Latinx Month – FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Mexican and Spanish Vampires!

Mexican and Spanish Vampires, Oh My!  By Kristin Battestella

The Bloody Vampire– The English version of this black and white 1962 Mexican import El Vampire Sangriento opens with eerie slow motion, silent carriages, tolling bells, howling wolves, and creepy forests to set the macabre mood. The candles, Old World Feeling, secret crypts, great architecture, and period costumes counter the almost comically out of place and unmatched dubbing, but there are some eerie good effects, thankfully. Fun Bats, zooms, and coffins mask the fact that once again, there isn’t much of the titular blood. However, the religious arias are a bit out of place and too reverent for the subject. Likewise, some of the sound effects are more fifties UFOs than scary. Fortunately, a few corsets and kinky bedroom threats accent the household violence, vampy bitch slaps, and whips. Although, I’ve never heard a vampire tell his victim/bride to put some clothes on before! It might have been neat to see a South American set tale rather than the standard Eastern European mold, but the English translations add to the gothic horror homage. Count Frankenhausen has a maid named Hildegard “The servants must call me Frau” and a daughter Bronehilda at his cave the “Haunted Hacienda.” Yes, and did I mention that “Vampirina” is the blood of a vampire? The English track is tough to hear, and it’s all back and forth wooden exposition on deadly flower roots, grave robbings, early autopsies, science versus death, vampire mythos, and secret vampire hunting family histories. It might be a dry translation or stilted from the innate Espanol, but at least this isn’t in the over the top telenovela styling we expect today. The pace does pick up for the last half hour, and once you’re past the niche logistics and morbid humor, then this is a good little hour and a half.

Crypt of the Living Dead – There’s isn’t a lot of information available on this black and white 1973 tale also known by the wonderfully bad title Hannah, Queen of the Vampires.  Andrew Prine (V) looks so young and the architecture and medieval religious designs are well done, yes. But sadly, the drab, colorless photography hampers the fun, gothic atmosphere. Was this later day black and white filming done by production plan or necessity? The editing is also either very poor or there has been some unfortunate film damage, and the plot is a little slow and silent to start, with too many setups and tough to hear dialogue when we do have it. The nighttime action is almost impossible to see as well, and the frantic camerawork and extreme close ups make what should be straightforward scares somewhat confusing. All this production doom and gloom and yet the script and cast actually aren’t that bad. The music and eerie effects are sinister enough, and there’s a historical spin on the then-contemporary skepticism and ethical debates. Die-hard vamp fans looking to have a fun nighttime viewing will enjoy this. However, the finale is a bit overlong and repetitive for horror lay folk, and those low budget values will hinder the natural fears and good scares for today’s more visually treated audiences. 

The Vampire – With such a confusingly plain title, I had to look up this 1957 Mexican horror El Vampiro starring Abel Salazar and German Rubles to make sure I hadn’t already seen it. Fortunately, there’s no mistaking the foggy villa courtyards, Gothic Victorian interiors, hypnotic eyes, and fangs afoot here. This original tale gets right to the screams and neck nibbles, and the black and white patina perfectly matches the don’t go out after sunset warnings. Even the fake bat doesn’t feel hokey amid the fifties train and ingenue in white visiting her sick spinster aunt. The boxes of soil from Hungary, suspicious cape-wearing count, and carriage at the crossroads may seem Stoker-esque to start, however there are some undead surprises – and an older aunt who remains young and reflection-less but thinks all this vampire talk is ridiculous. Torches and tolling bells invoke some medieval funerary alongside crypts, superstitions, and fearful folk crossing themselves. The recently late are buried with crucifix in hand while creepy crescendos accent the phantom ladies in black about the cemetery. Ghostly effects, well-framed shadows, and spooky lighting schemes heighten the ruinous haciendas as well as the suspenseful count and his then-shocking vampire bites – sudden falling books or slamming doors also help build the dangerous mood unlike today’s fake out jump scares. Rather than detract from the horror, just the right amount of humor and a whiff of romance accent the fine dialogue – although despite DVD commentaries and a variety of caption or audio options, the English subtitles don’t exactly match the español. Secret passages, dusty books, and otherworldly singing provide more flavor for a wild finale combining stakes, sunlight, and fire. To be sure, this toothy little number wins with heaps of atmosphere.

