Directors: Vicente J. Martin & Pedro L. Barbero
Year of release: 2001
Country of origin: Spain
Running time: Conflicting reports but my DVD says 104 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: DVD only
Tagline: "Ignorance kills..."
Also known as: Tuno Negro and Black Symphony
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: A Spanish slasher set on campus at a university in Salamanca, Black Serenade follows the actions of someone billed as the Dark Minstrel. This figure has become something of an urban legend killing students in universities across Spain. Often initially making contact with victims through internet chat rooms the Dark Minstrel has so far left few clues for the police to go on. After deaths at their university, a group of friends led by new and super smart student Alex come to realise that the Dark Minstrel is far from just a legend and is in fact at large on their very campus. Alex and her friends begin to see a pattern in the previous victims of the killer. They reason that the worst students at each university are being targeted or those who may have cheated on their exams. As the brightest student at Salamanca university Alex seems the perfect person to pit her wits against this unusual villain and expose the person behind the legend once and for all.
Good points: Clothed in a traditional minstrel costume coupled with a white mask with long black hair attached the killer looks fairly decent and also has a unique looking twisted dagger as well as a trademark weapon. It isn't the best costume you'll ever see it has to be said but it's more than passable and gets the job done. As there are a group of frat type boys at the university that also wear this minstrel style costume it enables the killer to blend in effectively in the same way as seen elsewhere say for example in Sorority Row where the killer and other students around campus are wearing graduation robes.
The premise behind the film in the motivation for the killer is very unique. For the most part only the poorest performing students or those known to be cheats are targeted which is something that to my knowledge has never been done either before or since. Unless this is remade nor is it likely to ever be seen again so the film has something unique going for it here. Not quite as uncommon but also a solid addition is the penchant the killer has for communicating via the computer and also filming the stalking of victims on camera. This in particular sets up an exciting scene where Alex and her friend Trout are desperately trying to catch up with the killer before he attacks their friend Michelle. All the while they are being encouraged and given directions by another friend Edu who is seeing things from the killers POV due to a recording being streamed to him over the internet.
The film is reasonably gory in places and several of the deaths stand out as being pretty good. Mild spoilers: The two that stood out for me were an early one where a woman is being stabbed in a toilet stall while two males hide in the next stall. Far from alarmed they are actually laughing as the noises they hear from the victim they believe to be sex noises as they assume it is their friend in the stall with her. Another good one is where a guy high on drugs is killed and before he dies he starts to hallucinate with regards to what he is seeing of his own blood.
There is a big twist ending in this one which did catch me by surprise. For some this twist may be a bad thing as it is a bit of a stretch to be possible but I liked it and it helped elevate the movie for me. I decided to up my score by one point on the strength of the ending which managed to change my mind from the number I was initially thinking of throughout the rest of the running time. The twist was sort of hard to get my head around at first as this isn't the most straight forward easy to follow film but after going back and watching a few parts again afterward I think it all made sense.
Bad Points: None of the characters in this really held my attention as they all seemed either pretty unremarkable or unmemorable or just plain unlikeable. I didn't find myself giving a damn about any of them including final girl Alex who in particular left me cold. Not sure if this is a bad or a good thing but they also didn't go down the traditional route with her either showing her to be quite sexually active. In reflection of the ending this shortcoming of the film may be vindicated somewhat but i did find it to be a big problem while watching as I struggled to invest in anyone. Scorpion was probably the best of a bad bunch as he had the most interesting look and was mildly funny in a sleazy way.
Black Serenade can be boring at times in particular when it harps on about the history of the minstrels and talks about cathedrals, religion and art. Relating to this I wasn't sure what Alex and her assistant Sandra were supposed to be doing when on a couple of occasions they were seen pottering around in an old chapel. On top of being a bit boring the film is also hard work in the sense that it isn't presented in a very clear way at times and can be confusing. As I said I had to go back and rewatch several parts again afterward to try and piece it properly together. To add to the issues a lot of the kills seem to go unnoticed by the cast as well such as those killed in the morgue.
Though the opening kill was enjoyable there were a couple of problems with it. Arancha seems really freaked out when she is on her own and realises the person she is speaking to online is right outside the building but instead of trying to get out of her room and find people she instead decides to wash her hair? After that I felt the timing and logistics of the kill didn't add up as I don't think the killer would have time to pose the body before the couple came into the chapel to have sex.
There is a weird scene where Alex and Edu are getting it on and a guy dressed as a minstrel costume is hiding under the bed. After Edu leaves for a moment this guy beneath the bed grabs Alex's ankle. It was sort of a cheap scare for the audience I suppose but it was unclear who this guy was or what his intentions were and they glossed over it very quickly. It did set up Alex's kickboxing I guess but they could easily have done that another way.
Potential spoiler: When Alex is having sex with the policeman I thought it was very unrealistic when he handcuffed her and started threatening her with a knife. It was done to briefly make us think he was the killer I know but i thought it was a stretch that he would do that with a knife seeing that there was a killer running around and he himself was involved in the investigation to catch him. Even more unrealistic is that Alex would be so receptive to it and continue to have sex with him even more vigorously afterward. With the knife it certainly went beyond more common kinky domination type games. Again perhaps the ending would justify this to a degree but it still should have been scripted better.
Verdict: I liked the idea behind the story with the bad students being targeted and the film had some good ideas connected to some of the deaths and stalking scenes. The killers look was also decent but the whole thing was brought down by an unlikeable cast of characters. The final girl Alex in particular didn't appeal to me. It didn't help as well that things had a habit of being confusing at times so it wasn't the type of film you could turn your brain off for and sit and relax. Worth a watch but don't expect to be blown away.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Arancha: Stabbed in chest and body displayed hanging up in the chapel in a crucifixion type pose.
2) 7 eleven bride: Stabbed repeatedly in toilet stall.
3) Female medical student: Found dead in the morgue.
4) Male minstrel also found dead in morgue with number 3.
5) 2nd male minstrel also found dead in morgue with numbers 3 and 4.
6) Biology/medical professor: Throat cut.
7) Michelle: Burnt while tied to a pole/column.
8) Scorpion: Stabbed in the arm and chest while high on drugs.
9) Priest: Found dead with throat cut and feet positioned on sarcophagus thing. Killed off camera.
10) Sandra: Hung on rope and body then thrown from church catwalk.
11) Trout: Set on fire after being covered in gasoline.
12-17) 6 guys dressed as minstrels that were all shot by one of the policemen who thought they were working with the killer.
18) Edu: Stabbed in the stomach and then finished off with another blow possibly to the back of the neck or upper back.