Sunday, March 8, 2009
The Bloody Vampire (1962) review
THE BLOODY VAMPIRE 1962 aka EL VAMPIRO SANGRIENTO
Charles Agosti (Count Siegried Von Frankenhausen), Antonio Raxel (Count Valsamo Cagliostro), Bertha Moss (Frau Hildegarde), Erna Martha Bauman (Countess Eugenia Frankenhausen), Begona Palacios (Anna Cagliostro), Raoul Farell (Dr. Richard Paisser), Enrique Lucero (Lazaro), Pancho Cordova (Justus)
Directed by Michael Morayta; Story & Screenplay by Michael Morayta; 99 minutes
The families of Frankenhausen and Cagliostro have been devout enemies for centuries. Count Valsamo Cagliostro has successfully utilized scientific methods to halt the spread of vampirism by the use of Clamic Acid, which neutralizes the contagion spread by the infernal monsters. When his daughter goes undercover at a nearby mansion suspected of housing vampires, the stage is set for a renewed battle of good and evil.
One of the best of the Mexi-horror films, director Morayta would return for more atmospheric spookery for the sequel entitled INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES (1963). He, along with cinematographer, Raoul Martinez Solares, create some truly unique and creepy imagery that stands out above many other similar films and not just those resigned to Mexican genre product.
The films opening is truly one of the most frighteningly surreal sequences of any horror movie. At the start, we see a horse-drawn carriage moving in slow motion silently through foggy terrain. The coach reaches a pass in the forest where a hanged man dangles from a tree. The occupant pops his head out and orders the Grim Reaper-like coachman to drive on, "For Satan's sake!" Once the carriage reaches its destination, it is revealed that the coach driver really is a skeletal apparition wearing a hooded cloak! Once Frankenhausen and Hildegarde enter their home, the carriage, horses and all, vanishes into thin air. I can only wonder if Amando Ossorio saw this sequence as inspiration for his BLIND DEAD Templar Knights and their slow motion horse riding.
What also enhances this scene is that three people watching note that the hooves make no sound as the eerie wagon passes by and into a hellish fog. It's as if the landau is floating just above the ground. The remainder of the film never quite reaches these sinister heights. A good portion of the film is a lot of talk about vampires and how to combat them. Leading up to the last 20 minutes, much of the running time concerns in fighting between members of the Frankenhausen clan and the infiltration by Anna and her lover, Dr. Paisser who seem to take forever to figure out something evil is going on within the disconcerting abode.
Some of the characters are very interesting. Valsamo Cagliostro is a mix of Van Helsing and a Dr. Frankenstein type scientist. Valsamo (whom you see during the first 30 minutes and he doesn't appear again till the closing moments) gives a lengthy dissertation on the nature of the vampires. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Mexi-horror movies, notably the vampire releases, is that most all of them have their own mythology for the monsters from film to film. Valsamo and his colleague, doctor Paisser, inform an audience (including the audience watching the movie) about vampires and the contagion they spread.
In the world occupied by the monsters seen in THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (1962), there are two kinds of blood suckers--dead and alive. Living vampires are the most dangerous. They live like mortals turning their victims into dead vampires. The dead vampires remain dormant in their caskets until the one that turned them is destroyed. The dead vampires then walk the Earth in search of new victims creating a mass chain of creatures. Valsamo goes on to discuss about the methods of disposing of a vampire. These keep with the popular means familiar with horror fans, but a mere stake through the heart, or burning doesn't necessarily do the trick.
According to Valsamo, Clamic acid(!) is the only weapon that can stop the spread of vampirism; the substance called vampirina(!) is the term coined by the medical academic for the plasma that is drank from the victims of vampires. Clamic acid neutralizes vampirina blood, thus bringing about the end of the blood sucker. This Clamic acid is obtained by being distilled from the Black Mandragora plant, which only sprouts where a person has been hanged.
We also get an education on the Frankenhausen lineage and their vampiric connections. The first born of the Frankenhausen family is hidden away from society till he reaches a certain age. Then, when the elder son reaches maturity, an epidemic of vampirism begins (although it isn't revealed just how the first born becomes a vampire in the first place). The remaining family of Frankenhausen are exempt from being turned into one of the undead and whom ever the vampire deems to take as a wife, she, too, is off limits to the creatures thirst for blood until he decides to take another wife.
Charles (Carlos) Agosti is excellent as the head vampire, Count Frankenhausen. He's a particularly brutal fellow, often beating his servants with a whip and maintaining a torture dungeon when the need arises for some information to be extracted from an unfortunate. Agosti attacks his role with a lot of gusto and his look recalls the YORGA movies with his mouthful of fangs. Also, one scene where he rushes down a dark hallway towards his 'Quarry' (pun intended) reminded me of a similar shot in RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1972). One of the most notable aspects of these Mexican vampire movies is that their chief antagonists are very talkative and excitable, something painfully absent in virtually all of Christopher Lee's interpretations of Dracula.
The Count also has the ability to transform into an abnormally large bat monster. It's very fake looking, but striking to see such a massive creature and you get to see a lot of it in the couple of scenes that it features in. Another unusual touch is that Frankenhausen only hunts for fresh blood on the nights of the full moon! Mexi-horrors seemed to enjoy mixing and matching criteria from popular genre conventions.
His tomb is also a striking piece of set design with a bizarre looking crest and the Count also shows off his supernatural powers from time to time as well. At the beginning, there seems to be a brief attempt to perceive Count Frankenhausen as a pitiable character. He speaks of his "sickness" in a tone that hints that he may possibly wish to be cured of his blood drinking ways. This is never brought up again, however.
Aside from keeping up with all the eccentricities of the script, it's difficult to ascertain just where this film takes place. The Frankenhausens are of German descent and their enemies, the Cagliostros, are an Italian lineage. The Aztecs are brought up in passing so it's never quite clear just where the locale truly is. I guess it's safe to say it's somewhere in Spain. There is also mention of a daughter between the evil Count and his human bride. Called Brunhilda, we never see her, but she is talked about on several occasions. Her character is prominently featured in the sequel as is Frankenhausen headquarters, The Haunted Hacienda near Dead Man's Lake; the latter of which is only seen briefly at the end.
Even with its faults, THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (1962) is easily one of the best of the Golden Age of the vampire genre. The spooky opening sequence is worth the price of admission alone and Morayta follows suit with his sequel opening that film with another spectacularly haunting attention getter. The music by Luis Hernandez Breton is also distinguished. There are some cues that possess a ghostly choir effect while the main cues are some unsettling stinger type distortions that add an unnerving quality to the scarier scenes. A most unusual score especially for a film of this vintage. Filmed at Churubusco-Azteca Studios in Mexico, the filmmakers get the most out of the Gothic and fog entrenched sets the studios artisans were experts in crafting.
Despite being in black and white, I find the Mexican horror movies far more entertaining than anything Paul Naschy ever did. At least in these pictures, some attempt is made to explain almost everything whereas in Naschy's movies, things and situations just simply happen without any sort of logic or reason. If you are a fan of the old Universal style of horror moviemaking, you will no doubt have a good time with the overflowing lava of atmosphere the Mexi-horrors have to display for audiences. In spite of overly silly dubbed dialog, the actual dubbing itself is generally well done in these films. Lovers of cheese will have much to chew on here and those in search for old fashioned thrills and scares need look no further for something very different. Mexi-horror definitely delivers.
This DVD can be purchased at http://www.trashpalace.com