Sunday, November 22, 2015

Tribute To A Vampire: German Robles, Mexico's Master of Horror

On Saturday, November 21st, 2015, the world of cinema lost a great talent. Famous for his roles in Mexican horror films, actor German Robles has died at 86 years of age. Born on March 20th, 1929 as German Horacio Robles in Gijon, Spain, the internationally famous actor of stage and screen featured in over 90 motion pictures, some 600 TV programs and 30 telenovelas (self-contained soap operas that last a year or less). Among his other credits was lending his distinguished voice to many live-action and animated foreign features imported to Mexico; one of the most famous being the dubbed voice of KITT on the hit series KNIGHT RIDER (1982-1986) and films including THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and THE GODFATHER (1972). 

In his early years, his family emigrated to Mexico when the young Robles was 17 years old. After graduating college and a stint as a professional dancer in 1948, he would become involved in theater productions in his early 20s, debuting on the stage in 1952 with 'The Martyr of the Cavalry' where he played Jesus Christ. Robles eventually found his way into movies, making his Silver Screen debut in 1957 with the classic EL VAMPIRO. 

Robles was also an award winning actor throughout his long career on stage and screen, including a Best Actor award for LA VIDA DE AGUSTIN LARA in 1958. Some of his other famous non-genre work include the adventure EL JARDIN DE LA TIA ISABEL (1971; THE GARDEN OF AUNT ISABEL) and the comedy LA PALOMA DE MARSELLA (1999; DOVE OF MARSELLA).

He acted as Arthur Kipp in the stage production of the horror play, LA DAMA DE NEGRO (THE LADY IN BLACK) for thirteen years (from 1994-2006), reportedly the longest of any actor without interruption; only exiting the production for health reasons.

Hospitalized in Baghdad since November 12th, German Robles died from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and Peritonitis at approximately 6am on Saturday, November 21st.

Married three times, Robles is survived by his wife of 33 years, Ana Maria Vazquez, and three children. Both Robles and his wife founded an actors training school in 2000.

In the following article, we pay tribute to the man who was a key contributor to the flood of theatrical terror unleashed in Mexico in the 1950s; and how his portrayals of vampires in a popular string of productions put a refreshing spin on the Lore of the Undead.

German Robles starred in a number of high-gloss productions and films of other genres, but he will always be most closely identified playing those blood-lusting creatures of the night, the vampire. Aside from the requisite cobweb infused crypts and Gothic ambiance, German Robles brought distinction to the undead lexicon in seven sangria-laced productions; the most famous of which was the suave, debonair Count Lavud and the Bond-style villainy of the fang-toothed Nostradamus.

Essaying his vampires with a touch of originality and familiarity, Robles was something of a trendsetter, irrefutably belonging on the same pedestal of prestige of his other late European colleagues, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. 

Bela Lugosi is the classic representation of Dracula, the vampire that is both parodied and paid tribute to. Christopher Lee is the life's blood, the personification of the vampire king. Largely unknown in the west, Robles carved his own unique interpretation that differed, but remained faithful to popular iconography of the Universal DRACULA (1933); and one that beat Hammer's iconic color version by nearly a year. 

What's important to note about German Robles is that, while there had been a few Mexican horror films prior to the groundbreaking EL VAMPIRO (1957), it was his charisma and tenacity (under the assured direction of Fernando Mendez) that solidified himself as a horror icon--invigorating the Mexi-horror industry for well over a decade. As Count Lavud in both EL VAMPIRO and THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN (both in 1957), the films birthed a colony of Spanish language vampire movies all with their own unique mythology. Robles was to Mexican horror cinema what Santo was to Lucha Libre pictures. If not for the success of EL VAMPIRO (1957), we might not of gotten another classic example of Mexi-horror cinema, the Lucha horror favorite, SANTO VS. LAS MUJERES VAMPIRO (1961); or, as it is known in America, SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN.

Robles brought a level of stoically evil menace that, while certainly not absent in the more famous renditions, was far more diverse than had been seen up to that time. In EL VAMPIRO (and his subsequent fanged forays), Robles' Count Lavud delightfully bares his fangs when he's about to sink those elongated incisors into a warm jugular. Robles is often cited as the first actor to play a vampire with fangs exposed, biting into a victim. NOSFERATU (1922) had pointy, rat-like teeth exposed, and Atif Kaptan of Turkey's DRAKULA ISTANBUL'DA (1953) had fangs jutting from his mouth; but Count Lavud is seen in close-up biting into the necks of his victims, which, up to that time, hadn't been seen before. Robles' vampire was not averse to extracting the blood of children, either; something not shown in the Uni-horrors of the 30s and 40s, nor the Hammer pictures till the 1970s.

