VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the January 31, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.
Servando González directed one of the wildest films I’ve ever seen, El Escapulario, which somehow unites multiple genres and countries of cinema, as well as being folk horror by way of Mexican Catholicism.
Here, somehow, he’s in America and making an adaption of the novel of the same name by Helen Eustis. And, to quote Joe Dante, he’s making the most Night of the Hunter movie that is not Night of the Hunter.
Working from a script by Morton S. Fine (who wrote a lot of TV, as well as The Greek Tycoon) and David Friedkin (who worked with Fine on the show Frontier), González leads George Mellish (Edward Albert) through the desolate post-Civil War landscape of America. After being beat — again — by his foster parents, George has taken for the open dusty road, a place where he meets Dirty Jim (Henry Hull). Jim tells him of a gigantic axe-carrying killer called The Foolkiller who just may be Milo (Anthony Perkins), a man that he meets as he wanders Tennessee.
George thinks he deserves all the slaps and strikes his foster parents have given him. After all, they quote the Bible the whole time. But after hearing that his foolishness — playing with dandelions is nearly a capital offense — is so strong, he wonders if he’s destined to be a victim of the Foolkiller’s blade.
As our protagonist and Milo travel, we see that they both have scars from the figurative and literal wars they’ve fought. There’s also a tent revival which is awe-inspiring in its ferocity, as Reverend Spotts (Arnold Moss) snarls, spits and nearly explodes as he convinces George to make the altar call and drop to his knees before the Lord to stay out of the pits of Hell.
Mexican directors never got the chance to make American movies, but this is much closer to a regional film, shot in Knoxville, that somehow got Tony Perkins on board and gave González the opportunity to make a dark fairy tale of childhood, pain and belief.