Yes it’s that time of the month again, when I settle into the dark basement of London’s Horse Hospital for the latest screening at the CUT! May’s offering was Para Elisa, a Spanish spine chiller with a role that could have been written for the divine Bette Davis.
Graduation Day is approaching and Ana (Ona Casamiquela) needs €1000 for that last celebratory trip with her pals. Mum ain’t paying and boyfriend and petty drug dealer Alex (Jesus Caba) isn’t either, so what’s a girl to do? Well, she might just have to get a job and, as luck would have it, there’s an ad for a nanny taped to a lamppost and Ana reckons that’s just the ticket.
So, Ana climbs the stairs up to Diamantina’s (Luisa Gavasa in the mode of Bette Davis) apartment. Over tea, Diamantina reveals that she wants a nanny to look after Elisa while she gets in some practice at the piano. It all seems to be going very well, sure the apartment is a bit dark and cluttered with antique dolls, but the money’s good and how hard can it be looking after a little girl? Well, my Hothouse flowers, I think we know it ain’t going to be that simple, otherwise why was I sitting in that dark creepy basement with a bunch of horror fans?
There really isn’t much creepier that a grown woman in a frilly lace baby doll dress, but, by the time Ana decides to scarper, the sedatives in the tea have kicked in. When she wakes up she’s wearing a similar outfit and tied to a chair in Elisa’a bedroom. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the drugs in the tea have paralysed her vocal chords and Diamantina explains that Elisa is prone to fits of violence if she is woken suddenly. Can it get any worse? Oh yes of course it does. When Elisa wakes up screaming, Diamantina slips and dashes her brains out on the floor. Ana is alone in the apartment with Elisa and Elisa doesn’t want her baby doll to leave.
Para Elisa opens in the bright Spanish daylight, full of optimism as the students look forward to a life beyond university, but as we enter the oppressive darkness of Diamantina’s cluttered apartment we are caught up in an psychotic spiral that descends ever further into madness and violence as each of Ana’s attempts to escape are thwarted with ever more savagery. When the violence happens, judicious cutting saves us from witnessing the full gory details, but the foley artist’s effects take no prisoners, making the stomach turn with shocks that are much more effective through implication. Throughout Ana’s ordeal, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the apartment interior is expertly rendered by effective lighting design and a brilliant musical score by Pascual Vasquez.
Dark, brooding and creepy, with the odd uncomfortable laugh out loud moment I give Para Elisa a 666/666.
Para Elisa is released on DVD in the UK on 30 June.
Screenings at the CUT! include one free drink plus entry into a free draw to win all kinds of strange promotional stuff. Entry is free, but strictly limited. To get on the guest list e-mail email@example.com.
Speaking of Hollywood legend Bette Davis check out these gems:
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962): Davis is Baby Jane Hudson a former child star forced to look after her more successful actress sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) after crippling her in a car accident. A classic study of sibling jealousy that descends into madness, murder and cruelty.
The Nanny (1965): Let’s face it Davis was never going to be Mary Poppins in Hammer’s tale of a little boy whose parents think he is fibbing about just how nasty Nanny is. The film was directed by Seth Holt, a filmmaker to the end he keeled over and died during the filming of Hammer’s Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb in 1971.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.