It’s always fun to take a stroll down Mexican Horror Film Lane. It isn’t a place that I go too often but whenever I visit, I’m always discovering something new. Sometimes, the visit is filled with the odd and bizarre, other times it’s like I stumbled upon a lost Universal horror classic. Such is the case with The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959) aka Misterios de Ultratumba, a flick just oozing with atmosphere that could easily fit as if it had come from the legendary Universal studios.
First, a big part of any good Mexican horror movie is the imagery. From the very first few frames, we gaze upon an old house filled with cobwebs and neglect. The narrator explains that this is the site of something horrible and shocking. We are taken back to witness the death of Dr. Aldama, who makes a deathbed promise to Dr. Mazali that he will fulfill their pact. Both men swore to the other that whoever died first would return to share the secrets of the afterlife. After Aldama is buried in a graveyard that seemed straight out of Frankenstein (1931), Mazali then conducts a séance to summon Aldama back to Earth. It turns out that Mazali can experience the afterlife but it will cost him greatly. What follows is a tale that involves an asylum, crazy patients breaking loose, a hideously disfigured madman and unrequited love.
What truly makes The Black Pit of Dr. M enjoyable is the overall appearance of the film and the strong performances. Rafael Betrand turns in a wonderful role as Dr. Mazali. He is also known for starring in the last film of Boris Karloff’s career, The Isle of the Snake People (1971). Of course, no horror movie is complete without the femme fatale, Mapita Cortes, who stars as Patricia Aldama. Director Fernando Mendez isn’t a household name but he clearly understands the genre as he masterfully commands the lighting and use of shadows to elevate the film beyond what many others were simply cranking out at this time.
For many years, The Black Pit of Dr. M was impossible to find. In fact, the English dubbed version is still considered lost. Thankfully, Casa Negra released this film on DVD in 2006, looking as great as it ever would have in 1959, if not better. This only adds to one’s depression that Casa Negra has since folded, leaving many other Mexican horror classics unrestored and unreleased, only to be forgotten in some dusty old film library. It is now out-of-print but can still be found at a reasonable price from various sellers. It is also available to rent on You Tube.