The Black Pit of Dr. M (Misterios de Ultratumba)-attachment0

The Black Pit of Dr. M (Misterios de Ultratumba)

Movie Information

In Brief: An atmospheric — and typically over-the-top — little chiller from Mexico about the director of an insane asylum and his attempts to go beyond the grave. Made by the major Mexican horror director of the era, Fernando Méndez, the film is much stronger on creepy images than it is on logic.
Genre: Horror
Director: Fernando Méndez
Starring: Gastón Santos, Rafael Bertrand, Mapita Cortés, Carlos Ancira, Carolina Barret, Antonio Raxel
Rated: NR

I’m not sure why the U.S. title of this 1959 Mexican horror movie is The Black Pit of Dr. M. There’s no pit of any color (unless it’s supposed to be metaphorical) and Dr. Mazali (Rafael Bertrand) is never called Dr. M. The original title, Misterious de Ultratumba (roughly “Mysteries from Beyond the Grave”), makes more sense. In any case, the film is one of the better Mexican chillers of the period — perhaps because it was directed by Fernando Méndez, a filmmaker praised (even by Guillermo del Toro) for his ability to create a genuinely creepy atmosphere. That’s certainly the case here — and it’s the atmosphere that is the film’s biggest selling point. The story about Dr. Mazali making a deal with the spirit of his dead assistant (Antonio Raxel) to come back from the dead is no great shakes, and it doesn’t always make good sense. (Mexican horror pictures, of course, are not known for making good sense.) What makes the film work is the combination of atmosphere and its parade of over-the-top grotesqueries. In short order, we get a creepy torch-lit funeral, a séance, mystical occurrences, a crazed gypsy woman asylum inmate, disfigurement by acid, murder, a dubiously conceived romantic triangle and what must be the shallowest grave in the history of burials. Now really, what more can you reasonably want?

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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