A family in the Mexican countryside is being tormented by a ghostly presence. While the young Maria is skeptical, her matriarchal aunt is terrified, especially with the recent spate of disappearing bodies. As luck would have it, a heroic cowboy and his sidekick ride into town in search of bandits, and investigate the matter. Could it just be more criminal activity? If not, how will a simple six-shooter stop a ghost?...
El Grito de la Muerte (literally The Cry of Death, but known primarily as The Living Coffin in English) is a 50s horror film from Mexico that has fallen under a lot of people's radars, and is quite a surprise! For starters, the genre is an interesting combination of western and horror. There's an equal amount of both, with a cowboy hero and portly assistant, getting into gunfights and barroom brawls. And on the other side there are ghosts, family curses, and sinister secrets from the past.
The story is decent. Basic enough where it needs to be, with just enough intrigue to keep your interest. And at only 71 minutes, it doesn't exactly ask a lot of its audience's time. There are some themes about tempting fate, and supernatural hysteria. The people in this town, namely the old aunt, live their lives in fear of awakening evil spirits if they so much as step a toe out of line. This causes tension with the younger people who don't believe, and there may be some who capitalise on this hotbed of emotions.
The story here takes inspiration from the myth of La Llorona, but with a few changes. Namely, it makes the Llorona in question directly related to the family here in this town. This does give the legend a more personal feel, although it does kinda make it less...legendary when it's so within living memory that the dead woman's lover is still fairly young. But overall I felt it worked decently.
Whether or not the supernatural forces at work here are real or not is a key element. A problem that can face Scooby Doo horror movies is that they can be a cheat. You're led to think one thing for 90 minutes, then the rug is pulled out from under you in the last 5. The Living Coffin handles this well in two ways. 1, it's only 70 minutes long. And 2, it sews things together effectively. Instead of delivering an out-of-nowhere reveal at the very end, we have a plot that could reasonably go either way.
The climax is alright, even if it's not quite as spectacular as some might be expecting. The biggest thing I was afraid of would be that the real perpetrators turn out to be some random thugs we never knew. But thankfully that's not the case, and the culprit is indeed a familiar face.
The direction, lighting, and sets of Living Coffin all go hand in hand to create a unique and almost mesmerising appearance. Fernando Mendez does a great job shooting, and shows he has prowess with either genre.
Scenes are often lit in deep warm colours, particularly yellow. I like how much the scenes are bathed, in a way that pulls off a tricky visual. I could understand how this lighting could be a bit much for some, and there are some scenes where I thought they could've perhaps dialled it down a little, but for the most part I thought it was great.
Then there are the sets, which are impressive all round, from the gothic house, to the town, which is small but richly detailed. The Mexican landscape is nice, and tailormade for westerns. It's also fairly unique for a Gothic tale, where you usually expect misty moors.
This isn't an effects heavy picture, but what there is is good. The ghost's make-up is a little funny, and we see it very openly. But it's good, and I think its appearance matches well with the ending revelation.
The cast here is fine. Gastón Santos cuts a charismatic] and handsome lead, and is surprisingly white in appearance for a Mexican film! Just goes to show how the country is more diverse than people give it credit for. María Duval is a decent love interest, and does the expected amount of screaming for a horror film. Hortensia Santoveña has a commanding and distinct appearance, as does Carolina Barret as the ghost. Everyone else does well, from the comic relief, to the assorted thugs and villains throughout.
The Living Coffin is a fine example of classic Mexican horror, and while it may be simple, it's in a good way, and is if nothing else a great visual treat!...