Sunday, June 12, 2022

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll / Los ojos azules de la muñeca rota (1974)

The sadistic and awesome poster art is certainly deceptive, but the US title House of Psychotic Women isn’t too far off. Perhaps it should be, ‘house of sisters who probably should learn to communicate better’? Can’t say it doesn’t really sell the film though. Oddly enough, I was sold on the movie’s original title Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, which works for the film as well, so feel free to pick your favorite title for this Spanish thriller, written by and starring Paul Naschy, and directed by Carlos Aured. It was also known as House of Doom for US television. 

Carlos Aured originally knew Paul Naschy from working as assistant director for Leon Klimovsky. Aured would be hired on to direct Naschy in Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973). They would collaborate in the ‘70s on three more films, with Naschy starring and Aured directing: Curse of the Devil (1973), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, and The Mummy’s Revenge (1975). 

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll was pivotal in my becoming a Paul Naschy fan. It was the second Paul Naschy film I had ever seen. My initial interest in it being that it looked and sounded like a giallo, and I certainly wanted it for my giallo collection that at the time was just starting to grow beyond Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I had also remembered Paul Naschy from a previous film I saw as a teenager, the aforementioned Horror Rises from the Tomb, which at the time disappointed me, so I was feeling slightly dubious. After watching Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, I had a much better time with it, and I loved Naschy’s character in the film, Gilles, which resulted in my eventually collecting many more Paul Naschy movies and becoming an ardent fan of his. Plus, I would end up realizing a new love and fondness for Horror Rises from the Tomb as well.


 

Some refer to Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll as a Spanish giallo, while others feel it isn’t really a giallo but more of a Spanish thriller. I personally feel it is fair to call it a Spanish giallo that’s more rustic and low-key in comparison to the more chic and stylized Italian giallo like Blood and Black Lace (1964) and The Case of The Bloody Iris (1972). I like to think the film is a part of Paul Naschy’s own Spanish giallo trilogy that he wrote and starred in: the Sitges Festival award-winning Seven Murders for Scotland Yard (1972), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, and A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1975). For me, they all succeed as great gialli, but Blue Eyes resembles and feels more like the kind of Paul Naschy horror/thriller film that I am more attached to. This usually includes an isolated setting in a time-frozen country mansion, Naschy as an ostracized but still sympathetic and relatable romantic character with a repressed monster side, and a cast of beautiful potential love interests, of which one or more will likely make their way in to bed with him. It fits alongside other Naschy films with similar themes such as The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), Vengeance of the Zombies (1973), Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973), and Human Beasts (1980). Most of these Naschy films include a familiar (and even iconic to ‘70s Spanish horror fans) old Victorian-looking country mansion, which was used in quite a few Spanish horror films of the era, including Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1973), Night of the Walking Dead (1975), and The People Who Own the Dark (1976). I’ve always liked to call it ‘The Spanish House of Usher’. I read in an article by Mirek Lipinski that was included with the Deimos Entertainment release of Blue Eyes that this mansion was eighteen miles outside of Madrid but sadly, in true House of Usher fashion, no longer stands today.


 

When I was listening to the DVD commentary for this film with Paul Naschy and Carlos Aured, I was intrigued by the two different interpretations to the isolated, closed setting of the country house in the film. Naschy felt that Aured liked to create a real claustrophobic world in his films, but Aured intervened, claiming that he was more of an agoraphobic and that he found the closed setting to be comforting. I have always personally enjoyed the comfort of this kind of setting, so maybe I may be a bit of an agoraphobic myself, but I certainly can see how the film works as a claustrophobic setting as well. I also love the setting in this film as its own sort of art spectacle, as is nicely illustrated when Nurse Michelle (Inés Morales) is making her long walk up the trail to the house, as we see it, up on the hill, all by its lonesome, in the distance. This is just poetry to me and certainly inspired the header to this blog.


  

Blue Eyes succeeds at being an unpredictable murder mystery with quite a memorable setting. Naschy is Gilles (one of Naschy’s references to Gilles de Rais), a rugged, lonely drifter, somewhere in Northern France, who stops at a bar to spend what looks to be his last few francs on a cheese sandwich and a glass of wine (that he virtually wastes). He unsuccessfully asks the bartender, Caroline (the late Pilar Bardem Javier Bardem’s mother), about potential work before heading back out on the road. By chance, he is picked up late at night by an intriguing woman with a burned arm and an orthopedic hand, Claude (Diana Lorys), and offered a live-in job as a helper and groundskeeper at her isolated villa where she lives with her two beautiful sisters, Nicole (Eva León) and Ivette (Maria Perschy). Ivette suffers from some kind of psychosomatic paralysis and is taken care of by a home nurse, Michelle, and is routinely seen by Dr. Phillipe (Eduardo Calvo). The other sister, Nicole, is the young, hard-to-contain type who takes an immediate interest in Gilles, later visiting him in bed for some night time fun, much to the dismay of Claude. She doesn’t fire Gilles for this because she likely has harbored feelings for him, hinted at by the tension between them. Gilles has a smooth way of making Claude feel desirable despite her hand mutilation, which otherwise causes her to feel undesirable.

