Monday, March 28, 2022

“They’re Very Nice Persons, Carol” - Black Candles (1982) aka Hot Fantasies - Film #226

Let us continue our investigation of the career of Spanish director José Ramón Larraz, following our in-depth appreciations of Rest in Pieces (1987), Edge of the Axe (1988), and Deadly Manor (1990), not to mention earlier works like Whirlpool (1970), Symptoms (1974), and Vampyres (1974). We will now look at Black Candles (1982), also known as Los Ritos Sexuales del Diablo and Hot Fantasies.

Of course, some of your universe's critics are insufficiently impressed by Mr. Larraz's films. For example, reviewer Leofwine_draca writes, "there is absolutely nothing to redeem it. It's not scary, it's not sexy and it's definitely not worth bothering with." Reviewer Squonkamatic writes, "the ultimate conclusion of the film is silly, pretentious, intelligence insulting, and probably perfect for such an otherwise forgettable exercise in applied sleaze." And reviewer Zbigniew_Krycsiwiki writes, "the film is very slow going, and for the most part the acting ranges from bland to awful."

Read on for the truth about José Ramón Larraz's erotic thriller Black Candles...

The film begins in a country village, where a bald, hirsute man watches through a window as a woman walks through the forest. The two make love, during which the man (who should by all rights be named Harry but is in fact named Drew) touches her necklace and says, “The devil’s paw.”

(The devil's paw is never seen or mentioned again.)

As they have sex, a woman elsewhere stabs a pin into a clay doll, causing the man to have a heart attack and die during the act of lovemaking—which, perhaps surprisingly, does not discourage his partner.

Later, a plane lands at Gatwick Airport. While another man and woman (Robert and Carol) wait for their luggage, they have an entertaining and informative conversation. “Well, we’re back home again,” he says.

“Yes,” she replies.

“Do you really think it’s a good idea to be put up by your sister-in-law in the country?”

“Why not? My brother and I lived there as children, and he died in the place.”

“It’d still be better in a hotel.”

“And expensive, too, you know.”

Fiona, Carol’s sister-in-law, drives the couple to her country estate through a rainy night. When they arrive, they find the electricity is out, so Fiona, who is “very fond of candlelight,” lights a few candles, all of them black.

Carol asks, “And why do you have all these black candles?”

“What do you think they’re for, Carol?”

“What I mean is, black is so dreary,” Carol responds.

Fiona points out a picture of Carol’s brother, who is also Fiona’s husband—the bald man who died making love in the opening of the film. Robert notices a series of black and white prints on one wall.

“Are you interested in demonology?” Robert asks.

“Only certain articles,” Sofia says She adds, 
“Persons of importance are continuously making pacts with the devil. Drew and I were always discovering interesting things during the last few years.”

At night, Robert says all women are witches because Eve was the devil’s first human servant, and then he makes love to Carol while Sofia watches through a spy-hole in the hallway. 

In keeping with the film’s status as an erotic thriller, Fiona pulls her top open and masturbates as she listens to Robert and Carol having sex. Then Carol dreams she is in a forest in her rather elaborate underwear, being pursued by her brother, to whom she makes love while he keeps his watch on. They are watched by Fiona, who soon joins in, and then Carol wakes up. 

Carol goes downstairs in the middle of the night, kisses the photo of her brother, and then is startled when she sees a bearded Saviniesque face through the window. Fiona finds her in the kitchen and reassures her smoothly, and in an authentic British manner: “Apart from a few eccentric farmers that live around here, I can assure you that this zone is the safest in the county.” She then gives Carol some tea made with “homegrown herbs.”

Moments later, the filmmakers show us Fiona meeting with the Saviniesque interloper, a man wearing the costume of a minister. “There are many who hate us,” he says.

“And who also fear us,” Fiona replies. 

The man says, helpfully to the audience, “The autumn equinox is near, when we celebrate the sabbath.”

