B&W, 1959, 81 mins. 27 secs.
Directed by Fernando Méndez
Starring Gastón Santos, Rafael Bertrand, Mapita Cortés, Antonio Raxel, Carlos Ancira

B&W, 1961, 75 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Chano Urueta
Starring Rosita Arenas, Armando Calvo, Isabela Corona, Dina de Marco, Carlos Nieto

B&W, 1962, 77 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Chano Urueta
Starring Abel Salazar, Ariadne Welter, David Silva, Germán Robles, Luis Aragón

B&W, 1963, 80 mins. 9 secs.
Directed by Rafael Baledón
Starring Rosita Arenas, Abel Salazar, Rita Macedo, Carlos López Moctezuma, Enrique Lucero
Indicator (Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 HD), CasaNegra (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

Though its extremely prolific The Black Pit of Dr. Mfilm industry turned out numerous films in every major genre each year going back to the silent era, The Black Pit of Dr. MMexican cinema found an enduring English-friendly audience during the latter half of the '50s for several decades onward with a slew of wild horror and fantasy films. Many of these were dubbed for the U.S. market by distributor K. Gordon Murray (including some astonishing children's musicals), and while Mexican horror soon became synonymous with wrestlers, robots, and bloody apes, it definitely had more artistic Gothic side as well. Several of these titles have become regarded as key works of international genre cinema, and four particularly beloved ones were compiled in 2023 by Indicator for a U.S. and U.K. limited boxed set release, Mexican Macabre: Four Sinister Tales from the Alameda Films Vault, 1959–1963, picking up after its previous forays into 1930s Mexican horror with La Llorona and Phantom of the Monastery. All of these titles were issued previously on DVD in the U.S. in fine special editions from CasaNegra circa 2006, but they're given greatly expanded special editions here including stellar HD restorations.

First up chronologically is Black Pit of Dr. M (or Misterios de ultratumba), a key title from director Fernando Méndez who had already scored a major success with 1957's The Vampire and its sequel The Black Pit of Dr. Mthe following year, The Vampire's Coffin (not to mention the less widely seen but marvelously entertaining Ladrón The Black Pit of Dr. Mde cadáveres). Our Poe-style story involves a pact at a mental institution between Dr. Mazali (Bertrand) and Dr. Aldama (Raxel) that whichever one dies first will come back and tell the other one all about it. When Aldama passes on soon after, his spirit returns via a séance and lures his long-lost daughter, Patricia (Cortés), to the asylum where she becomes entangled in a maelstrom involving Mazali's obsessive behavior, ill-fated orderly Eduardo (Ancira), murder, and rampaging lunatics. Complete with gruesome facial scarring effects and atmosphere galore, this one makes for a great gateway film if you're watching these in order. All of the actors do a fine job with their roles, and Méndez stages the action with escalating panache that pays off in the last act with a number of memorable scenes including a cracking good rising from the grave sequence. Given a modest U.S. run in 1961 outside of the usual K. Gordon Murray stable, this was one of many early successes from Alameda Films who turned out the lion's share of noteworthy Mexican supernatural horrors that decade.

