Reviews

'Más Negro Que La Noche' Is the Rare Remake That Trounces the Original

This Mexican horror remake evokes the mood, atmosphere and acting of the classic era of horror.


Más Negro Que La Noche

Director: Henry Bedwell
Cast: Zuria Vega, Adriana Louvier, Eréndira Ibarra, Ona Casamiquela, Lucía Guilmáin, Margarita Sanz, José María Torre
Length: 100 minutes
Studio: Celeste Films
Year: 2014
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA Rating: R
UK Release Date: Import
US Release Date: 2015-01-27

Más Negro Que La Noche is notable for being one of the few horror remakes that actually exceeds the quality of the original film it is based on. While “The Strange Case of the Haunted Cat” may seem like a odd basis for a scary movie, let alone two scary movies, the film works based on the merits of tight directing, dark atmosphere and omnipresent mystery, much of which never is quite resolved. Más Negro Que La Noche is also notable for being one of the few Spanish language horror movies to gain a relatively wide release and promotional budget within the United States.

One thing that makes this remake successful is how ordinary the characters seem to be. True, the cast is overall very stylish and sometimes even glamorous, but the four women who form the center of this film could be your classmates, coworkers or friends. When bad and inexplicable things start to happen to them, it’s hard not to feel sympathy before the final act.

The second asset to Más Negro Que La Noche that makes it work is its atmosphere. Director Henry Bedwell balances the realistic and natural side of things with the paranormal and creepy substance of the film, with the two halves of this yin-yang often trading places unexpectedly. At some point the eerie, supernatural half takes over without the audience ever quite realizing it has happened until it is a bit too late.

Más Negro Que La Noche (aka “Darker than Night” or “Blacker than Night”) follows the same basic story that the original 1975 film did. A wealthy aunt of a 20-something party girl passes away and leaves her entire estate to her niece Greta (Zuria Vega) under the strict condition that Greta adopts and cares for the deceased’s pet cat. This cat, who is described as not quite being of this world, is named “Beker” (identified in subtitles as “Becker”) and is, as the title might imply, blacker than night in color.

As Greta and her three closest friends Maria (Adriana Louvier), Pilar (Eréndira Ibarra) and Vicky (Ona Casamiquela) move into the dark and opulent house small changes begin to take over each of them even as strange apparitions begin to be seen, heard and felt. Of course, one of the spookiest things about the house (aside from Beker himself) is the housekeeper Evangelina (Margarita Sanz) who pops up at strange times to explain things like a gothic remnant of a forgotten '30s Universal horror film.

In many ways Sanz’s character comes off something of a Crypt Keeper character, knowing all and being intentionally over-the-top bizarre and even sinister. This, of course, may turn off a lot of viewers, particularly American moviegoers. Evangelina seems like the kind of person you might meet at a neighborhood haunted house quickly constructed for trick-or-treaters around Halloween. That may seem overly weird and unbelievable, but what makes this work in the context of the film is that Greta and her friends find her every bit as weird and unsettling as the audience does, but this strangeness, coupled with an uncanny knowledge of the darker sides of the house makes Evangelina feel much more scary than funny.

Further, unlike the original film, Beker’s true nature is much less hinted upon and he, along with the additional mysterious elements feel as obscured as the title suggests. In fact, director Bedwell (who also adapted the screenplay from writer/ director Carlos Enrique Taboada‘s original) focuses a lot more on the dark and suggestively scary traits of this story than the more human plight and jump-startles of the original film. Bedwell reaches for (and often succeeds at) a visceral approach to horror with so much unseen that some audience members may find themselves confused. He has kept his four female leads in the decidedly human and grounded in the real world, only to then pull them ever so slowly into the mysterious realm of the house -- Beker’s world. When these four girls and their friends start to exhibit changes from the house’s influence, especially when they discover the danger surrounding what might happen to Beker himself, each character comes closer to the classic horror sinister figure that Evangelina represents. This may not work for many modern audiences, but when approached from the standpoint that Bedwell intends, the impact is very entertaining, if not consistently realistic.

There is an argument to be made that 2014’s Más Negro Que La Noche might be an actual sequel to 1975’s Más Negro Que La Noche, rather than a straight remake. Although not widely available in the USA (and not at all in a subtitled version), the observant viewer might recognize the “cyclical” nature of the paranormal elements within both films, which is explicitly realized at the end of the 2014 version. Further, the main character who inherits the house in the 1975 film was not named Greta, but “Ofelia”. Although not played by the same actress, it might give viewers of both films a bit of a start to note that Greta’s aunt in the 2014 version is named “Tia Ofelia” (as opposed to “Tia Susana” in the original film).

While both films can be enjoyed (or not, depending on your taste) based on their own merits, this presumably intentional hint does deepen the mystery of the overall mythos that Taboada, followed by Bedwell created.

That said, while DVD extras might have helped explain or even deepen this mystery, the 2015 Lionsgate Region One release contains none, save the movie trailer itself. There are no subtitled documentaries and no commentaries in any language to extrapolate upon the secrets of the film(s).

This is something of a sad exclusion (at least for Stateside viewers) because, while not for all tastes, there is a lot to enjoy in Más Negro Que La Noche, both for what it is and what it is not. While many critics and viewers might not celebrate the film, it certainly does deserve a better DVD release than the barebones treatment we get here. That said, Beker might approve.

6

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