The next morning, Fiona leads Carol to Carol’s brother’s grave in a churchyard, where they are observed by the evil minister. Fiona explains, “When the doctor showed up to sign the death certificate, I was asked if I agreed on the certification of embolism or if I requested an autopsy. Well, I accepted the first of the two, Carol, because an autopsy wouldn’t do anything.”

Carol walks alone through the ancient cemetery and stops at an ancient grave marker that clearly hasn’t been touched for centuries. Carol hears a ghostly voice say, “Carol…leave here forever” but she pays it no mind.

Back at the house, when Fiona pushes more herbal tea on Carol, Carol admits that she received a note from her brother soon before his death. “We really hated each other,” Fiona admits. “if that’s what you wanted to know.”

“I suspected that in your relationship,” Carol says offhandedly. “But your life together doesn’t interest me.”

“Your brother was an alcoholic, plastered day and night.”

Later, two lesbians who are part of Fiona’s coven make love for ten minutes or so, until they are interrupted by the evil minister, who performs a ritual over the two of them in the barn. The ceremony is a prelude to a ritual—probably the film’s most infamous scene—in which an unmoving black goat impregnates the younger lesbian. This also takes ten minutes or so.

Later, when Carol goes to London to meet with her brother’s law partner, Fiona and Robert betray a mutual attraction over discussion of herbs. “How did you get to know Carol?” Fiona asks.

Robert replies somewhat stiltedly, “It was by chance, and this happens in the majority of cases. It was shortly after I got out of the seminary.” He adds, “I was fed up when they ordained me.”

“Well, this place must seem like a revelation to you, with its allusions to the devil.”

“No, you’re mistaken. Satanism is an offshoot of Christianity now. I’ve studied the question for nine years so you can imagine I do know all there is to know.”

“You’re not an exorcist?”


After telling him good and evil are only words, Fiona kisses Robert. Of course, this leads to a long session of lovemaking, in the middle of which Robert drinks some herbs, perhaps an aphrodisiac mentioned earlier. The sequence ends as they have sex in front of the fireplace with Robert’s crucifix framed by the fire.

Later, Carol confronts Robert to tell him she believes occult practices are going on, and someone has stolen her favorite necklace to perform evil magic on her. Robert replies skeptically, telling her she is very immature. They call a doctor for Carol (a man with the wonderful name of Dr. Gaunt), and he tells her to keep drinking Fiona’s teas. This leads to a meeting of the coven, in which they quickly plan to confuse Carol to frighten her into leaving, and also to get rid of Robert.

The film cuts to a Satanic ceremony—naked. It is held in a mysterious red-curtained room, a room which Carol has found somehow. She spies on the ceremony as the minister reads from a book and, of course, initiates lovemaking to a nude woman lying on an altar surrounded by black candles. This serious academic exploration into the details of Satanic practices and the alternative religions then leads to a fantasy in which Robert, who is apparently being initiated into the coven, has sex with Fiona on the altar, though this is most likely a fantasy of Carol’s.

After Robert wakes Carol up and claims he has been in London all night because he missed the train, though he smells of sulfur, the film cuts to Carol in the shower—and shockingly shows only her face rather than ogling her body. Carol investigates a creepy hallway adorned with deer antlers, but she is stymied by a locked door. Afterward, Fiona introduces Carol to her coven, who have come to the estate for brunch. 

At night, Robert surprises Carol in bed by kissing her and pulling off her robe, and then the filmmakers use one of their cleverest Hitchcockian tricks when they cut to black as Robert unzips his fly and moves right into the camera. On the bed, Robert turns Carol face-down but she objects: “I don’t like it. We’ve never done this before. Leave me alone.” He ignores her. We watch as he brutally assaults her and calls her, among other things, prudish.

Immediately after the assault (and after Robert has changed into his tighty whiteys), they speak casually about Robert having lost his crucifix. “It could have fallen under the bed. Or the shower,” says Carol.

“Why the hell are you worried about it?” Robert asks.

