Friday, October 8, 2021

Curse of the Doll People

Curse of the Doll People (aka Muñecos infernales)
Benito Alazraki

A group of explorers celebrate having stolen a statue from a powerful houngan. Their celebration is cut short when these men start dying one-by-one as foretold by a curse that they originally mocked.

One of my favorite elements of Mexican horror films from this era is the spooky atmosphere they evoke. The black and white photography is often quite striking and these films are filled shadowy images that often capture the magic of the early Universal horror films. Curse of the Doll People has all of this and an unsettling foe in the form of the Doll People. The faces of the Doll People resemble their former victims but just so slightly off as to hit the uncanny valley. Watching them silently creep towards their victims evokes some chills even sixty years later.

"Let me just pop that zit."

Curse of the Doll People wins points for being so relentless in offing its victims. I was genuinely surprised at quickly Curse of the Doll People starts plowing through its quartet of would-be thieves. I also appreciate that it takes a well-worn plot involving a cursed object being stolen and those involved being picked off one-by-one and adds some interesting complexities to the situation. With each murder the ranks of the killer dolls grow more numerous as the victim’s soul is placed in a doll. It is an ingenious way to keep the threat escalating even as the potential victims diminish.

There were number simple camera tricks and props that were delightful as well as effective. My favorite being the scene where the houngan behind all the mayhem is performing a ritual to trap a soul in a doll. This is visualized by having smoke emerge the from the doll and simply reversing the film. Perhaps the eerie set dressing and evocative mood of the whole film helped, but I really loved this small moment. This carries through to the satanic rituals and other moments that sell the whole film as classic monster tale but with a uniquely Mexican genre approach. 

"I see your fridge needs de-icing."

To view this film through a modern lens, however, it is difficult to sympathize with victims of the curse. They are the ones who intruded where they weren’t supposed to be. They were the ones who took something they weren’t supposed to take. The film tries to cast these people in a more sympathetic light but honestly, they kind of had it coming (also there is pretty racist description of a voodoo ritual that doesn’t help their case one bit.) Thankfully this is a horror movie, and you are more than welcome to root for the monsters and here it feels fully justified.

Curse of the Doll People is a charming display of old school horror. There’s nothing particularly innovative or terrifying in it, but it does nicely fill that niche of comfortable horror films to watch on a gloomy October night.

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