With the enormous buzz created by "Los Sin Nombre" -- the Jaume Balagueró directed adaptation of British horror writer Ramsey Campbell's Novel "The Nameless" -- it was perhaps, not altogether surprising that yet another Spanish adaptation of a Campbell story quickly appeared. The Spanish producers of "Los Sin Nombre", Julio Fernández and Joan Ginard, were once again among the backers, with competent first time director, Paco Plaza helming the project. "Second Name" (the film was shot in English, and even the credits on this Spanish DVD are in English) follows to the letter the formula established by "Los Sin Nombre" and elaborated on by several contemporary Spanish horror-thrillers in the years since; Fernández and Ginard were obviously looking for a Campbell story that followed the same basic template as "The Nameless" -- and they found it in "The Pact Of The Fathers".
Although the title change makes it sound like a direct sequel to "Los Sin Nombre", "Second Name" is in fact an unrelated story which happens to be very like its predecessor in that it is a chilling, paranoid tale involving a shadowy religious sect. The result is a very stylish affair which, although always involving, lacks the personality and distinction of Balagueró's original offering in the genre.
English newcomer Erica Prior plays Daniella Logan -- daughter of the wealthy Theodore Logan (Graig Hill) who is the cofounder (with family friend Simon Hastings [Denis Rafter]) of a prestigious Scientific Academy. Her best friend is Hastings' daughter, Chrysteen (Trae Houlihan) who is awaiting the birth of her first child. Just before Daniella's birthday her father shoots himself in the head without any explanation! After the funeral, a grief-stricken Daniella visits his grave ... only to find that it is been desecrated and the body removed! If that isn't enough bad news for one person to take, a disfigured man keeps following her! Daniella begins her own investigation into her father's incomprehensible suicide and finds out that he had arranged a meeting with the mysterious tenant of a shabby boarding house just before his death. Then, her father's body turns up horribly mutilated.
A Catholic priest, Father Elias (John O' Toole) contacts her to claim that her father was involved with a heretical Hebrew sect called the Abrahamites who have survived in secret from Old Testament times into the present day. Elias claims that her father's body shows signs of the sect's ritual vengeance! The sect believe that the sacrifice of the first born child is the ultimate commitment one can give to God -- but it must be strangled by the child's own father! Daniella can't see what this has to do with her own father, but further investigations and revelations begin to undermine everything she thought she knew about both her own and her family's past.
First time feature director Paco Plaza brings a classy interpretation of the Ramsey Campbell story to the screen but his staid, often workmanlike, directorial style does not seem particularly well-suited to the horror genre. The screenplay fails to build any real tension until the final sequences and instead we are delivered what comes over as a very competently made TV mystery-thriller -- more along the lines of Polanski's "The Ninth Gate" rather than the stylised, brooding contemporary occult horror that was "Los Sin Nombre". This is despite the fact that both stories cover very similar ground indeed. That said, like most of the new breed of Spanish horrors, the payoff is very chilling and incredibly downbeat, while the realist photographic style — although very TV movie-ish — is still very pretty in an icy, Merchant Ivory sort of way! There aren't really any overt horror sequences in the film, instead, it is more of a mystery story which relies on its performances to establish sufficient interest in the story's development.
Unfortunately, this is where the film falters slightly: although most of the cast deliver solid enough performances, the weight of the film is carried by lead actress Erica Prior who gives a somewhat uneven turn. She certainly looks the part — with her smart Scully-like hair style and chiseled cheek bones — and is perfectly able to strike up the appropriately emotionally wracked facial expressions whenever called upon; but as soon as she opens her mouth things go wrong. Several scenes which should be important show-stoppers are almost completely neutralised by Prior's perfectly enunciated but utterly indifferent delivery. We're talking the Liz Hurely school of acting here folks -- it's that bad! This is a rare case where the Spanish audio track is preferable; not because it is the original one (it isn't -- the film was shot in English with an English speaking cast) but because the Spanish actress who dubs Prior gives a far more convincing performance than the actress herself!
Filmax give us a reasonably good two-disc special edition. The film is given a good 1:85.1 anamorphic transfer and features three 5.1 audio tracks (Spanish, Catalan and English), and one DTS 5.1 track in Spanish. English subtitles are provided, but the entire cast speak in English anyway so the English track is actually the original one!
All of the extras appear on disc two. Like most of these luxuriously packaged Spanish Filmax discs, they're ok but somewhat superficial. We get trailers and tv spots, and an arty music video of one of the tracks featured in the movie. Next, there are two storyboard sequences in which the original sequence is played while the storyboard appears in a box in the right hand corner of the screen. Also, we get to see Erica Prior's audition tape. If you think her performance in the film isn't all it could be wait till you get a load of this! Jesus ... how on earth did she get this gig?!
Next up we get a fifteen minute making of featurette. Although everyone but the director speaks in English during this, they are almost completely drowned out by a Spanish voice over! Finally we get ten alternative and extended sequences from the film which were probably cut to speed up the pacing. These come from poor quality work-prints but at least they are all in English! They come with automatic Spanish subtitles which can be removed.
"Second Name" is undoubtedly a bit of a disappointment but not a complete write-off; it still has that strain of chilling fatalism that seems to run through most modern Spanish horror and Paco Plaza is definitely a name to look out for in the future.