La Maldición de la Llorona (a/k/a “The Curse of the Crying Woman”)

The Mexican folktale of “La Llorona” (or the “Weeping Woman”) has many variations and can be found in the local folklore of Hispanic communities from the American Southwest to the Philippines. Savvy moviemakers in Mexico used this popular tale to give a uniquely local flavor to their Universal-inspired horror films.
The best of these Llorona-themed films, in my opinion, is “The Curse of the Crying Woman”, which, oddly enough, doesn’t have much to do with the original legend. In this version of the story, the Weeping Woman is relegated to a background story. The real villain of this film is Selma (actress Rita Macedo), a witch who spends most of the film trying to convince her estranged niece, Amelia (actress Rosita Arenas), whom she has summoned to her home after a 15 year absence on the eve of the young woman’s 25th birthday, to perform a ritual designed to restore life to the withered husk of the powerful witch Doña Marina, a/k/a La Llorona. The completion of which will grant the former great powers.
Upon arriving, Amelia and her new husband, Jaime (actor and producer Abel Salazar), are greeted by Juan, a grizzled, scarred, unshaven hunchback with a gimpy leg and snarky attitude. Selma is nowhere to be seen and Juan’s cryptic and evasive responses to Amelia’s queries on her whereabouts just create a tension, which permeates much of the film. Later in the film we find that, much like Lugosi’s Igor in Universal’s “Son of Frankenstein”, Juan survived an execution at the gallows. In this case, he was cut down by Selma and has been her subservient minion ever since.
Selma is a femme fatale in the Gothic tradition: beautiful, clever, scheming, intensely passionate, wickedly self-serving, morally corrupt and she will stop at nothing to gain the supernatural powers promised to her in an ancient tome if she can get her niece to perform the aforementioned ritual, which needs to be completed by the youngest descendent of Doña Marina, who turns out to be Amelia. To cement her villainous status, Selma even plays spooky organ music and every time she speaks, she does so in these melodramatic monologues with an air of self-satisfied smugness.

Selma bewitches Amelia's husband, Jaime.

Selma bewitches Amelia’s husband, Jaime.

Director Rafael Baledón’s script for “The Curse of the Crying Woman” has references to witchcraft, voodoo, vampirism, you name it; if it’s evil, it’s in this movie! The atmosphere is thick, and there are many references to Gothic literature and film. In fact, the opening scene is heavily influenced by Mario Bava’s 1960 masterpiece, Black Sunday. The scene opens on the blackened eye sockets of Selma (a creepy trick used throughout the film to show when she is in “monster” mode) pulling back to reveal her cloaked figure standing in a murky forest road holding the reigns on 3 Great Danes à la Barbara Steele. The only difference here being that she sets the dogs loose on an unfortunate traveler who tries to escape the carnage she and her minion have made of his fellow travelers, one of whom is actually the real life daughter of actress Rita Macedo, who is run over by the carriage that carried the fey travelers.
Her house is the typical Gothic Victorian, albeit in a Spanish architectural style, complete with creepy portraits, haunted mirrors, and an insane relative locked in the attic. The dissolution of said house at the end of the film is even comparable to the breakdown of the manse at the climax of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

Amelia & Selma

Amelia & Selma

The lush camera work and authentic sets help to create great atmosphere, which draws one into the mood of the story. The actors are professional and well cast and the special effects, while primitive, are clever and effective. In fine, this is a great example of a film from the Golden Age of Mexican Horror, before the luchadores (masked wrestlers) and monster rallies came onto the scene and made them laughable. That said, one point to keep in mind is that, although of comparable quality to the Universal films that inspired them, the Mexican horror films are a little more graphic in content. In “Curse of the Crying Woman”, for example, victims are mauled by dogs, in explicit (if obviously phony) detail; a young woman is purposefully run over by a carriage, etc.
One last note of trivia for this film; in a scene where Selma recounts to Jaime the story of La Llorona, there is fade to some dreamy scenes shown in negative image reversal. In this montage, there are images from various other films in producer Abel Salazar’s canon of horror films. Included in the sequence are “World of Vampires”, “The Living Head”, “The Man and the Monster” and “The Witch’s Mirror”.
If you wish to view a great restored copy of the film, try the Casanegra DVD, which comes complete with the original Spanish language dialogue and English subtitles as well as an English dub version, which seems to be a decent translation. As an added plus, it also contains a nice booklet explaining the history of the Llorona legends as well as a list of relevant film treatments and an exclusive Casanegra Loteria Game Card.

Detail of Casanegra DVD contents.

Detail of Casanegra DVD contents.

References
Baledón, Rafael (Director/Writer), Fernando Galiana (Writer), & Abel Salazar (Producer) (1963) La Maldición de la Llorona [DVD] USA: Casanegra
Cotter, R. M. (2005) The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.
Guiley, R. E. 2000) La Llorona in The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (pp. 211-212) New York: Checkmark Books

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