Falling victim to the messy break-up between Miramax and Disney, Curandero: Dawn of the Demon has sat on the shelf for eight years. While that would generally mean keeping away, this is a film worth your time. An odd, although not unpleasant, Mexican production, it presumably received funding and distribution based on the involvement of modern-day B-movie master Robert Rodriguez, who serves as co-scriptwriter and producer. Like much of Rodriguez’s output it’s stylish, but not without its flaws.
The film follows the story of a female cop who teams up with Carlos the Curandero, a witch doctor who practices cleansing white magic in poor urban areas that are inflicted with the blacker variety, in an attempt to rid Mexico City of a plague of demons. It soon becomes apparent that the real evil lurks with a (human) drug lord, although the supernatural is in place, as the crime kingpin uses magic to destroy his enemies. Here the film shines, with the curandero utilising all manner of weird methods of exorcism, while the beasts rampage. All good and bloody, but Carlos takes his killing away with him, tortured by visions of those he’s destroyed. It’s during these visions that Curandero has a real chance, with Mexican traditions and some LSD-styled imagery, but sadly it never quite goes as far as one hopes it will.
The film suffers from jumping between genres; moments of horror give way to mean, dust-filled gunfights in the streets, and while it wants to have a foot in both the horror and thriller camps, it never fully succeeds with either. Director Eduardo Rodriguez (no relation) has flair and promise, but it’s too easy to imagine what someone like Alejandro Jodorowsky could do, let loose with this material. An atmospheric and original first half loses direction as it heads towards the climax, concentrating too heavily on Carlos’ redemption and throwing in a plot line that simply doesn’t work, before heading into a clichéd shoot-out and telegraphed ending.
As a South American retooling of Constantine, this would likewise probably work better in graphic novel form, without budget restrictions. However, it is mostly a fun ride, beautifully shot with production values that deny the low budget, and some graphic gore to bolster the action. It would be good to have some background included, but the DVD is a bare-boned release, with nothing more than a trailer as an extra. It also suffers with some terrible English language dubbing which comes as standard; good for a few chuckles, but astute Exquisite Terror readers will soon reach for the subtitles.
Curandero: Dawn of the Demon is available on DVD from today