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Monday, March 23, 2009

World of the Vampires (1961) review


Mauricio Garces (Rudolph Sommers), Guillermo Murray (Count Subotai), Erna Martha Bauman (Leonor Coleman), Silvia Fournier (Martha Coleman), Jose Baviera (Colman senior)

Directed by Alfonso Carona Blake

In the 19th century in Hungary, the original Count Subotai unified the powers of the Dark Realm to destroy mankind. Julius Coleman, a magician in Transylvania, learned the secrets of the occult and used them to thwart the plans of the Subotai clan by destroying the Count with a stake through his heart. Then, the remaining Subotai family hunted down and killed all who carried the Coleman name, but one escaped to America. Now, the descendant of the Count returns to avenge his ancestors by destroying the one surviving member of the Coleman lineage as well as transforming his two beautiful nieces into vampires to join his fraternity of hellish creatures.

Another wonderfully gothic Mexican horror picture directed by Alfonso Blake who directed two horror films starring El Santo, SANTO VS. EL MUJERES VAMPIRO (SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN 1962) and SANTO EN EL MUSEO DE CERA (SAMSON IN THE WAX MUSEUM 1963). Frequent actor in Mexi-horror, Abel Salazar, sits this one out and opts for a role behind the scenes as the producer. Salazar would star as the lead villain in the timeless cult classic, THE BRAINIAC (1962).

The black and white cinematography by Jack Draper is dripping with atmosphere. As with most horror movies from South of the Border at the time, the set design and art decor recalls the old Universal horrors married with a style reminiscent of Mario Bava. What's unique about WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES is that a lot of wild plot elements have been utilized to create one of the most unusual vampire pictures period, regardless of its origins. One of the most interesting aspects of Mexican horror movies (at least those of the Golden Age) are the intricately devised mythology especially in their vampire films. Nearly every one of them are different. The scriptwriters always seem to meld the plausible with the implausible. Some sort of scientific means, regardless of how outlandish it may be, is devised to explain how to counter the forces of evil.

For WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES, it isn't much in the way of science that is used to destroy the monsters, but the power of music. As certain sounds can stir emotional feelings or disturbances in people and animals, certain musical cues can both cause the dead to rise as well as send them to their doom. An unusual premise for sure, but it makes for an interesting viewing experience. Count Subotai raises his undead followers by playing a hellsent tune on an organ made out of skulls and bones presumably from victims of the vampires. On the flipside, a friend of the Coleman clan, Rudolph Sommers, plays a mean, lethal piece on the piano that gives the denizens of the dark a serious migraine.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie (wholly unintentional) involves a dinner party where Sommers educates those in attendance on the power of music and its innate capabilities to incite various reactions in those that hear it. During this sequence, Sommers plays a musical cue that seems to call Count Subotai to their location. Here he sets his sights on Coleman's nieces as well as meeting Rudolph Sommers under some seriously uncomfortable circumstances. Sommers plays a tune that is supposed to repel the undead. As he plays, Count Subotai becomes noticeably disturbed. Guillermo Murray goes quite a bit over the top with all his facial twitching looking like he's desperate to know the location of the nearest restroom.

Murray is okay in the role of Subotai. There's no real problem with him aside from his extreme overacting. He truly gets into the role during some of his speeches occasionally bringing to mind William Shatner as Captain Kirk from the original STAR TREK. He also has a propensity to convey attitude by the use of his cape. Instead of talking, Subotai will sometimes just wrap his hands beneath his cape and use it to make declarative gestures. He's certainly no German Robles, nor as imposing as Charles Agosti in THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (1962) and INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES (1963). What he does bring to his performance is a whole lot of fun and he gets an incredible amount of screen time.

As with other vampires in Mexi-horror, Subotai possesses skills other than the usual hypnotizing and changing into a bat. Moving and opening objects were additions to give the monsters more leverage as an imposing force. The vampires here can also vanish and teleport to another location. This ability would also surface in some of the Hammer vampire films from the 1970's.

The dubbing also does the movie no favors. This is especially apparent in Guillermo Murray's performance. As already mentioned, he gets a bit carried away at times shaking his fists and staring intently at his quarry. The dubber for his character never matches his intensity onscreen which only adds to the element of 'bad' the film contains. This penchant for cheese works in the films favor nonetheless, at least in the dubbed version of WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES.

Another unintentionally humorous moment occurs after Subotai vampirizes Martha Coleman. He sends her out to put the bite on Rudolph Sommers. Having changed into a bat, Martha watches from the rafters while Sommers comforts Leonor in her room. What makes this scene so goofy is that Martha's face has been superimposed over the body of the bat as it hangs from the ceiling!

Something else that makes WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES unique are the sheer number of monsters on hand. There appears to be certain levels of monsters. Subotai being the leader, commands dominion over a group of vampire creatures with huge bat heads on their shoulders. These creatures are silent (save for the screeching bat sounds) and put the bite on other victims slowly transforming them into other bat like monsters to serve Subotai.

Also, there is a fleet of female vampire creatures that, once bitten and slashed with a magical dagger, become vampires complete with a face decked out with make up such as eyeliner and lip stick. The vampire fangs are also worth mentioning. They're uncommonly long for a vampire film particularly of this vintage. Hammer began using abnormally large fangs in their 70's output, so it's a bit curious to see what big teeth the vampires have in this picture from 1961.

In addition to all the various creatures of the night, the film is littered with dozens of coffins and cobwebs. There's a dank cave setting for the monsters, skeletons and even a deep, dark pit adorned with huge spikes where Subotai throws his victims and those that fail in their missions. There's also mention of a Lovecraftian creature named Kaydor, a God worshipped by Subotai and his minions. Subotai also has the proverbial hunchback assistant, only here, the servant is deformed and a mute. The lavish script provides lots of horror action and the bulk of the picture is shot at night bringing out the most in the atmospheric cinematography in spite of several silly moments.

Even with its quantity of cheese, WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES (1961) is a highly enjoyable production. It's fitfully ridiculous at regular intervals and clearly the production was an ambitious one with its collage of ideas and spooky themes. It's definitely worth checking out, although like most all the Mexi-horror movies, it caters mostly to those that appreciate the style of the Mexican horror movie makers. They have an approach uniquely their own.

Having caught the film on the 80's show, Commander USA's Groovie Movies on a Saturday afternoon, seeing it again recently has brought back some great memories. The movie is just as enjoyable to me now as it was then. A shame the excellent DVD label, CasaNegra, which specialized in restoring classic Mexican horror films for the digital format didn't survive long enough to release this to DVD. It was announced along with THE LIVING HEAD (1963). Discs were ready to ship, but canceled at the last minute. A real shame. Hopefully, WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES (1961) and other treasures of Mexico's Golden Age of horror cinema will be resurrected on DVD once more sometime in the near future.

This DVD can be purchased at

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