After arguing some more, Carol gets angry. “To hell with Fiona and all those weird foreigners. People who hang around her. They’re like a bunch of vultures!”

“They’re very nice persons, Carol.”

“Nice? You believe they’re nice persons? They put me off always. Watching and so quiet. And that reverend. Every time he’s around, I get nervous. Observing me as if I were naked.”

“Maybe he likes you.”

“When I think about him, I get nauseous.”

“Poor man. He believes you’re cute.”

Later, Fiona tells Carol about the party she annually throws on the autumn equinox. For some reason, this makes Carol even more suspicious. The filmmakers cut to the dinner party, where everyone eats a fancy meal in their elegant clothes. Unfortunately, Carol feels faint suddenly, due to Fiona holding her stolen necklace. 

Having filled the screen with sufficient amounts of “plot,” the filmmakers cut to Robert making love to Fiona while Fiona wears Carol’s necklace and nothing else. This lasts about ten minutes.

The next morning, Carol tries to convince Robert to leave the place. “This is a nightmare, I think. I beg you, Robert, in the name of God.”

“You know that God is nothing more than a metaphor, just pageantry that’s slowly losing its appeal.”

“I don’t know how they’ve poisoned you, Robert. You’ve changed.”

The film creeps toward its climax when a cuckolded husband named John (whose accent grows more and more Scottish through the course of the film) warns Carol that she’s lost Robert and must leave, or she will suffer the same fate as her brother. Unfortunately for John, as soon as he leaves Carol, he is assaulted by the coven, who strip him naked and, in a scene almost as notorious as the earlier goat scene, they pull a sword from the wall and thrust the blade between his unsuspecting buttocks.

Carol, sensibly, runs through the woods, but she too is abducted. The coven takes her back to the house and throw her on a bed. Fiona instructs, “That’s enough. Don’t slap her anymore. You won’ cause any more problems, will you?” She adds, “You’re going to be Satan’s bride. Our lady of the sabbath.”

As she feeds Carol more “tea,” Fiona explains, “The sabbath is an orgy of wickedness in which all the instincts are given free reign.”

The female members of the coven strip Carol and anoint her (mostly her breasts) with a white oil, and then she is initiated into the cult, which involves another nude woman kissing and licking Carol. (It would be redundant of me to mention that this takes about ten minutes). Then the ceremony begins. The minister drinks from a goblet while Carol lies on an altar. “This is a great moment,” the reverend says. “This is your hour, Carol.”

Fiona adds, “Because you waited to be possessed by your master.”

Both the reverend and Robert climb on top of Carol. The reverend makes love to her awkwardly, and then the film fades to a car pulling up to Fiona’s house. It is Fiona’s car from the beginning of the film—everything has been a dream!

Carol wakes up in the back seat of the car. Fiona says the electricity is out—and they go inside to light black candles.

“It almost looks like we’re going to celebrate rites to the devil,” Robert quips.

“Could be,” Fiona replies. “Who knows?”

Carol stares at the candles, frightened. She turns down Fiona’s offer of herbs, and then is startled to see the Saviniesque reverend in the house. And so the film simply, and satisfyingly, ends.

Black Candles falls in the middle of José Ramón Larraz's filmography, serving as something of a bridge between his earlier works, particularly the erotic vampire film Vampyres (1974), and his later slasher-influenced films, particularly Rest in Pieces (1987). In fact, Black Candles consists mainly of lovemaking scenes that might be outtakes from Vampyres, plus walking-around-a-manor-house scene that might be outtakes from Rest in Pieces. However, it must be noted that neither of these films includes a barnyard scene in which a stationary goat is forced to rape a non-stationary nude woman, or ended a scene in which a decorative sword plucked off a wall is rammed into the nether regions of an older man who has recently adopted a Scottish accent. As such, Black Candles is an effective entry in Mr. Larraz's eclectic filmography; its quirks, such as its long lovemaking scenes and its short shots of gruesome brutality, make it all the more charming as one of the finest erotic Satanist films of the 1980s.