Directed by Eduardo Rodriguez off of a script by Robert Rodriguez, Curandero: Dawn Of The Demon debuted at a festival screening or two way back in 2005 where it was picked up and then promptly shelved by Miramax. It didn't make the rounds theatrically nor did it come out on DVD... it just sat there in the vaults for almost ten years possibly because of some of the problems that Miramax found themselves in. Lionsgate has stepped up to the plate, however, and now the movie is out on DVD for those who are curious about it.
So as to the story itself? Set in modern day Mexico City, the movie introduces us to a man named Carlos (Carlos Gallardo), the son of a spiritual healer who was, until he passed away, very popular with the locals. He's approached by Magdelena (Gizeht Galate), a federal agent investigating a series of incidents that have taken place in the underworld of the Mexican drug trade. It seems she'd like Carlos to use what he learned from his father to help them figure out just what exactly is going on with a series of drug related killings. While drug related killings are sadly all too common in the area, these ones are different as they initially appear to have been done as some sort of Satanic ritual. Carlos is able to confirm that these are not specifically Satanic in nature, but something else entirely, while the drug lord in question continues to work his evil way around the city leaving piles of bodies and buckets of blood in his wake.
As Carlos is pulled further into the investigation, his abilities allow him to feel what the victims felt and as such, he can lend some insight into what happened at the various crime scenes. Unfortunately, he doesn't really want anything to do with any of this. He knows that the investigation is bringing him dangerously close to thing he does not want to be messing with. A nagging part of him insists he carry on, however, if only to live up to his father's reputation and prove to those who doubt him that he's more than just a low level spiritualist.
This is one seriously mixed bag of a movie. The first of the two main problems that it suffers from are the visuals. It's not that the movie is unwatchable or anything, only that it's really ugly. The colors are so bland and lifeless that setting it in Mexico almost seems like a mistake. If you're going to place your movie in Mexico and use all sorts of great outdoor locations and lots of red gore, the colors in your movie should really shine and here they don't at all. The whole thing looks like white balance was off or something. Contrast is blown out and detail really suffers for it, the whole thing looks very artificial, bathed in oversaturated brown tones that do not do it any favors at all, which is a shame as in terms of compositions and camera set ups, the movie is well done. The second problem with the movie is the script itself. It jumps around a lot and it winds up tripping over itself in spots, particularly as the end approaches and it feels rushed, trying to explain to us what maybe didn't necessarily need to be explained in the first place.
The movie isn't a total wash, however. There are loads of effective gore effects almost entirely done with practical work, save for one really bad looking CGI blood drop that 'hits' the camera when it looks up to a ceiling with five bodies nailed to it. Monsters attack old ladies, demons appear, limbs are severed, eggs explode into balls or gore and body parts tend to be scattered around the crime scenes with sickeningly effective glee. This part of the movie is done well, the splatter effects really hammer home how nasty and depraved the killings are and it helps to set the mood of the story rather well. It's also great to see Carlos Gallardo pop up here (and not playing a gun toting Mariachi either!). His understated performance is a strong one and he proves to be the right casting choice for the part, even if he doesn't really have a whole lot of chemistry with Gizeht Galate.
Curandero: Dawn Of The Demon arrives on DVD framed at 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot on HD video, the movie looks about as good as the source material will realistically allow for (see the above comments about the color scheme). Some minor compression artifacts pop up here and there but the image is clean even if contrast is frequently blown out. The issues here seem to relate to the 'look' of the movie rather than the authoring of the disc. Some minor shimmer shows up in a few spots but this is likely as good as the movie can look.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are provided in English and Spanish with subtitles provided in both languages and unless you've got a serious aversion to subtitles, you can safely go straight to the original Spanish language track. The English dubbing is poorly done and it hurts the movie. As far as the sound quality goes, though this is a bit more subdued than your average horror movie, there are some effective moments that take advantage of the surround channels and some noticeable stereo effects up front. Bass response is okay, not earth shattering but okay, while dialogue remains clean and clear. The score used in the movie isn't used constantly but when it does arrive in the mix, it too sounds fine. No problems here.
Director Eduardo Rodriguez and Director of Photography Jaime Reynoso offer up a commentary track that basically serves as the disc's only extra. This is a decent track that offers up some history of the production and some insight as to where the filmmakers were pulling from in terms of inspiration, themes and ideas. It's a solid, well paced track that's actually a pretty good listen. Outside of that, we get an Ultra-Violet digital copy, menus and chapter selection. A few promo spots for other Lionsage/Miramax properties play before the main menu screen loads.
Curandero: Dawn Of The Demon has a good story hiding in it somewhere. The performances are decent, the ideas are strong and the gore and monster effects work well. The movie is well paced and features some decent framing and camera movements but the issues with the blown out contrast and color schemes are hard to look past, resulting in a film that's bland and ugly looking where it should be colorful, even garish. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.