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Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Invasion of the Vampires (1962) review



Erna Martha Bauman (Brunhilda Frankenhausen/Countess Eugenia Frankenhausen), Rafael del Rio (Ulises Albarran), Tito Junco (Marques Gonzalo), Bertha Moss (Frau Hildegarde), Fernando Soto "Mantequilla" (Crescencio), Carlos Agosti (Count Frankenhausen), David Reynoso (Mayor Alcaldi), Armando Gutierrez (Don Efron Lopez), Enrique Lucero (Lazaro)

Directed by Miguel Morayta

The Short Version: One of Mexico's revered filmmakers returns to stake a second claim in vampire lore with a satisfying sequel to his own THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (1962). Miguel Morayta wrote the script, too, and augments ideas presented before, while adding more action and spooky elements. In addition to man vs. monster, it's also religion vs. science in yet another example of Mexican fantasy cinema using imagination to make up for what they lack in financing. The spook-tacular finale with an army of staked vampires rising from their coffins for a village nightcap is the major highlight; while Rafael del Rio's duel with a gigantic, furry bat monster with rabbit ears and the largest fangs to make 70s Hammer blush is another.

The young acolyte of Count Cagliostro, Ulises Albarran, is sent to help the villagers in and around the Haunted Hacienda who are being terrorized, and vampirized by 'The Vampire of Moonlit Nights', Count Frankenhausen. With time running out, Ulises needs heavy doses of clamic acid, extracted from the roots of a Mandragora tree bearing black leaves. With such a serum, he can put an end to Frankenhausen's plan to bleed humanity dry, and in turn, create a world of undead monsters.

What Mexican horror films lacked in budget, they more than made up for in imagination. THE INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES (as well as its predecessor) is one such production. Shot back to back at the famous Estudios Churubusco in Mexico, Miguel Morayta's sequel is among the finest examples of Mexican horror cinema. Filmed in glorious B/W with an atmosphere as thick as molasses, there's no shortage of things going bump in the night over the course of this pictures 93 minutes. The horror element is more profound the second time around; whereas the prior picture juggled the horror with a lot of exposition and a surprising amount of sadism.

Morayta's movie likewise follows the path of the Euro Gothics with fog-enshrouded sets, creepy mansions harboring secret passageways, and pounding thunderstorms that seem to occur every night like clockwork. It's difficult to watch this (or any other Mexi-horror from this time period) and not be reminded of Universal's elder horror films, or even Bava's BLACK SUNDAY (1960) for that matter.

The music by Luis Hernandez Breton is an asset, too. It may, at times, sound like one of those Halloween records with all the spooky sounds mixed together; but many of the cues are genuinely unnerving evoking an organic style reminiscent of what Morricone would later do in his western scores. Some of the music is ported over from the first movie, but most of it sounds new. It's a much creepier, discordant soundtrack than Luis's efforts in the earlier film.

Expanding on details revealed in the previous outing, this sequel has many of the same actors and actresses, most of which return as the characters they played before. Some revelations are uncovered, and we finally get to see the clamic acid put to use, as well as visualizing the lore regarding the two types of vampires mentioned in the first movie. Some of the film takes place in the village surrounding Frankenhausen's mansion (the Haunted Hacienda), and also Dead Man's Lake; the latter of which we got a peak at during the closing scene of the first movie.

THE BLOODY VAMPIRE had that astonishingly eerie opening sequence with death driving a floating, haunted, horse-drawn carriage; INVASION showcases a sincerely creepy 20 minute finale where a dozen or more vampires rise from their coffins with wooden stakes protruding from their chests and back! They make a move for the Frankenhausen mansion to get at the humans who've holed themselves up inside. The dissonance of the vampires' wailing for their loved ones to come outside recalls the Wurdulak segment in Bava's BLACK SABBATH (1963) -- based on Tolstoy's tale. With the Mandragora roots hanging about the house, the vampires can't enter, but there's no escaping the feeling of the farmhouse siege seen in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) from six years later.

Considered one of the greatest filmmakers of Mexico's golden age, and one of its most influential artists in the field, director Miguel Morayta guided movies of various genres, but relatively few horror pictures. Apparently living a life akin to that of a war-torn dramatic feature, Morayta fought in the Spanish Civil War, and nearly died in a Nazi concentration camp! His directing debut took place in 1944 with CAMINITO ALEGRE. His two most well known on these shores being THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (1961) and the subject of this review, the sequel, THE INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES (1962). Reportedly helming 85 films, his last motion picture came in 1978 with the release of the anthology, LOS AMANTES FRIOS (THE COLD LOVERS). He passed away Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 at age 105!

