Los ritos sexuales del diablo (1982)

José Ramón Larraz’s 1982 Satanic cult thriller Black Candles starts off with a bang. And by that I mean it begins with a balding, middle-aged man whiling away his afternoon by banging his much younger, much more attractive mistress. Rightly pleased with himself, the elder lover chuckles at his girlfriend’s silver necklace, calling it, “The Devil’s Paw” in a dismissive, smarmy way. Things go from titillating to tragic, however, when somebody spears a voodoo doll with a nasty looking hat pin, leading our depiliated debauchee to suffer a massive coronary while wrapped in the arms (and legs) of his lady. To her credit, the girl seems completely unfazed by this turn of events. The camera then  pans to a photo of the man’s newly widowed wife Fiona (Helga Liné), which glares disapprovingly from the nightstand at her late philandering husband and his paramour. Could she be behind the supernatural assassination that abnegated his assignation?

Originally titled Los ritos sexuales del diablo (The Sexual Rites of the Devil), Larraz’s film is jam packed with dysfunction, depravity, and sex sex sex, sprinkled with enough outrageous cult-centered shenanigans to keep horror/exploitation fans happy. You want an old dark house filled with evil family secrets? You got it. You want a hapless, disbelieving heroine menaced by a Satanic cult with its fingers in every strata of village society? Happy to oblige. You want necro-incestuous dream sequences and an extended sex scene involving an actual, factual goat? Step right this…waitaminnit, what kind of fucking sicko ARE you?

In the excellent book Immoral Tales, authors Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs quote Larraz on the director’s opinion of Black Candles: “I don’t like that film. That film made a lot of money…No one in that film could act. So what do you do with them? You put them in bed and have them jump on each other!” And that’s bad because…? Still, from a serious artistic point of view, you can’t really argue the point. The movie suffers from nonsensical plotting, bad dialogue made worse by the usual atrocious dubbing, and a cop-out ending of the sort that usually infuriates me. And to Larraz’s point, the acting across the board is pretty bad, except perhaps in the case of Helga Liné, who is a fine actress in my humble opinion and does what she can with an underwritten role.

That said, for fans of the more outrageous end of the Eurotrash sexploitation spectrum, Black Candles more than delivers the goods. The movie is jam packed with sex, most of it about as explicit as a softcore movie can get. (Though for what it’s worth, the goat sex scene is pretty tastefully done.) In addition to the bestiality and backdoor forcing, Larraz betrays a real oral fixation here, with Fiona on the giving and receiving end of such on more than one occasion. Most of the girls are gorgeous, particularly the young Satantic “vessel” (Lucille Jameson, maybe?) who displays remarkable dedication in a nonspeaking role. It’s worth noting that Helga Liné performs several nude scenes, and still looks gorgeous in lingerie, thigh-high boots, and the altogether despite being over fifty years old at the time of filming. However, for the “full-length” shots, as it were, an obvious body double is used.

Sex aside, the Satanic Panic elements are handled reasonably well, and the way the whole village from the doctor to the local constable is part of the cult–a cult that kills Carol’s brother and absorbs her only other protector into its ranks–really works to generate some suspense for our hapless damsel in undress. (There are some clear nods to Rosemary’s Baby, as contractually required.) I also found the sets and some of the lighting very effective, and for all his sniffery Larraz does manage some stylish shots and compositions. Art will out, one presumes.

In closing, Black Candles is sexy, outre, never boring, and entirely MAD, and for that I can only salute it. Sure it has its shortcomings, but don’t we all?

Date: December 1, 2020