Color, 1982, 84 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by José Ramón Larraz
Starring Helga Liné, Mauro Rivera, Vanessa Hidalgo, Jeffrey Healey, Carmen Carrión, Alfred Lucchetti, Manuel Gómez-Álvarez
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), BCI (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)

The biggest Black CandlesAnglophile of all Spanish horror directors, José Ramón Larraz made a virtual cottage Black Candlesindustry out of hauling local actors over to the tranquil British countryside where his taboo-breaking tales of sex and violence could be passed off as English-made product. His most famous of these productions is easily the cult classic Vampyres, with its other companions including the recently rediscovered Symptoms, the drive-in staple The House that Vanished, and the sadly underseen Deviation and Whirlpool.

The last and sleaziest film of this cycle, Black Candles, is one the director himself didn't speak of too fondly, though it's absolutely marinated in that singular melancholy, lonely, misty atmosphere he managed to capture on film. Here lurking under the amusing pseudonym of "Joseph Braunstein," Larraz both directed and wrote this tale of loving couple Carol (Hidalgo) and occult enthusiast Robert (Sexual Story of O's Rivera), who pay a visit to the country estate of Carol's sister, Fiona (Spanish horror vet Liné), whose Black Candleshusband Black Candleshas died under supernatural (and sexual) circumstances in the opening scene. Soon it becomes apparent that Carol is dabbling in some very black magic indeed, with a local reverend (Gómez-Álvarez) presiding over black masses and the neighbors performing charming practices like forcibly coupling a young maiden with a goat in the barn. Carol comes to realize that not only has Robert fallen under the satanists' carnal spell, but she might be part of their sinister plans as well.

At least as much a softcore sex film as a horror outing, Black Candles earned some notoriety on the bootleg video circuit due to its very heavy nudity quotient (everyone in the cast disrobes at one point or another) and some of its more extreme highlights, such as the aforementioned goat scene (thankfully not shown too explicitly) and a gruesome climactic bit of business involving a traitor and a very long, sharp sword. If you're expecting a wild Euro horror scare fest, this one only delivers in sporadic doses with lengthy, darkly lit sex scenes taking up huge chunks of the running time. On the other hand, if you're a Larraz fan it's certainly worth a look to see how he was trying to adapt (barely) to the commercial demands of the time.

The first legit American digital release of this film came from BCI as part of a "Welcome to the Grindhouse" double feature DVD Black Candlesin 2007 with the rather good Spanish shocker, Evil Eye, both in flat letterboxed transfers that could've used a lot of Black Candleshelp. The 2016 revisit from Code Red is a major step up in quality, bringing out a lot of detail in the darker scenes and featuring a richer, more Larraz-esque appearance overall that fits the film in more snugly with the rest of his output. The DTS-HD MA English mono tracks sounds adequate for what amounts to a pretty flat dub job; the actors were obviously speaking a combination of languages, though English was intended as the primary one for its theatrical release. The film bears the title Hot Fantasies on the print, which doesn't quite convey the spirit of the whole enterprise. (More appropriate is the Spanish title, Los ritos sexuales del diablo, which you can probably translate yourself.) No relevant extras, though you get bonus trailers for Cut and Run, Eye in the Labyrinth, The Sicilian Connection, and Hands of Steel.

After that disc dropped out of circulation, Severin Films gave Larraz's film a much more robust special edition in 2021 on Blu-ray featuring a fresh 2K scan from the camera negative (still bearing that Hot Fantasies title and Larraz's usual "Joseph Braunstein" pseudonym). This version also runs significantly longer than the prior Code Red disc, which clocked in at 82m6s versus the 84m21s here, thanks to the addition of exit music at the end of the film. Though the older disc looked solid, this one improves on it with more natural and consistent color timing as well as, most significantly, more spacious framing at 1.66:1 (versus the earlier 1.78:1) restoring lots of headroom that was cropped off before. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds fine as always, with optional English SDH subtitles.

A new audio commentary by Naschycast's Rodney Barnett and Troy Guinn is up to their usual Black Candleshigh Black CandlesSpanish horror standards as they chat about Larraz's career across several countries, his attributes of the cast, the film's reception among fans, the difficulty of parsing out the ending, and the difficulty of pinning him into specific genres. However, don't try to take a shot every time they mention how much Larraz disliked this film or you'll be unconscious by the half-hour mark. In "La Dama del Fantaterror" (16m20s), filmmaker Diego López takes a look at the career of Helga Liné from child contortionist and teen model to her status among Spanish horror royalty, framed around a new video interview with the very classy-looking actress who still remembers everything in great detail. ("Christopher Lee! He was quite unpleasant to everyone. He was extremely stuck-up.") Author Gavin Baddeley appears in "Made by the Devil" (42m) for an in-depth look at the history and tropes of Satanic cinema, tracing its lineage from the silent era with Häxan through Hollywood and Hammer efforts and the sudden surge in popularity after The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, including some astute observations about how these films reflect attitudes and fears involving religion of all stripes. Of course, the lion's share of his attention here goes to the Spanish strain with the influence of Goya laying the groundwork for films like Black Candles that pushed the limits of local censorship. Finally in "An Exception to the Norm" (21m20s), author Antonio Lázaro-Reboll provides an overall assessment of Larraz's Spanish horror output and his place among his peers like Juan Piquer Simón, as well as the influences on this film like a real black mass Larraz attended in Paris.

Severin Films (Blu-ray)

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Code Red (Blu-ray)

Flight to Mars Black Candles Black Candles Black Candles Black Candles


Updated review on November 25, 2016.