Monday, August 28, 2023

Poison for the Fairies


Poison for the Fairies Poster

(1986) Written and directed by Carlos Enrique Taboada; Starring: Ana Patricia Rojo, Elsa María Gutiérrez, Leonor Llausás, Carmen Stein, María Santander, Ernesto Schwartz, Rocío Lazcano and Blanca Lidia Muñoz; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: ****½ 

“Fairies don’t get along with witches. They’re afraid of them. The witches are their enemies and they kill them. Have you seen the boiling pots that witches have? They throw in lizard tails, cemetery dirt, ashes from crosses, snakes, and lots of rubbish. You know what they make? Poison. Poison for the fairies.” – Nana (Carmen Stein)

Witch Silhouette

Childhood friendships impact us at a particularly vulnerable, formative period in our lives, creating experiences that often serve as a template for future relationships. If we’re lucky, it’s a bond that lasts a lifetime, but even if that friendship only spans a short period, the memories endure. On the flipside, our early childhood bonds frequently teach us hard lessons about the sort of people we’re better off steering away from. Writer/director Carlos Enrique Taboada (hardly a household name in the States, but remembered fondly in his native Mexico)* captures the latter sentiment in his gothic thriller, Poison for the Fairies (aka: Veneno para las Hadas). Taboada’s 14th and final film** (completed in 1984 but not released until 1986), focuses on the dysfunctional relationship between two school-age girls and its awful consequences. 

* Fun Fact #1: In 1957, hoping to witness a ghost, Taboada had himself chained to a tombstone in a graveyard. Whether or not he witnessed any supernatural occurrences is anyone’s guess. 

** Not-So-Fun Fun Fact: Taboada shot another movie (on video), Jirón de Niebla (aka: Shred of Mist), but due to lack of financing was unable to edit or release the film. The footage was reportedly lost.

Flavia and Verónica

Flavia (Elsa María Gutiérrez, in her only film role) arrives at an exclusive Mexican private school, where she quickly befriends Verónica (Ana Patricia Rojo), a strange girl the other classmates appear to shun. It doesn’t take Flavia long to learn why most of Verónica’s peers keep her at arms’ length, with her claims about being a practicing witch. Flavia initially meets her new friend’s proclamations with skepticism, which eventually gives way to an uneasy acceptance. When Flavia laments having to take her piano lessons, Verónica offers to cast a spell (with a blood oath) to make Flavia’s instructor, Madame Rickard (Blanca Lidia Muñoz), go away. Shortly afterwards, during a practice session, her teacher suffers a fatal stroke. Instead of regarding it as an unfortunate coincidence (it’s revealed, in her parents’ conversation, that her teacher had a history of illness), Flavia believes it was Verónica’s doing. Whether there was some connection, or terrible luck, it’s all the leverage Verónica requires to take control of Flavia’s life.

Flavia's Dream

Over the course of the film, the power dynamic between the two girls shifts, which Verónica exploits to embed herself in Flavia’s life. Flavia comes from an upper-class family with loving, if somewhat detached parents. Verónica, whose parents are dead, lives with her grandmother and housekeeper, Nana (Carmen Stein). Nana, who seems to be Verónica’s primary parental figure, is fond of telling stories about witches and casting spells. In turn, Verónica takes the stories to heart, professing to Flavia that she’s not really a 10-year-old girl, but an ancient witch. The film takes an ambiguous stance about whether Verónica truly believes she’s a witch, or Nana’s supernatural tales are simply co-opted to deceive and control her impressionable friend. Verónica, envious of what she perceives to be Flavia’s idyllic existence (and using the piano teacher’s death as leverage), covets her possessions and connives to accompany her on a family vacation to their country estate. Flavia, fearing some sort of retaliation, submits to her friend’s increasingly unreasonable demands, culminating in collecting the raw materials to create a witch’s potion. Verónica’s unyielding behavior, coupled with Flavia’s belief in her friend’s powers, becomes a volatile combination, leading to a horrific conclusion.

Verónica and Flavia in Trouble

The exceptional cinematography by veteran cinematographer Lupe García contributes immensely to the film’s perspective, told from the children’s point of view. García expertly captures a child’s eye view of the world, inhabited by authority figures who dwell in the periphery. While Flavia, Verónica, and their schoolmates remain in full view, adults are often shot in silhouette, from behind, or from a low angle. We’re never in doubt that this is the kids’ story. Being a witch and yielding black magic (or at least the prospect of said magic) becomes a potent drug for Verónica, as a means of exerting power at an age when children often think of themselves as powerless.


