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A pretty young Mexican girl returns to her hometown to make funeral arrangements for her beloved aunt, who has just died. Soon she begins to hear disturbing stories about the town being infested by vampires, and she eventually begins to suspect that her remaining aunt and the mysterious next=door neighbor may be involved. Written by
Another film I have watched as part of my Halloween marathon was EL VAMPIRO/THE VAMPIRE (1957), recently released by Mondo Macabro on R0 (PAL) DVD. As I have already written in an earlier post in this thread, I was not familiar with this title outside of Carlos Clarens' book on horror movies; the very positive 'Monsters At Play' online review, then, was the factor which drove me to purchase it - and I am glad I did!
Perhaps the most influential aspect of the film is that it presents us with what is probably the screen's first fanged vampire. I have no idea whether anyone at Hammer had watched this prior to making Dracula (1958) - Terence Fisher certainly said he deliberately avoided watching the Browning/Lugosi version so as not to let himself be influenced by it - but it's rather regrettable that the later film is given all the credit for it, when it is clearly not the case.
As a matter of fact, EL VAMPIRO was a bit like the bridge which lead the genre away from the Universal style and towards Hammer horror - the look of the film was certainly inspired by the former but here we have no cutaways during vital moments (one attack by the vampire on a small boy [!] is particularly vicious), while the busy climax (a' la Hammer's Dracula) only disappoints because Count Lavud is dispatched in the conventional manner typified by the Universal films!
The plot of the film offers no surprises and even incorporates a Poe-inspired subplot, involving a premature burial, for good measure. The special effects (the vampire turning into a bat or materializing out of nowhere, only to vanish into thin air again) are well done in spite of the modest budget, providing a few undeniably effective frissons. Despite its deliberate pace (not unusual with horror films dependent on atmosphere), the film is never boring; in fact, it is quite a treat. German Robles cuts a dashing figure (much like Christopher Lee, as opposed to the likes of Max Schreck or even Lugosi) but is appropriately menacing when the moment calls for it. He makes a perfect vampire count, though his screen-time is relatively brief; producer/actor Abel Salazar (a bumbling Van Helsing-type role) is no Cushing, however, but the film does not really suffer for it. The ladies are decorative if nothing more and, thankfully, very little footage is devoted to frightened villagers or sinister-looking acolytes. If I had to classify the film in comparison to other vampire movies, I would say that EL VAMPIRO is just a few notches below the 1931 Spanish Dracula (which is appropriate as it's the one I was most reminded of when watching it).
The film's presentation on DVD is unfortunately less-than-stellar: there is a constant hiss on the soundtrack which can become annoying and the print, while far from pristine, is certainly watchable; the 22-minute Documentary on Mexican horror films was quite interesting, although I suspect few of the films mentioned are really worth looking into apart from curiosity value (THE BRAINIAC, anyone?); the film's sequel, THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN (1958) - presented in the form of a photonovel (a nice touch) - looks a bit contrived but is, perhaps, a reasonably adequate follow-up to the original.
The other Mondo Macabro titles on DVD are even more obscure: ALUCARDA (1975), at least, looks intriguing - reminiscent of Alejandro Jodorowsky's work (it was in fact directed by Juan Lopez Moctezuma, producer of FANDO & LIS and EL TOPO) which, in view of the adult nature of the film, would probably not go past the local censors (!); AWAKENING OF THE BEAST (1970) - one of the 'Coffin Joe' films; BLOOD OF THE VIRGINS (1967); and DR. JEKYLL VERSUS THE WEREWOLF (1972) - one of the 'Waldemar Daninsky' films written by and starring Paul Naschy.
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