Spain is currently going through a gothic revival that parallels Hammer in the sixties; like their English counterparts, some films are burdened with cheesy dialogue, all are beautifully art directed, the plots tend toward over-complication and are packed with gothic tropes. So we get put-upon heroines, evil aristos, grand buildings, sinister supernatural storylines and bizarre machinations.
I thought I’d seen all of the current crop of Spanish gothics, but one eluded me; ‘The Valdemar Inheritance’ doesn’t exist on IMDb. Made in 2010, it ticks every box in the gothic revival. Luisa is sent to evaluate a huge Victorian mansion by herself, despite the fact that her colleague vanished attempting to do the same. After making a ghastly discovery in the attic, she too disappears. A private investigator is hired by a vampish representative of the Valdemar estate who might as well have ‘VILLAINESS’ tattooed across her forehead, and the head of the valuation company is clearly in on the conspiracy because he’s sitting in the back of his limousine with a Cthulhu-headed cane!
But the story switches with a flashback that takes up the entire body of the film, as the house’s first owners fall under the influence of a group – headed by Aleister Crowley, Lizzie Borden and Bram Stoker, among others – who wish to perform an unspeakable rite there. HP Lovecraft turns up to warns the owner – did I mention that Paul Naschy is the house-servant? And how about that cutaway to a raven in the library? Could it get any more bonkers?
Well, yes. Soon evil has been unleashed and the film abruptly ends. But wait! One year later came the sequel, ‘Valdemar Inheritance II: The Forbidden Shadow’, in which Lovecraftian creatures are summoned, the flashback arc ends and the present characters are once more picked up, and we add the only gothic touches that were missing, a gypsy with a lost child, hooded figures in robes standing on a pentagram chanting and a couple who age a hundred years in seconds.
The fact that all of this resolves (via some slightly dodgy SFX) to the satisfaction of cast and audience is something of a miracle, yet these epic, expensively produced films are off the cinema radar. What happened? One of the many reasons for loving them is the way in which they comfortably incorporate fact and fiction. For example, the heroine’s status as a suffragette undermines her credibility with men of power, setting the story in motion.
These are the kind of films Alan Moore might have put his name to, but from a Hollywood perspective it’s hard to see who they’re aimed at. They’re not overly gory and don’t feature quick-cut action set pieces, but opt instead on a slow-building story that brings together multiple threads across the time-span of a century, making them unsatisfying for the multiplex mentality – but great for lovers of defiantly arcane cinema. Amazingly, you can buy the pair subtitled from Amazon if you look hard enough.