Poison for the Fairies is a gothic thriller that leans into horror, subverting some of the latter genre’s tropes (such as Flavia’s visions of witches) for the narrative. Carlos Enrique Taboada depicts the darker side of childhood friendship and the loss of innocence. Flavia becomes embroiled in a toxic relationship because the alternative, being alone, is unbearable. Under the guise of friendship, Verónica manipulates her to do things she otherwise wouldn’t do on her own. Flavia’s belief in her friend’s supernatural powers overshadows her sense of reason, until fiction becomes fact. With its timeless themes, intense performance by Ana Patricia Rojo (channeling The Bad Seed), and thread of ambiguity (leaving the film open to almost as many interpretations as there are filmgoers), Poison for the Fairies deserves to be experienced and appreciated by a whole new generation of filmgoers. 

* Fun Fact #2: Although the film was not a box-office success, it won the hearts of critics, earning five Ariel Awards (the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Awards) in 1986, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Source for this article: “Behold the Duke of Mexican Horror Cinema,” by Abraham Castillo Flores (essay in Vinegar Syndrome set, “Mexican Gothic: The Films of Carlos Enrique Taboada)

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Short Take – Alucarda


Alucarda Poster

(1977) Directed by Juan López Moctezuma; Written by Juan López Moctezuma and Alexis Arroyo; Starring: Claudio Brook, David Silva, Tina Romero, Susana Kamini, Lili Garza and Tina French; Available on DVD 

Rating: ***

Alucarda and Justine

“…the film draws on the vampire tradition, and in a way the protagonist is a female vampire… but not in the sense of a blood drinker. In fact, she has all the powers and attributes of the classic vampire. Except that she doesn’t have to drink blood. I’ve given Alucarda all the vampiric powers Bram Stoker mentions that never get shown in films, as well as the ones you’d expect.” –  Juan López Moctezuma (excerpted from 1977 interview)

The Convent

Juan López Moctezuma was a filmmaker who followed his passions, which didn’t translate to making movies that were commercially popular. While Alucarda* was not a critical or box office hit at the time, Moctezuma’s film has won over many fans, including Guillermo del Toro. Alucarda owes as much to Dracula and Carmilla as it does to the glut of demonic possession movies that proliferated throughout the 1970s, and experimental European horror films. As a nod to his mentor, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Moctezuma employed many surreal touches, including imaginative set design, costumes, and characters depicted in broad strokes. The film’s centerpiece, a convent/orphanage, doesn’t resemble anything based in reality, with its primeval appearance, seemingly carved out of rock. Likewise, the nuns that populate the convent are clad from head to toe in blood-stained bandages, rather than the expected habits.   

* Fun Fact #1: Moctezuma planned a sequel called Alucarda Rises from the Tomb, but sadly it never materialized.

Dr. Oszek and Alucarda

Orphaned teenager Justine (Susana Kamini) arrives at a convent, where she meets fellow orphan Alucarda (Tina Romero, who also plays her own mother, Lucy Westenra – a direct reference to Dracula)*, who’s obviously not on the same wavelength as the other residents (Hmm, could it be… Satan?). As Justine becomes corrupted by her charms, they make a blood pact, sealing their fates. Father Lázaro (David Silva) and nuns, however, aren’t about to let demonic forces run wild during their watch. They are joined by the initially skeptical Dr. Oszek (Claudio Brook) to combat the evil scourge threatening their convent. 

* Fun Fact #2: Although Alucarda was supposedly 15, Romero was 28 at the time of shooting. Although Kamini’s age has not been officially published, it’s obvious she was well out of her teens.


Tina Romero shines in the title role of Alucarda, embodying equal doses of mischief, menace, and seductive charisma. With her intense gaze and impish smile, it’s easy to see why Justine and the doctor’s daughter, Daniela (Lili Garza) fall under her spell. Claudio Brook stands out as the self-righteous, hypocritical Dr. Oszek, who openly criticizes the convent and their barbaric practices. Perhaps it only fitting that he also plays a satyr-like hunchback,* who tempts Alucarda and Justine into shunning their religious baggage and embracing more hedonistic pursuits. 

* Forgive the momentary digression, but it’s interesting to note that the well-worn hunchbacked assistant trope (a staple of many genre films from the silent age to the 1970s) thrived for decades before fizzling out by the ‘80s. Then again, it was arguably a trope that had long outstayed its welcome.

Justine Possessed

Alucarda’s depiction of demonic possession represents a post-modern take on the material, with the film’s purposefully ambiguous sympathies. While the world of the orphanage seems hellish and oppressive, the alternative, represented by Alucarda, seems favorable. Being bad has never seemed so good, and being good has never seemed so awful. Alucarda succeeds visually with its imaginative set design, lighting, and themes that blur the delineation between good and evil. The characters are never quite fleshed out (Justine, outside of her relationship with Alucarda, doesn’t have much of a personality) and the incessant screaming that proliferates throughout the soundtrack becomes tiresome (you might want to lower the volume on your TV). Although Alucarda might not quite live up to the weight of its lofty ambitions, it’s an important addition to the horror genre.