Saturday, 11 October 2008

El Vampiro (1957)

Although Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein is generally credited with triggering the revival of horror movies, and particularly of gothic horror, in fact it seems that the rediscovery of gothic horror happened more or less simultaneously in three different countries. In Britain, with Hammer’s film, in Italy with Riccardo Freda’s I Vampiri, and in Mexico with El Vampiro (The Vampire).

Of these three movies, El Vampiro is the most traditional. It’s closest in feel to the Universal monster movies of the 30s and 40s. On the other hand, it is an attempt to make the vampire overtly sexy, so in that respect it resembles Hammer’s first vampire movie, Dracula, which came out a year or so later.

A young woman, Marta, alights from a train at a rural railway station in Mexico, only to find that it is impossible to obtain transport to Los Sicomoros, the hacienda where she grew up. There’s another traveller stranded at the station, a young man who claims to be a commercial traveller, and he eventually persuades a mysterious wagon driver to take them both to Los Sicomoros. On arrival, Marta is told that her much-loved aunt died the previous day. The hacienda itself appears to be slowly falling apart, and there’s an uneasy atmosphere. Her uncle seems worried, while her strangely youthful-looking remaining aunt is behaving a little oddly.

It transpires that an offer has been made for the purchase of the hacienda by a neighbour, a Mr Duval. This had caused a rift between her uncle and her aunts, and this had been complicated by the now deceased aunt’s growing conviction that she was being stalked by a vampire. In fact the young man from the railway station is a doctor, called in by the uncle to make a medical determination on her sanity.

There’s nothing especially original about El Vampiro, but the traditional ingredients are blended with considerable skill. The sets are superb, and the gothic atmosphere is overwhelming. Rosalío Solano’s black-and-white cinematography is stunning. The overall look is similar to the Universal films, and there are distinct resemblances to the underrated 1943 Son of Dracula in particular. The special effects are simple but the bat transformations work better than they have any right to do.

Germán Robles makes a smoothly sinister vampire, while Abel Salazar (who also produced the film) is a likeable hero as the doctor. Ariadna Welter is an effective (and remarkably beautiful) heroine as Marta. All the supporting players are extremely competent. There’s nothing cheap or shoddy about the style or the look of this movie, and there’s nothing campy about its treatment of the material. It relies on atmosphere rather than shocks, and the end result is an impressive horror film.

Casa Negra’s Region 1 DVD looks as wonderful as all their other DVDs, and includes plentiful extras.

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