Director: Chano Urueta
Casanegra Entertainment

Known in its native country as “El Espejo De La Bruja,” THE WITCH’S MIRROR is one of dozens of Mexican horror films which were re-dubbed and distributed here in the U.S. by K. Gordon Murray. The bulk of these make for campy entertaining Saturday afternoon fodder, but in some cases, like with THE WITCH’S MIRROR, they can be a very surreal, distinguished viewing experience. Casanegra, a new company devoted to releasing classic Mexican horror cinema, has wisely chosen to release this film along with THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN to launch the line, and it’s definitely a sign of further great things to come.

Housemaid Sarah (Isabela Corona) is also a practicing witch, concerned for the welfare of her godchild Elena (Dina de Marco). A magical mirror reveals that Elena will die at the hands of her cheating husband, but Sarah is told by an otherworld demon (presumably, The Devil himself) not to interfere, at least for the time being. Elena is given poisoned milk by husband Eduardo (Armando Calvo) and dies. Soon after, Eduardo arrives home with his new bride Deborah (Rosita Arenas) to a gloom-ridden, cursed abode. Sarah communicates with the late Elena from beyond the grave, out for vengeance for her murder. Her ghostly image appears in the mirror, only to horrify Eduardo, jolting him into tossing a burning oil lamp at the undead reflection. But the flames from his actions accidentally set fire to his beloved Deborah, hideously disfiguring her face and hands. Since Eduardo is a brilliant plastic surgeon, he sets out to operate on his wife with the help of some female cadavers, but with a bitter witch and the specter of his murdered lover over his shoulders, it’s not going to be an easy task.

Shot as a period piece in glorious black & white and produced by the legendary Abel Salazar, THE WITCH’S MIRROR is an exemplary piece of Mexican fantasy cinema. The film is as multi layered as it is enjoyable, starting off as a “Snow White” inspired fairytale, with its tactful witch and the betrayed girl (now a white-gowned pasty ghost) which she guards, making life hell for the doctor and the new bride he so shamelessly brings home. After Deborah is disfigured, she hides her face under a veil of white bandages, later revealed as a crisped, bumpy mess, leading into the surgical horrors that will soon follow. Female bodies are graphically (for the period) displayed with their hands severed, or propped up inside a refrigerator, making for some pretty startling imagery reminiscent of Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE.

But THE WITCH’S MIRROR appears to also have found inspiration from films such as MAD LOVE and THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, and even elements from Poe (a woman’s coffin is dug up, only to be found buried alive). But it’s these ingredients, along with Chano Urueta’s imaginative direction -- with its eerie lighting schemes and numerous visual effects -- which makes it one of the most unique horror films of the 1960s. The mirror lives up to its inclusion in the title with some nifty superimposed macabre trick photography, but other treats include a bouquet of instantaneously welting flowers, a very expressionistic mansion, and human hands which plunge from their limbs or crawl about to commit murder. Some of the effects are clumsily executed, but only because of the limitations of the budget, and therefore have a certain charm to them. All in all, THE WITCH’S MIRROR is essential viewing.

Casanegra’s DVD of THE WITCH’S MIRROR is no doubt the best the film has ever looked. The full frame black & white transfer looks excellent, with a crisp picture and a nice level of detail. The source elements are in impeccable shape, so there are no visible blemishes to be found, nor any grain, and black levels are reasonably deep. A serviceable original mono 1.0 Spanish language track is included (with optional English subtitles), and fans of the K. Gordon Murray dubbed version will be happy to know that the English track has been included as well (one short dialogue scene, presumably never dubbed into English, remains in Spanish if you option this track). This fully uncut edition also contains a pre-credit sequence (with some pretty racy paintings) never before shown in the U.S. The menus are accessible in either English or Spanish.

Extras on the disc include an entertaining running audio commentary (which has optional Spanish subtitles) with IVTV founder, Frank Coleman. Coleman shares a lot of information about the cast, the director, and even K. Gordon Murray, and adds a flavorful sense of humor to the talk while showing his great admiration for the film. It’s also nice to hear him compare the overdone monster make-ups of recent years unfavorably to the impact of a decades-old film like THE WITCH’S MIRROR. Also included is an informative text essay “Chanovision: The Films of Mexican Cult Moviemaker, Chano Urueta” scribed by David Wilt, well written bios on Rosito Arenas and Armando Calvo, and a still gallery. The packaging includes a reversible cover (in English or Spanish) and a CasaNegra Loteria game card. Nicely done! (George R. Reis)