Witches' Mountain, The (1972)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-05-01 01:34
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Written by: Raúl Artigot, Juan Cortés, Félix Fernández, and José Truchado
Directed by: Raúl Artigot
Starring: Patty Shepard, Cihangir Gaffari and Mónica Randall


Reviewed by: Brett Gallman







I’ve watched the opening sequence of The Witches’ Mountain twice now--it’s so delirious and demented that it literally demanded a second look. In it, a woman named Carla (Mónica Randall) returns to her home, only to find ominous items strewn about: a knife in a wig, a voodoo doll, and, finally, a butchered cat in her bed. She discovers that she isn’t alone when a girl (her daughter? A street urchin? Who knows.) creeps up on her in the mirror and starts babbling about the “stupid cat” (it turns out she killed it) and some other animal that’s apparently roaming the grounds. Anyway, her search for this missing animal leads her to the garage, where Carla follows her before uncorking a gasoline can and torching the place, little girl included. Slam cut to: opening credits, replete with fire (or a static, orangey blob that resembles fire) and screwy, unholy choral chanting.

Typically, something like this would signal the discovery of some kind of trippy, psychotronic Euro-horror obscurity. Unfortunately, this prologue also deserved a double take because it’s nigh incoherent and has nothing to do with the rest of the film. It’s so divorced from the proceedings that I thought it might have been part of another film and only tacked onto The Witches’ Mountain to enliven an otherwise dull affair. Even that guess is shot down, however, when the child-torching broad (who miraculously survived becoming a deep-fried corpse) shows up right after the credits, where we also meet our hero: the absurdly mustachioed Mario (Cihangir Gaffari). He’s a photographer who seems chafed the minute this old flame enters his house, claiming to be in trouble and offering him a trip out of the country (she conveniently leaves out the part about roasting an 8 year old); besides, he’s about to go on vacation anyway, so it’ll be convenient.

Don’t let the wooly mustache fool you into warm and fuzzy thoughts, though; this guy’s contempt is obvious when he immediately picks up the phone and demands his boss to give him an assignment anywhere in the world. The moment is deadpan and callous, and, just like that, Carla is whisked out of the picture, never to be heard from again. Like a Spanish James Bond, Mario's soon off on another adventure, where he meets Delia (Patty Shepard), another woman whom I imagine he’d coldly ditch at some point in the future…if they have a future. Seeing as how they’re poking around in the secluded Spanish backwoods, that’s probably unlikely. I’d like to say that finding out the answer to that conditional is a worthwhile experience; after all, the first fifteen minutes of The Witches' Mountain are so gleefully slapdash that you’re convinced it’ll be an awesome misfire in logic and coherence. Somehow, though, what should be the wacky adventures of a dashing leading man, his mustache, and his lady turns into a dull series of pit stops in the Pyrenees.

Delia continues to accompany Mario (out of self-admitted boredom, but I think we all know it’s the mustache), so the two just travel along the eerie countryside and meet eerie people. One of them has dueling lazy eyes and owns an inn, so, naturally they stay there. Moderately creepy stuff happens (a face in the window!), and the googly-eyed bastard’s eyes seemingly spin in all sorts of directions before our two leads shuttle off, but not before this troglodyte tells them to avoid their ultimate destination at the heart of the mountain. Because these two are obviously more thickheaded than a guy whose eyes don’t even work properly, they push on anyway, and the cycle just repeats itself, right down to the clunky, dubbed dialogue exchanges that always end with someone offering these two a place to stay. At any rate, the film just kind of warbles on as these two explore underlit forests and creaky houses until Mario finally stumbles onto some really weird shit out in the woods.

He thinks it’s a funeral procession, which is a fair guess since it is a bunch of women dressed in black and solemnly parading through the forest; he tries to capture them on film, but (of course) they don’t show up. However, other images that he didn’t remember capturing do show up on the photos in a moment that represents the pinnacle of creepiness in The Witches’ Mountain, a film whose title gives away its eventual reveal (oops!). But even if it didn’t, it’d still be a laborious, tedious affair whose dreamy gaps in logic, awesome mustaches, and ghastly locales couldn’t defy its overall inertia. It may open with a frenzied nightmare, but the rest of the film feels like it’s either sleepwalking or lazily plodding through the motions; this is perhaps best seen towards the end of the film, after the two have escaped the coven’s abode. Instead of resembling bats out of hell, they resemble people with shit-for-brains and decide to stop and take a rest…in the middle of the woods. In the middle of the night.

Few people could survive being saddled with that much stupidity, much less a guy making his directorial debut like career cinematographer Raúl Artigot, who shouldn’t have quit his day job (in fact, he should have been performing those duties on this film, which looks hideously drab). He also helped to write this along with three other guys, all of whom probably have no idea what the opening five minutes is about either. The Witches’ Mountain is a fine example of the mess you can stumble into when you’re blindly plundering public domain sets; it can be found in Mill Creek’s Chilling Classics, which so far has been an eclectic grab bag of buried treasure (Funeral Home) and stuff that should be cremated (Slashed Dreams). I want to say that The Witches’ Mountain falls somewhere in between; for all we know, the version here is severely hacked up and there’s a more coherent cut out there somewhere. Something tells me there’s not a version that can actually restore my interest in the proceedings unless it drops about 80% of the footage and replaces it with something else. Trash it!



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