FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: (1) sociological, (2) *psychological*
These two films happened to be on the same disc of a DVD collection called PURE TERROR, and their only connection, besides being both of a marvelous phenomenality, is that they seem to be vying with one another for "worst movie in the collection."
TERROR is a mess, made by three directors of minimal experience and (reputedly) a producer who thought the whole thing was gold. It also used largely non-professional actors, though the cast does include exotic dancer Fawn Silver, best known for Ed Wood's ORGY OF THE DEAD. Most of the story's characters, however, perish when their plane crashes in Peru in the film's first thirty minutes. This leaves one little boy, name of Henry, to struggle through the Peruvian jungle, with only his stuffed toy tiger for companionship. By chance he's taken in by a tribe of Jivaro Indians, because one of their number has a vision of Henry with a golden halo over his head. The guy who sees this claims that the white boy has been sent to the tribe by the sun-god Inti, but other parties in the tribe resent the kid's presence. Meanwhile the boy's father mounts an expedition to find Henry, though the film shows far less of the expedition's progress than it does loads of stock footage, particularly of fabulous parades in one of the country's tourist traps.
There's just one sociological motif that makes this turkey slightly memorable. There have been dozens of flicks in which tribes of various colors became immediately fascinated with white people simply because of their skin-color. Here, however, the only reason the tribe saves Henry is because he's believed to have some supernatural power-- and the payoff to this trope, probably inspired by the producer watching an old TWILIGHT ZONE, is that Henry really does have such power. At the climax, he's attacked by one of the Jivaro naysayers, and Henry turns his stuffed tiger into a real beast that savages the would-be assassin. Then he's rescued. The end.
TERROR's pretty terrible, but at least it doesn't purport to be anything but a low-grade jungle-adventure. The other flick lies outright in claiming to be based on one of Poe's lesser-- and lesser-known-- short stories, but this Mexican-made film has nothing in common with the Poe story except that they both feature "oval portraits" of beautiful women.
PORTRAIT also gets the nod for being far more incoherent than TERROR. It shouldn't be all that hard for a film with just a handful of characters to convey, in the first ten minutes, who they are and what motivates them. Instead, an elderly woman and her middle-aged daughter (former B-actress Wanda Hendrix) appear at an old mansion, where they meet the housekeeper and somehow manage to say almost nothing about who they are or why they're there. (Eventually there's a mention of a "reading of the will" that's supposed to take place there.( The mansion seems to be haunted by the ghost of a woman in an oval portrait, and daughter Lisa begins to identify with the history of Rebecca, the recently deceased woman in the portrait. Is Lisa really being possessed by a ghost, or is she simply identifying with an imaginary spectre? Don't ask me. The film didn't even make clear in the opening scenes that it's supposed to be taking place shortly after the end of the American Civil War, which turns out to be a very important part of the story-- such as it is. There's also a crazy young man hanging around, who happens to be connected to both the late Rebecca and the mansion's housekeeper, but the film is so haphazard in its continuity that I found it impossible to invest any emotion in the story. For what it's worth, Rebecca's ghost is real, though I have no idea if she was really trying to possess anyone.
It's definitely a career low-point for both Wanda Hendrix-- whom I liked in Roger Corman's HIGHWAY DRAGNET-- and director Rogelio Gonzalez, whose best-known work today is probably the 1960 SF-comedy SHIP OF MONSTERS.