The CasaNegra DVD was already quite a striking and beautiful release even in SD, featuring a solid commentary by Frank Coleman, a text essay called "Mexican Monsters The Black Pit of Dr. MInvade the U.S." by Rob Craig about the K. Gordon Murray cycle, an essay on Fernando Méndez by Mexican film specialist David Wilt, a Gaston Santos bio, a "Back Pit" The Black Pit of Dr. Mmusic video by 21st Century Art, the 1961 English continuity script, the Mexican trailer, and a gallery. It's worth noting that a trailer for the (now apparently lost) English-dubbed release of the film can be found on various Something Weird Mexican horror DVDs (along with U.S. TV spots for The Braniac and The Witch's Mirror). The Indicator Blu-ray marks the film's global debut in that format (as with its companion features here), and it looks excellent throughout with deeper blacks than its SD predecessor and finer detail. The LPCM Spanish 1.0 mono track is also in pristine condition and features improved optional English subtitles. Film programmer, curator, and Mexican horror cinema expert Abraham Castillo Flores delivers a very illuminating and informative commentary track about multiple literary inspirations, the creative hands behind the scenes, the mixture of Mexican and European spritism at play here, and tons more. In "Preserving a Legacy" (19m19s), Daniel Birman Ripstein discusses the history of Alameda Films and his close relationship with his grandfather and mentor, producer and company founder Alfredo Ripstein, a major figure in Mexican cinema's golden age. In "Black Pit of Dr. Méndez" (26m2s), Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro, author of Fernando Méndez, 1908–1966, discusses the life and career of the filmmaker including his background in a cinephile family, his time and experiences in the U.S., the relatives who played a role in his career path, and several key films that serve as the foundation of his legacy. Also The Witch's Mirrorincluded are the subtitled Spanish theatrical trailer and a 42-image gallery of photos and publicity The Witch's Mirrormaterial.

If you can't decide what kind of horror movie you want, look no further than 1962's The Witch's Mirror (or El espejo de la bruja) which starts off sprinting with devil-worshiping witch Sara (Corona) performing a Snow White-style ritual for the benefit of her goddaughter Elena (de Marco), who's married to the aristocratic Eduardo (Calvo). Sara warns through a vision that Elena is in danger from her rival, Deborah (Arenas), even though the two women mean each other no direct harm. Soon after Eduardo murders Elena and marries Deborah, which sets the stage of Sara as the matron of the house to unleash a very protracted mission of supernatural revenge against those she feels have wronged her family.

The first half of the film features some unavoidable echoes of Rebecca right down to Sara's Mrs. Danvers-style wardrobe, as well as similarities to Italian Gothics around the same time including Black Sunday (right down to a couple of camera moves) and the same year's The Horrible Dr. Hichcock. Then things take a sudden turn and really go berserk as the story turns into a The Witch's Mirrorvariation of Eyes without a Face (or The Awful Dr. Orlof if you prefer) with some splashes of The Hands of Orlac and The The Witch's MirrorBeast with Five Fingers for good measure. Despite the title, the mirror is only of occasional significance within the story and, despite her avowed allegiance to regents of hell like Lucifuge and Satanachia, she isn't portrayed as the primary villain (despite her illogical determination to repeatedly inflict harm on Deborah). Mostly it's an evil husband amuck story, especially once he resorts to grisly means to help his wife including some impressive surgery gags that must have had TV watchers stopping in their tracks back in the day. The film's impressive visuals don't extend to all of the effects since a couple of disembodied hand bits at the end are outrageously sloppy, but otherwise it's a stylish and hugely enjoyable chiller perfect for late-night viewing.

Released to the Spanish-speaking U.S. market just after its Mexican run, The Witch's Mirror was dubbed by Murray and company for a 1964 release in English and then swiftly sent to TV via AIP with a package of other horror-ish films. That version was announced for DVD from Something Weird Video via Image Entertainment as a double feature with The Brainiac and even made it to the check disc stage, but it was pulled at the eleventh hour due to a legal dispute. The subsequent The Witch's MirrorCasaNegra disc was a revelation at the time, featuring the Spanish-language version with English subtitles as well as the (not bad) English dub track along with a Frank Coleman commentary, a text essay about director Chano Urueta (another big titan in the realm of The Witch's MirrorMexican horror), cast bios, and a poster and stills gallery. The Indicator is a big step up in this case on the quality front, correcting the overly bright and contrasty look of the DVD and restoring the darker, moodier look of the film. Both the original Spanish and English-dubbed tracks are here in fine LPCM 1.0 mono versions with optional English-translated or English SDH subtitles, and Wilt appears here for a new commentary going into detail about his experiences watching the film over the years, the notable achievements of the actors, various Euro horror influences, relevant Mexican fantastic films, and more. Arenas appears for a 2022 Q&A (13m8s) at the Academy Museum in L.A. (as part of an exhaustive Mexican horror retrospective) speaking with programmer Abraham Castillo Flores, who translates between Mexican and English about her reluctance to watch herself on screen, her vivid memories of shooting the fire sequence, and thoughts on her director. The classic Mexican horror episode of the 2001 TV series Mondo Macabro (24m34s) created by Pete Tombs and Andy Starke is included here, split between a look at these Mexican horror films, the Santo films, and later gems like Alucarda. Also included are the Spanish theatrical trailer andThe Brainiac a 21-image poster and The Brainiacphoto gallery.

