There is a particular subgenre of kitschy horror film that comes out of countries like Spain and Italy. Usually something to do with some dark legend, a dark devil, and a group of hot young people who get caught up in the madness. Spanish director José Luis Alemán continues with his Valdemar series in La Sombra Prohibida, based on H.P. Lovecraft’s work. With a brief introduction of the story from the first film (a rich man, Valdemar, finds a book that allows him to resurrect a devil with the promise of everlasting life, but it takes his wife as payment,) the story picks up with a group of young people who have various interests in Valdemar’s property and fortune. Add in a crazy yet gentle man at the mercy of the cult, a strange gypsy in the woods and horror legend Paul Naschy (in his last live-action role) and you have the ingredients for a cult Spanish horror film.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t entirely work out. Moving from the New England setting of the original stories to Spain is likely not important, and perhaps a Spanish setting for such mythical tales is more fitting. The film is not quite bad enough to be good-bad, and not quite good enough to be enjoyable. So much of the dialogue is exposition that it becomes nearly incomprehensible. Not that one must understand to enjoy, but motivations cannot be followed without some context.
Perhaps this is my failing, not being familiar with the source material, but the story seems to take so long to get going, that by the time the young people are in trouble and running for their lives, it’s hard to either feel sympathy for them, or even look forward to seeing them be killed. As well, the “outrageous” characters aren’t quite outrageous enough to be entertaining. The simpleton sees mannequins as real people, but this only elicits pity as opposed to the humour and pathos the director seemed to be aiming for. The confusion of the story only serves to frustrate as oppose to enthrall, and the climax ends up being a let-down as oppose to dramatic.
Again, the film wavers between camp and fear, never settling on its intended mood. There are entertaining moments, but the film suffers by trying to convey too much information as opposed to letting the story unfold naturally. Many have said that Lovecraft is unfilmable; La Sombra Prohibida doesn’t help the opposing argument.