Witch's Mirror (The) AKA El Espejo de la bruja (1962)
R0 - America - CasaNegra Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (18th July 2006).
The Film

Many of the genre-fans are very familiar with the strong legacy of Italian horror films, as well as the selected Spanish ones. Mexican horror, however, might not be the first one that comes to mind, but during the 1950s and 1960s there was a minor boom of strange Mexican productions, which borrowed plenty from the other horror films, but at the same time added some of the quite unique “Mexican flavour” to them. There were “The Aztec Mummy”-films, masked wrestlers El Santo (“Samson” in the US) and Blue Demon, fairy tales, mad scientists, vampires, hairy monsters, voodoo and witchcraft - you name it. The man who eventually distributed many of them to the US television (and made them minor cult-hits) was producer K. Gordon Murray. Murray started by bringing such films like “Santa Claus (1959)” and “Little Red Riding Hood AKA La Caperucita roja (1960)” to TV. He aimed these for the kids, but the audience was about to see that many of these Mexican productions were a bit, “different” to say at least (Santa Claus had some issues with the devil, and Red Riding Hood had to fight against various enemies). Soon the horror films for the more mature audience followed, and as usual, Murray re-dubbed them in English and distributed them to TV and sometimes to drive-in-theatres. Thanks to Murray (there are people who probably say “no thanks”, though), these films were introduced to the American audience, a bit like the Japanese “Kaiju”-films back in the day.

“The Witch's Mirror AKA El Espejo de la bruja (1962)” comes from the first wave of Mexican horror-films now remastered by American company “CasaNegra Entertainment” (the other is “The Curse of the Crying Woman AKA La Maldición de la Llorona (1963)”). For the fans to see these in a proper way from the transfers taken from the “vault elements” (licensed properly from “Alameda Films”) must be a revelation, since for years many of these were only available in shoddy bootlegs. “The Witch's Mirror” opens with a prologue (apparently not seen in the US-version) about “magicians, sorcerers and witches”, and how the dark side has always been close to some group of people. Soon we´ll meet the housekeeper Sara (Isabela Corona) and her goddaughter Elena (Dina de Marco), who are both looking at the strange mirror. It happens to be, that the mirror is magical, and Sara has also other skills than just housekeeping the big and old mansion; she´s a witch. The mirror reveals the grizzly omen; the master of the house and the husband of Elena, Dr. Eduardo Ramos (Armando Calvo), is planning to murder Sara´s goddaughter. Sara is using all her power that she has towards the dark forces and begs help from Lucifer himself, to no avail. Elena will have to die. From this grim opening the film doesn´t get any happier, since soon the prophecy will be completed, and the body of Elena is buried in the cemetery. The witch Sara will make a promise, that the murder will be avenged, and she has the power to make the future life of his landlord, Dr. Ramos, very unpleasant.

You could assume, that after these events the rest of the film follows the quite straightforward path of revenge and witchcraft, especially when Dr. Ramos introduces his new wife Deborah (Rosa Arenas - as Rosita Arenas), calmly taking the place of Elena. Surprisingly the “second act”, if you will, is introduced, which will take the action into a high gear. After some events that I´m not going to reveal here, the film turns as much as a “mad scientist”-story as the story of “black magic”, involving body snatching, lab experiments, and the character of the local Inspector, who starts to investigate these bizarre events. Do I really have to add, that all this is partly cheesy, but really entertaining and good fun? - and for the fans of “old school horror” this comes highly recommended.

The general mood and the visual style of “The Witch's Mirror” is probably influenced by the old Universal horror-films and legendary tales by the ones like Edgar Allan Poe, and its gothic-mood has many similarities to the films by Mario Bava from the same era. The very imaginative and clever visual tricks in the film are not necessarily that hard to achieve and are occasionally dated, but they do work very well for the movie and for the black & white cinematography. Flowers are withered for no reason, the piano is playing the favourite tune of the late Elena by itself, the wind is blowing and the mood is restless and spooky. Some optical tricks (like superimposing) are surprisingly good, and filmmakers have used their best imagination to create the illusion with the mirror, the essential object in the film. The movie has almost as much fantasy elements as it has horror, and together they create a pretty effective little flick. I also have to give credit for the very stylish lighting, which is very professionally executed. What performs weaker in the film is the acting. Some of the lines are said like the actors would be on stage at the theatre, and this creates some artificial expressions or just generally a bit of wooden acting. I have to add that actors are not “bad” and this is the product “of its own time” anyway, but something is occasionally missing (there are still some effective close-ups from the actors, like e.g. before the “milk drinking”-scene, and many good moments). Furthermore, the story loses something during the second part of the film, since along with these new developments the story becomes more hectic and even graphic, and the subtle and “gothic”-mood suffers during the process. Of course it also brings some new, interesting plot points into light, which is not a bad thing after all.

