Stigma (Jose Ramon Larraz, 1980)

aka Estigma

Jose (Emilio Caba, once the young troubled hero of Xavier Seto’s black and white horror sleeper SWEET SOUND OF DEATH, 1965) wakes up to a call from the hospital informing him that his father has been killed in an accident. His mother (Helga Line, showing less skin than usual but she then had Larraz’s SEX ACADEMY and BLACK CANDLES ahead of her) does some appropriate mourning before bouncing back to her active social life, but his younger brother Sebastian (Christian Borromeo, TENEBRAE) is indifferent to his father’s death. His mother puts it down to Sebastian being at “that difficult age” but Jose is disturbed by Sebastian’s apparent precognition of the death. After Sebastian psychically induces the death of a girl who dumped him, Jose attempts to spend more time with him and takes him to dinner with his new girlfriend Anna (Alexandra Bastedo – whose website lists neither this film nor BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE among her credits).

Anna’s medium friend senses an evil aura emanating from Sebastian who she thinks she recognizes from another life and warns Anna to stay away from him. Anna, however, cannot help but feel sorry for the troubled youth much to the consternation of Jose. After Jose threatens to send Sebastian to boarding school if his grades do not improve, Sebastian orchestrates his death by car crash. Following Jose’s death (as with the girl’s death earlier), Sebastian’s lower lip bleeds (the stigma of the title). Anna does not want to believe in Sebastian’s abilities but he consents to hypnosis by her medium friend. The session summons up images of a past life nearly a century earlier. Sebastian, followed by Anna, tracks down the long abandoned house from his visions – where a young man once murdered his parents and sister – in order to discover his own fate.

The potentially interesting story is diluted by influences from CARRIE and other popular films (coincidentally, the film was made the same year as Frank LaLoggia’s FEAR NO EVIL which was also about misunderstood demonic youth). There seems to be a subtext about youth not possessing the language to express their turmoil to their more conservative elders. Unable to comprehend why Sebastian cannot get along with his classmates, Jose warns him to stay in line or else (the threat is echoed by the father [Massimo Serato] of Sebastian’s past incarnation Miguel, whose sister also says that she knows his thoughts are better than his words). Regardless of whether Jose thinks the cause of Sebastian’s problems are supernatural or social, he emphatically tells Anna that Sebastian “cannot be helped.” It doesn’t help that when Sebastian visits his priest (Craig Hill), he is told that evil thoughts are as bad as evil deeds. The medium too is insistent that Sebastian is evil though he is mostly portrayed as a victim (being an unsuspecting reincarnation of a damned youth and victimized in both lives by intolerant elders unwilling to try to understand him and impatient for him to get past that “difficult age”).

Manifestations of Sebastian’s supernatural powers are imaginatively done through montage and music in the usual Larraz style but lack of technical proficiency of the film’s models. The period flashbacks are more lavishly rendered than the modern settings and one imagines that Larraz could just as easily have made a feature length period piece with the same resources. Christian Borromeo looks convincing in period clothes and Larraz makes good use of him visually throughout, with his slightly perverse gaze offsetting his otherwise amiable appearance.

Given her impressive malevolent performance/presence in THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, it is unfortunate that Bastedo has little to do as the innocent heroine. Likewise, Line spends most of her screen-time on the periphery while Caba is thanklessly killed off halfway through without getting a chance to lend a scientific approach to the mystery (though the scripting of his character is inconsistent as he expresses disbelief in mediums but asks his mother if Sebastian might be psychic and believes in stigma). Some of Daniele Petruchi’s score (published by CAM) turned up as library music alongside Marcello Giombini library cues in Larraz’s BLACK CANDLES (more so in the NAKED DREAMS re-edit where one Petruchi cue was used throughout the recycled sex scenes to drown out the sound effects and dialogue). Cinematographer Giuseppe Berardini (THE OTHER HELL, FATAL FRAMES) makes very effective use of both ghostly blues and warm candlelight (in both the period and contemporary scenes). Unlike Larraz’s other films, there is very little nudity in this film and this may be to its detriment as more explicit sexual content might have better conveyed the atmosphere of sexual frustration and confusion (between Sebastian’s past incarnation and his sister, between Sebastian and his touchy-feely mother, and between Sebastian and Anna).

My source for review was the BCI disc that is part of the for-now delayed CRYPT OF NIGHTMARES boxed set that also supposedly includes both Larraz’s BLACK CANDLES (as previously seen paired with THE EVIL EYE in BCI’s WELCOME TO THE GRINDHOUSE volume) and its NAKED DREAMS re-edit (which shares a two-sided disc with the dire Tiny Tim slasher BLOOD HARVEST) along with some other horror films belonging to the Films Around the World catalogue. While screener copies were apparently not sent out, no copies have shown up in stores, and online retailers list it as delayed or not in stock, copies of some of the discs from the set made it to Netflix where I rented my copy.

The image is fullscreen and looks tape-sourced with the wear and haze of an old master but this seems to be the only way to see the film as I am not aware of any foreign-subtitled or English dubbed tape releases. Mono sound is fine but not particularly bold or detailed though that might be a limitation of the original mix. No extras, just “play feature” and “scene selections” though the one sided disc has artwork while the BLOOD HARVEST/NAKED DREAMS disc is the usual two-sided disc with the titles listed on the inner circle.

(Eric Cotenas)