El Tren de la Bruja
Director: Koldo Serra & Gorka Vazques

Director Koldo Serra & Nacho Vigalondo

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl


Koldo Serra is the Spanish director of Backwoods (Bosque de sombras, 2006) starring Gary Oldman. It's the young director's break-out film into the world market for horror cinema. He had already gotten a bit of attention trucking his horrific short subjects to film festivals:

Amore de Madre (1998) is a black & white film that opens on the proverbial dark & stormy night in an Old Dark House. In Spanish without subtitles, two women are seated before an unlit fireplace conversing & clearly uneasy about something. A man appears at the door & the younger of two women is startled & shouts. But she & the older woman continue to share tea & ignore the figure outside the door window.

Amore de MadreThe younger woman is herself middleaged. She gets up & goes to prepare a bath, where she is knifed to death by an unseen villain, complete with blood circling drain a la Psycho.

With close-ups of bloody knife & meat cleaver, & a corpse's feet as it is dragged through the house, we're definitely in psycho killer territory. When the camera at last reveals the culprit, the man in a raincoat has entered the house to find his mother dragging the corpse. He yells at her & she slaps his face for sassing.

Grumbling to himself, he takes up the chore of getting rid of the body for her. She jots down in a notebook a little pencilled "slash" beside others; there've been several such victims.

The b/w part of the film represents flashbacks, a story told by the young man confessing to his part in these events. At first we have a close-up of his face whenever the tale cuts back to him, in color, but each time we see him we understand more of his own predicament.

In the next stretch of flashback we see him hacking up his mother's victims, blood splashing all about, & burring the pieces on their property.

The old lady likes to walk about the house sharpening her knife on a wetstone. Her son is worried to death about the new house servant. The servant faints when the old lady's pet spider crawls on her, & the son asumes she's been killed & begins to cut off her legs, just as the woman regains consciousness & cries out.

Mother enters the room with a meat cleaver figuring it's a good moment to really do the servant in. As her son tries to prevent it, he accidentally causes the cleaver to ram into the head of the servant. That's then witnesses arrive & see him in a position that telegraphs certainly he's a killer.

When his confession of events is done, no one believes him, except of course his mother who watches through a window as the switch is thrown & her son is electrocuted.

Some moody photography but most of it isn't spoofy enough to be funny, nor serious enough to be horrific. I appreciated the b/w part, but the story of the unjust execution in color had the feeling of a failed joke.

And while the simplicity of the tale made subtitling unnecessary, the story even so seems a mite trivial. Still, you can see a real talent here, & I most certainly wanted to see more of the young director's work.

In 2004 El Tren de la Bruja (2003) was the recipient of the Grand Prize for Best European fantasy short film at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival; Best Spanish Short at the San Sebastian Horror & Fantasy Film Festival; & two additional awards at the Catalonian International Film Festival. It was also a nominee for the Melies d'Or at the European Fantasy Film Festival, an award I've been taking seriously for short films, to the point that I will even watch the runners-up.

El Tren de la BrujaA bit over eighteen minutes, hence slightly longer than Koldo Serra's first film, it has no subtitles, but is not difficult to follow. A man (Manolo Solo) is alone in a dark room with a spotlight on a wired barber's chair. A voice (Hector Alterio), instructing him, induces him to be seated & to hook himself into the wires.

I'm sure I missed a lot as there's considerable dialogue between the unseen man & the man seated in the dark room. Our guy seems unafraid though the situation would disturb almost anyone. He's apparently volunteered for an experiment & really doesn't believe anything dangerous can happen to him. When he begins bleeding from his arms & his shoulder blades, he tastes the blood, & responds as though it's sweet syrup.

Beyond the circle of light he hears noises but can see nothing. He remains calm, even amused, but is showing signs of being shaken. When the circle of light begins to shrink, he definitely seems a bit disturbed.

He can hear screams not far distance, as he sits in abject darkness, the screen entirely black. But summoning his sense of humor, he speaks of the "musica." He's nevertheless startled when the light suddenly comes back on, & he finds himself a bit bloodier than he was formerly.

He jumps again when a hand reaches in from the dark & grabs his shoulder. He turns & sees a masked figure step back into the darkness.

Now breathing more heavily, something in the unseen narrator's dialogue or his environment definitely has him unsettled, but he behaves with stoicism. Slightly grossed out to discover a severed finger on his head, he tosses it away, unhooks himself from the wires, & steps forward to the edge of the light to reclaim & more closely inspect the severed finger, which seems indeed real, & fresh.

The masked figure appears to be closing on him & he leaps back into the barber's chair where he's apparently been informed he'll be safe from assault. People are laughing out in the dark, & blood is dripping on him from above. He's no longer jolly & undisturbed; they've definitely dashed his humor or broken his will.

The masked figure in butcher's apron steps into the light & shows him a severed head, places it in his lap, then holds a gun to the back of the frightened man's head. Voices in the shadow do a count-down & the gun is fired. Our hero falls from the dentist's chair to the floor, shot in the head.

Lights come on in the mostly empty room. Two researchers come into the room to take the masked gunman away, removing his mask to reveal, unexpectedly, how shocked & terrorized he is. He, rather than the man in the chair, may have been the real subject of the experiment, & the man in the mask may never know the man he believed he shot is not injured.

This is a nice little horror film. If it's ever available subtitled it'll be interesting to see it again, to see how much I missed by not understanding Spanish.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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