Panico was my first experience of vintage Mexican horror, and an intriguing entree it is. An anthology film leftfield of many of it's time, which tended towards collecting traditional tales, taut, simple and neatly wound. Panico for the most part deals little with spooks, goblins or bumps in the night, it is instead an offbeat and even arty look at the troubles within, unquiet minds rather than unquiet graves and dark. Its three tales are labelled Panic, Solitude and Anguish, and they deal in said states with some success, although Anguish glosses its darkness with streaks of uneasy humour. Panic is the highlight, a nearly relentless chase through forest of a young white dressed beauty by an older scowling purple clad avenger. Wordless save for a largely superfluous piece of exposition at the end, it works very well on a miniscule premise through deft employment of symbols and a telling flashback. Repeated facial close ups bring a feeling of melodrama, but their strained flesh of torment seeking outburst is contrasted wonderfully with the forest around, trees impassive, so straight and tall and spread out round, the setting dwarfs interior trauma, makes all insignificant and in insignificance the more poignant. This section would be even better were its explanation left implicit, but remains a little gem.
Solitude keeps up the bleakness, with two gents feeling through swamps from yellow fever and the memory of those they have had to bury. But while they may be able to get away from the immediate horror, one is still overtaken by paranoia and guilt, with predictable consequences. It's similar to Panic in that facial close ups and emotional intensity are set at odds with the glaring natural world, but this time there is more a feeling of life to the swamps, of sound and movement and almost open hostiliy. There's more dialogue here as well, more plotting and action and what might seem to be a pretty conventional set-up, albeit cloaked in a murk of ambiguity. Unfortunately at just a little under 40 minutes, what might have been pretty impressive stuff, moving and chilling in equal measure, ends up drawn out and dull in spots. There are a couple of memorable images and the muggy, depressive atmosphere is well spun, but it's too dreary to fully keep interest going.
Anguish is a rather substantial turn around, a slight and fairly silly tale of science gone wrong given power by some effective suspense and boasting a rather inspired darkly comic final shot.The premise holds little water, a scientist has developed a drug that induces catalepsy for several hours but accidentally takes some himself and is mistaken for actually dead. Now the second part is pretty reasonable, but it's never explained, nor is any explanation immediately apparent, why any scientist other than a mad one would wish to create such a drug. This isn't a mere anaesthetic gone wrong, this is a substance that causes the appearance of death for a few hours, accompanied by no loss of cognition so that any test subject knows and can feel exactly what is happening to them throughout. Now I don't know about anyone else, but this sounds like mostly an instrument of torture to me... Still, so long as one doesn't think too hard on this, Anguish is a fairly effective tale, both witty and nightmarish, the two twining ever tighter until the climax. Much more conventional in style than the first two tales and lacking their psychological weight and genuine darkness, it still appeals as something of a time capsule, a well handled darkly humoured vignette that is perfectly early to mid 20th century in idea and development. And it also wraps up the film around in theme, presenting death after the earlier stages of the previous chapters. Perhaps after horror and dark, when the end comes we can but laugh...
Well, perhaps. Anyways, Panico is a fairly interesting affair that probobly won't be of much interest to any other than devotees of vintage foreign horror or perhaps serious anthology addicts. But to those compelled to see it, it does earn my mild recommendation, for if nothing else it does quite well at being unusual, and where convention is so much easier, the unusual is worth commending.