The Mansion of Madness is a wonderful introduction to Juan Lopez Moctezum’s twisted world.
The film: The Mansion of Madness
The director: Juan Lopez Moctezuma
The script: a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather”
The stars: Claudio Brooks, Arthur Hansel, Ellen Sherman
The year: 1972
The country: Mexico
The recommendation: Yes
Gaston LeBlanc (Arthor Hansel), a man of science, visits the world renowned sanatorium of Dr. Maillard (Claudio Brooks). LeBlanc is taken on a tour, while Maillard introduces him to his experimental form of treatment, the Soothing System: “A paradise where all are afforded their art.” One man is a chicken. Another lives out his days crucified in the basement, reciting Dante. As LeBlanc follows Maillard deeper into the corridors of the sanatorium, reality ceases to function, madness reigns, and a secret plot is discovered.
Mansion is Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s directorial debut. He went on to make Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975) and Alucarda (1977), among others. Guillermo del Toro has expressed his fondness for Alucarda (see DVD bonus features). Claudio Brooks starred in del Toro’s Cronos (1993) and Luis Bunuel’s Simon of the Desert (1965), as well as Alucarda. David Silva, who plays the “cult priest” in Mansion, also played a role in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970). Moctezuma produced Jodorowky’s first two feature films, Fando and Lis (1968) and the recently mentioned El Topo.
It was released by Mondo Macabro, whose tagline is: “The wild side of world cinema on DVD.” Mondo Macabro is also a book by Pete Tombs, which became the basis of the British television series, Mondo Macabro. With Cathal Tohill, Tombs also wrote Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984, which explores the films of Jose Larraz, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Rollin, Walerian Borowczyk, Jose Benazeraf, and Jesus Franco. Walerian Borowczyk released a film in 1974 titled Immoral Tales. Jesus Franco adapted three Edgar Allan Poe short stories, “The Cat and the Canary,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Gold Bug,” into Night of the Killers (1973), Revenge of the House of Usher (1983), and In Search of the Golden Dragon (1984), respectively. On April 29, 2003, Franco’s Diabolical Dr. Z was released by Mondo Macabro. The DVD contains two featurettes, a trailer, English and Spanish soundtracks (with optional English subtitles), a stills gallery, and other goodies.
A wonderful quote from the film
“But nothing so marvelous as that peculiar apparatus over there. Madame Cronophobia, better known as Electruvia. A machine which generates luminous matter. If things go according to plan, it’ll become part of our nervous system. A metallic womb uniting man to the universe. Burning snakes curling around the pillars of a new myth. LeBlanc, religion has just come out from the bowels of an electric Golem. The alchemist’s dragon will now be crowned with a crux and satyr, fitting luminous pyramids over its timeless temple.” Maillard is sublime in his mad but prophetic lyricism, like Satan in TerryGilliam’s Time Bandits (1981).
A note on aesthetics
The scale of Mansion is massive. It seems to contain the performing arts as a whole. This adds to the dominant atmosphere of the surreal. Slapstick rests alongside melodrama, which is aided by dance, mime, and operatic howls. Everything is extravagant: the costumes, the acting, the huge crowds of extras milling around in the background. It is beautiful chaos. Jodorowsky seems to be the best reference point. The narrative thread in Mansion wanders from situation to situation without teleology and every step of the way, reality becomes thinner. The isolated space and apparent decay of modernism also aligns the film with Wojciech Has’s The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973) and the work of Jan Svankmajer, specifically Alice (1988). While dreamlike, the present action never meshes, morphs, or transforms, it is just profoundly out of context. Time and space then become very confused, because everything seems to exist in the same place simultaneously. Though the blood and guts are well done and frightful, the most terrifying thing about Mansion is its contortions of what we commonly refer to as “reality.”
– Paul Gonter
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