Tackling the elephant in the room first, ‘Curandero’ has sat gathering dust on a Miramax shelf for 8 long years. It had the bad luck to be orphaned as Miramax split from parent company Disney in ‘05, but its gets a release this week via those kind adoptive folks at Lionsgate. Was it worth the wait? In a predictably fence-sitting way, yes and no.
Directed by Eduardo Rodriguez (currently shooting Fright Night 2) and written and produced by Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Sin City) the film revolves around the hunt for Castaneda (Gabriel Pingarron), considered the most dangerous criminal of recent times. We discover early on that Castaneda was recently arrested, but managed to escape from custody leaving a trail of carnage in his wake, and most troubling for the local officers – a curse on the police station.
As no officer will now set foot in the station, the only solution is to procure a Curandero (translated as ‘Healer’) to rid the station of this curse. Magdalena (Gizeht Galatea) is sent to find a renowned and respected Curandero, but discovers he has passed away but that his son Carlos (Carlos Gallardo) is willing to help. Carlos appears a little cynical to the healing role his father bequeathed to him, and after he purifies the station he mutters “curses are for senile old men”. Irrespective of his doubts he seems content to assist Magdalena in the hunt for Castaneda, if for the sole reason of respect for his father.
As the film progresses, a sceptical Carlos begins to have increasingly vivid visions wherever he goes. From an initial one upon cleansing the police station, to graphically realistic visions that leave him struggling to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
The film is as expected a fairly dour affair, but there is a great comedic scenario when Carlos and Magdalena are investigating the case and visit a drug kingpin, to find that he employs an organ donor surrogate (on a healthy wage too) to follow him around in case he drops dead. A heavy coughing fit part-way through the scene ensures much comedic panic.
Approaching ‘Curandero’, the initiated horror buff may have a certain amount of apprehension given the long wait for its release, but with that assuredly down to the Miramax / Disney issue it’s important to forego this statistic. Overall, it’s a pretty decent horror movie. It has solid lead performances from Galatea and Gallardo (who it’s great to see after El Mariachi), excellent (CGI-lite) gore and a premise that isn’t a) found footage or b) six teenagers in the middle of nowhere chased by a masked killer. Perhaps more could have been done with its location. The look of the film seems somewhat flat and drab, whereas Mexico City should surely feel vibrant with deep, lush reds – not washed out. That said, I would certainly be happy to file ‘Curandero’ under ‘almost lost South American curio’