Director: Fernando Méndez
CasaNegra Entertainment

If CasaNegra’s same-day release of BRAINIAC (“El Baron Del Terror”) represents Mexican horror at its campiest best, with absurdity elevated to an art form, then “Misterios de ultratumba” represents the genre at its most literate, inspired and expressionistic. Dubbed (not by K. Gordon Murray and his entourage) and released theatrically in the U.S. in 1961 as the truncated and exploitively titled THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M, the English tracks are now believed to be lost, but the film can now at least be enjoyed in its original uncut form on DVD.

Dr. Mazali (Rafael Bertrand), who runs an insane asylum, makes a pact with fellow doctor Jacinto Aldama (Antonio Raxel) where whoever expires first will return to tell the other about life beyond death. Aldama dies, so Mazali holds a séance to communicate with him, being told by his old friend that he will learn everything about the afterlife within a span of three months. Later, a young woman named Patricia (Mapita Cortés) is beckoned to the asylum by Aldama's ghost who turns out to be her late father, a man she’s never known. When Patricia arrives, Mazali finds himself quickly fixated on his new young guest, as does new intern Eduardo (Gastón Santos), the man she eventually falls in love with. Mazali’s real problems begin when he lets a female inmate out of her cell, and in a fit of madness, she splashes orderly Elmer (Carlos Ancira) in the face with burning chemicals, disfiguring him for life. When the woman is later murdered, Dr. Mazali is falsely accused, prompting the possibility of the hangman’s noose and a chance at experiencing the hereafter first hand.

Made as a period piece with all the gothic trimmings, Fernando Méndez (THE VAMPIRE, THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN) directs the film with a serious, no-nonsense attitude, superbly shot in and around a crumbling hacienda, blanketed in fog and accented with a shadowy mystique. With a story that concerns a semi mad scientist’s obsession with the afterlife and the ghost that materialize as a result, the film is fueled with some truly remarkable imagery, very much resembling the Italian-made melodramas that would follow in the next decade. Such visual delights include a hall of imprisoned crazies frantically extending their arms from the bars of their cells, a dead man digging himself out of the mount of dirt he was buried in, a specter blowing away a murderer’s confessional letter, and Elmer’s unfortunate disfigurement followed by his unruly disgust as the white bandages are removed from his head. When Elmer emerges with a monstrously twisted face (a great make-up job I might add) he brings a sort of “Phantom of the Opera” persona to the proceedings, and the Mexican advertising campaign capitalized on this with a drawing of a very Chaney Sr.-like Phantom face. One of the true classics of the Mexican horror cinema, THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M is not to be missed.

CasaNegra’s DVD of THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M is presented in a beautiful full frame transfer. The black & white transfer looks excellent, with a crisp picture, deep black levels and a nice level of detail. The source elements are in great condition, with only a few fleeting blemishes to be found. The disc opens up with a disclaimer about damage to the on the original magnetic sound recording, resulting in occasional brassy highlights in the orchestration of the score. While humming can be heard during some quieter scenes, it doesn’t at all distract from the viewing enjoyment. On a whole, the Spanish language track sounds fine, with optional English subtitles that translate it well. The menus are accessible in either English or Spanish, and the disc’s cover is reversible to reveal a Spanish language side.

Extras on the disc include an entertaining running audio commentary (which has optional Spanish subtitles) with IVTV founder, Frank Coleman. Coleman obviously loves and admires this film (and Mexican horror in general) so it’s nice to hear his comments and his knowledge of the actors in the film, and share various tidbits about it. Coleman also introduces a special video of artistically altered clips from BLACK PIT with an accompanying progressive rock instrumental composed in 1993 by a talented musicians known as 21st Century Art, which included Coleman himself on drums. “Mexican Monsters Invade the U.S.” is an essay on K. Gordon Murray, and David Wilt scribes another first-rate bio, this time on director Méndez. Rounding out the extras are cast bios, a poster and still gallery, the original 1961 English continuity script (which will give you an idea of what the American dubbed version was like) and the original Mexican theatrical trailer. The packaging includes a CasaNegra Loteria game card featuring images from other Mexican horror films (LA LOBIA, THE LIVING HEAD, SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN) which we only hope CasaNegra will be releasing in the near future! (George R. Reis)