Tuesday 21 June 2011

The People Who Own the Dark (1976)

THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK is a Spanish post-apocalypse film that was originally released in 1976 as Último deseo.  It was directed by Léon Klimovsky and stars Alberto de Mendoza, Jacinto Molina, Maria Perschy and Antonio Mayans.  After a nuclear war which has rendered the survivors blind, at a remote mansion a group of scientists, government officials and military officers who escaped the destruction, plus the hookers with whom they were about to start partying, try to make their way to safety.

This is one of those mid-seventies Spanish genre films in which the men have wild sideburns, combovers and beige acrylic rollneck sweaters and the women, should they figure at all, are cannon fodder or hookers and, in this case, both.  Still, having a go at Spanish genre films of the mid-seventies for being hideously unfashionable both in visual and ideological terms is like shooting fish in a barrel; under Franco (General, not Jess) it's a miracle films were being made at all.  And let's face it, the genre output of most western countries was similarly inclined: the CONFESSIONS OF... series anyone?

Plot-wise it's a mix of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, NO BLADE OF GRASS and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 in that you've got blind people, no food and a location under attack by hordes of nasties.  You've also got a weird, and irrelevant, sequence in which the men gather for a masqued banquet / orgy that is probably a nod to THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH but comes off more like THE MAGUS. 

As it goes, I quite enjoyed it.  The set up is concise and swift and the aftermath handled with admirable matter of factness by Klimovsky.  I liked Molina's character Borne: despite being the guy with the most useful skills he's also arrogant, sadistic and utterly ruthless.  He's responsible for killing more of the survivors than the horde can manage.  There are a couple of good sequences with people tiptoeing around the blind nasties and a few gruesome moments but, as with most films of this type, its about the disintegration of the group and who, if any, make it to the end alive.

With the utter 70s-ness of it all, it's tempting to regard this as a bit of a camp classic but I actually think it's better than that.  All films are a product of their era and while this one never really tries to transcend that it does manage to sustain a bleak mood despite the naff decor.

Léon Klimovsky, the world's foremost Argentinian dentist turned director, made his first film in 1948 but started churning out genre pictures from the mid-1960s and actually made a few good ones before calling it quits in 1979.  Jacinto Molina, aka Paul Naschy, was the grand old man of Spanish genre movies and is probably their equivalent of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Freddie Francis all rolled into one.  He died a couple of years ago having racked up 100 films as an actor and 15 as director.  What a man.

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