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Monday, August 2, 2010

The Bloody Vampire

As much as I've written about British horror and its technicolor glory, I have a genuine, mirth-filled love for the euro and Latino horror-- horror from Spain, France, Italy and Mexico tend to have a Catholicism and showmanship that slick Hollywood productions cannot match. I'll take a Dario Argento, Jess Franco or Paul Naschy picture any day before sitting through the remake of THE HAUNTING again.

But O! Mexican horror, that's where it's at. There's something strangely other-worldly and magical about the way we get Mexican horror, the black-and-white witches and vampires and yes, wandering masked wrestler heroes. The key man in bringing these movies to the US was K. Gordon Murray, a Florida distributor whose bread and butter was making cheesy low-budget kid's movies before the major studios secured contracts that allowed key evening releases to play on weekend days, killing the matinee industry. Murray returned, Dracula-like, buying and re-dubbing heaps upon heaps of Mexican horror films, many of them featuring Santo, the silver mask man. My favorites among these are the vampire pictures, like THE VAMPIRE (El Vampiro) and last night's fare, THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (El Vampiro Sangriento.)

Last night I watched THE BLOODY VAMPIRE, a 1962 Mexican vampire movie included in a fantastic box set of public domain and forgotten vamp movies, Undead: The Vampire Collection. Here's the thing: I suspect the people who put these box sets together think they're ripping me off. Look! I imagine them shouting. We're bundling 20 public domain movies no one cares about and he's paying $5 for it! Except that I actually love these movies.

Anyway, THE BLOODY VAMPIRE is worth watching for several reasons. It has some astonishing visuals-- the silent carriage ride in the beginning is chilling and the king vampire, Count Frankenhausen (!) cuts a powerful figure. The sets-- long, lightning-lit corridors-- are beautiful to look at. The plot, meanwhile, makes only the slightest amount of sense. The movie is pure innocence and melodrama, and because this is a K. Gordon Murray release, it's dubbed in a strange and circuitous way, with characters adding extra words and doubling back on themselves all the time, saying things like "And now finally I will reveal to you all the secrets left to me by my family, and this is what I hope to explain, if you can give me your attention. Now I will reveal everything." At one point the good doctor and the evil Count discuss coffee, and they discuss it at length, as though not only is coffee new to them, but it must be very new to us, as well, giving us a strange, stream-of-consciousness scene that runs something like: Did you offer me coffee? You must be referring to the drink that is popular in Arabia. It is created through transfusion. You see I know many things about alchemy and chemistry. But I have only read about coffee; I have never actually seen the bean. I am looking forward to experiencing it.
They have a similar discussion about vampires. In this movie, there are two kinds of vampires: "living" vampires who run around and attack people, and "dead" vampires who sleep all the time. If you kill the head living vampire, all the "dead" vampires wake up and become dangerous. Cool, no? I have to admit I like that little twist, where suddenly the heroes have to consider a risk of killing the boss vampire.

I see lots of reviews like this one at Classic Horror: "A dull feature whose eerie sets and photography are ruined by the poor dubbing." That just seems seems obtuse to me, like someone saying "this cubist painting is marred by a lack of proper perspective," as if the reviewer couldn't possibly imagine why someone would watch a movie like this. This feature is what it is; the poor dubbing and complete sincerity create a work that is strange and wonderful. Through several accidents, these films are strange and wonderful works all their own. If you don't watch this movie and smile all the way through, I can't help you.

Here's a few choice moments from THE BLOODY VAMPIRE, in Spanish.

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