Spanish Netflix Horrors! By Kristin Battestella
At times, it’s tough muddling through the foreign Netflix content and re-branded continental originals padded with run-of-the-mill scares. Fortunately, this trio of short and long form international Netflix productions featuring Basque witch hunts, Mexican demon hunters, and transatlantic wartime mysteries provides plenty of unique thrills.
Coven of Sisters – Burning pyres and whispers of witches communing with Lucifer jump right into the 1609 Basque torment in this award winning 2020 international/Spanish Netflix production. Seventy-seven executions and counting mar the beautiful cliffs, picturesque ships, and moss forests as royal judges seek out maritime towns where women have been left alone and apparently up to no good. Excellent carriages, armor, frocks, and stoneworks provide a period mood as our happy girls weave and dream of far-off places. They are captured and stripped with bags over their heads and fear is evident thanks to questions about summoning Beelzebub. The girls point fingers at each other – wavering from confident of their innocence and nonchalant about the witch accusations to quivering and afraid after beatings and shaved heads. Tension builds in the one-room unknown as suspicions and confessions raise the frazzled interrogations and double talk entrapment. Guards ask if they offer themselves to Lucifer while prodding with needles and searching their bodies for any devil’s mark. Where did the devil stick his tail in them? Did they dance? Dancing spreads fanaticism! There are no fast intercut montages or fake outs toying with the audience, just in scene interplay with eerie screams and uninterrupted singsong. They make up chants and have their jailers procure oddities for this supposed sabbath ritual, but it isn’t a game when those sinister captors devoutly persecuting every blasphemy readily jump to devilish conclusions. Men wonder if they are bewitched by the tempting supple, pressing the weary girls into saying what they want to hear, and these daughters stall to avoid the stake, hoods, torches, and shackles until their sailing fathers return. They hope to escape during the full moon, so one tells a wild tale with preposterous twists in hopes of taking the blame to save the others. Supposedly learned, religious men bemusingly believe every fantastic turn, and after witnessing all our recent stateside strife, it’s not surprising how this kind of pitchfork hysteria and mob idiocy spreads. If they want to see a witch’s sabbath, the girls may as well make fools of them complete with mushrooms, contortions, and flying. This is an excellent presentation on allure, hypocrisy, and consequences in a unique, horrible history setting made easily accessible thanks to several subtitle and language options.
High Seas – The twenty-two episode 2019 Spanish murder mystery Alta Mar jumps right into the action with stowaway suspense, albatross omens, and murder aboard a post-war luxury cruise liner en route from Spain to Brazil. High-end period detail including hats, gloves, brooches, satin, stoles, frocks, and cigarettes matches the Art Deco splendor, sumptuous colors, inlaid woodwork, and divine staircases. Impressive ship visuals and Titanic engineering specs provide scale alongside maze-like halls, askew angles, turbulent waves, and thunderstorms. Jazzy ballads and grand ballrooms create mood before intrepid writers, telegrams, cryptic conversations, and suspicious midnight rendezvous raise the disappearances, accusations, and blackmail. In debt Lotharios, lecherous in-laws, and handsome officers clash with underbelly workmen and disgruntled servants, and the episodic chapters allow time for plots high and low. Course changes and defying orders question who’s in charge – the aging captain, wealthy owners, angry shareholders, or the slimy ship detective? Ominous cargo holds, stolen lipstick, lockets, typewriters, and ransacked rooms escalate to man overboard emergencies, fires, and promises to take one’s secrets to the grave. Intertwined crimes are resolved as new twists and turns are well balanced between the dramatic love triangles, faked accidents, and fishy business deals. Microfilm clues and poisoned cocktails reveal previous conspiracies, past motives, and Nazi gold. It’s dangerous to wander the secret passages amid power outages, red lights, and increasingly dark corridors, yet surprising deaths aren’t what they seem thanks to mad doctors and tick-tock countdowns. Blinding blows, chases, castaways, and an SOS start Season Two alongside tarot cards, psychic clues, and seances. Crackling intercoms, bloody bodies on the bed, ghosts, dead women walking on deck, spooky phone calls, and more paranormal are not out of the blue, but rather a natural progression of the escalating circumstances. However, is the vintage Ouija an elaborate ruse or are there really evil spirits starboard? The ship becomes a character of its own with messages on the mirror, old fashioned spy gadgets, lifeboat rigs, and daring escapes. Too many lies, betrayals, and forged letters acerbate wedding shocks, secret pregnancies, and business takeovers. There are some soap opera slaps in the face, too! Shipwreck deceptions and bodies in trunks culminate in one final kicker before Year Three takes a new course from Buenos Aires to Mexico. Our writer published a novel about the cruise experience, but strange suitors at the bookstore and a spooky antique shop lead to British Intelligence and objectives to track down an incoming passenger who’s really a Nazi doctor carrying a deadly virus. It’s fun to see who’s back for better or worse – same crew, servants in new ship staff positions, fresh crisscrossing romances. A second sister ship will travel behind with expensive cargo, but a man is shot on the first night out and bodies end up in the car boot in the hold. Do you up security and alarm the passengers? Those who know about incriminating notes are indisposed via fevers, injections, and Luger murder weapons. Bandaged patients aboard provide intrigue amid suspicious radio transmissions, magic disappearing acts, and dark room suspense. Missing photographs, doppelgangers, and torturous know-how, make for shady alliances, but one can’t worry about scruples after an innocent man is dead. Code decryption, trick lighters, and secret cameras uncover planted evidence, sinister green tubes, and ruinous revenge as gaslighting, threats, and mutiny lead to armed standoffs and shocking gunshots. Concentration camp survivors recall sadistic doctors who enjoyed what they did, but evil lookalikes slip up thanks to disguises and a scrumptious masquerade ball with perfect lighting, glam, and gowns. Life or death maydays raise the outbreak finale, yet it is strange to see vintage masks, quarantines, and plague panic these days. Rescue warships would rather sink than save, but vaccines come in the nick of time – with a twist or three. The destination pacing and cliffhangers are easy to marathon, but it’s a pity Netflix turned its back on this series. Nothing here is superfluous thanks to Shakespearean asides, whispers in the gallery, and well done mysteries. Obviously, this not being full-on horror may disappoint some, however, the period atmosphere, sweeping melodrama, and gothic twists remind me of Dark Shadows’ earlier years.
Netflix also has a bad habit of not promoting its branded foreign content. It’s apparent their current model is quantity over quality, populating its catalog with as much original and proprietary premieres as possible – presuming you’ll binge one and stay for the next recommend similar click and chill. Remember, it’s in their best interest to keep you streaming. Sometimes that works and you find great shows! However, more often than not it means unique movies get lost in the shuffle, and shows that deserve more time are dropped after a few seasons. This leaves a lot of unfulfilling filler – especially in the horror and genre categories which seem to have the most flotsam and jetsam.
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