• Black Candles (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: November 26th, 2021.
    Director: José Ramón Larraz
    Cast: Helga Liné, Vanessa Hidalgo, Jeffrey Healey, Alfred Lucchetti, Manuel Gómez-Álvarez
    Year: 1982
    Purchase From Severin Films

    Black Candles – Movie Review:

    This fairly notorious Spanish occult-themed horror film from José Ramón Larraz (under the alias of Joseph Braunstein – he famously had nothing kind to say about this film!) and released in 1982 tells the story of a woman named Carol (Vanessa Hidalgo). After the unexpected and unusual death of her brother, Drew (Anastasio de la Fuente), she travels to London for the funeral with her boyfriend, Robert (Jeffrey Healey), in tow. The couple is put up by Carol's now widowed sister-in-law, Fiona (Helga Liné), who lets them stay at the huge family estate out in the middle of the countryside far away from the big city. What Carol and Robert don't notice right away is the odd assortment of devilish knick-knacks scattered around the creepy old home.

    As Carol explores the area she starts to pay more attention to some of these bizarre occult items and she also interacts with some of the local populace, none of whom are particularly nice to her. As she becomes rather uneasy with the situation, Robert is becoming more fascinated by the house and its contents. Eventually the pair decides to do some investigative work and try to ascertain just exactly how and why Carol's brother shuffled off this mortal coil. What the two discover is that a Satanic cult and its leader (Manuel Gómez-Álvarez) seem to be at the root of things... and that both Carol and Robert have roles to play in their plans.

    Writer-Director Jose Ramon Larraz (best known for Vampyres and The Coming Of Sin) has a knack for helming skin-tastic and atmospheric movies and Black Candles definitely fits into his niche quite nicely. For a film made in 1982 the picture definitely has a strong seventies vibe to it that is evident in the music and the fashions up on screen. Larraz paces the film very deliberately in that it moves a little slow, but at the same time it has a rich, dreamlike quality to it that makes the picture more than just a little surreal. While the characters are fairly one dimensional and the English dubbing, which periodically goes out of synch, doesn't help the film any, the visuals are at least interesting and the strange layers of psycho-sexual horror that get piled up towards the end of the film definitely give cult movie fans exactly what they're after - plenty of skin, some mild gore, and an evil, horny goat!

    That said, there are moments where the film feels rushed and shallow in spots and it suffers from some sloppy writing and less than amazing performances, although to her credit, Helga Liné has got more than enough screen presence to carry everyone else here. The good definitely outweighs the bad however, as it is pretty well shot, the lengthy and frequent sex scenes that pad the film being very well lit and composed. On top of that, some of the set pieces are imaginative and unusual in that they deal with some fairly taboo subject material like goats, incest, rad lesbianism and drug use. So yeah, it’s pretty over the top in spots, but the atmosphere can be impressive, the locations work really well and you won’t forget the infamous ‘scene with the goat’ any time soon!

    Black Candles – Blu-ray Review:

    Severin Films brings Black Candles to region free Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 widescreen taken from a new 2k scan of elements that use the ‘Hot Fantasies’ alternate title completely uncut. Taking 26.2Gbs of space on the 50GB disc, there’s some minor print damage in the opening few minutes that chills out a bit as the movie progresses, but there are still white specks and tiny scratches noticeable here and there. Overall though, this does look very nice, with strong detail and very good depth and texture. The film’s many dark scenes are still very dark but clearly intended to be that way and there’s pretty solid shadow detail on display. There aren’t any problems to note with compression, noise reduction or edge enhancement issues, this always looks properly film-like.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, with optional subtitles provided in English only. Overall this sounds pretty good. There’s a tiny bit of sibilance in a few spots but otherwise, the audio is clean, clear and properly balanced throughout.

    The first of the plentiful extras on this disc is an audio commentary with Rodney Barnett And Troy Guinn, Hosts Of NaschyCast. They note the alternate titles that the film is known under and go over a lot of the details of Larraz's career as a comic artist, a photographer and then as a filmmaker. They also cover the music used in the film, the use of dream sequences featured in the film, why Larraz signed the film under a pseudonym and his feelings on the movie, the themes that Larraz's pictures tend to deal with, the locations used in the film, the quality of Juan Mariné's cinematography, thoughts on the acting in the film and its quality, notes on Liné's career and work in this movie, how the movie is a 'pot full of crazy crap' that Larraz is serving up that doesn't really have an ending, the depiction of relationships in the film and plenty more.

    Up next is La Dama Del Fantaterrora, a documentary short on actress Helga Liné by Diego López that runs just over sixteen minutes in length. It covers her early family life as a child, how she wound up in Lisbon and first got into show business first with beauty pageants and then film work at the age of fifteen. She speaks here about auditioning for her role in Saltimbancos, getting the part, her circus experience, and achieving quite a bit of success from that picture. We then learn about some of her other notable early roles, doing work in Italy in the sixties, and then getting her start in genre pictures with 1963's Horror. She talks about how she enjoyed playing the villain, then went to Spain where she made scores of horror films in the years to come. She then talks about meeting Peter Cushing, who she adored, and Christopher Lee, who she describes as 'quite unpleasant.' She also talks about working with Paul Naschy, Pedro Almoddovar, doing TV in the eighties and then retiring from show business to move to Buenos Aires with her family.

    In Made By The Devil we sit down for an interview with Gavin Baddeley, the author of Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock'n'Roll, that clocks in at forty-two minutes. Here, Baddeley goes over the depictions of the devil in cinema from its earliest days to the modern day. He notes the importance of Haxan to 'Satanic Cinema,' censorship issues that have come to play a role in film depicting Satanism, talks about how the trend really started to boom in the sixties with The Devil Rides Out and then later films like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. He also talks about popular films like The Omen, The Devils, Beyond The Door, Day Of The Beast and, of course, Black Candles to name only a few. He ties a lot of these trends into the dominance of religion in various eras as well as the rise of atheism, goes into the subtext of a lot of the films, depictions of witchcraft in artwork by the likes of Goya, the rebellious nature inherent in Satanism, Larraz's career, the writing of Arthur Levi, the depiction of sex and perversion in Black Candles, the marketing of that particular film and quite a bit more.

    Last but not least, Dr. Antonio Lázaro-Reboll, the author of Spanish Horror Film, is up next in a featurette entitled An Exception To The Norm which runs for twenty-one minutes. He talks about Larraz's work as a comic artist and photographer, getting into filmmaking in his forties, his move to England where he was able to use his past careers to develop a good eye for filmmaking. He talks about how Larraz wound up in England and wound up making films there, the political climate that existed in Spain when Larraz started making movies there, some of the sex films that he made during a certain period and delivering what his producers asked him to. From there he goes deeper into Black Candles, discussing the cast of the picture, the themes that it explores, the use of voyeurism in the picture, the influence of the Catholic Church on Spanish audiences and more.

    Black Candles – The Final Word:

    Black Candles is hardly Larraz’s most sophisticated picture but it delivers plenty of sleazy sites and loads of atmosphere to make up for its obvious narrative shortcomings. Severin’s Blu-ray release is a really solid one, offering the film up uncut and in nice shape with an impressive selection of supplements that explore the history of the film and the man who made it. All in all, a great package for a trash epic well worth seeking out.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Black Candles Blu-ray screen caps!