Next on disc three we get the most notorious film of the classic Mexican horror cycle, The Brainiac (originally El barón del terror), whose unforgettably bizarre central creature appeared in some show-stopping stills throughout decades of influential monster movie books. Thanks to late night TV and Murray's pairing of it on various double features, this became a long cherished gem of sleaze cinema still capable of making jaws drop today. Though the plotline isn't much more than a desexualized rehash of Mario Bava's Black Sunday with a hint of sci-fi, the film is so bizarre and compelling that it stands up just fine on its own terms as well.

In the extended prologue set in 1661, the black-cloaked members of the Mexican inquisition accuse the decadent Baron Vitelius (Salazar) of consorting with the devil. The Baron laughs off their threats and puts a curse upon the Inquisition's descendants, a decree that takes three hundred years to come to pass. In 1961, a comet streaks through the sky and, The Brainiacupon hitting the earth, unleashes the title creature, a hairy, clawed, big-headed incarnation of Vitelius capable of rendering itself invisible and sucking out the brains of hapless victims. In a human disguise, Vitelius holds chic dinner parties for his The Brainiacpotential victims, then transforms into his natural state every now and then to extract their brains via his fork-shaped tongue. Naturally he also stashes away some of the leftover brains in a fancy bowl for later feedings, a practice his servants somehow fail to notice. The flaky Professor Milan (Aragón), along with Ronald (Silva) and Vicky (Welter), tries to solve the mystery of the Baron's return while people keep dropping like flies with little interference from the dim-witted police.

Alternately unnerving and outrageous, The Brainiac is a genuinely surreal experience, just as one might expect from director director Ureta. The moody lighting and thick atmosphere are counterbalanced by the florid and often insane dialogue, and the plot contains enough unexpected twists and turns to keep viewers wide awake until the mind-blowing -- err, flame-throwing -- climax, which includes a nifty nod to Horror of Dracula for good measure. This one's frequent TV appearances into the '70s caused many viewers to doubt their sanity, and it's been a popular cult favorite ever since with a number of gray market releases over the years including a subpar DVD from Beverly Wilshire that didn't stay on the market for long. The attractive CasaNegra The BrainiacDVD has both the subtitled Spanish and English-dubbed tracks, an audio commentary by Kirb Pheeler, an essay by The BrainiacCasairo Buenavista ("Keep Repeating, It's Only the Most Bizzare [sic] Horror Movie Ever Made"), an interactive press kit, a 1969 U.S. theatrical radio spot, cast bios, and a gallery.

The Indicator Blu-ray of The Brainiac is a bit of a surprise when it comes to the presentation of the film itself, which is matted for the first time at 1.85:1 and looks excellent via the new restoration (apart from some unavoidable debris during the optical effects). Far more image info is added on the sides compared to prior transfers, with some shaved off the top and bottom in the process resulting in a more elegant and composed feature overall. The LPCM 1.0 Spanish and English-dubbed tracks are both in great condition and come with English-translated or SDH subs. The disc touts a new commentary " and brain nibbling" with publisher of From Parts Unknown and screenwriter of Los campeones de la Lucha Libre, Keith J Rainville, who has a lot of understandable enthusiasm for this film and does a fine job of contextualizing this within the larger framework of Mexican cinema traditions at the time (including the ongoing wrestling monster movies). In "¡Qué viva Chano!" (23m), author and film scholar Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro covers a lot about Urueta including his family's political background, his various artistic pursuits, and the changes in Mexico over the years that ignited his activism and sometimes got him into trouble. Also included are the Spanish trailer, a 34-image gallery of promotional ephemera including stills, The Curse of the Crying Womamand a 36-image fotovela (with accompanying English translation) mixing artwork with stylized photos to The Curse of the Crying Womamtell part of the film's story.

