Saturday, 24 March 2018

Yambaó - Cry of the Bewitched (1957)

Yambaó (also known as Cry of the Bewitched) is a 1957 Cuban/Mexican voodoo horror musical, which has to be one of the rarest of all cult movie sub-genres!

Jorge (Ramón Gay) and his wife Béatriz (Rosa Elena Durgel) live on a sugar plantation in Cuba. They’re slave owners but Jorge is an enlightened master and life is generally peaceful. Or at least it was peaceful, until Yambaó came back. Yambaó (Ninón Sevilla) is the grand-daughter of the witch Caridad. Caridad had been killed (or was presumed to have been killed) by Jorge’s overseer Damián a few years earlier. Yambaó disappeared at that time but now she has returned and things are going to get very complicated.

Yambaó has always been in love with Jorge and although she realises there isn’t much hope for such a love it hasn’t stopped her and hasn’t diminished her passions in any way. Jorge also certainly has more than a passing interest in Yambaó. Damián’s son Lázaro is also in love with Yambaó. Lázaro, like his father Damián, is a slave so he’s a much more realistic target for her affections. But she still loves Jorge.

It’s worth pointing out that Yambaó is not a slave. She was born a slave but the old master, Jorge’s father, freed her. Which adds to the difficulties, since Jorge therefore has no control over her.

To make Jorge’s life even more complicated plague breaks out. And the plague makes no distinction between master and slave.

The superstitions that had always been simmering away beneath the surface of life on the plantation now blossom in potentially very threatening ways.

Meanwhile Yambaó plots. Perhaps she does not have her grandmother’s powers but she certainly has powers of her own, both supernatural and feminine. Whether the spells she casts on men are mainly witchcraft or mainly the result of her earthy eroticism is hard to say but either way their efficacy cannot be denied.

Jorge and Béatriz are awaiting the birth of their first child and that can only add fuel to the fires of Yambaó’s jealousy.

This movie is perhaps more melodrama than anything else (which is no problem for me since I happen to enjoy a good overheated melodrama) but there’s enough of the witchcraft angle to keep horror fans reasonably satisfied.

The musical angle should be put into perspective. This is not at all a Hollywood musical. The musical interludes all serve a purpose. Most are connected with various rituals and do a great deal to build the atmosphere of malevolence and foreboding. And most of them feature Ninón Sevilla’s dancing, and her dancing is a sight to behold. As well as being a successful actress Cuban-born Ninón Sevilla was an extremely famous dancer, known for doing her own choreography and for the extreme eroticism of her performances. And there’s plenty of that eroticism here. It’s easy to see why she was a sensation as a professional dancer.

The music itself was obviously intended to capture an Afro-Caribbean-Cuban feel and it does so pretty successfully.

Ramón Gay gives a fine performance as the tortured Jorge but the film belongs to Ninón Sevilla. She might not have been a great actress in a conventional sense but she has an extraordinary smouldering presence.

There’s no gore but there are some creepy moments. Somewhat surprisingly (this is a 1957 movie after all) there’s some brief nudity.

There’s some surprising subtlety here. Jorge is hardly a paragon of virtue but he’s no villain. Yambaó is dangerous but is she evil? Or is she herself being used by an evil force?

Yambaó was shot in Cuba and visually it’s very impressive. In fact it’s a very well made movie. The script, by Julio Albo and Julio Alejandro, is also surprisingly intelligent and provocative. Director Alfredo B. Crevenna (responsible for many of the more interesting Mexican genre films) does a fine job.

This movie is paired with Mermaids of Tiburon in the Kit Parker Films/VCI Entertainment Psychotronica Volume 3 DVD release and is also included in their Psychotronica Collectors’ Set. The transfer is acceptable if not dazzling.

Yambaó is an oddity but it’s an interesting and very entertaining oddity.

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