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Curandero: Dawn of the Demon

Director: Eduardo Rodriguez
Cast: Carlos Gallardo, Gizeht Galatea, Gabriel Pingarron, Ernesto Yanez

(US DVD: 12 Mar 2013)

This movie is mighty gory, mighty creepy and mighty violent. It’s got some genuinely unsettling suspense and a nice sheen of dread hanging over everything. If this sounds like your idea of entertainment, you may just want to seek out this little nugget. The film was orginally released in 2005 but saw only a limited release and has never been available on DVD.


Robert Rodrguez (director of Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City and From Dusk Till Dawn) acts as producer for this film, directed by Eduardo Rodriguez (no relation). The movie shows some of Robert’s influence in its jumpy camera work, intense use of contrast and shadow and general over-the-topness. While it lacks the campiness of From Dusk Til Dawn, it makes up for it with creepiness and some genuinely unsettling moments.


Carlos Gallardo plays Carlos Gutierrez, a curandero—a sort of exorcist/spiritual cleanser who is responsible for purging locales of evil spirits, or perhaps evil spirit residue after the spirits have gone. Gutierrez is unconvincing at his job, however, as he seems disinclined to believe in all this otherworldly hocus-pocus. He goes through the motions when called upon, but his heart isn’t in it. But when a lovely police detective named Magdalena Garcia calls on him to purify a police station following the escape of a murderous cult member, Gutierrez gets more than he bargained for. Even if he claims not to believe, the audience probably does.


From here on out, things go from bad to worse. Gutierrez and Garcia seek to track down Castaneda, the kingpin of the Satan-worshipping cult to which the escaped prisoner belonged, a group that is responsible for numerous unsolved murders. They bounce from location to location, dodging both gun-toting gangsters and Gutierrez’s increasingly violent, bloody haluncinations. Or are they hallucinations? Are they visions of the future? Glimpses into the soul? Or something else entirely? As the film moves into its third act, a surprising revelation causes the audience to re-think what has come before.


Director Rodriguez favors the scare tactic of using sudden, loud and violent quick-cuts to try to unsettle the audience. It works for a time, but the impact lessens in the second half of the movie as the technique becomes overused. Also confusing is what causes these sudden flashes; there seems to be little pattern to when they appear, apart from the director’s need to wake up the audience a little.


The color palette of the film is striking, using high contrast and muted, washed-out colors to lend a heightened air of unease and artifice. Some viewers won’t like it, but I think it contributes to the eerie sense of otherworldliness. The score is largely unnoticeable except for those moments when the shock-cuts are accompanied by a screeching violin. The print quality on the DVD version is very good, and the moody picture looks great onscreen.


The special effects and gore are altogether convincing—the sudden splashes of red standing out in sharp contrast to the other muted hues. (Special effects have become so sophisticated these days that it would be surprising if the gore weren’t presented convincingly.)


Overall, the acting is strong, with some standout performances. Gizeht Galatea excels as police inspector Garcia, a tough woman with a dark secret—probably not the one you’re thinking—whose key scene plays out in a motel room with a dozen eggs. Her vulnerable side becomes apparent: it’s a scene that could have been badly botched, but she handles it well.


Less convincing is Gallardo as Gutierrez. He is something of a non-presence here, and his performance lacks the necessary verve that a protagonist needs in a movie like this. After all, we’re not rooting for the bloody Satanic death cult—right, kids?—so we need to be rooting for someone.


This DVD presents a widescreen print of the film with both the original Spanish soundtrack and an English dubbed version—watch the Spanish one, please, as the English voice acting is so-so, at best. There are subtitles and they’re easy to read. There’s also a commentary track with the director, which is marginally interesting as far as these things go, but is unlikely to significantly alter anyone’s response to the movie. These are the only bonus features. 


Viewers seeking a creature feature with a slightly different flavor might wish to seek out Curandero. Mexico has a long tradition of horror films, and this one is a solid addition to that canon. While not exactly groundbreaking, it’s solidly made and well acted, and—who knows?—with a little luck, might even cause a sleepless night or two.

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DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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