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  Candle for the Devil, A Vengeance Of The Sanctimonious
Year: 1973
Director: Eugenio Martin
Stars: Judy Geeson, Aurora Bautista, Esperanza Roy, Victor Alcázar, Lone Fleming, Blanca Estrada, Charley Pineiro, Loreta Tovar, Montserrat Julió, Fernando Villena, Fernando Hilbeck
Genre: Horror, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In this small town in Spain, there live two sisters who run an inn which nowadays sees a number of tourists stay there, including at the moment a young English woman. But these incomers are becoming disruptive to the sisters’ conservative ways, and the older one, Marta (Aurora Bautista) especially bears a grudge against them for what she regards as loose morals. Therefore when the sisters are in the kitchen cleaning up and hear a commotion on the roof, they rush up the stairs to discover a group of young men whooping and catcalling the woman as she sunbathes topless. Marta is horrified and insists she leaves immediately, there is a scuffle and the holidaymaker falls down the stairs and into a window, cutting her throat…

Well, nobody deserves that no matter what they were or were not wearing, but not according to Marta who surveys the scene and proclaims to her sibling Veronica (Esperanza Roy) that this more or less served the girl right, and they set about cleaning up the place and disposing of the body. This was an example of the evil older woman subgenre of horror movies which were kicked off by Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? but by this point had become ever more lurid until you had this Spanish variation as offered up by director Eugenio Martin, probably best known for Horror Express which he made around the same time. Adding to the plot’s relevancy, Spain was coming to the end of its fascist regime.

So you could view the sisters as indicative of the soon to be pushed aside old guard as General Franco was on the way out – but not yet. It was also possible to regard this as a deliberate insult to the religious authorities in Spain which as far as this came across Martin was of the opinion that they were a bunch of hypocrites, setting themselves up as moral guardians when they were in the service of the oppressive rulers of the nation. And further than that, this was another instance of European cinema of the nineteen-seventies taking the censorship bull by the horns and presenting as extreme material as they could get away with, sating the public’s desire for sensationalised entertainment, not that you would find this effort knocking your socks off particularly.

What it did have, as it took the moral high ground, was a sleazy atmosphere apparently at odds with the anti-hypocrisy message since we were invited to indulge ourselves in the sex and violence as a visual distraction, all the while nodding and tut-tutting about how the sisters’ actions were pretty reprehensible (alternatively, if you thought their reactionary mindset was fair enough, this may not be the right film for you). Although many of these horrors would invite the audience to feast their eyes on young female flesh, that was not necessarily the case here as it was the distinctly middle-aged actresses served up as something desirable, only in a curious fashion that had you being dared to find them attractive when you sense you shouldn’t, as much because of their age as because of the murders they conducted in their hotel.

Under the thumb Veronica has a toy boy handyman who she keeps around to pleasure her, so perhaps we’re intended to perceive some good in her, since Marta is a monster and there’s no doubt about it. Martin presents a very odd scene where the older sister spies on a group of boys bathing in a lake, then filled with sexual desire she channels that into a sort of self-flagellation as she walks deliberately through some bushes and trees which lightly tear at her skin – so we can add sexual deviancy to the murders as a charge against her. But don’t go thinking these two are getting away scot free, as there was one character who led an investigation against them in a town where there are no police, only the mayor, and she was the sister of the first victim, Laura Barkley (British import Judy Geeson). She wastes no time in turning Nancy Drew, but not before the villainesses are bumping of someone else, a scantily-clad tourist who tries to rip off the clothes of one of them before meeting a sticky end. It was that sort of film, with a valid point against repression but eliciting a response that possibly went too far the other way. Music by Antonio Pérez Olea.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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