Additionally, the rather large teeth wouldn't be seen again till Hammer Films adopted them in their 1970s 'blood and skin'  epics like VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1971) and their Karnstein Trilogy that made up THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971) and TWINS OF EVIL (1971).

Unlike most other vamps, Robles, as Lavud, has other sharp implements in his arsenal aside from his fangs; such as a sword he uses against Abel Salazar's hero during the fiery conclusion. A similar encounter occurred in Nobuo Nakagawa's THE LADY VAMPIRE in 1959. Christopher Lee would take up a sword to torture Patrick Troughton in one of Hammer's most unique Dracula pictures, SCARS OF DRACULA (1970).

Robles throttles a mini-army of midget bloodsuckers in THE VAMPIRES OF COYOACAN (1974).

Moreover, the two Robles Lavud films packed some fine cliffhanger moments in their finales that make the Hammer denouements anemic in comparison. What the Mexican pictures lacked in budgets they made up for in creativity. They may have looked remarkably similar to the Uni-horrors of old, but the Mexi-horrors foreshadowed the sort of violence Hammer would get up to in the ensuing years.

Robles played a vampire yet again in EL CASTILLO DE LOS MONSTRUOS (1958; THE CASTLE OF MONSTERS), Mexico's answer to ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948). Essentially an extended cameo appearance, Robles doesn't appear till an hour in, and, like Christopher Lee in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), never utters a word of dialog. Dressed in his Count Lavud attire, this vampire (he's never referred to by name) chases the goofy heroes around the title abode and is played strictly for laughs.

In 1959, Robles again played a vampire, but this time, it was a different sort of bloodsucker. In LA MALDICION DE NOSTRADAMUS (1959; THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS), German Robles is the son of the infamous French seer, Michel de Nostredame; or simply Nostradamus. Ordered by the spirit of his father, the son of Nostradamus is commanded to convince a leading scientist, Dr. Duran, to the existence of vampires and other occult phenomenon. Naturally he refuses leading to a series of creative deaths and quirky characters that intervene to stop the vampire.


As Nostradamus, German Robles plays this role very different from Count Lavud in both acting style and appearance. Sporting a goatee and wearing a derby hat and cape, Nostradamus is boisterous whereas Lavud was more cunning and deceptive. Nostradamus is very arrogant, proudly proclaiming his intentions with even more dialog than before--which Christopher Lee never got much of in his Dracula pictures. Additionally, and unlike Count Lavud, Nostradamus often used humans, alive or dead, to do his evil bidding.

Compared to an already meaty role as Lavud in the two previous movies, Robles got even more to chew on as Nostradamus, a four-film series consisting of three "episodes" a piece, compliant with the STIC union in Mexico. Film producers would sometimes bypass the STPC union for theatrical productions to take advantage of the cheaper resources afforded the STIC group. The Nostradamus films are quite a bit of fun, but look more cheaply made with the limited sets than Robles' previous outings. However, the bat effects are superior. He makes them worthwhile; and for fans of Mexi-horror, they're highly recommended for their peculiarly campy qualities alone.

Released straight to television in edited form by American International Pictures' TV division in the early 1960s, fans of the Nostradamus series and the actor mostly remember him from that medium; either at that time or in the 1980s on USA Network's Commander USA's Groovie Movies, which specialized in B/W Mexican horror movies and 70s Hammer horror.

Most famous for vampires in Fantastic Cinema, German Robles played a variety of other characters--both heroes and villains--in horror and other genres. Below is a list of some of his other works.

In THE BRAINIAC (1961), Robles went from sucking blood to having his brains sucked out of the back of his neck in this nutty camp classic. He plays a descendant of a group of Inquisitors who executed a warlock that has returned for revenge. Played by Abel Salazar, the title brain-sucker is one of the strangest looking monsters you've ever seen. 

German Robles entered the Lucha world in the drama-action, LA FURIA DEL RING (1961), playing the son of a gym owner who was killed for not fixing his wrestling matches. Features an early appearance by Blue Demon (and his real life tag partner, Black Shadow) before he embarked on his own successful film career. 

The actor was in full Peter Cushing mode as Professor Muller in Chano Urueta's LA CABEZA VIVIENTE (THE LIVING HEAD) from 1963. Leading an expedition to uncover an ancient Aztec tomb, Muller and crew bring a curse upon them after angering the title noggin and its soon-to-be-revived mummy-like servant. 

DIVISION NARCOTICOS (1963) finds the versatile actor playing the unsavory gang leader of a drug syndicate. Scenes of drug use and Robles hiding a large quantity of dope underneath a baby's clothes, using the child as a means of smuggling, turn this obscure bit of Mexi-sleaze into an ahead of its time thriller.

One of the man's most rare, obscure genre titles is the 1964 horror western, LA MURCIELAGOS (THE BATS). There's very little information available for this one outside of some promotional materials. According to some sources, the film goes by the alternate title of LOS VAMPIROS DEL OESTE (VAMPIRES OF THE WEST).

