The Mark of Satan/La marca de Satanás (1957)

‘A curious attraction to this disgusting axe, which makes me sometimes think that through it, the mind of its owner is still alive.’

A wealthy landowner keeps a large axe on display in his home for a year after the mysterious fire that killed his young wife. A year later, her sister is summoned to the house by their mother. At the same time, a family servant is found dead in the forest, and it seems that supernatural forces are beginning to close in on the family…

Muddled and rather messy follow-up to ‘The Headless Rider/El jinete sin Cabeza (1957) featuring the ongoing adventures of El jinete (‘The Horseman’). Here he’s called El charro, but he’s played again by Luis Aguilar wearing the same white duds and the same investigative technique, wearing a black hood, so he appears to be headless. Most of the cast return from the first film, albeit in different roles, and it also has the same director, Chano Urueta. A third instalment, ‘La Cabeza de Pancho Villa’ (1957), boasts much the same personnel, too, so all three films were likely made at the same time.

A masked killer carrying a large axe kills one woman and carries another away amid a raging house fire. The collapse of the building covers up the murder, although patriarch Don Ricardo (Guillermo Cramer) remains suspicious, even a year later. He calls in policeman Jacinto (Crox Alvador) for some necessary (if confused) exposition, especially regarding the large axe that he keeps on hand in a black box in the hacienda’s lounge. According to him, this is at the insistence of the mother of his dead wife Olga (América Martín). The older woman survived the fire but was scarred by the flames and always wears a heavy veil.

Meanwhile, pretty young Maria (Flor Silvestre) returns to town from boarding school at the same time as the dashing El charro (Aguilar). She’s Martin’s sister and has been summoned home by her mother on the anniversary of the family tragedy, along with the handsome Manuel (Jaime Fernández), who was Martin’s true love. Their arrival proves the catalyst for more strange happenings. Family retainer Herminio (Alberto Pedret) gets chopped up by an axe in the woods but returns as a zombie, Silvestre receives a midnight visit from her sister’s ghost, and the big axe gets out of its box and flies around under its own power.

All this proves a strange mish-mash of disparate story elements, which screenwriter Ramón Obón struggles to tie together at the climax. Some allowance can always be made for things being lost in translation, of course, but a lot of the resolution makes little sense. The way the various supernatural elements are explained away is particularly lame. This is very noticeable when considering the appearance of Martin’s ghost because, as it turns out, she’s not dead. No, this isn’t a spoiler. The opening scene of the film clearly shows her mother killed in the fire rather than her. She spends most of the rest of the time pretending to be her mother, although why is never clearly explained and why the film then chooses to deal with her ‘unmasking’ as a big reveal is an even greater mystery.

Still, being Mexican genre cinema of the period, there are some things for a modern audience to enjoy. Of course, it’s a bit of a musical too, with Martin and Silvestre getting one number each, but most of the singing falling to Aguilar. As in the previous film, his character is followed around by his own private mariachi band, who pop up at convenient moments when he fancies exercising his pipes. Not so good is the return of comedy sidekick Pascual (Pascual García Peña), whose general incompetence and intermittent deafness are obviously hilarious in the way that only a serious disability can be.

All the principals enjoyed long, successful careers in the Mexican film industry, amassing hundreds upon hundreds of credits between them. Silvestre was also one of the nation’s premier recording artists, beginning her singing career in 1943 and recording her final album in 2010. Screenwriter Ramón Obón penned many Mexican horrors, including the story of the picture that started the horror craze south of the border: ‘El vampiro’ (1957). His other credits include ‘The Black Pit of Sr, M’ (1959), ‘The Living Coffin’ (1959) and ‘El Mundo de Los vampiros’ (1961).

Director Urueta was already an established filmmaker when the horrors arrived in the late 1950s and contributed many interesting titles over the next couple of decades. The gothic trappings of ‘The Witch’s Mirror’ (1962), the ridiculous exploits of cult favourite ‘The Brainiac’ (1962) and several outings for wrestling superhero Blue Demon were the highlights. In later years, he revived his early acting career, appearing in minor roles in more than a dozen films, including Sam Peckinpah’s ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969).

Inferior to the first film, this is not a particularly noteworthy entry into the annal of Mexican cult cinema, but it has its moments.

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