The title translates roughly as "healer", referring to genuine characters within the Mexican community who act as spiritual healers and are believed to possess supernatural powers which enable them to carry out such services.

Carlos (Carlos Gallardo) is one such shaman, albeit he makes but a small living at it in an even smaller town. He doesn't exactly believe in his abilities - he's simply living off the reputation of his late father, a hallowed healer of considerable repute.

Into Carlos' life saunters Hispanic Federal agent Magdalena (Gizeht Galatea). She's part of a team responsible for apprehending the notorious leader of a Satanic drug-trafficking cult, Castaneda (Gabriel Pingarron). Only thing is, Castaneda has escaped from police custody and the only cult member currently held by the authorities has mysteriously had his tongue ripped out in his prison cell.

Magdalena wants Carlos to purify her police station of any curse that Castaneda may have bestowed upon it, and ultimately help her track the errant Satanist down. Initially reluctant, Carlos agrees to help when he realises the job will otherwise be given to his arrogant rival Alex (Javier Escobar).

Claiming to have purified the station and exorcised a curse from its petrified police chief, Carlos believes his job is done and tries to leave before he's exposed as a fraud. But Magdalena persists further for his assistance. A combination of his growing feelings towards her - she, incidentally, was purified by his father in her childhood - and bizarre, bloody hallucinations of events that are yet to come, persuade Carlos to once again change his mind.

And so, the hunt for Castaneda gathers pace as the mismatched pair act upon shady leads and embark on a journey into the darkest heart of Mexico City in a bid to end the supernatural Satanist's killing spree.

But they're up against formidable foes. Police corruption is infamous in Mexico, and is explored to some degree here (who can they trust when even one of Magdalena's colleagues may be a cult member?). Also, when Castaneda finally reveals himself to Carlos, he's quick to demonstrate his mystical trans-world powers to the non-believer.

As Carlos' exposure to the dangerous world of police pursuits heats up, he's in for a few revelations along the way - not least of all is the motive for Castaneda's deeds...

Based upon a discarded screenplay by Robert Rodriguez, CURANDERO was eventually handed to Eduardo Rodriguez (no relation), who adapted the original idea into a fresh script and directed it under the production wing of Miramax's Dimension Pictures.

It's a solid feature debut from the guy who went on to direct STASH HOUSE, boasting decent production values and some very fine prosthetic FX. Most of these, admittedly, are shown in very brief onscreen flashes as Carlos suffers visions either of atrocities that have happened, or are yet to occur. There's a lot of blood in the film - eviscerated corpses crucified upside down; demons spewing gore from their mouths etc - but it's all quick-edited in to proceedings in such a manner that you'd miss them if you're a particularly slow blinker.

Performances are uniformly good, while the script is pleasingly straight: this is a horror film. It's not interested in crossing over to comedy (though there are infrequent moments of subtle humour) and definitely doesn't subscribe to its originator's love of superficial grindhouse homages. There are no dumb teenagers in this film either; each character has a background, a motivation for their actions and a valid contribution to the screenplay's evolution.

And yet, the film doesn't quite gel. Its technical merits are highly proficient, perhaps too much so. There's a lot of stylish camerawork and lighting in evidence which, when combined with the aforementioned J-Horror-type flash sequences and in particular a distracting look to proceedings which is just 'off' (it looks like CSI: MIAMI at times), pull the viewer out of the action far too many times.

It's a shame because the film means well (as is backed up by Rodriguez's sincerity on the disc's commentary track), and has an intriguing second half which is brave enough to throw in actual demons and angels amidst its action. To liken to another film would be difficult: I saw elements of THE OMEN, PROPHECY, ANGEL HEART, ROJO SANGRE ... but this is its own beast. Which is a good thing. Just, not a great thing.

Lionsgate's UK DVD presents the film uncut in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The picture is enhanced for 16x9 television sets. There's a heavy sharpness to the imagery which is true to its digital HD origins, while the colour correction that the film undertook during post-production gives most scenes an almost sepia hue. This dictates that colours are not often as strong as one would expect from such a modern film, but when they need to be - the day scenes, the bloody hallucinations - they do pop out vividly. Overall, the transfer is problematic (contrast is blown out frequently) but I suspect that's due to the way the film was made rather than any flaw in the disc's mastering.

Audio-wise, we're given the benefit of both original Spanish and English dubbed mixes in 5.1 surround. I focused on the former, which is generally good despite some rather muffled moments during the film's first third. Optional English subtitles are white with a thin black outline, making them easy to digest at all times.

The disc opens to an animated main menu. From there, an animated scene-selection menu allows access to the film via 15 chapters.

There's only extra relating to the film: an audio commentary from Rodriguez and his director of photography, Jaime Reynoso. This is in English and, although both of course have accents, their conversation is fluent and always easily understandable. They discuss their cast in a most positive light, the local folklore origins of the story and the very specific visual style of the film - including its culmination in an almost entirely red-hued finale. Infused with occasional humour, this is an incredibly detailed track with lots of technical info alongside Rodriguez's intermittent habit of narrating what's going on onscreen.

The DVD is defaulted to open with a trailer for TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.

CURANDERO is an interesting take on the darker side of Mexican culture, shot with panache and a commendably straight face. It doesn't always work - it's too self-consciously stylised and covers too much ground too thinly - but does have enough interesting facets to recommend it.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Region 2
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review