Tuesday, August 23, 2011

El Chupacabras (Mexico, 1996)

As with Weng Weng, I assume that, if you don’t know by now what El Chupacabras is, it’s because you don’t care. That mythical creature’s currency as a pop cultural punch line is so long ago expired that to remind anyone of his/her/its heyday seems like an “I love the 90s” act of premature nostalgia. Back in those days, the creature was the impetus for any number of low budget straight-to-video/cable quickies from both sides of the border, including the film under consideration here, El Chupacabras. As an extra blast-from-the-past bonus, El Chupacabras also reminds us that, in 1996, The X-Files was very popular.

Given its obvious cheapie origins, El Chupacabras should be commended for the ambitious geographical scope of its narrative, which spans the Americas. The film opens in Mexico, where a rancher and his family are killed by a mysterious, unseen creature. From there, we head to Canada, where we meet Jorge Carrasco (bull-necked action star Jorge Reynoso), a scientific investigator with the U.S. government, who, when we join him, appears to be on the trail of bigfoot (who, I’m happy to say, makes a much welcome cameo). Also on Bigfoot’s trail is Duncan MacGregor (played by the film’s director, Gilberto De Anda), a world famous hunter whose catchphrase appears to be “fuck you”.

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, reporter Amanda (Lina Santos) narrowly escapes death when she and her guide are attacked by another unseen creature while exploring a cave containing the skeleton of a strange, unearthly animal. And bringing it all home back in Mexico, police commandant Roman Hurtado (muscle-bound Miguel Angel Rodriguez in a very tight shirt) is, along with his on-the-job-and-off partner, a red headed lady forensic investigator (maybe Isabel Andrade?), trying to get to the bottom of the killings along with the attendant rash of livestock mutilations, all the while trying to keep a lid on rampant speculation that the legendary Chupacabras is to blame. Complicating things further is a crazy priest who shows up from time to time to shout something about “prophecy” at anyone who will listen.

If you, kind reader, have prophesied that all of the above far-flung characters will eventually converge upon Officer Hurtado’s small Mexican town in search of the Chupacabras, you are to be commended. But don’t be too hasty in investing in your own psychic hotline. El Chupacabras moves along at an energetic pace, driven forward by the momentum of its own predictability. There are many well worn tropes to be trotted out, after all, and dammit, we are going to race breathlessly from one to the next in order to get them all in. At the same time, the film does strive for extra credit with a couple of mildly interesting twists, including a red herring in the form of a human serial killer and some events that point to the possibility of the Chupacabras being extraterrestrial in origin.

And then there are the welcome moments of unintentional hilarity, such as the scene where Reynoso’s investigator character grimly peruses an imposing looking tome from his library…

…only for an over-the-shoulder shot to reveal that what he’s staring at is a Frank Frazetta (Sorry! It's Boris Vallejo; I stand corrected) print featuring one of that artist’s trademark bubble-butted barbarian babes.

Once in Mexico, Reynoso teams up with Hurtado’s ginger partner, and the two proceed to Mulder and Scully their way to the bottom of things. All leads to the entire cast ending up in a misty -- break out those halogen flashlights! -- sheep carcass filled ruin where El Chupacabras, which has been stingy with its monsters up to this point, finally seals the deal, though in a manner every bit as chintzy as its Sci-Fi channel level budget would lead you to expect.

While the X-Files references in the film are plentiful and obvious, I have to say that the one notable thing El Chupacabras adds to the formula is its insane level of machismo. The combined testosterone of the three man mountains in its lead roles is enough to be detected from space, making it surprising that any extraterrestrial would have even come within striking distance. This conspicuous chemical imbalance also guarantees that, in addition to the two women in the film who actually get to do stuff, there is also a generous number of Rubenesque ladies in impossibly tight skirts for these gentlemen to ogle and indiscriminately manhandle. Hulk want!

This also means that, despite the effort put into establishing an atmosphere of mystery and unearthly dread, things can’t be settled without having two guys run away from a tremendous explosion. The truth is out there. BOOM!


Mr. Cavin said...

Excellent review, thanks! When it comes to sub-genres, the "slaughtered livestock" type of mystery thriller is hard to beat.

Just to make sure I come off as an utter nerd: that's Boris, not Frank (see?)--but to be fair, is is Mr. Vallejo at his most banally derivative.

Todd said...

There goes my certification as a connoisseur of van art. Correction made! Thank you, Mr. C.