Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Vampire’s Coffin (1958)

The Vampire’s Coffin (El ataúd del Vampiro) was a sequel of sorts to the excellent 1957 Mexican gothic horror classic El Vampiro. It’s a much less serious offering although it’s not without merit.

The principal cast members and the production team are the same in both films. While El Vampiro is true gothic horror, moody and atmospheric, The Vampire’s Coffin is notably cheesier. While the main characters are supposed to be the same people, they aren’t quite.

Marta González (Ariadna Welter) is in hospital, under the care of Dr Enrique Saldívar (Abel Salazar), still recovering from her encounter with the vampire Count Lavud (who also goes by the alias Duval). Dr Saldívar’s colleague Dr Marion (Carlos Ancira) rather unwisely steals the coffin containing the mortal (or rather immortal) remains of the count.

The heavy he has employed to steal the coffin does something even more unwise - he removes the stake through the count’s heart in order to steal a jewelled medallion. So now there’s a vampire running loose in the hospital.

The plot is a little weak but intelligent use is made of the settings, especially the theatre and the wax museum. Marta is a showgirl which offers the opportunity to add a little glamour and to add a theatrical setting. The scene of the girl being stalked in an alleyway is expertly done, as is the wax museum finale.

If you’re only familiar with the fun but cheesy side of Mexican horror, typified by the Aztec Mummy and wrestling women movies, the more serious Mexican gothic horror movies such as The Black Pit of Dr M, The Curse of the Crying Woman, The Witch's Mirror and El Vampiro will come as quite a surprise. They’re excellent examples of the gothic genre, and they take the genre seriously. The Vampire’s Coffin is not one of the better efforts but it still looks great.

The great strength of the Mexican gothic horror movies is always the photography. They were masters of the art of making low-budget horror flicks look classy. They used all the gothic clichés - shadows, cobwebs, mist - but they used them so skillfully that they never look cheesy. While The Vampire’s Coffin suffers from an indifferent plot it never looks cheap or tacky. Even the bats manage not to look too silly. The special effects are very basic but again they’re done stylishly.

There aren’t many real scares but there’s still plenty of entertainment. Germán Robles makes a fine vampire. Ariadna Welter is very good as Marta.

Interestingly enough this Mexican mini-vampire cycle pre-dates Hammer’s first Dracula movie so the inspiration was clearly the Universal Dracula movies rather than Hammer’s. In fact the whole Mexican horror boom of the 50s was clearly indebted to Universal’s monster movies, but (unlike Hammer’s early forays into gothic horror) they weren’t remakes of Universal’s movies - they were all wholly original stories.

As always Casa Negra have come up with a superb DVD presentation. There are a few hisses at times on the soundtrack but the picture quality is superlative.

The double-DVD that includes this movie and El Vampiro is well worth getting hold of.

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