Robles was the head of a Karate school that attracts the attention of the police and the Mexican masked superhero Neutron in LOS ASESINOS DEL KARATE (1965; NEUTRON AGAINST THE KARATE KILLERS). This was the fifth and last of a B/W superhero series starring Wolf Ruvinskis as Neutron.

In 1967 Robles played Carlo, one the main villains in the lively comic book flick ROCAMBOLE VS. LA SECTA DEL ESCORPION (ROCAMBOLE VS. THE CULT OF THE SCORPION). The second of two films, Rocambole was a stageshow magician by day, Captain Mexico type superhero by night.

The actor returned to the Lucha Libre genre again in 1974 with LOS VAMPIROS DE COYACAN. Top billed over megastar Mil Mascaras and Superzan, Robles is a Van Helsing-type professor trying to stop a Yorga-esque vampire and his fang-toothed midget-minions from vampirizing the local populace, including the lovely Sasha Montenegro. 

German Horacio Robles may be gone but he leaves behind an impressive body of work that is rife for rediscovery both in his home country and abroad. Deserving of accolades for his contributions to the cinema of the Fantastique, the memory of the Spanish born actor will live on in film festivals and late night repeats highlighted by vampires seeking revenge, fresh blood and worldwide conquest. The Master now sleeps. Long Live the Memory of Mexico's Master of Horror.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cool Ass Cinema Presents: Talking Templars with Filmmaker, David Garcia

David Garcia is among the rising crop of Spanish genre filmmakers gleefully getting their hands bloody by realizing their celluloid nightmares that have gloriously haunted them since childhood. David's inaugural work is a short film love letter to 70s Spanish horror, and, in particular, the Blind Dead Templar Knights made internationally famous through four films directed by Amando de Ossorio. Titled EL ULTIMO GUION (THE LAST SCRIPT), David took time out of his schedule to discuss this project as well as his thoughts on Spanish horror and his own genre interests. Below is film director David Garcia's conversation with Cool Ass Cinema.

David Garcia (far right) and his crew shooting EL ULTIMO GUION (THE LAST SCRIPT)

Venoms5: Tell me a little about yourself and when your interest in horror began.

David Garcia: My first contact with the horror genre was when I was very young, at eight years old. Public Television of Spain aired a run of horror movies on Friday night called "My Favorite Terrors" presented by film director Narciso Ibañez Serrador (THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED [1969], WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? [1976]). They aired horror classics and I fell in love with them almost instantly. From there, movies and comics became my passion. Eventually I would edit my first fanzine dedicated to the genre called "Monster World". The first issue appeared in August of 1998 and I am still publishing issues today under my SHOCK imprint, where I also edit other fanzines like "Fantastic Cult Classics" and "The Colossa Treasures", the last of which is dedicated to stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen.

V5: When did you first see LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD) and what was your impression of it?

DG: I remember seeing the first movie on Beta tape. In the early 80s I often frequented the many video clubs in my city and saw many genre films there including lots of Spanish horror. I became, and remain, a great admirer of our grand cinema tradition. I was very young when I first saw LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO and it had a great impact on me; all the scenes in slow motion; the atmosphere Ossorio created... the music ... I was hypnotized!!

V5: What did you think of the other entries in the series?

DG: My favorite is EL ATAQUE DE LOS MUERTOS SIN OJOS (RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD). I think the idea of a large group of people besieged by the Templars was a great concept. The weakest for me is EL BUQUE MALDITO (THE GHOST GALLEON). The minimal economic means are greatly felt in this production. LA NOCHE DE LAS GAVIOTAS (THE NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS) is, to me, a wonderful story. The four together make a very frightening and macabre mythical framework. I was disappointed the series didn't continue. The Knights Templar still have many stories left to star in.

V5: Have you seen John Gilling's THE CROSS OF THE DEVIL (1975) and Jess Franco's MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)?

DG: Yes, I have seen both of those. The Jesus Franco picture is a very mediocre film. Franco handled this one very carelessly, more interested in softcore porn than horror. THE CROSS OF THE DEVIL was a missed opportunity, but I do not dislike it. It's an entertaining movie.

V5: How did the idea for EL ULTIMO GUION (THE LAST SCRIPT) come about?

DG: The idea for THE LAST SCRIPT emerged as a small challenge, and crazy on my part. I wanted to pay homage to the sort of craftsmanship found in Spain's golden age of 70s horror cinema. As big a fan of Amando de Ossorio and his Templars that I am, I thought it would be great to bring back these iconic and internationally recognized horror movie characters. I proposed the idea to my good friend Lone Fleming, the lead actress of LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO, that she should star in my short film. She accepted and the rest has come together nicely. We brought aboard a fantastic cast of actors from the golden age, and I was lucky and pleased that everyone liked the idea. The cast includes Jose Lifante (LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE), Antonio Mayans (A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE), Loreta Tovar (RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD), Marian Salgado (DEMON WITCH CHILD) and Sandra Alberti (SATAN'S BLOOD).

