Morbido 2011: ALUCARDOS, RETRATO DE UN VAMPIRO Review

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
No matter how you measure such things it must be acknowledged that Juan Lopez Moctezuma lived a lived a life somewhat larger than the typical life. A popular television and radio host who later turned to film to indulge his love of the macabre Moctezuma is perhaps best known internationally for his close ties to Alejandro Jodorowsky, who he worked with as a producer, but his story stretches much farther than that and it is given a sometimes fascinating and sometimes frustrating overview in Ulises Guzman's Alucardos, Retrato de un Vampiro.

If someone were to write the story of Moctezuma's life as a work of fiction it would likely be discarded as too outlandish to be real. A man who never finished college Moctezuma was known throughout Mexico as a lover and promoter of jazz music and as a popular TV host before he turned to the world of film. Pouring his own money and creative energy into his work Moctezuma was active both as a director - his Alucarda and The Mansion Of Madness are likely his best known works - and a producer for the likes of Jodorowsky before he landed in Spain as the head of a Mexican owned television network in the post-Franco years. That time would represent the peak for Moctezuma both creatively and professionally but the fall would be hard.

Displaying increasingly erratic behaviour on his film sets - a last minute decision to burn the set of Alucarda for real while filming led to the death of an extra while others were severely injured - damaged his creative reputation and when that behaviour began to creep into his professional television life as well Moctezuma was left broke and unemployed and, finally, succumbed to mental illness that left him hospitalized for psychiatric care. And here's where things get really weird. Moctezuma was then kidnapped from hospital by a pair of obsessive fans - one a hermaphrodite, the other an orphan who lived in a decrepit car parked outside of the home where his stepfather beat his mother to death - who kept him with them for three days, showing the director his own films and taking him to the locations of his greatest works until he regained at least a measure of his lucidity.

Lest you doubt, I have asked around and, yes, this really happened.

The fascinating elements of Guzman's film should be clear. As a documentary subject you could not possibly hope for a better subject than Moctezuma and Guzman has access to a remarkable assortment of key people from his life. Moctezuma's daughters, his brother, former script writers, producers, and actors are all very much present and accounted for, all of them delivering clear recollections of the man and his work. And, yes, Moctezuma's kidnappers - Manolo and Lalo - are very much present as well which, surprisingly, accounts for a significant part of the frustration in the film.

To put it simply there is too much film in this film and Guzman never seems quite certain which film, which story, he should put his focus on and so the film splinters and fragments into two primary parts. There is the story of a fascinating filmmaker, his life and work. And there is the story of Manolo and Lalo, two very damaged individuals brought together by a shared fascination with Moctezuma. Both stories could easily fill a film of their own but Guzman instead tries to split the difference - cutting back and forth between them - and ends up not fully satisfying the promise of either.

A major issue is that the film assumes that its audience will know who Manolo and Lalo are from the outset - which may be true for a segment of the audience in Mexico but will not be anywhere else - and never takes the time to properly set them in context at the beginning of the film. Instead you begin with a segment of information about Moctezuma and then cut to an equally long - if not longer - segment of these two men explaining their own history starting right from their early childhoods. And while it's clear very early that Lalo has an obsession with Moctezuma's Alucarda it is far, far too deep into the film before it is clear why this matters or how this has any impact on Moctezuma's story overall. The end result is a film that often feels as though it is in competition with itself.

Despite that internal conflict and some uneven technical values, however, Alucardos casts a welcome light on a fascinating figure who has been largely overlooked.



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