Wednesday, October 5, 2022

El Vampiro (1957)

A man and woman make each-other's acquaintance on the way to a small rural community, where young Marta is visiting to meet with her aunt, only to learn of her apparent death. There she meets her very much alive aunt, and the mysterious Senor Duval. Strange and deadly things begin to happen, and a suspicious Dr. Enrique investigates, discovering a tome on the vampire Count Lavud. Now realising the danger Marta is in, he must try and stop this monster before he claims another victim...

El Vampiro is Mexico's answer to the vampire genre. Not its first or its last, but definitely one of the country's most popular. To this day it ranks highly among classic horror fans south of the border.

While inspired by the Dracula films (although predating Hammer's first effort by a year), and containing every cliche in the book, something I admire about El Vampiro is how it still tells its own story. Not that I have anything against foreign knock-offs of course, but originality is always laudable.

El Vampiro is a great example of Gothic Mexican, an unexpected and underrated combination. We have a mix of frontier dustbowl and train tracks, with old castillos and Transylvanian coffins.

The characters here are basic, but in a good way. Marta and Dr. Enrique are likeable leads, who get plenty to do. Then there's a strange old(?) lady, who shows up periodically to help out (like placing a cross on Marta's bed...which soon gets knocked off in the motions of sleep). This is an easy watch without subtitles, as you can always understand what characters are saying simply through their actions, or familiarity with any movies.

The villains are a neat pair. Count Lavud is a handsome but heartless beast, with the fun, if somewhat obvious anagram name Duval. Marta's not-so-deceased aunt isn't just brainless vampire set decoration, but is a strong villain in her own right, and feels like Lavud's equal.

The climax is a fun one, with a race against time to save young Marta from becoming the vampire's next victim. We have some good action between Dr. Enrique and Lavud, as well as a few thugs in the mix.

What's really surprising is when the older lady's part in events, where she, and I'm not making this up, somehow manages to strangle a vampire to death! She doesn't even stake her, and this frail old lady is able to completely overpower the undead monster! As if that wasn't enough, she is also the one to ultimately kill Lavud, although only after Enrique got the actual fighting to himself, and instead rescues the girl.

The cast here does a fine job. Renowned Mexican performer German Robles is great as the titular Count Lavud. He may not be as good as Lugosi or Lee, but he's definitely among the better suave vampires in classical cinema, and nails everything he needs to. Carmen Montejo meanwhile is neat as the femme fatale, getting a nice juicy role to sink her fangs into. Ariadne Welter does well as the innocent maiden and damsel in distress. Then there's actor and occasional director Abel Salazar, here the young romantic leading man. He's actually 40, and a good 13 years older than his female co-star, but despite not looking the part as visually as others might, he still does a fine job (and it's not like he's an old man or anything).

El Vampiro is light on effects, favouring its locations and actors to create a spooky impression rather than anything flashy. What is here looks good, with convincing fangs, and a neat vampire disintegration. There's also some competent wirework whenever we 'see' vampires in the mirror and objects move on their own.

The score here by Gustavo César Carrión is good, with all the expected ominous notes, and dramatic hooks and stings you expect in a horror film. The music does all the talking during the climax, making for a very energetic time.

Director Fernando Mendez is once again showing why he's a great fit in the horror genre, providing not only a film that looks good generally, but contains numerous striking shots. Great angles, scene arrangement, lighting, and scenery. It all comes together to make a really pleasing film to look at.

El Vampiro is a quintessential vampire film, and a simple but very enjoyable time to be had. Mexico is lucky to have one like this in its repertoire...

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