There’s always been a special place in the horror genre for bonkers approaches to traditional stories. Roberto San Sebastian's debut feature film, The Night of the Virgin, is exactly that; a fresh take on familiar schlocky ground. Schlock is nothing new but schlock, camp, and confrontational sexual imagery is becoming a niche all of its own, one Sebastian clearly revels in.
The Night of the Virgin follows Nico (Javier Bodalo), a leery virgin, who hits the clubs on New Year's Eve 2015/2016 with the sole aim of losing his virginity. As the night crawls on, Nico is seduced by Medea (Miriam Martin) a mysterious older woman with a dark secret.
It’s a campy subversion of the silly virgin-related slashers of the ‘80s, playing with audience expectation in the daftest ways. It’s a black comedy above all else, piling nasty circumstantial mishaps on each other until the film explodes with farcical energy. It’s a supernatural horror film but in a hilarious accidental way which shows genre-awareness.
The Night of the Virgin plays out like the demented love child of The Greasy Strangler and Inside. There’s the one location tension ride of Inside but Sebastian clearly appreciates the outrageous cum-encrusted humor of The Greasy Strangler. The Night of the Virgin is also one of few horror films of late to acknowledge 2016 was a bit of a weird year, characterizing New Year's Eve 2015/16 as a kind of fateful gateway to Hell. It's a gag we can all get in on and really helps set the scene.
Bodalo is a creep straight out of John Waters' repertoire whilst Martin is the epitome of Euro femme fatale, tired with the world of men and longing for the comfort of her Grecian fem-cult. If the idea of watching a Mr. Bean-like character stumble through a supernatural horror story sounds daunting, don't worry, Martin is a charismatic screen presence who entices from start to finish.
Aside from arresting performances there's noteworthy work from cinematographer Adrian Hernandez, particularly the color palette which transforms often drudgy looking interior spaces into lurid pulp locales. With a less creative set of hands behind the scenes, this could have been dull shock-bate, instead it’s a surprisingly funny and nicely made slice of bad taste.
That being said, this is a film which intends to gross you out. The only issue with that is that Sebastian shows so much dedication to topping his gross moments that he loses focus by the finale. The stage is set for a night of tension, but it never quite achieves a consistent pace. There’s great elements and superb set up but by the end your left feeling a bit detached from all the sordid nastiness.
If it didn’t look so good at what it does, this could have been grueling. Instead it’s an often exhilarating, mostly grubby, continually colorful, trip into deranged sexual horror. For a debut feature this is an impressive smorgasbord of pop-schlock and bad taste which marks Sebastian a strong new voice in horror.
NIGHT OF THE VIRGIN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ROBERTO SAN SEBASTIAN / SCREENPLAY: GUILLERMO GUERRERO / STARRING: JAVIER BODALO, MIRIAM MARTIN, VICTOR AMILIBIA, IGNATIUS FARRAY, ROCIO SUAREZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW