Dead Man Tells His Own Tale 2017
Angel Barrios is a successful advertising director. With minimal effort, he seems to have it all: power, money, influence, family, and a sexually adventurous wife. The only thing working against him seems to be the secret fact that he’s dead. Sexist and unfaithful, he moves through the world demanding sensuality from his conquests and treating women like meat. Spearheading his latest project by sleeping with prospective actresses and justifying blatant double standards, Angel lives by the slogan of his newest brand campaign: “show them who’s in charge.” Then, late one night, he is seduced – and killed – by a sisterhood of vampiric Celtic goddesses who are on a mission to install a universal matriarchy. The undead Angel becomes their zombified slave, suddenly unable to partake in casual misogyny while acting as a subservient pawn in their vengeful scheme.
Nicolás Britos and Fabián Forte
Diego Gentile, Mariana Anghileri, and Emilia Attías
Dead Man Tells His Own Tale (aka El Muerto Cuenta su Historia) is a raunchy horror comedy with surprising depth, plumbing complex social issues like gender politics, machismo, and misogyny. The black comedy and gallows humor are so prevalent, the film’s message never feels forced or preachy; instead, we’re given an irreverent romp that’s deceptively simple, a film that can be enjoyed for its surface story as well as debated by those with an eye towards satire and modern feminism. While Dead Man Tells His Own Tale has many familiar elements, it presents a combination of horror tropes and archetypes creating a unique tapestry of tender terror and hardcore fantasy.
Official Synopsis: Angel Barrios is a successful advertising director. With minimal effort, he seems to have it all: power, money, influence, family, and a sexually adventurous wife. The only thing working against him seems to be the secret fact that he’s dead. Sexist and unfaithful, he moves through the world demanding sensuality from his conquests and treating women like meat. Spearheading his latest project by sleeping with prospective actresses and justifying blatant double standards, Angel lives by the slogan of his newest brand campaign: “show them who’s in charge.” Then, late one night, he is seduced – and killed – by a sisterhood of vampiric Celtic goddesses who are on a mission to install a universal matriarchy. The undead Angel becomes their zombified slave, suddenly unable to partake in casual misogyny while acting as a subservient pawn in their vengeful scheme.
Dead Man Tells His Own Tale is directed by Fabián Forte from a script he co-wrote with Nicolás Britos; the film stars Diego Gentile, Mariana Anghileri, and Emilia Attías.
Dead Man Tells His Own Tale kicks off by dashing the established “corpse tells the story of how he died” motif; the film isn’t a flashback (though it does go back in time for Act 1). Angel (played by Diego Gentile) tells his own tale by waking up in a hospital morgue and going about his business (albeit transformed by his experiences). As a slave to a band of Celtic Banshees, Angel’s bodily functions have ceased, but he’s not a zombie or a vampire. There may not be an exact word for the type of revenant the film’s lead has become, but his fate seems parallel to beauty-obsessed undead in Death Becomes Her. It’s a terrifying twist on the familiar quest for immortality, where the fear of dying is nullified even as decomposition commences. As it relates to the film’s themes, the living-dead men represent ugly throwbacks to past eras when misogyny was rampant and unavoidable; their exteriors begin to reflect the hideousness of their souls, as sort of reverse Dorian Gray effect.
Dead Man Tells His Own Tale is also reminiscent of Witching and Bitching, and not just for the similarities between Spanish and South American filmmaking techniques and aesthetics. Both films revolve around men crossing paths with covens of supernatural women. Both films celebrate femininity and female sexuality in ways that are both empowering (for women) and terrifying (for men). Both covens have plans for world domination that revolve around toppling the existing patriarchy. Ultimately, both films suggest that there is hope for today’s modern, casual misogynists.
Much of the films comedy stems from a concept explored in Liar Liar; Jim Carry played a smarmy lawyer who finds himself magically unable to lie, leading to much hilarity. In Dead Man Tells His Own Tale, Angel finds himself unable to participate in casual misogyny. He can even utter a bad word against his female captors and loses the ability to use nasty pejoratives like “bitch” and “chick”. Taking a page from another ridiculous comedy, What Women Want, Angel finds he has the ability to understand how his actions affect those he loves (specifically his wife and his daughter) though he seems unaware of the source of these realizations. He’s becoming a better man in spite of himself, and the transformation is personally terrifying for him. The transition and confusion is encapsulated in a single moment: While taking a shower, Angel realizes he’s menstruating.
While I’ve compared Dead Man Tells His Own Tale to a few other films, the one I was most surprise to find resonance with is Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, specifically as it relates to many men’s fear of female sexuality. A bedroom scene between Angel and his wife Lucila (played by Mariana Anghileri) is extremely reminiscent of the Act 1 scene featuring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. We find out that Lu is willing to bring another woman to bed with them, an opportunity she figures most men would jump for. Angel, however, is averse to the idea; he reasons that having a woman join them opens the door to the possibility of including another man at some point down the road—and this is an idea Angel cannot entertain. Lu’s unabashed sexuality scares Angel, which is ironic considering he’s a sex addict. Ultimately, when Angel’s dalliances are discovered, Lu laments the fact that he lied, not that he had sex with other women.
It all speaks to the duality and contradictions of machismo, the double standard that equates male sexual conquests with power and female dalliances as evil—perhaps even supernatural. The sexualized female is almost like a myth in certain societies, making the coven of Banshees an apt metaphor for male anxieties. The ending of the film is surprising, hinting at a worldwide shift in gender dynamics in a way that’s humorous, original, and thoughtful. While it doesn’t offer any concrete advice for effecting real change in the real world, it offers hope for understanding. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale has a genuinely emotional anchor, one that turns out to be a source of salvation for the film’s sleazy protagonist: The loving relationship between a father and daughter.
Bottom Line: Dead Man Tells His Own Tale is a deceptively lighthearted horror romp with surprisingly deep subtext. The gore is infrequent and always situational, meaning this one can be enjoyed by hardcore horror fans and casual genre viewers alike. The film is sweet, nasty, hilarious, and heartwarming in equal measure.