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
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
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