Saturday, 25 August 2007

Los Ojos azules de la muñeca rota / The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll

This 1973 Spanish amarillo – i.e. giallo in all but name – sees weightlifter turned one-man horror factory Paul Naschy play a mysterious, evidently troubled drifter, Gilles, who takes a job as handyman to a trio of sisters on their farmhouse high the the French Pyrenees.

Soon after his arrival, a local girl is murdered. Soon after this the killer strikes again, this time also mutilating their victim by removing her eyes.

Who is the real auteur here star Paul Naschy / Jacinto Molina or director Carlos Aured?

Needless to say, Gilles is immediately under suspicion – especially seeing as the local chief of police is sure he recalls seeing his face somewhere before and his doctor colleague suggests that “the killer possesses uncommon strength,” having “ran her through with a single blow.”

Given the deserved reputation the three sisters have amongst the local populace – the alternative English title for the film House of Psychotic Women is only a slight piece of exploitation cinema hyperbole – he is hardly the only suspect, however.

As the title suggests, both eyes and broken doll motifs prove significant to the maniac's psychosis

Given the generic rules, coupled with numerous flashbacks type sequences showing a traumatic scene in Gilles’ past, in which he strangles a woman, perhaps Gilles is in any case too obvious a culprit.

Then again, perhaps the sisters – one scarred and sans some digits following an accident; another wheelchair bound yet apparently devoid of actual physical symptoms and the third a jealous, possessive nymphomaniac; the mother was committed to an asylum while their father, suffering from an incurable disease, committed suicide – could also be red herrings, such that detectives and viewers should be searching elsewhere, perhaps in the direction of to the new nurse who arrived unexpectedly, say...

A photo hides a clue

Though the contribution of director Carlos Aured cannot be ignored, there seems little doubt that Los Ojos azules de la muñeca rota / The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll is really first and foremost the product of its star and co-writer, Naschy. The character of Gilles comes across as very much a naturalised / thriller version of his most famous creation, the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, as a tragic, romantic figure who is the victim of bestial impulses he cannot fully control, the connection being made almost explicit in a sequence near the end where a posse, led by the police chief, chase Gilles across snowy, mountainous terrain, only managing to catch up with him when he inadvertently gets his foot caught in a jawed trap evidently left by a hunter.

Obligatory moments in a Paul Naschy film #1 he gets his kit off

Obligatory moments in a Paul Naschy film #1 – she gets her kit off

Obligatory moments in a Paul Naschy film #3 he gets in a fight and turns the tables on his better armed assailant through his superior physical prowess

The problem as far as reading the character goes is, however, that while Naschy hardly provides an uncritical endorsement of machismo and misogyny here or elsewhere his explorations of gender politics, much like those of Dario Argento and Jesus Franco, equally fail to provide the (too) neat, comfortable, unequivocal, politically correct, mainstream feminist message some would look for, whilst the more naturalistic setting here also removes something of the comfortable distance of fantasy as seen in the Daninsky films.

A key scene in this regard is that where a frustrated Gilles confronts one of the sisters in the house's barn, throwing her against the hay and remarking “You don't have to go anywhere to look for a man – you’ve got one right here,” only for a(nother) traumatic flashback to cause him to recoil, such that the object of his attentions – not particularly appreciating them, no clearly meaning no – is not required to fend him off with the farm implement she had reached out for a few seconds previously...

The obligatory enigmatic flashback / dream sequence

Likewise while elsewhere we certainly get the obligatory scenes where Naschy takes his shirt off to display his physique, engages in some mano a mano action with a rival – his predecessor as the handyman, as it turns out, and thus another potential suspect – and indulges himself with the ladies, there’s always something not quite right about the way these scenes come across such that they cannot simply be read as wish fulfilment fantasies on the part of either actor or (male) viewer who (mis)identify with the character, something more complex that requires a double-take.

Much the same can be said of the filmmakers' deployment of popular psychoanalytic discourses around such themes as trauma, mind-body dualism and fetishism. They do not do so uncritically, evincing what the non-believer would probably identify as a healthy degree of scepticism, and the acolyte as yet further demonstration of deeper repression in a refusal to confront the Freudian / Lacanian capital-T Truth. To say much more could spoil things, so we will simply cite that old Biblical chestnut of “physician, heal thyself...” (what was that about the Law of the Father again?)

Aured's direction tends towards the over-emphatic, too many scenes breaking down into zoom, close-up, zoom, close-up, whether anything is being signified thereby or not. The stalk and slash set pieces are well executed, however, minimising the killer's physical presence to prevent us from being able to see whether the shape is that of Naschy or another and thus sustaining the mystery and suspicion surrounding the characters.

Likewise, while there is a sense that other techniques, including Dutch angles, freewheeling hand-held camera and even some slow-motion and step printing are being deployed more on the basis that they can than as fully worked through instances of form expressing content or vice-versa (nevermind their becoming indistinguishable) one can at least thereby see that the director was making the effort.

It's a quality that is a consistent feature of Naschy's oeuvre as a whole and, in the end, one of its most endearing qualities. For while may not be able to take a film like Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll entirely seriously – and indeed much of the pleasure we derive from it likely to be other than that the filmmakers themselves intended, with then-fashionable trappings that now seem the very epitome of 70s kitsch very much in evidence – the very fact that they themselves took what they were doing seriously and did their best deserves our respect and recognition.

More Italian-style black glove fetishism

Another young, attractive victim dies like a pig, as her throat is unceremoniously slit

The thing that many are likely to find most problematic about the film is the unexpected inclusion of some real life animal killing, a pig having its throat slit on camera. While this scene is gratuitous, in the sense that it could be excised without affecting the overall meaning of the piece too much – i.e. if you watched a cut version without the pig slaughtering you wouldn’t necessarily be aware that it had been cut – it can also be justified as another quotidian detail that helps establish the reality of the rural milieux.

Likewise the very juxtaposition of the real animal and faked human killings again serves, intentionally or not, to raise the kind of questions of representation that the uninitiated might not expect of a genre film like this; if this kind of thing again seems odd, recall that the theme of the hunt was one often used by Spanish film-makers around this time to make a coded point against the Franco regime, Carlos Saura’s La Caza and Jesus Franco’s La Comtesse Perverse thus having more in common than many of the former’s art-house fans might care to admit...

Those familiar with Deep Red, with its nursery rhyme playing killer, may also want to note that the maniac here has a similar leitmotif, specifically Frere Jacques...


Anonymous said...

Do you one kow if this is going to get a R1 NTSC release along with all of those other Paul Naschy titles being released? Great site!

K H Brown said...

I don't know. It would certainly be good to see the film in the proper aspect ratio, cleaned up and generally given the treatment it deserves.

Anonymous said...

I think this is one of those films that'll get released by BCI if their first batch of Spanish horror releases do well. At least I seem to recall reading so. I love this film. It's my favorite Naschy film. Not so much because of Naschy himself as his performance here left me rather unexcited but more because of the three sisters, who are all great (Diana Lorys in particular is a big favorite). The creepy Frere Jacques theme is also very effective and has remained with me for a long time. It would indeed be good to see a better version than the Dutch vhs!

The Vicar of VHS said...

Glad to see Paul Naschy getting some attention here. Deimos DVD says they're releasing this one in the US in March, though originally it was slated for January, so who knows? Anyway, I can't wait to see it.