[review by JA Kerswell]
|Has a killer returned from the grave for retribution in Chilean slasher ÁNGEL NEGRO?|
Jorge Olguín’s ÁNGEL NEGRO is credited as the first-ever Chilean horror movie. Obviously inspired by I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997) - a film that arguably spawned more international imitators than SCREAM (1996) - it belies its low-budget roots for an engaging and sometimes haunting mystery. 10 years after the death of one of their classmates, the morning after a graduation party, the now adult one-time friends are being hunted by a masked slasher intent on revenge.
Gabriel (Álvaro Morales) is now a forensic doctor and is shocked when the body of one of his old classmates, Rafael (Álvaro Espinoza), is brought into the city morgue. Although it is a suspected suicide, Gabriel isn’t so sure and suspects murder. His suspicions prove correct when another ex-classmate, Miguel (Juan Pablo Bastidas), is violently stabbed to death in his bathroom and turns up at the morgue. All bodies show significant signs of post-mortem trauma.
Gabriel suspects the murders are linked to what happened to the death of their classmate Ángel (Blanca Lewin) ten years ago - and he begins to be haunted by visions of her returning for vengeance. He reconnects with another ex-classmate who was also there that morning, Carolina (Andrea Freund) - who it turns out is Miguel’s estranged ex-wife. They realise that they need to warn everyone who was present during the incident that the killer could be coming for them next …
ÁNGEL NEGRO is arguably more seriously-minded and sombre than most post-SCREAM slashers. Although there are some wry moments, such as when a policeman desperately needs the toilet and urinates at a crime scene - and a judge who whistles the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme tune. The mystery - which is well handled - unfurls more like a giallo than a slasher movie. Unsurprisingly, as Olguín namechecked both North American slashers and Dario Argento at the time of its release. Like many gialli, the film tantalisingly dangles clues for later revelations - such as the discovery of videotape at a murder scene that may reveal the identity of the killer but needs to be repaired first.
|Jorge Olguín's film is full of striking imagery despite its low budget.|
Made for a staggeringly small $25,000 and shot on 16mm film and video, Jorge Olguín’s talents behind the camera (he made this at university) are evident. It isn’t surprising this launched a successful directing career for him. Despite the lack of funds, the film is remarkably well-shot and uniformly well-acted. Having said that, the at times slightly clumsy slasher scenes are easy to overlook because, whilst they are not bad per se, everything else is so well done. The low budget actually enhances the film in places - especially during its striking, sometimes abstract black-and-white photography during flashbacks.
ÁNGEL NEGRO was something of a blockbuster in its native Chile. Shot in 1999 over 20 days in Santiago. Given its low budget, there were no sets and everything had to be filmed in real locations including the morgue scenes - where the crew and actors were surrounded by real corpses and active autopsies. The scene where Ángel disappears at the beginning of the movie was known ironically as ‘The Happy Stone’ - an area so infamous for suicides that the authorities dynamited part of it to try and stop them. Despite a lack of genre filmmaking in Chile, Olguín said that he received State help to finish and distribute the film.
ÁNGEL NEGRO premiered on Halloween Night in 2000. The film created a pre-release hysteria in Chile almost akin to that of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). It received praise at the Stiges Festival in Spain: “A genuine suspense film. The first step towards a modern cinema - a fantastic South American film with its own personality.” Despite being the most unTroma-like film ever, the company released it to DVD in the United States in 2003.
Whilst it may be a little rough around the edges for some, for those that can overlook its budgetary shortcomings ÁNGEL NEGRO is an engaging and rewarding slasher mystery.
female: 2 / male: 5
1) Female falls to her death
2) Male seen with gunshot wound
3) Male found dead strangled with wire
4) Male stabbed repeatedly
5) Male stabbed repeatedly
6) Female shot dead
7) Male shot and falls from cliff
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