‘I just stepped on a cat that didn’t exist.’
A young woman marries against her father’s wishes and gives birth to a son. However, as the child approaches five years of age, she becomes over-protective to such a degree that it threatens her marriage. It’s then that the husband learns of the curse that hangs over her family…
Remake of the 1933 Ramón Peón movie based on the folk myth of the same name prevalent throughout Latin America. There are multiple variations on the original tale, but it remains so popular that it appeared recently in ‘The Conjuring’ film series as ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ (2019). However, this take by director René Cardona stays close to the story told in Peón’s original film.
Pretty blonde Margarita (Luz María Aguilar) is tired of the single life. She wants to marry handsome Felipe Arnáiz (Mauricio Garcés) but her father, as Don Gerardo Montes (Carlos López Moctezuma) objects to their union. Father and daughter both know why, but keep Garcés in the dark. The couple goes ahead anyway and returns to live at the family home after their honeymoon. Young son Jorgito (Marina Banquells) arrives shortly afterwards, and everything should be perfect. However, Aguilar refuses to leave the child’s side and, as he approaches his fifth birthday, her mania seems to intensify. By this time, Garcés has had enough and delivers an ultimatum; they start behaving like a typical family or get a divorce.
Seeing that things have reached a crisis, Moctezuma takes his son-in-law to one side and explains the danger that threatens the family. Back in the 16th Century, their ancestor Don Nuño de Montes Claros (Eduardo Fajardo) was a soldier attached to the staff of the local Viceroy. He began an affair with a mixed-race woman, Luisa del Carmen (María Elena Marqués) that led to the birth of two children. However, his promises of marriage faded when he saw that the children took after their mother. Instead, he planned to wed noblewoman Doña Ana (Erna Martha Bauman). The news sent Marqués over the edge, and she murdered their children with a dagger after cursing Fajardo and Bauman’s children and their firstborn descendants.
Garcés remains unconvinced of the threat, even after a gust of wind from a closed window and the sudden manifestation of a black cat. So, Moctezuma follows up with more recent information. His first son drowned mysteriously in a pool as a toddler and his older brother in a riding accident at the same age. Nevertheless, Aguilar decides to put her fears aside, and she and Garcés start a more conventional life, leaving the young boy in the care of a mysterious new nanny, Carmen Asiul, who bears a surprisingly close resemblance to you-know-who.
Cardona’s film is almost a straight re-telling of the 1933 story, so inevitably, it shares some of the same strengths and weaknesses of that movie. Again, the second act flashback is very lengthy, which makes the drama feel disjointed. Cardona achieves a better balance with that, but it’s also the most substantial part of the narrative. In comparison, the climactic events are somewhat bloodless, especially as they take place when the hero and heroine are offscreen on a romantic night out! The racism angle is interesting, though, and a departure from the original where the faithless soldier’s choice of wedding partner is political rather than based on prejudice. It’s unusual to address such a theme in a genre picture of this vintage, and it’s handled with surprising subtlety, being reflected in Fajardo’s face when he sees his new son for the first time, rather than being explicitly stated.
The film also deserves credit for sticking to its guns; the new nanny is the spirit of La Llorona, and the legend is not explained away in rational terms. A little clarity about the curse would have helped, though. Yes, the firstborn must die, but why must it seem like an accident? Nanny Marqués is alone with the child on multiple occasions but, instead of just finishing off the job, she contrives to place him in harm’s way through various devices, such as rolling his ball out into traffic, tripping him up when he’s running with scissors, etc. Why is this necessary? It’s not as if she has to fear any reprisals from the authorities; she’s an evil spirit from the otherworld! Inevitably, it feels as if all this has been included simply to pad out the final third.
The main reason for tuning in is the performance of Marqués. At first, she’s swept off her feet by the dashing Fajardo, becoming his devoted partner and mother to his children. She remains steadfast in her loyalty even during his increasing absences. The scene where he tries to pay her off with jewellery, and she still thinks it’s just a gift, provides critical psychological insight into her character and lends credibility to her sudden collapse into vicious hatred and madness. She’s also appropriately sinister as the black-garbed La Llorona, conflicted by her thirst for revenge and the apparent charms of her youthful charge. Without her performance, the film would probably seem twice as long.
After almost twenty years in the business and many leading roles, Marqués must have been a familiar face to the contemporary Mexican audience, but several of her fellow cast members are also worthy of note. Fajardo was a Spanish actor who moved to Mexico in the 1950s and quickly established himself in featured supporting roles and had graduated to some leads by the end of the decade. He moved back to his home country in the 1960s, where he became almost a fixture in Spaghetti Western productions, both from Spain and Italy. He appeared in prominent character parts in ‘A Coffin for the Sheriff/Una bara per lo sceriffo’ (1965), ‘Django’ (1966), ‘Seven Pistols for a Massacre/7 pistole per un massacro’ (1967) and ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins/Una pistola per cento bare’ (1968), among many others. He also appeared in horror maestro Mario Bava’s ‘Lisa and the Devil’ (1973).
Moctezuma’s film career began in 1938 and, by the time he died in 1980, he’d appeared in over 200 features. These included roles opposite luchadors like Neutron in ‘Neutron vs the Karate Assassins/Los asesinos del karate’ (1965) and as the police inspector on the case during El Santo’s two run-in’s with ‘The Strangler’. He was also one of the leads in director Cardona’s rather tatty ‘Night of the Bloody Apes (1969), a film banned in the UK during the media-created ‘Video-Nasty’ scandal of the early 1980s. Bauman appeared more prominently in a trio of vampires in the immediate years following this production. There’s even a small role here for David Reynoso, who would become back-up for luchador Blue Demon during a couple of his most memorable cinematic adventures. He also appeared in many other genre and fantastical films of the 1960s.
Although improving the country’s first cinematic take on the legend, this is still a minor entry in its supernatural filmography. La Llorona herself wasn’t finished, though. Not by a long chalk. Three years later, she returned again for ‘La Maldicion De La Llorona/Curse of the Crying Woman (1963).
Santo vs the Head Hunters/Santo contra los cazadores de cabezas (1971) – Mark David Welsh
La Invasion de los Vampiros/The Invasion of the Vampires (1962) – Mark David Welsh
The Mystery of the Ghastly Face/El misterio del rostro pálido (1935) – Mark David Welsh
The Vengeance of the Crying Woman/Santo Y Mantequilla Nápoles en La venganza de la llorona (1974) – Mark David Welsh