Though it’s been a South Texas legend for centuries, the lechusa is a folk-creature that seems to come directly from a rejected Emerson, Lake & Palmer album cover — a giant owl with the head of an old witch. As a movie monster, the lechusa is a questionable choice at best, but Moglan’s noir-horror mash-up — filmed on location in Presidio and (very briefly) San Antonio, is plagued less by hag-faced big birds than its adherence to worn-out genre tropes.
Most problematic is Paul Matthew Lopez’s portrayal of San Antonio narcotics agent Johnny Valenzuela, dispatched to the Texas-Mexico border to recover a brick of confiscated cocaine. Lopez is by far the film’s best actor, but his pale skin, patchy facial hair, and sarcastic delivery make him a better choice to play a burnt-out Starbucks barista, than the on-edge, hooker-abusing rogue-cop anti-hero he’s intended to be, rendering the film’s few action scenes unconvincing — a real shame, since at least one shoot-out is otherwise pretty well put together considering the obvious budget constraints.
Worse, we’re saddled for most of the film’s 90-minute runtime with the noir genre’s most abused convention — constant, invasive (and almost entirely unnecessary) voice-over narration. In a tight-lipped and terse Mike Hammer pastiche, Valenzuela rattles off useless observations like a know-it-all acquaintance afraid of awkward silences. “Mexicans are Catholics,” he helpfully points out describing Presidio’s population. “And that means they believe in God. And that means they believe in the devil.”
Which brings us, quite heavy-handedly, to the horror movie Lechusa becomes in its final act. We’re thankfully never treated to any well-lit, lingering shot of an old woman in a homemade bird suit, but Moglan instead uses the legend as an excuse for the scratched-film jump-cuts favored by all those J-horror remakes cranked out monthly by major studios.