With a serious drought of Spanish-produced genre products released on home video as of late, Code Red has come to the call with their DVD of THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (“Planet Ciego”) a horror/sci-fi hybrid directed by Argentinean-born terror auteur León Klimovsky, and featuring a supporting role by Spain’s answer to Lon Chaney Jr., Paul Naschy.
A top scientist named Fulton (Alberto de Mendoza, the crazed priest in HORROR EXPRESS) gets an alarming phone call, forewarning about a detrimental occurrence that may or may not be happening, but he writes it off. Instead, he attends a weekend gathering of other prominent men (businessmen, doctors, military types) at the large, secluded home of socialite Lily (Maria Perschy, EXORCISM) who hires a number of beautiful girls to help these fellows indulge in pleasurable night of hedonism based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade. In the gothic cellar of the house, the men gather around a banquet table garbed in cheap rubber false faces and bathrobes, and just as they’re about to embrace the string of “hired” girls (dressed in flowing, see-through garments), the foundation starts to shake and all are stunned. As everyone immediately stops what they’re doing and ascends to the ground floor, Fulton concludes that there had been some sort of nuclear attack (the cellar acted as a bomb shelter, protecting all the houseguests except the poor maid) as he tries to keep everyone under control and instruct them on what to do next. As they journey outside the house, they discover a village full of blind lunatics, who want only to ravage and kill the lucky, unaffected survivors.
With an uneven script co-written by Vicente Aranda (director of THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE), THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK is flawed but very watchable (mainly due to the talent involved in front of and behind the camera) that borrows not only from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, but also Amando de Ossorio’s “Blind Dead” series: instead of sight-challenged zombies who use their hearing to hunt for blood, here you have a group of blind, homicidal germ warfare victims killing by utilizing the same sense. Since the budget was obviously very low on the film, the blind killers are seen wearing dark sunglasses or bandages around the eyes, and we only get to see the effective whited-out pupil make-up on the hapless maid. Although it’s never as good as the other films it attempts to imitate, THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK does have its moments, and director Klimovsky manages to toss in some welcomed glimpses of female skin, and a few bits of graphic violence (a nasty scene where one of the girls has her eyes gouged by a mob of the vengeful blind) and Miguel Asins Arbó provides an eerie score that efficiently illustrates the air of doom that lingers through the entire movie.
The cast is literally a “who’s who” of Spanish horror and exploitation (ok, so there’s no Jack Taylor, Patty Shepard, Alberto Dalbes or Helga Liné, so I guess I’m wrong). Alberto de Mendoza (who here resembles a slightly younger Bernie Madoff) and Nadiuska (a ravishing German-born Sophia Loren look-alike) are the leads, but the rest of the cast (starting with the always breathtaking Perschy, who dubbed her own voice for this English presentation) are far more interesting. The King of Spanish Horror, Paul Naschy, plays one of the houseguests, and he makes the most of a limited, ambiguous character who grows more selfish, trigger happy and villainous as the film progresses. Naschy’s Borne is constantly pouring on the hard liquor, leading up to a humorous scene where he’s repulsed after resorting to sipping a glass of milk in the pantry. Lovely Teresa Gimpera is probably best known for the acclaimed art film THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, but horror fans best remember her for her roles in HANNAH QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD) and the Italian-made vampire film, NIGHT OF THE DEVILS. Julia Saly, here as one of the pretty “hired” girls, was one of Naschy’s favorite leading ladies from his mid 1970s to early 1980s period, and she’s probably best remembered as Countess Elisabeth Bathory opposite Naschy’s Waldemar Daninsky in NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF/THE CRAVING. Antonio Mayans (aka Robert Foster) also had a small role opposite Naschy’s imbecile killer in THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE, but he would soon appear in countless films directed by Jess Franco, including DEVIL HUNTER, WHITE CANNIBAL QUEEN, DIAMONDS OF KILIMANDJARO and THE MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD. Here as a houseguest who suddenly becomes animal like, eating off a plate like a dog and crawling naked (yuk!) on the floor on all fours, rotund character actor Ricardo Palacios is probably best known as the Mexican bandit who dares to defy Christopher Lee’s master criminal in Franco’s KISS AND KILL/BLOOD OF FU MANCHU, but he too has appeared before on screen with Naschy, going as far back as the late 1960s. Some reference books list Tony Kendall as part of the cast, but he’s nowhere to be found in the film.
Though produced in 1975, THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK didn’t reach U.S. shores until 1980 (when it was apparently released by Sean Cunningham), with a misleading ad campaign which made it look more like a devil cult horror film than an apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. With U.S. prints reportedly running shorter than what played in Europe, the names of the cast were also removed, and the U.S. posters and ads displayed anglicized monikers or changed the cast names altogether (as replicated on this Region 0 DVD’s cover). Code Red’s DVD presents two different presentations of the U.S. 82-minute theatrical version. The first version is 1.78:1 widescreen and anamorphic, transferred from a Fuji color 35mm print with a fair share of red spots and emulsion scratches, as well as a few messy reel changes and some opening missing footage (caused by print damage), making it clock in at closer to 79 minutes. Despite the imperfections, colors are generally good throughout and detail is sharp, and the mono audio is fair to good, with the expected scratchiness that comes with a well-worn print source. The other version is taken from a 1 inch Sun Video release (it quickly became a collector’s item back in the days of VHS), which is full frame (the camera’s original black hard mattes are in view on the top and bottom) and a bit on the dark and fuzzy side, but perfectly watchable (though no showcase for your HD television). The mono audio track carries a buzzing noise, so you’ll have to turn the volume up pretty loud to get the gist of the dialog. A rare but washed-out theatrical trailer for the film is included, as are trailers for other Code Red DVD releases, included the long-awaited DEVIL’S EXPRESS. (George R. Reis)
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