Film

Don't Open That Door!: #5 - 'El Vampiro' aka 'The Vampire'

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950's horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: Count Dracula's Mexican relatives fight that empty feeling in El Vampiro, also known as The Vampire


Director: Fernando Mendez
Cast: German Robles, Abel Salazar, Adriana Welter
Mexican theatrical: 4 October 1957

Alternative titles: Sucks to Be You; Montezuma's Other Revenge

POSITIVES:

Terrific moody atmosphere with plenty of swirling mist and torchlight

Unexpected human-into-bat moments

Inventive camera angles and crisp pace keep things moving along

Mexican movie exudes "foreign film" snob-appeal status

NEGATIVES:

Romance, thought not awful, is unecessary baggage

Sags a bit in the middle (sort of like me, come to think of it)

SYNOPSIS: Good natured Marta returns to her home in Mexico's remote Sierra Negra mountains to visit her sick aunt Eloise; circumstance throws her in with Enrique, a fellow traveler on the same road. Oddly, no one is there to meet her at the station, so she and Enrique bum a lift partway, then go on by foot. Little do they realize that they're being trailed by a statuesque, black-clad woman who possesses unusual skills such as blinking in and out of existence and raising strong winds just by standing around.

When Marta arrives at the house, things get even weirder when it becomes evident that Aunt Eloisa isn't as sick as originally thought. Heck, she looks better than she has in years! But the real shocker is that Marta's other beloved aunt, Maria Teresa, is in fact freshly dead and buried. Of course, around here, being "freshly dead and buried" means something slightly different from where the rest of us come from, but that's another story. Or, hmm, maybe it isn't.

Notwithstanding the hospitality of Marta's dapper uncle Emilio, Enrique wants to vamoose (smart fellow) but lets himself get talked into staying (not so smart after all). Then again, there seems to be more to Enrique than meets the eye—which in a movie like this is not always a good thing. Meanwhile, rumors fly around about vampires haunting Sierra Negra, and to the surprise of nobody who remembers the title of this movie, these rumors turn out to be true. When local hotshot Senor Duval—tall and suave, with a coiffure that he obviously spends plenty of time on—gets his hands on some Hungarian graveyard dirt, he begins jonesing for his brother to come back to life, or maybe un-life, once again. But before you can say, "What kind of hair gel do you use, anyway?" Duval is out in the countryside, flitting through the air on little bat feet and raising havoc with the locals. And, it soon transpires, he ain't the only one.

It quickly becomes evident that Duval-cula has his eyes on Marta, and nothing seems capable of resisting his evil schemes. Except maybe, you know, a heroic guy. Or is it a heroic gal? A heroic ghost? Anyway, a heroic something.

Best line of subtitling: "Dead people never come back."

What gets desanguinated: One aunt (by report); one kid; one guy; a couple of suave-looking fashionistas. A few previously unknown goons take some hard knocks at the end, too.

What gets saved: El Dia de los Muertos.

Moral of the story: When people start walking around after their memorial Mass, it's time to pack your bags. Vamanos!

This reminds me of… …Hammer Films' Horror of Dracula, starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the Lennon & McCartney of horror films. That movie would be released the following year, trading in this film's moody black-and-white for splashy color and bold sets. But El Vampiro's bad boy, German Robles, is every bit as suavely alluring as Hammer's better-known (to Anglo audiences) Christopher Lee. Urban legend has it that this movie influenced Hammer's offering, but considering that the British film was already in production at this time, that seems like a bit of retrospective influence-peddling.

Sequel alert! The Vampire's Coffin would reprise many of the same characters, including bloodthirsty Senor Duval, for a second round in 1958.

Can you explain? When the bat/vampire attacks the little boy, the boy’s (apparent) mother wastes no time running away as fast as possible. Maybe she was just a neighbor: "Sorry kid, you're on your own!"

Literary tie-in: Bram Stoker's 1896 novel Dracula gets all the credit, but Carmilla, written 25 years earlier by Joseph Sheridan La Fanu, tells the story of a female vampire and her (female) victim. In a related story, John William Polidori's The Vampyre was published way back in 1819.

Somehow their careers survived: This was the first role for German Robles (Duval) who went on to star in The Vampire's Coffin (1958) and The Brainiac (1962). Both of these also co-starred Abel Salazar (Enrique), who had appeared in movies since 1941 and would go on to roles in such films as 1963's The Curse of the Crying Woman. Ariadna Welter (Marta) enjoyed a lengthy career into the 1990s, with credits including Brainiac as well as The Devil's Hand (1962). Carmen Montejo (Eloisa) continues to act in Mexican TV dramas well into the 2000s, while Jose Luis Jimenez (Emilio) would appear in 1963's Samson in the Wax Musem. Alicia Montoya (Maria Teresa) would also reappear in The Vampire’s Coffin; among her many other credits is a role in Mexican superhero epic Santo Versus the Martian Invasion (1967).

BOTTOM LINE: A well-over-par vampire flick that's long on atmosphere while being short on gore, even by 1950s standards.

NEXT WEEK: This Island Earth

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image