Maya (1989)

  • Year: 1989
  • Released: 26 May 1989
  • Country: Italy
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: Italian
  • MPA Rating: N/A
  • Genre: Horror
  • Runtime: 100 min
  • Writer: Marcello Avallone, Andrea Purgatori, Maurizio Tedesco
  • Director: Marcello Avallone
  • Cast: Peter Phelps, Mariella Valentini, Cyrus Elias
  • Keywords: human sacrifice, curse, demon, maya temple, witch doctor,
false% – Audience

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Maya Movie Reviews

Alternates Between Gripping Supernatural Moments and Derivative Horrors

In the 8th century, an evil king attempts to extinguish a Mayan Indian tribe but is unsuccessful. He vows revenge and, being a wizard who can move freely between the world of life and death, slips into the netherworld. According to Mayan legend, the king will return when a man who knows of the bridge between the two worlds is killed at a pyramid-like temple. So says a character at the beginning of MAYA, which for at least ten minutes is entirely gripping, as we watch archaeologist Solomon Slivak (William Berger) play out the role of instigator who goes to the temple and gets murdered so the king may return to Earth.

Upon Berger’s exit, MAYA director Marcello Avallone, and his co-writers Andrea Purgattori and Maurizio Tedesco, seem unable to expand much on the concept of the “night as the fracture between two worlds,” as a pre-credit title card notes. At regular intervals, Avallone drifts away from the supernatural, inserting routine stalk-and-slash gore sequences that smack of artistic compromise.

The “night fracture” theme plays out, though, as Slivak’s daughter (Mariella Valentini) arrives in a poverty-ridden Mexican community, asking a lot of questions and falling for a down-and-out adventurer and gambler (Australian actor Peter Phelps). Soon, both of them are snared in the legend of the returning king, and people around them get murdered in horrible ways.

For example, two punk dudes down from Texas to raise hell run afoul of the evil spirit, which crushes both of them with their own truck. A death by fish hook scene is similarly contrived and ridiculous. The best suspense scene shows Phelps’ girlfriend tossed about a bath tub, an invisible force repeatedly smashing her face against metal pipes.

Phelps confronts an old friend of Slivak’s, who is the only one who can stop the evil spirit from sacrificing a small child atop the temple, during the Celebration of the Dead. The doctor yells some mumbo-jumbo, stuff flies off the walls in POLTERGEIST fashion, and the spirit is supposedly sent back to its netherworld. After the dust has cleared, there is one last cinematic jolt, a throwaway ending sequence set in an airport that is almost as creepy as the opening set-piece.

MAYA never strays very far from playing its horror very straight, with knifings and beatings and other earthly killings. When it investigates the underpinnings of the supernatural, however, it becomes for fleeting moments a really fun movie.

This Italian production was filmed in Isla de Margarita (Venezuela).

Decent but flawed supernatural horror obscurity

Italian horror has never especially depended on coherence. Fulci and others made up for it for it with the horror of their visions, Argento and his like made up for it with the intensity of their art. I don’t fault Maya for lack of coherence, but lack of conviction, it has the right moves for the most part but comes off insipid in the end. It has an interesting mythological basis, the resurgence of an evil Mayan king (the awesomely named Ze Bul Bai) who has conquered death and wants revenge, prompting horror, but while it isn’t lacking in engaging incident it has little anchor. The story sees one Lisa Slivak coming to a Venezuelan town on the death of her father and becoming entwined in the weirdness he was researching, indeed became part of himself, with inexplicable death all around building to a climax of sorts. Director Marcello Avallone is adept in creating a sense of unusual place, a certain heady atmosphere that goes a long way towards carrying the film, he also has a real knack for tension, through filters and lighting the ability to summon menace in quiet images, disturbance in the calm before the storm. He also has a knack for sharp and shocking violence, though the film is never all that gruesome (don’t worry, there is a bit of cool gore such as some fish-hook fun) the nasty bits do tend to pack quite a nifty punch. Where the film falls is its lack of a notable hero or villain. Mariella Valentini is perfectly pleasant as Lisa, but hardly memorable, while Peter Phelps does his best as the male lead Peter, but regrettably is written as sort of a dick. There isn’t anyone else to pin interest on either, other characters are mostly either forgettable or dick-heads that deserve demise. As for villainy you can forget about it, this is supernatural territory but the what behind the grisliness on show never puts in an appearance and is never really concrete. And this isn’t a subtle show either, just one where things don’t really add up. Still, for the most part this is a good watch, only really coming apart in the final block. There’s some cool bloodshed, nudity, a Hong Kong style puke scene and some decent atmosphere, its all pretty entertaining. Worth a look for connoisseurs I think, don’t expect too is the best way to get the best of its charms say I.

Marcello Avallone’s best horror movie (out of the two he has made).

Of the nine films directed by Marcello Avallone, only two were horrors: the first was an unremarkable demonic movie by the name of Specters, which not only suffered from a dull and utterly nonsensical plot, but offered little in the way of genuine scares, and even failed to compensate with that staple of 80s Italian horror, OTT gore. That film was followed two years later by Maya, which was just as incomprehensible, if not more-so (that ending! WTF?), but at least presented viewers with a unique setting, a reasonable amount of atmosphere, and more than enough nasty violence to satisfy the gore-hounds (along with plenty of gratuitous female nudity for thems that like it).

Mariella Valentini plays Lisa Slivak, who travels to Venezuela to identify the body of her father, who has died in mysterious circumstances. As Lisa investigates, with the help of rather unlikeable local lothario Peter (Peter Phelps), numerous people begin to die in unusual and gruesome ways. Quite who or what is behind these bizarre deaths is beyond me—the plot is kinda hard to fathom out—but the killings are both creative and sadistic: a would-be rapist has his leg crushed by a truck before getting his head impaled by a metal pole, a naked Latino hottie gets her face bashed in by unseen forces while in the bath (her nose splitting open as it hits the edge of the tub), and another victim is suspended by fishing hooks in her neck. To add to the nastiness, there’s also a stomach churning scene where a ‘finger-wrestler’ has his fighting digit snapped in two (blood spurting from the messy wound), and a strange ritual that sees a man vomiting up live snakes (similar to those weird Hong Kong black magic movies of the early 80s).

5.5 out of 10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.