 

On the DVD commentary, Paul Naschy did mention several times that Gilles has a fetishistic attraction to Claude’s orthopedic hand. Though, when I first watched it, I didn’t really interpret it this way but rather as Gilles thinking she’s being silly to think that a hand mutilation could deter him from being attracted to such a magnificent woman. The moment he kisses her and then kisses her orthopedic hand, to me, it’s like he’s telling her I love and desire you the way you are; no need to be self-conscientious anymore when you’re with me. 

Despite getting hot and heavy at one point, Gilles and Nicole purposefully seem to lack chemistry, whereas there is a warm and romantic connection that develops between Gilles and Claude that I fondly remember the movie by.


 

Meanwhile, an unseen killer is murdering women with blond hair and blue eyes in the village to the tune of Frère Jacques. Given Gilles’ implied repressed sadistic desire towards women and the revelation that he’s actually an ex-con, and that the murders started after his arrival, it is easy to assume that he could be the murderer. The police inspector Pierre (Antonio Pica) (who’s usually near a louched glass of absinthe at the film’s bar) certainly thinks Gilles is the killer after he finds out about Gilles’ past. It leads up to a satisfying conclusion that’s farfetched but not terribly confusing.

 

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll is a subtle and quite basic murder mystery. Although the first stalk-and-slash murder isn’t until nearly halfway in to the film. The killer quickly murders their victims with a hatchet and takes their eyes and drops them into a preserving solution of some kind. These murders don’t necessarily feel like the main focus, as there’s also a good story involving Naschy’s character, the red-herring who doesn’t preoccupy himself with solving the murders. Most of the viewer interest centers on him and the intriguing but still at times jarring situation he is in. He just wants to move on and find happiness, but his past catches up to him, because society never forgets.

 

I initially thought that Naschy was going to play some kind of sadist with a fixation on blue eyes, which is not quite the case. Fortunately, Gilles turned out to be a lot more nuanced and interesting, written and played by Naschy from the heart. Naschy realizes that no one is entirely good and wrote the ostracized Gilles as an antihero that, despite his unescapable evil past, does have a good measure of audience interest and sympathy. 

It’s a bit confounding when the police come to question Gilles; he initially assumes they are coming after him to take him back to prison, so he grabs his hidden gun and ammo and literally heads for the hills. When they catch up to him, without any real prompting, the police start shooting at him. It’s likely an excuse to have all guns blazing with a good old fashioned gun fight. Naschy stated that the intention was to portray Gilles hunted like an animal or a monster, no trial, no questions, with the police coalition resembling the classic angry mob coming for the “monster.”


 

I know it was done in a traditional manner, but the film does contain a harsh scene where a pig is legitimately killed by being drained of blood at the neck. I saw it once, but I skip past the scene on rewatches, as it was too much of a downer for me. 

Of note is the stellar jazzy score from Juan Carlos Calderón (Eres tú) that also includes surprisingly effective uses of the nursery rhyme Frère Jacques, my favorite being the grand closeout arrangement that helps end things on a real emotional note. Paul Naschy said that even at a young age he found something unnerving about Frère Jacques and thought to include the theme as the killer’s leitmotif. It was also used with real doomful portent in A Bell from Hell (1973).

  

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll has a little something for the giallo and Paul Naschy fan and doesn’t disappoint on either front; plus, we get some great personalized Paul Naschy romance and tragedy that characterizes many of his films. Despite a few absurdities the story is quite solid. I’ve always loved and fondly remembered the closing scene that’s kind of demented and heartfelt at the same time. It manages to satisfy without being all that shocking. 

Like I said, it’s not the first Paul Naschy film I saw, but it was the first film to turn me on to Naschy, where afterwards much more DVD, and sometimes DVD-R, collecting ensued. Exploring Naschy on the internet would eventually be the main reason I got into writing about movies as well. So, in its own way (and I’m just realizing this) this movie was a partial life shaper of sorts for me. 

© At the Mansion of Madness