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November 01, 2008

The Witch's Mirror

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El Espejo de la Bruja
Chano Urueta - 1960
Casa Negra Region 1 DVD

Hola! Happy Day of the Dead! And what a terrific Mexican horror movie is here. There's a lot of classic Universal gothic atmosphere in The Witch's Mirror starting with a setting in what must be a castle that makes the interior of the house on haunted hill look like a cottage. The witch is the housekeeper for a prosperous doctor. The housekeeper's goddaughter is the doctor's wife. In spite of the witch's best efforts to appease Satan, the goddaughter, Elena, must die at the hands of Dr. Ramos. The bad doctor soon shows up with a new wife, Deborah. The mirror that foretold Elena's death now has the ghost of Elena showing up to haunt the newlyweds, making groaning sounds and playing a song on the piano that drives the doctor mad. The doctor attempts to strike at the vengeful ghost by throwing an oil lamp at the mirror and the story veers into a stitching of Eyes without a Face and The Hands of Orlac (or if you prefer, The Beast with Five Fingers).

The Witch's Mirror might not get points for originality. The film might have benefitted from a few more pesos for special effects, but as it's a thriller that actually is thrilling to watch. In his recent posting, Girish Shambu writes about filmmakers from different countries with shared affinities. As The Witch's Mirror was made in 1960, while Chano Urueta probably saw some of the Hammer series of horror films, what knowledge he had of Eyes without a Face, Corman's House of Usher or Bava's Mask of Satan, all produced that same year, can only be guessed. More strange is a bit of similarity to The Brain that Wouldn't Die both in the plot and some of the gruesomeness in the laboratory considering that Joseph Green's infamous film was shot in 1959, but not released until 1962.

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There's a subplot about two police detectives who mostly stand around talking about a robber who not only is taking off with dead bodies, but the bodies of young women. Aided with nothing but a newspaper, the two conclude that the criminal must be someone abnormal, probably insane. The police don't take any action until the doctor's assistant, wracked with guilt and the hectoring voice of the witch, turns himself over to the authorities. And this is what makes The Witch's Mirror interesting from a theological viewpoint - the witch is clearly a worshipper of The Devil, but in the scheme of things here, she is a relatively benevolent character, motivated in her care for Elena. The real evil is in the form of Dr. Ramos with his misuse of science and medicine to save Deborah. At no time does any character invoke another deity either in name or with any symbols. The church is almost conspicuous in it's absence.

There is a clear need for better scholarship regarding the prolific career of Chano Urueta. I cannot find agreement on the initial release date of The Witch's Mirror but am leaning towards the date provided by the Mexican database. An edited version of The Witch's Mirror, that primarily excised the introduction with Goya-esque artwork featuring nude witches, was released in the U.S. in 1962. Some may recognize Urueta from his photograph from his later career as a character actor, most notably in The Wild Bunch.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Jonathan Lapper for a look at Hollywood witches.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 1, 2008 12:18 AM


The tour of de force,the journeys with meaning- full coffee.

Posted by: Richard Womack at November 2, 2008 01:44 PM

Wow, Rosa Arenas looks a whole lot like Sylvia Pinal! This looks like a great flick.

Posted by: Marilyn at November 3, 2008 10:33 AM

I've been itchin to see this so I was happy to see you give it a positive review here. I find Mexican horror films to be very hit & miss with me, but I think I'd probably really enjoy this.

Posted by: Kimberly at November 6, 2008 04:32 PM