Going back to the vampires, Morayta wrote the scripts, too, and jam-packed them full of fascinating folklore that totally goes against the grain of popular European mythology regarding the bloodsucking creatures of the night. His screenplays (particularly for INVASION) introduced Van Helsing styled vampire hunters in the form of Valsamo Cagliostro (in the first film) and Valsamo's young disciple, Ulises Albarran (in the second). Morayta also glaringly toyed with the religious conventions inherent in vampire lore, altering them in a radical way.

As was done in Hammer's BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), a dichotomy between religion and science is presented, and unlike Hammer's film, Morayta's is superior in this respect by making it integral to the story. Hammer clearly surpassed these films budgetarily, but imagination was key in the Mexican variants. Virtually shoving God-fearing tropes by the wayside, Morayta's script expands existing mythology, or, as what was seen previous, creates his own outright. INVASION does more with this religion vs. science methodology that was only talked about prior. Earlier in the film, Rafael, the Mayor, and a couple others, intend to burn all the bodies of the dormant vampires. The priest of the village interferes and threatens to excommunicate them if they proceed; not only that, but a possible uprising in the village is hinted at should they cremate the corpses as opposed to burying them in consecrated earth. This allows for an easy implementation of the Mandragora root, which serves as arguably the most unusual method of undead dispatch. It was discussed in the first movie, but visualized in this second one. 

By the films finish, both "God" and science have worked together to vanquish the blood-drinkers, but it is science that delivers the final nail in Frankenhausen's coffin. Once the Count is "killed", all his victims (previously staked in their resting places) arise and maneuver towards the mansion. They will not die till the Count is truly dead via an injection of clamic acid -- this serum severing his ties with vampirism, and his disciples who are all then laid to permanent rest. Science is successful where oldeworld customs are no longer viable. No other vampire movie eschewed tradition for a wholly new concept in this way.

Frequent Lucha and fantasy film actor Carlos (Charles) Agosti returns as Count Frankenhausen, and puts the bite on the scenery when he's onscreen. He was the center of attention in THE BLOODY VAMPIRE, but for the sequel, he almost gets the Christopher Lee treatment in his own movie. Agosti has far less dialog scenes than before, is mostly seen peering into windows, or looking menacing in a forest, and never tortures anybody, or orders tongues to be ripped out like he did before. Granted, his scenes probably amount to half of Lee's Dracula's combined, but Agosti's presence is significantly less this time around.

Rafael del Rio is Ulises, the young Van Helsing type doing a very energetic Mark Damon impersonation. He's quite good in the part, and much like Peter Cushing, del Rio tackles a ludicrous scenario with the utmost conviction. This is especially evident in his battle against Count Frankenhausen after he has taken on the form of a giant bat -- one of the most memorable monsters of the screen, but for the wrong reasons. 

As serious as most of these movies are, there almost always seems to be something in them that's risible, temporarily belying whatever seriousness had been amassed. The apex of absurdity in THE INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES occurs in the use of this above-mentioned giant furry, fanged bat creature with huge bunny ears that Frankenhausen transforms into. We saw it a lot in the first movie (mostly in slow motion), and it returns again with an equal amount of screen time. No attempt is made to obscure it, or even flap the wings for that matter. When it's not flying in a straight line, it just sort of bounces up and down in the air with the most abnormally large teeth you've ever seen. The beast remains immobile even when it latches onto Ulises, attempting to bite into his neck, scratching his face in the process. These moments have a kitschy charm about them, but it does upset the flow to a degree in that the film is deadly serious the rest of the time. But again, the budgets for these films were very small, with the filmmakers relying on their creativity; and nothing quite like the Franken Bat has ever been seen onscreen before.

The dubbing is also worth a few laughs. The voiceover work sounds almost robotic, with most voices sounding virtually identical from one to the other. The dubbed dialog isn't as goofy as it usually is the Mexican fantasy imports, but the people reading off the lines are. The Spanish language versions are preferred.

Like its predecessor, and others, THE INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES was released to television by AIP-TV in 1965 as part of the K. Gordon Murray packages featuring a gaggle of Mexican movie monsters and masked wrestlers. The original Spanish release runs approximately one minute longer.

Some reviewers state you don't have to see the first movie before this one. It's not absolutely imperative, but it is crucial to a degree. The open-ending of THE BLOODY VAMPIRE makes sense in concordance with the beginning of the sequel. If you can keep up with all the backstory and supernatural explanations, there's a definite flow to watching them in sequence. Still, if you're not a fan of Mexico's brand of Gothic horror, or B/W genre pictures in general, it won't make a difference. Regardless, INVASION is the better of the two with its tighter pacing, more action, and an increased aura of dread. Furthermore, this film (along with its predecessor) are among the most atmospheric, easily matching whatever Britain, Italy, or Spain brought to life on the big screen. Morayta's two vampire pictures are considered some of the best examples in Mexico's sadly under-appreciated Golden Era of fantastic cinema.

This review is representative of the RTC DVD. There are no English options.

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