V5: What is the story about and when will the film be completed?

DG: The story is about Lone Fleming, playing as herself, suffering from terrible nightmares in which the Knights Templar persecute and relentlessly terrorize her. Her ordeal begins after she receives an envelope with no return address containing an old script written by Amando de Ossorio entitled "The Necronomicon of the Templars". All this happens in the context of a fantasy film festival paying homage to the Spanish horror films of the 1970s. Reality merges with fiction and nightmares come to life... for Lone, unfortunately. We are currently in post-production, assembling, and hope to have it finished by mid-2016 with the intention of presenting it to the main fantasy film festivals worldwide. 

V5: With so many well known names from vintage Spanish horror appearing in your movie, was there anyone you wanted but were unable to get?

DG: Of course. My original idea was to have Jack Taylor as a villain, but it was impossible to come to an agreement to obtain his services. A pity.

Lone Fleming and David Garcia
V5: Before embarking on your filmmaking debut, did you ever think one day you'd be directing the great Lone Fleming of LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO?

DG: Before I got to know Lone personally, I never thought I'd have the opportunity. She's a wonderful woman both personally and professionally, and working with her on this project has been a dream come true.

V5: Do you know if Mr. Ossorio ever attempted to get funding for another Blind Dead movie? He said in an interview back in the early 90s he had ideas for a new film, one of which returned the Templars to the sea.

DG: During the last years of his life, Amando de Ossorio wrote dozens of scripts. Many of them dealt with the Knights Templar. We rescued one of them for a plot point in EL ULTIMO GUION; the "Necronomicon of the Templars" I mentioned earlier.

V5: Since starting EL ULTIMO GUION, how has the experience been so far? Has the process of filmmaking been different from what you expected in any way?

DG: The experience has been wonderful!! Working with such iconic and professional actors is a dream come true. My crew is equally magnificent and everything has flowed in an amazing way. We have all been like a small family. With digital means at our disposal everything is easier. We shot the short film in 4K HD to give a more professional package. We hope the fans of this type of film can appreciate even the smallest detail. 

A look at the unfinished masks of the Knights Templar
V5: How many Templars are seen in THE LAST SCRIPT, and can you elaborate on their creation and design in your short film? 

DG: There's a fine cast of them, but better to preserve the suspense by not revealing too much. I am a big fan of special effects, so I participated in their creation as well.

V5: Are horror films popular with Spanish audiences today? There seems to be a lot of them being made.

DG: True. The 70s golden age of Spanish horror movies has many emblematic titles that have produced many followers. A new generation has discovered them and revere these films. Festivals pay tribute to the actors and directors with names such as Paul Naschy, Ossorio, Eugenio Martin, Jorge Grau, Juan Piquer Simon, Carlos Aured, Narciso Ibañez Serrador, Leon Klimovsky.... all are engraved with golden letters in the history of fantasy films with titles like WALPURGIS NIGHT (1971), HORROR EXPRESS (1972), CURSE OF THE DEVIL (1973), THE FABULOUS JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1976), THE NIGHT OF BLIND TERROR (1971), LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974) and THE MARSHALL OF HELL (1974).

V5: Other than LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO, have there been any other horror films that have made an impact on you over the years?

DG: My favorite movie of all time is not a scary one--it's the 1933 version of KING KONG. But if we focus on horror.... there are many. Carpenter's THE THING (1982), THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975), Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS (1961), THE EVIL DEAD (1981), THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (2001).... I could go on as there are hundreds!!!

V5: Do you have plans for another film after EL ULTIMO GUION?

DG: It is a question I've been asked in other interviews. For now I want to finish this film and focus on distributing it on the festival circuit. I realize it will mean a lot of hard work and dedication. There are ideas for future projects but for now I'd rather wait and see. 

V5: Would the possibility of a full-length feature about the Blind Dead be in your future?

DG: I would love it!! Although in Spain the industry is past its prime from the old times. Nowadays it is difficult to raise money for such a project. Even as just a producer, I would be very happy to be involved on a feature film about the Templar Knights.

Cool Ass Cinema would like to thank David Garcia for his time in discussing his interests and his upcoming film. We wish him success in all his future endeavors.

***All photos courtesy of David Garcia***

You can keep track of the progress, updates and additional photos of David's Templar film, THE LAST SCRIPT, by clicking HERE.

David's Monster World blog is found HERE.

Actress Lone Fleming's blog is found HERE.

David's Colossa blog, devoted to Harryhausen, is found HERE.

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