Sunday, June 21, 2009
Samson vs. the Vampire Women (1962) review
SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN 1962 aka SANTO VS. LAS MUJERES VAMPIRO
Santo (Samson/Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata), Lorena Velazquez (Sorena, Queen of the Vampire Women), Ofelia Montesco (Tundra), Maria Duval (Diana Rolof), Xavier Loya (Jorge), Augusto Benedico (Professor Rolof), Jaime Fernandez (Inspector Carlos)
Directed by Alfonso Carona Blake
200 years ago a beautiful woman named Rebeca was selected by the Devil to succeed Sorena, the Queen of the vampires. The plan failed, the creatures of the night vowed to return one day to complete their unholy ritual. Two centuries later, the prophecy comes to pass that the descendant of Rebeca draws close to her 25th year. The vampires rise anew to capture Rebeca's descendant, Diana. Sorena, the Queen of the Vampire Women, is brought back from the dead to attend this unholy ceremony and terminate her reign as Queen of the undead. In an effort to prevent the lovely Diana from falling prey to the evil of the vampires, her father, Professor Rolof, enlists the crime fighting masked wrestler, Samson, to aid in her protection.
It would be easy at first glance to mistake this K. Gordon Murray import as an Italian entry in the then burgeoning Sword & Sandal genre just going by the title alone. This is not the case at all. This film (as well as others like it) does, however, work on much the same level as many of those Italian Torch & Toga epics; those possessing a quirky and bizarre nature. The Mexi horror films are farther down the rung of the cult film ladder and unjustly so. Containing lots of wonderfully gloomy atmosphere, films like SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962) deserves a wider audience, at least to those who can appreciate the kind of movies that at one time, dominated the airwaves over the weekends, or late at night on television.
The director of WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES (1961) helms this ambitious and very enjoyable entry in the long running lucha libre El Santo series. Mogul, K. Gordon Murray imported over two dozen Mexican fantasy and horror pictures dubbing them into English and releasing them into theaters and television. Two of the El Santo series were part of this package. In addition to SANTO VS. LAS MUJERES VAMPIRO, there was also SANTO EN EL MUSEO DE CERA (1963; also directed by Blake). Instead of utilizing the 'Santo' name, Murray changed it to 'Samson' for the two masked wrestler movies. The film in review here is one of the more fondly remembered of Mexi-horror cinema.
Even though Samson doesn't appear till nearly 30 minutes into the movie, there is so much going on, you almost forget it's his movie till his first appearance in the ring. There are two wrestling sequences and they both account for around 20 minutes of the pictures running time. These scenes are good and frequently exciting. If you're not a fan of wrestling, though, you may wish to fast forward past these bits, but they are an important part of the lucha libre genre as these films are built around wrestling and whatever fantasy, or action elements the filmmakers pair up with their lead hero. The second wrestling scene is one of the most bizarre and wholly outrageous filmed scenes you are likely to see.
In it, Samson is to wrestle another masked fighter. One of Tundra's male vampire subordinates strangles the man in his dressing room and adorns his mask. During the match, Samson realizes the mystery man is trying to kill him. During the nearly 10 minute scuffle, Samson manages to remove the mask revealing a visage of what appears to be a werewolf(!) with large fangs. The police enter the ring and the were-vampire begins Karate chopping them into submission. Samson takes him down, but not before the creature transforms into a bat and makes his escape. The vampires featured here are all very energetic especially the three silent and musclebound brawling vampire servants. Even the female bloodsuckers are seen administering a Karate chop here and there.
The actresses playing the two main female villains are absolute stunners. Both Lorena Valazquez (as Sorena) and Ofelia Montesco (as Tundra) ooze huge amounts of sexuality and are captivating beauties. Strangely, you never see them destroyed in the film, at least not in this English dubbed print. There's also a gaggle of underling women bloodsuckers that do little except act as window dressing. The women on display are also another reason to tune in. There's an equal dose of camp and cleavage amidst all the wrestling and horror happenings and Gothic trappings.
The early scenes featuring them emerging from their moldy coffins, their faces rotted and protruding fangs are as well done as any other Gothic Mexican horror picture. The entire opening 13 minutes deals strictly with the villains as we see them coming back to life followed by Tundra detailing the fulfillment of the terrible prophecy that is destined to thrust the world into chaos. In fact, the plot of SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN comes across as a refurbished version of Blake's own WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES from the year prior.
There are a number of great scenes here both in terms of the level of campiness as well as some strikingly atmospheric and Bavaesque worthy moments. One is the scene where Tundra informs the audience of the impending prophecy. Mentioning her good friend, the Devil, a crack of thunder is heard followed by a fiery silhouette of the Devil's image against the wall of the cave. It's a nice photographic touch that adds an air of theatricality to the movie. Another accomplished bit is a fight between Samson and the three male vampire followers. Samson chases one of the creatures down in his speedster. The vampire stops in front of a huge cross atop a church. He collapses and is immediately reduced to flames and is destroyed.
The makeup is also worthy of mention. It's nothing groundbreaking or overly spectacular, it's just different from the norm. That's one of the most fascinating aspects of the Mexican horror movies is that there is always tinkering with popular mythology in an effort to keep things fresh. The vampires all have crusty, scaly faces, but once they have drank blood, their once beautiful countenance returns. In this film, the vampires cast reflections in mirrors, but not in their form of splendor, but in their true rotted and decayed figure.
The finale is exciting as Samson is captured and is threatened with being vampirized, but he quickly manages to escape and duels with the male vampire brutes. With the sun rising, the women make their way to their coffins. Samson defeats the monster servants once the rays of the sun disintegrates them. He then rushes into the cavern below the castle where he takes a torch and steadfastly burns the female vampires. Their blood curdling screams blare over the soundtrack as Samson makes his way from one coffin to the next.
As already mentioned, you never do see the two main vamps vanquished. The last scene is a bit humorous. It has Samson carrying Diana away from the castle to the safety of her father and his friends, never saying a word, then hopping into his car and quickly taking off presumably to the location of his next movie. Dr. Rolof says, "God bless Samson. The world needs more men like him", as 'The End' appears onscreen while Samson speeds away in the background.
Alfonso Carona Blake proved himself a worthy director of horror pictures. He was mindful of what went into an entertaining 90 minutes and crammed his three black & white Mexi horrors with lots of action and Gothic set pieces. Despite the low budgets and inherent campiness (the dubbing does these films no favor), the scripts for Blakes trilogy of horror are all very ambitious in scope containing a lot of themes and ideas that are just ripe for a big Hollywood makeover. It's unlikely that a modern update would (even in its own country of origin) contain half the mood and magic of these older versions.
SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962) is a lively and highly recommended addition to the Mexi horror canon and should not be missed by any fan of either the Mexican horror genre, or fans of lucha libre. It's also a good place to start if you've never experienced a Santo movie or a Gothic Mexican horror picture.
This DVD can be purchased at http://www.trashpalace.com/