all, of its potential. There’s so much here and so very little is done with it. Hopefully one day Ramos del Val will make the Satanic coven and witchcraft (lesbian or otherwise) movie that’s alluded to here.

If you were feeling charitable perhaps Lucero could be described as a Spanish take on Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976) but truthfully this is closer to Pål Sletaune’s hugely atmospheric and occassionally gripping Next Door (2005). Except that that had actual characters and story – and this not necessarily does. There’s only so much a naked Molina in the third act and a sufficiently ethereal ambient score (that could have come from Simon Boswell or Michael Stearns) can possibly redeem. The problem isn’t so much what Lucero is but what it could have been. Some dialogue would have worked wonders here. As much as the non-verbal route allows the viewer to project whatever they want onto what they see informed by their own experiences, it also makes the entire thing inconsequential on its face. An entire Jean Rollin or Paul Naschy type fantastique could be extracted from the coven and witchcraft scenes. For most of the time Lucero is closer to the oeuvre of Rene Perez than to Paul Naschy. Much more of a moodpiece rather than a character study Lucero is style over substance.

Plot: scientists investigate occurrences at cursed manor. Hilarity ensues!

Bloodbath at the House Of Death has gotten a bad rep over the years, or ever since it came out in 1984. Margaret Thatcher had come out victorious in a landslide re-election and during the second term faced the National Union of Mineworkers 1984–85 miners' strike and survived an assassination attempt by the Provisional IRA in the 1984 Brighton hotel bombing. Britain crumbled under a crippling economic recession and experienced inflation and rising unemployment. Thatcher’s Torie administration proposed legislation touting deregulation, privatization and entrepreneurialism as the solutions to get the country up and running again. No wonder then that entertainment became lighter and Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a good example of just that. Whatever its merits it was tragically overshadowed upon general release by controversial comments made on a public forum by the creative force behind it. Granted, this is not some underseen classic that has remained buried for many years but as far as semi-comedic horror spoofs go, it’s actually wonderfully on-point.

Great Britain has a long history in horror. From the days of Hammer, Tigon, and Amicus to maverick independents as Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren. Spoofs have been around since the dawn of cinema and horror – rife with larger-than-life villains and never-changing plot contrivances and ur-character archetypes – always was a target-rich environment and ripe for a good ridiculing. The man behind Bloodbath at the House Of Death was Kenny Everett. Everett was an openly right-wing and closeted gay media personality who found fame as a DJ on BBC Radio 1 and who hosted his namesake shows The Kenny Everett Video Show, The Kenny Everett Television Show on BBC1 and The Kenny Everett Radio Show on BBC Radio 2.

Kenny Everett and Cleo Rocos in 1988

Everett was a consummate and versatile performer who specialized in lewd humor. He apparently also was something of an avid horror fan. Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a spoof of English – and American horror but does not limit itself to the confines of that genre alone. With Everett anyone and anything was and is a possible target. Sadly, Bloodbath at the House Of Death saw a troubled general release and was perhaps unwittingly sabotaged by the man himself when he embarked upon an unhinged "Let's bomb Russia!" tirade at the Young Conservatives during the 1983 general election. For this Everett was goaded by director Michael Winner and the legacy media and moral arbiters of the day embarked upon a veritable witch-hunt and critically savaged Bloodbath at the House Of Death in retaliation. Was that undeserved? Well, that depends on what you want it to be. It’s not as if this was some long lost classic or forgotten masterpiece.

Joining Everett and his frequent collaborator and assistant Cleo Rocos are domestic comedy fixtures Sheila Steafel, John Fortune, Barry Cryer, Pamela Stephenson, and sometime Page 3 girl Debbie Linden. Linden was one of the curvaceous cuties frequently on display with Benny Hill on The Benny Hill Show (1978) and Debs could also be ogled on The Dick Emery Comedy Hour in 1979. Linden was a hostess on game shows 3-2-1 (1978-1987) and Give Us a Clue (1979) and could frequently be seen in the Tennent’s Lager commercials during the 1980s. She got her start in the movies with Pete Walker’s Home Before Midnight (1979) and The Wildcats of St Trinian's (1980). As a Page 3 Girl she posed topless in The Sun and Daily Star in 1981 and thanks to her newfound fame (relative as it was) she landed the role of Old Mr. Grace's saucy secretary for a 5-episode arc in 1981 on the series Are You Being Served? (1972-1985). Problems were looming as miss Linden had developed an alcohol and cocaine dependency for some years prior and around this time was living life in the fast lane as she was dating Lemmy from legendary heavy rockers Motörhead. Towards the end of the decade legal problems caught up with her as Linden was issued a suspended prison sentence for a fraud case leading Debbie to become homeless and twice attempting to take her own life. She was interred at Kingston Cemetery, Greater London. Bloodbath at the House Of Death also marked the last British film appearance of horror legend Vincent Price who had just come off his spoken word bit on Michael Jackson’s Grammy Award-winning smash hit ‘Thriller’ and relished in the part.