Finally on disc four we get to a swan song of sorts for the Alameda horror cycle, 1963's The Curse of the Crying Woman (or La maldición de la Llorona), one of multiple cinematic variations on one of Mexico's enduring creepy folklore figures. Here the ghostly weeping woman gets transformed beyond recognition as an eyeless avenging specter haunting a dangerous countryside area populated by shifty figures. Enter Emily (Arenas again) and husband Jaime (Salazar again), who show up to visit her aunt Selma (Macedo), who of course is actually the supernatural menace preying on locals at night with the aid of her henchman, Juan (Moctezuma). As it turns out, Emily is part of a nefarious plot to bring back one of her witchy ancestors, among many other dark secrets hidden away inside the estate's crumbling walls.

By this point Mexican filmmakers had the spooky old dark house formula down pat, and this one is a fine culmination of their craft with everyone in front of and behind the camera The Curse of the Crying Womamgiving it their all. That said, the real star here is Macedo whose striking presence makes for a very memorable antagonist. The effects are handled well here as well including some fun mirror tricks, sequences in negative, and other flourishes to keep it all flavorful. The Curse of the Crying WomamIt doesn't shy away from the gruesome stuff either including a vicious dog attack that was too much for U.S. distributors at the time. Director Rafael Baledón was better known for his melodramas and westerns than his horror output, but he has a sure hand here including some wild touches like a sea of disembodied eyes surrounding Macedo at one point.

Widely shown by Murray among the Mexican import craze, The Curse of the Crying Woman suffered from some awful TV prints and public domain copies over the years before it finally got a restored, uncut release on DVD from CasaNegra. That disc looked excellent and had a text essay on Baledón by Wilt, cast bios, a gallery, an audio commentary by Michael Liuzza, and a booklet with an essay by Peter Landau, "The Legend of Llorona." The Indicator release sports both the Spanish and English-dubbed version, is likewise uncut, and features similar framing and color timing as the DVD while upping the resolution quite a bit. An audio commentary by Latin American horror specialist Valeria Villegas Lindvall (a.k.a. Morena de Fuego) examines the many themes running throughout this film including colonial patriarchy as well as the visual elements used to touch on class and The Curse of the Crying Womampredation within the storyline. In "The Daughters of La Llorona" (25m36s): The Curse of the Crying Womamactor, producer and singer Julissa de Llano Macedo and author Cecilia Fuentes Macedo remember the peculiar relationship they had with their mother ("a crazy woman, very imposing"), Mexican screen icon Rita Macedo, including memories of meeting Boris Karloff during his Mexican horror period and their mother's significant achievements in the fashion world. "Daydreams and Nightmares" (17m43s) features author Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro discussing the career of Baledón including his many hats as an actor, writer, producer, and director, with some noteworthy titles pointed out and an argument against the so-called "quickies" in his filmography. Finally the disc wraps up with the Spanish trailer (which pushes this as a much more traditional Llorna story) and a 25-image gallery of stills, lobby cards, and ad art. The limited edition package also comes with a set of five art cards and a 100-page book featuring new essays by José Luis Ortega Torres, Wilt and Flores, an archival essay by Andrew Syder and Dolores Tierney, an obituary of Abel Salazar, and film credits.

BLACK PIT OF DR. M: Indicator (Blu-ray)

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BLACK PIT OF DR. M: Casa Negra (DVD)

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THE WITCH'S MIRROR: Indicator (Blu-ray)

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THE BRAINIAC: Indicator (Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on May 13, 2023