Sunday, February 4, 2024

Al Filo del Terror: On the Edge of Terror (1990) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Armando Sanchez, alias El Griego, is a ventriloquist whose act has gotten stale. Instead of accepting the criticism, he gets mad and punishes his dolls. Despite his daughter Karlita's protests, he destroys one. Things don't improve, until he comes up with a sneaky idea-Griego dresses his daughter up as a new doll. It's a smash hit, but people soon become suspicious, and Griego becomes homicidal to protect his secret. But he's not the only one who's about to get violent, as his abused dolls are planning their revenge...

Al Filo del Terror (On the Edge of Terror) promises to be a horror centreing on ventriloquist dummies. A pretty ripe concept for the genre! And this film has a bit of a difference. It's the human master who's the bad guy, and the very much alive dolls are subject to his brutality. It's an interesting spin on things, and I was curious to watch, even if I was going in with Mexican VHS expectations.

The film starts off very quickly, with no real introduction to these living dolls, where they came from, or what their owner knows. Just BAM, they're alive, no questions asked. The ball gets rolling, showing an effective character portrait.

El Griego thinks of himself as famous, enough to the point where he insists assistants hold up mirrors for him at exactly the right angle. Because he's a star, don'tcha know. And yet his audience consists of about 20 chairs in a high school auditorium, half of them empty. And the audience he does have look about as interested as a paint-drying convention. except for one guy who's a little too entertained!

It's no wonder Griego's act isn't doing as well as it used to, because it is truly awful! It's embarrassing to watch him do these squeaky voices, lame jokes, coupled with the sour look he gives when a show doesn't land. Naturally he takes no blame, thinking it's everyone else's fault and lashing out. It's his ungrateful audience, the critics, etc. Obviously he didn't decline. Everyone must just have it out for him. And then there are the dolls themselves. Clearly they are the uncooperative ones! In fact, if the dolls are actually real living beings, that does beg the question of if Griego is even a ventriloquist at all!

This attitude is close to getting him fired if he can't breathe new life into his act. Eventually he hits upon the solution to all his troubles-Dress up his daughter and make her a new doll. Perfect! No-one will know the difference. The crazy thing is this actually works! Despite still only being a guy making silly voices, just with a new doll and a couple extra jokes, somehow this works well enough to even break into America! Yeah, I can imagine this Spanish speaking ventriloquist with his clown doll really setting the States alight.

Despite being an aging ventriloquist with severe anger issues, Griego is a surprise hit with the ladies! He's got one lover on the side, then tries his luck with others. There's also a would-be blackmailer, who digs his employer a body pit that comes in handy more than once, and Griego figures since there's room, BANG, so much for his blackmailer.

The other characters include Griego's brother-in-law (who I thought was his dad for most of the movie), who's aware of the guy's negatives, but is forced into his scheme (going so far as to call it a demonic fraud, and looking on sadly during the make-up process like the girl's being killed! Overstating it just a little), and ultimately meets a sticky end. Daughter Karlita is a sweet girl, who has a special bond with the dolls, yet is a little dopey and trusting. There's also an old maid(?), Karlita's friend, and a few women, including a plucky journalist. I was a little confused who was who at times, which may be because I don't speak Spanish, and because some look the same. Maybe it's the film itself, who knows.

And the dolls are a friendly bunch, and slow to anger, but when they cut loose they'll roast and slime you!

You're probably wondering after all this how this is a 'killer doll' movie, when I've barely mentioned them. That's because they barely appear! Despite an early introduction, they vanish for large swathes of movie, and it's only in the final minutes when they enact their revenge. It's a shame, because that's the movie at its most bonkers, with dolls spitting fire and slime at their tormentor. They're so powerful it makes you wonder why they didn't do this 80 minutes sooner!

Besides this, Al Filo's biggest problem is that it would've been fine at 70-75 minutes, but the 92 minute runtime leaves the movie full of fluff and dead air. You could cut out so many scenes that accomplish nothing, and be left with a much tighter film. Instead it takes forever before anything horrific or crazy happens. It's the middle act which suffers the most. By the end, Edge of Terror feels like a perfectly adequate, if overlong drama about a crazed artist and his daughter, that the makers decided to turn into a killer doll film, but didn't change enough to compensate.

The film borders on black comedy, like one part where Karlita is trying to calm her friend's suspicions. See, her father is a good guy, not as bad as he seems...before immediately cutting to him punching his brother-in-law! For the heinous crime of removing his daughter's make-up. Because it's only logical to wear clownface 24/7!

Interestingly, Al Filo has a somewhat del Toro style flourish. With the 'ugly monsters' being friendly and persecuted, little girls as the heroes(ish), and a brutish human who proves to be the real villain. This is the kind of story I could totally see him remaking! While we're on the subject, that does make for an interesting topic, seeing these VHS-based Mexican horror flicks from the 90s, and comparing them to Del Toro's feature debut Cronos! In terms of quality these obviously don't compare, but they share a nice co-existence. It's little films like this that led the way.

While Al Filo may not be the best at showing scale, it's the dolls that are the most important thing to nail. So does the movie succeed? In a way. They're clearly people, but the make-up is good, and the pyrotechnics at the end are pretty neat.

The acting is ok, with Fernando Almada giving a strong lead performance. Karla Talavera is a cutiepie, and everyone else does fine. Dwarf actors must be so grateful for weird horror movies. Because while they may yearn for audiences to accept them in normal roles, they know horror has always had room for 'em! Are you making a film with aliens, trolls, mutant elves, or killer dolls? You know who's on hand to help! As with Herencia Diabolica (and Munecos Infernales if we go further back) it is a little weird when the dolls are portrayed by real people, but they do fine jobs, despite the goofy voices.

Al Filo del Terror is an interesting little horror, but doesn't quite get there in the end, and is a bit of a bore in places. Worth watching if you're really into Mexican horror, or killer doll films! Besides that it can be skipped...

This post is for The Shortening, a blogathon set up by Emily of  The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense.

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