Monster is Back With a Vengeance

in 5th Los Cabos International Film Festival

by Gerald Peary

Do you recall with fondness the creepy crawly vegetation monster which ensnarled the erotically smitten Isabella Adjani in Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski’s 1981 transgressive classic, Possession? Making all her relationships with humans seem feeble and impotent in comparison? Unmistakably, that very same monster is back with a vengeance in Amat Escalante’s The Untamed/La Región Salvage, it’s tentacles poking into the awaiting orifices of whoever lies down before it. Male or female, old or adolescent, the monster doesn’t distinguish among its prey. And those who are its sexual victims choose to be there, waiting eagerly to be probed.

I have been told that the filmmaker, Escalante, lives by choice in the most reactionary, super-Catholic section of Mexico. That repressive atmosphere fuels his cinema, which bubbles up in a world of sexism, homophobia, rigid marriages, the rich and the mean on top keeping a tight order on morality. No wonder some people stray, their appetites unfulfilled, seeking a union with the Id monster.

It doesn’t take long in The Untamed for a gleeful hint of the horror to follow. The film opens on a woman on her back in heat reaching below and bringing something wiggly and non-human toward her crotch. Next we see her stumbling away in the countryside, clutching her bloody side. The woman is Veronica (Simone Bucio), and she arrives at a hospital emergency room claiming a dog has bit her. She makes friends there with a male nurse, Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), who is as openly gay as one can be in this conservative Mexican small town. Obviously, Veronica and Fabian connect because of their sexual adventurousness. How adventurous is Fabian? He’s having a tempestuous affair with his sister’s husband, Angel (Jesús Meza).

Escalante seems to be saying: what’s wrong with Mexico is encapsulated in Angel. He is a closeted mess. He makes love to his wife, Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), as if she was a man, and saves all his passion for sodomizing her brother. Meanwhile, he proves his manhood in the crude way of obsessively making disparaging remarks about homosexuals. Finally, he’s a mama’s boy, under the thumb of his businesswoman mother, who humiliates him and disowns him when she finally discovers he is gay.

Alejandra is sexually frustrated married to Angel, and Fabian has grown tired of his sexual encounter with this lowlife mediocrity. Brother and sister, lured by Veronica, look beyond Angel to the enticement of the monster. Curiously, they accept the devil’s pact, that this monster, satiated with desire, can turn violent against its human sexual partner, maiming him/her or even a brutal killing. Is this a vestige of Catholicism, that sinning against nature you also deserve to be miserably punished?

I must mention the frightening, Brothers Grimm house in the country where a mad scientist and his wife sit all day in a hallucinatory state waiting for visitors to feed their ever-horny monster. And there’s a scene beyond Hieronymus Bosch, a wild countryside orgy of animals of every kind climbing on each other and fornicating away. Eros is the drumbeat of the world.

I love The Untamed, and see it among the handful of great surrealist horror classics, alongside Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, Tourneur’s The Cat People, Cronenberg’s The Brood, and Kurt Neumann’s 1958 Vincent Price-starring The Fly. The last was on a list of Luis Bunuel’s 10 Favorite Films. Too bad the great Spanish filmmaker didn’t live to see Escalante’s Mexican masterpiece, with an extraordinary script co- written by Gibrán Portela.