North Surrey. August the 12th, 1975. “Thursday… give or take a day”. Headstone Manor, a "businessman's weekend retreat and girls summer camp", is cloaked in night. Out of the nearby woods robed monk-like figures materialize. The monks burst into the mansion violently slaughtering anyone and everyone within sight. When the monks’ bloodwork is done 18 residents have met their untimely end. Some are shot, others are stabbed, slashed, hung, and defenestrated. Nobody is spared. When a nubile maiden (Debbie Linden) offers her curves for clemency she too finds herself among the victims. The next day the police arrive to investigate. Inspector Sidney Smyth (David Lodge) can find not a single clue that could explain the reason for the mass carnage and sudden onslaught of homicide. The chief (Barry Cryer) is equally puzzled. Since then locals consider Headstone Manor curse referring to it only as the House of Death. Eight years later Dr. Lukas Mandeville (Kenny Everett) and his high-strung assistant Barbara Coyle (Pamela Stephenson) are compelled to investigate strange radioactive readings in the area. For this they have put together a crack team of the brightest minds – John Harrison (Jone Fortune), Sheila Finch (Sheila Steafel), upper middle class and flamboyantly gay scientists Elliot Broome (Gareth Hunt), Stephen Wilson (Don Warrington), as well as neutral observers Henry Noland (John Stephen Hill) and Deborah Kedding (Cleo Rocos) – and take to setting up the required equipment. What they don’t know is that the Sinister Man (Vincent Price) and his blood cult still roam the foggy woods and have taken up residence in the bowels of the palatial mansion.

The main plot was meant as an obvious spoof on old those Universal haunted house evergreens as House On Haunted Hill (1959), The Haunting (1963) and The Legend of Hell House (1973) and it plays out like the then-popular slasher. By the mid-eighties the Satanic Panic hadn’t really subsided and the Satanic cult subplot feels straight out of The Masque of the Red Death (1964), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Black Magic Rites (1973) and Satan’s Slave (1976). Once all that established Bloodbath at the House Of Death then, in no particular order, pokes fun at An American Werewolf in London (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Jaws (1975), The Invisible Man (1933), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), City Of the Dead (1960), The Stepford Wives (1975), The Tingler (1959), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), The Exorcist (1973), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Carrie (1976), Alien (1979), The Amityville Horror (1979), Friday the 13th (1980), Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Shining (1980), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Entity (1982), and even Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Everett took an everything but the kitchen sink approach and while there a commendable avalanche of visual gags, slapstick and situational comedy not all jokes quite land and the entire thing is incredibly puerile. The corkscrew decapitation is splattery fun, Debbie Linden’s role as a bosomy babe is hilarious and we got a chuckle out of the “maybe a slap to the face will help?” scene. It’s almost impossible to fathom that Peter Jackson wasn’t aware of or hadn’t seen this and We’re Going to Eat You (1980) when he was envisioning his Bad Taste (1987).

There’s no contesting that Kenny Everett in all likelihood was the funniest man on British TV in the eighties. The leap to the big screen was both inevitable and expected yet his brand of lewd humor didn’t translate well to the big screen. When the jokes don’t land at least there are Cleo Rocos and Debbie Linden bouncing around but they only can do so much. While Bloodbath at the House Of Death is a decent enough horror spoof it never quite reaches the lofty heights of Blazing Saddles (1974), Spaceballs (1987) nor Naked Gun (1988-1994). Hell, Satan's Cheerleaders (1977), Nocturna (1979) and Galaxina (1980) parodied their chosen genres better and were funnier on average. Perhaps it’s telling that after this Everett never ventured into cinema again. A good spoof knows what conventions to ridicule or how to use its parodying to move the story forward. The Satanic cult subplot is genuinely funny, as are the riffs on Alien (1979) and Ghostbusters (1984). Things get a bit random towards the end where Everett throws just about everything but the kitchen sink at the viewer in hope that something will stick. For a movie called Bloodbath at the House Of Death it leans on spoofing science fiction an awful lot. If you’re expecting a parody on Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) or Amicus' And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973) – look elsewhere. Kenny Everett was a fine comedian, but this should’ve been better.