Cult director Chano Urueta (along with producer Abel Salazar) is clearly a man who knows how to handle subject material like in this film, and with a relatively short running time it offers plenty of ingredients, usually something sinister and evil of course. It´s actually quite refreshing to see something that you could consider “quick and fun”, and where you don´t need any very serious attitude, but which doesn´t go too deep on the exploitation either. Apart from a few moments of blood and severed hands, “The Witch's Mirror” offers mostly gothic and fantasy-horror, and that it does very nicely.

Video

“CasaNegra Entertainment” is actually part of “Panik House Entertainment”, and their first releases are very promising indeed. The transfer is presented in 4:3 (should be the OAR, though this is probably shown in 1.66:1 in some theatres) and looks great. Apart from a few film artifacts in selected scenes and minor fading in the other, the transfer is clean and is boasting some good detail and black levels (there are scenes where the skin tones are a bit on the overexposed side, but this could be just part of the original production). Grain level is very nice, not distracting, and there is only minor line shimmering. As the old saying goes; time to throw away those crappy bootlegs. It could be added, that the prologue and approx. 3 minutes from the start is shown windowboxed. “Single layer” disc has 16 chapters, and it´s coded “R0” (even when the back cover says “R1”). The film runs 75:28 minutes (NTSC).

Audio

In the audio front, the disc delivers both Spanish and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono-tracks, and optional English subtitles. Spanish is clearly the preferred choice here, but no doubt there are people who want to see the film with the English dub, since it´ll bring some retro memories from the “old times”. From the technical point of view, both tracks have minor hiss on the background and the presentation isn´t perfect, but the dialogue is clear enough and I personally didn´t have any major issues with them. English track seems to have a bit more hiss, and is perhaps somewhat more muffled. Note, that in the English track, one sentence is in Spanish.

Extras

First, you can choose between the English or Spanish menu. Via this choice you can also read the extras (text based) in English or Spanish. The main extra is the Audio commentary with IVTV founder Frank Coleman, and it also includes optional Spanish subtitles. For me the commentary is ultimately a minor disappointment. Now this is probably mainly my “own fault”, since the commentary is more like a “movie buff”-moment, rather than the one provided by the cast/crew member or more serious film historian/scholar (the ones I prefer). Coleman provides some good information about the Mexican horror-genre and the cast & crew of this particular film (while adding some humour), but several times I did have a feeling that too much is spent on listing all the films that e.g. some actors have done, and to me it felt that in certain moments Coleman is merely reading his notes. Don´t get me wrong, I´m sure that many people will find this enjoyable and Coleman is clearly a big fan, but I guess this wasn´t purely what I was after at this point.

“Chanovision: The Cult Films of Mexican Moviemaker, Chano Urueta” -text notes includes 9 pages, and are written by David Wilt, who maintains e.g. “The Mexican Film Resource Page” on the internet.

Cast biographies for actress Rosa Arenas and actor Armando Calvo are also included, and written by Wilt.

Poster and stills gallery includes 13 photos: 4 stills, 3 Spanish lobby cards, 5 posters/lobby cards, and 1 US poster (shown in double feature with “The Living Head AKA La Cabeza viviente (1963)”).

Reversible cover is in English or Spanish, and case also includes Loteria game card.

Overall

If you still have any doubts about Mexican horror, pick this one up and you won´t have anymore. “The Witch's Mirror” is a moody and gloomy horror film, which shows how much skill these filmmakers had in those days, even with the small budget. “CasaNegra” provides a great transfer, which only suffers a bit in the extras-department. Enjoy!

For more info, please visit the homepage of CasaNegra Entertainment.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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