• The Witch’s Mirror (Casa Negra) DVD Review

    Released by: Casa Negra
    Released on: June 27th, 2006.
    Director: Chano Urueta
    Cast: Rosita Arenas, Armando Calvo, Isabela Corona, Dina De Marco, Carloes Nieto
    Year: 1960
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    The Witch’s Mirror – Movie Review:

    Just like The Curse Of The Crying Woman, The Witch's Mirror was produced by Abel Salazar and Churubusca Azteca Studios and shown theatrically in its native Mexico 1960 (then later picked up by American International for television distribution later in 1965). It's an interesting film, and it's shown here in its original Spanish version which includes a prologue not seen before on the K. Gordon Murray version of the film that most American audiences are probably familiar with. In this prologue, a narrator tells us that witches and devil worshipers do exist, that they have for years, and that they pray to their dark lord in exchange for favors. While this narration takes place, we see some interesting illustrations of people, witches, devils and demons all involved in various acts of blasphemy, and it adds a rather intense atmosphere to the movie before it even really begins!

    After that opening scene, we meet a witch (Isabela Corona) who is peering into her mirror with her goddaughter, Elena (Dina de Marco). She sees that soon Elena will die at the hands of her husband, Eduardo (Armando Calvo), and so she pleads with Satan to save her from the fate that the mirror has shown her, but Satan, being a bit of a prick and all, denies her request and soon enough, Elena is buried six feet underground in the cemetery outside the hacienda, dead at the hands of her husband.

    Before you her body has even gotten cold, Eduardo has moved his new honey into the house with him, a brunette named Deborah (Rosita Arenas) who isn't so comfortable with the fact that everything that surrounds her reminds her husband to be of his dead wife, from the piano to the room to the flowers. To make matter worse for poor Deborah, the maid, who happens to be the same witch from the beginning of the film, is acting rather strange to her.

    One night, when the ghost of Eduardo's late wife manifests in the mirror in front of Deborah, she freaks out and falls to the ground crying and he, in a fit of horrified rage, tosses an oil lantern at the mirror which smashes it to bits before landing on Deborah's face and burning her almost beyond recognition. Luckily for Deborah, Eduardo is a bit of a mad scientist/plastic surgeon and so he's able to slowly but surely reconstruct her face for her, now hidden behind masses of bandages, by using the skin of some pretty dead women. Her hands got burned pretty severely in the accident as well, so he replaces those too. Unfortunately for Deborah and Eduardo, Elena's ghost is still not at rest and the witch has got sinister plans for both of them.

    If The Curse Of The Crying Woman is the Mexican Black Sunday, then The Witch's Mirror must be the Mexican Eyes Without A Face, albeit with a decidedly supernatural slant. Though this film is hardly a rip off of Georges Franju's masterpiece, made a year prior, there are some definite similarities between the character of Christiane and Debora as well as in the skin graft procedures utilized in the film.

    Considerably stronger in terms of on the screen atrocity exhibition typically seen in horror movies of the day, The Witch's Mirror is ripe with gothic atmosphere and strange imagery. The titular mirror itself, a sort of gateway to the netherworld it would seem, is a simple enough effect but a pretty reliable one in that it allows us to see into the future the same way that the characters do and as such, we're able to anticipate where things are going even if we don't know all the details. This results in some fairly suspenseful scenes as well as a few opportunities for Urueta to show us some rather macabre set pieces such as dead women stashed in a walk in cooler and a skull with all of the flesh burned off of it.

    At roughly seventy-five minutes in length the movie moves along at a very quick pace and the ending does feel a little bit rushed, but it is a really well directed movie even if there could have been more character development in spots. The cinematography is sufficiently dark and smoky. The sinister manifestations of the devil himself are respectfully understated in that they don't beat you over the head with the fact that, yes, the witch is talking to the devil, and the results are rather eerie. The end result is a pretty effective horror film that, despite some shortcomings in terms of dated effects and character motivation, tends to be quite engrossing and always stylish.

    The Witch’s Mirror – DVD Review:

    The movie was shot for a fullframe presentation which is how it is shown on this DVD, with a brand new transfer that has been taken from restored vault elements and completely re-mastered to damn near pristine condition. Casa Negra has obviously put some serious effort into making this transfer as clean and as nice as possible and it shows. Those who have only seen the film by way of the crappy beyond words Beverly Whilshire DVD release a few years back are in for a treat as Casa Negra’s transfer is very, very nice. Print damage has been all but completely eliminated save for a trace of grain here and there, and the black levels stay strong throughout. Detail levels are strong and contrast appears to be set properly. There aren’t any problems with edge enhancement or mpeg compression though some aliasing does rear its head in a couple of scenes. Aside from that, however, this transfer looks really strong.

    The original Spanish language track is here in Dolby Digital Mono as is the dubbed English track that will be familiar to most American and Canadian viewers (there is one scene in here that wasn't dubbed and the subs don't come on automatically so be prepared to reach for the remote control). The difference in quality between the two tracks is negligible with the Spanish track getting the edge over the dubbed version just because it plays better. Dialogue is clean and clear and there aren’t any problems with hiss or distortion. There are spots where things sound just a little flat but that’s not surprising considering the age of the movies and there really isn’t anything to complain about here in terms of the audio presentation.

    IVTV founder Frank Coleman provides an insightful audio commentary track that plays out overtop of The Witch's Mirror. This is a pretty interesting track as it covers not only the Mexican side of the production but also the K. Gordon Murray connection as well. He talks about the cast and crew, gives some insight into the cultural context that the film should be taken in, and points out a few interesting and insightful observations along the way. He does all of this with a good sense of humor and this makes for a fun listen.

    Additionally, an extensive essay on the life and times of director Chano Urueta is included on the disc that details his involvement in the Mexican film industry of the day and which also points out his involvement in Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (where he plays the bartender) and The Wild Bunch (he was Don Jose)! A couple of the cast members also get receive similarly in depth biographical essays.

    Rounding out the extra features are animated menus available in both English and Spanish, an exclusive Casa Negra Loteria game card, and of course, chapter selection options. The packaging for this release is also quite slick, as it comes in a clear keepcase with reversible cover art (an English side and a Spanish side). Mexican horror films have usually received pretty shoddy treatment on DVD so far in the format’s history, it’s nice to see that changing lately.

    The Witch’s Mirror – The Final Word Review:

    Another renowned classic of Mexican horror cinema, The Witch's Mirror gets a fantastic DVD release from Casa Negra, and it’s about time! Once again, the movie looks and sounds great and the extras are informative and genuinely interesting.

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      This is definitely top tier of the Mexican horror films of the 50's and 60's. Great atmosphere and it never drags.
    1. Andrew Monroe's Avatar
      Andrew Monroe -
      I just watched this for the first time in years the other day. I had forgotten (or never noticed) how pronounced the EYES WITHOUT A FACE influence is. This is a terrific, richly atmospheric film. I'd rate it just a hair below BLACK PIT OF DR. M.
    1. Scott's Avatar
      Scott -
      This movie and BLACK PIT are everything I want out of movies.