LA CRUZ DEL DIABLO/THE DEVIL'S CROSS

1975

Cast: Carmen Sevilla, Adolfo Marsillach, Emma Cohen, Ramiro Oliveros, Eduardo Fajardo, Monica Randall, Tony Isbert, Fernando Sancho
Director: John Gilling
Screenplay: Jacinto Molina, Juan Jose Porto; based on the works of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer ("Miserere," "El monte de las aminas," and "La cruz del diablo")
Photography: Fernando Arribas
Music: Angel Arteaga
Running time: 92 min.

Eastmancolor

U.S. theatrical release: None known

Video: None

  

  

 

Review: It's sometimes fascinating to take a look at the work established Hammer studio directors have done for other production companies and contrast them with their Hammer work. For instance Freddie Francis' non-Hammer early 70's anthology films (ie TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS) forego the gothic atmosphere of something like DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and replace it with a tart black humor and comic book style surrealism. John Gilling's famous Cornish duo, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE remain two of the most unusual of Hammer's 60's efforts and are consider by some the high point of Gilling's career. Less well known is his 1975 LA CRUZ DEL DIABL0, made after he relocated to Spain. As Phil Hardy's Horror Encyclopedia notes, this production caused quite a fuss among Spanish film unions due to the fact that it was directed by an Englishman and that Gilling went over the union's heads to secure a filming permit from the Spanish ministry. The film had a reputation which preceded it and fell into commercial and critical obscurity for many years.

I was lucky enough to secure a video of a Spanish TV broadcast of this "lost" title and although it is in the Spanish language, it remains compelling enough to warrant some consideration. Based on stories by the 19th century writer, Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (who wrote in the style of Poe) the adaptation was penned by the Spanish horror writer-actor-director Paul Naschy. As Spain's leading horror star, Naschy planned to appear in the lead, but was overruled by Gilling, who fired Naschy, ordered a rewrite and recast Ramiro Oliveros as the protagonist.

The multi-layered narrative begins with a series of opium induced visions within the mind of writer Alfred Dawson. He imagines the legendary medieval Templars pursuing a damsel through a forest. In order to recover from his opium addiction he takes a trip to Spain where he encounters the very superstitions which have caused his mental imbalance. He finds himself stalked by a
sinister figure in a black hood who murders his friends and acquaintances along the way. It is gradually revealed that the figure is the devil himself, and Dawson ends up accused of the series of killings.

Ravishingly photographed by Fernando Arribas in the style of medieval prints, the film plays as a serial nightmare which the protagonist cannot wake up from. As with the characters in PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, Dawson finds himself in an alien world which is infected by ancient malignancy. The Spanish landscape is imbued with a sense of foreboding, skeletons litter the countryside and the lovely old castles hold unexpected horrors within. Dawson's breakdown is detailed by Gilling's
expertly calibrated direction which employs slow forward tracking shots toward the character to emphasize his isolation and vulnerability. Close-ups of Dawson are often tilted to suggest his psychic slippage. The golden candlelit interiors are quaint but become oppressively menacing when they turn into a deathtraps. One particularly impressive scene depicts Dawson's murdered ex-lover (Monica Randall) arising from her coffin and writing the number 13 on his hand with her own blood. 

Oliveros was a ruggedly handsome actor and projects just the right amount of confusion, anxiety and pathos to make the film work. The excellent supporting cast includes Eduardo Fajardo, Carmen Sevilla and Fernando Sancho. Angel Arteaga was a frequent composer for 70's Spanish horrors and the haunting music he provides here is one of his best. Gilling manages to keep the delicate bubble of fantasy aloft throughout the complex structure of nightmares, opium hallucinations, stalk and kill sequences and idyllic interludes which form the film's rather episodic narrative. By the end we don't know if everything has been real or just a series of demented projections within the protagonist's disturbed mind. Unlike a Fisher film there is no dynamic battle between good and evil, the world and history belong to the devil and he is the victor who laughs in our faces and rides triumphantly away to his next adventure.

-- Reviewed by Robert Monell. 2002