Sunday, October 21, 2018
The Spanish affinity for traditional gothic horror extends to the Basque country, which gives us Paul Urkijo Alijo's grim fairy tale of a film. Based on a European legend that also influenced the "Howling Man" episode of The Twilight Zone, Errementari is set at the time of the First Carlist War in 19th century Spain. A deserter from that war is Patxi the blacksmith (Kandido Uranga), who made a pact with the minor demon Sartael (Eneko Sagardoy) in order to be reunited with his wife, only to find that she, presuming him dead, had shacked up with another man and had a daughter, Usue (Uma Bracaglia). The tragedy results in the other man killed, the wife a suicide, Usue a despised outcast raised by foster parents taunted with tales of her mother suffering in Hell, and Patxi the keeper of a terrible secret. The arrival of a government official with stories of a hidden stash of gold at Patxi's forge hastens the revelation of the secret, but it's Usue, hoping that the smith can repair her headless doll, who makes the discovery. Believing the smith a fresh murderer (in fact, a trespasser has died by accident), Usue discovers evidence that Patxi is keeping a child in a cage. Naturally, not having watched The Twilight Zone, Usue frees the pathetic victim, who promptly reveals himself as Sartael in all his folkloric if not cartoonish splendor: red skin, horns, presumably cloven hooves, etc. The demon tries to avenge himself on Patxi, but the blacksmith could not have held a demon captive in the first place without being knowledgeable and resourceful. In folklore, demons are very vulnerable. Far from invulnerable to physical attack, they're also hypersensitive to the ringing of bells and, like some vampires, they're compelled to count chickpeas cast on the ground. Worse, mess with the pile and the poor creatures have to start counting over again. It soon becomes clear that for all his frightful appearance and taunting, Sartael's actually a pretty pathetic excuse for a demon, a laughingstock among his peers, and especially his superiors, for getting himself trapped and detained so easily by a mortal. When another hellish emissary arrives, planning not only to claim Patxi's soul at last but also to demote Sartael to a fate worse than death in the infernal hierarchy, old enemies will join forces, each seeking redemption of a sort through kindness to Usue and the memory of her much-wronged mother. Boasting lavish art-direction, lurid cinematography and a satiric attitude toward Carlist conservatism (their side supported absolute monarchy) that echoes in Europe and elsewhere today, Errementari feels like a crossbreed merging Spanish historical gothic and a more Burtonesque sensibility in its sympathy for a devil who never entirely becomes a good guy. Available for streaming on Netflix in its native language and an English dub, it may be the most charming new horror film you'll see this Halloween season.