The Vampire’s Coffin – Salazar and company returned for this 1958 sequel aka El Ataud del Vampiro, and the two pictures can be found together on the generically named The Vampire Collection set for more howling cemeteries, grave robbers, and disturbed vampire tombs. Of course, it’s amazingly easy for two men to remove such heavy headstones and take a giant coffin to the local hospital for a scientific study, but hey, me want that sweet fifties Hearst! Skeletal reflections, giant wooden stakes – the Gothic creepy moves into unexplained science territory but the old-fashioned hospital retains a gray, mod feeling with scared kids and a cross above the bed. What can modern medicine do compared to a determined monster? Sharp shadows and dark angles add Expressionism accents while staircases and noir pursuits akin a Val Lewton aesthetic. Although a missing vampire about the ward could be laughable, spooky effects, a dark cape, and hypnotized victims add macabre. There is, however, a lacking finesse here thanks to a busy narrative crowded with swanky theater glamour and gruesome wax museum hideouts. Disbelieving medical directors, ritzy routines, and torture devices are all well and good on their own, but one moody, fully embraced locale would have been better. Convenience and poorly choreographed fights aside, the fun finale packs in plenty of rituals, chases, and guillotines, as you do. Ironically, it feels like pieces of this film are borrowed in more recent cliché horror, and despite a general bloodlessness and try hard approach, bared fangs and la Sangre talk keep up the theme.

The Vampire’s Night Orgy – Spanish director Leon Klimovsky (The Dracula Saga) uses an unusual widescreen format for this hour and twenty minutes from 1974. The color is very washed out, too, and unfortunately, the picture is often too dark or tough to see. Like most of the foreign or obscure horror of this era, there are edited versions and lost prints, and some scenes are regrettably dated and look the likes of seventies porn. Thankfully, those are about the only problems here.  Crazy funerals, wild music, and a nutty countess add to the demented ambiance of ticking clocks, creaking doors, and spooky sound effects. The dubbing is actually in sync and performed well, too, with a few words of un-translated Spanish adding to the Euro flavor. From the interesting premise – an en-route house staff’s bus breaks down in a seemingly abandoned town that really has an all too generous blood drinking population – to a bit of kink, nudity, and cannibalism, the screams and foreboding build up are solid. Sure, most of the men look the same with huge mustaches and I’ll be damn, there isn’t a lot of blood to be seen. However, the child actors aren’t annoying, and the vampire violence is well played. One by one, victims are taken down in fast, almost gang rape terror, and the chase finale and twist ending earn top marks. Though in serious need of a restoration and some may have trouble getting past the dated look, this is a nice little scary movie.

The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman – Never ever do an autopsy on a supposed werewolf on a moonlit night!  Just one of the many warnings from this 1971 Spanish treat, the fifth in the loose Waldemar Daninsky series from writer and star Paul Naschy.  Director Leon Klimovsky tackles then-contemporary disbelieving science versus superstition with good screams, fun growls and fangs, zoom attacks, and slow motion eerie.  There’s a good quality of blood, too, and a twisted medieval flashback establishes the satanic ritual roots. Of course, the nighttime photography is almost impossible to see, and the handheld forest camera action is poor. The werewolf makeup and effects may be a bit hokey but considering the low budget foreign production, they suffice. The flowing fashions and happy vamps running thru the glen can seem more like Frodo Lives hippie, I know. However, it is nonetheless very unnerving and effective. Actually, the pop references in the dialogue – such as man walking on the moon, James Bond, and the obligatory “Dracula! Ha ha.” – feels more dated amid the fine gothic history and Euro-style. A touch of lingerie, bloody shackles, and crazy girl on girl suggestion keep the run of the mill acting and yell at the TV moments bemusing.  Cap this eighty plus minutes with unusual monster relationships and cool mod clothes and you have a picture that’s a cut above the standard dollar bin foreign horror. Naturally, multiple video releases, unavailable uncut editions, international reissues, and title changes can make pursuing Naschy’s horror repertoire extremely frustrating.  For fans of retro Euro-horror, however, this is worth the hunt. 

For More Vampires, Visit:

Dracula 2020

Dark Shadows Video Review

Summer Vampires

Buffy Season 1

 

Where are all the Mid-Century Mexican Horror Films? A Frightening Flix Editorial

Where Are All the Mid-Century Mexican Horror Films by Kristin Battestella

From The Witch’s Mirror to The Curse of the Crying Woman and more, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mid-century Mexican horror productions I’ve seen from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I would wholeheartedly like to see more, but where did all these Mexican horror movies go? Read on for my rant about the frustrating difficulty in finding these quality classic scares.

Why so inaccessible?

Thanks to directors such as Rafael Baledón or the likes of Abel Salazar’s filmography, one can filter, search, and find dozens of Mexican horror films on IMDb, Wikipedia, and more. We know they exist, so where are they and why aren’t they readily available? Ten or fifteen years ago, a budget DVD set with twenty or fifty so-called horror classics was a get what you pay for way to find a few old horror gems amid the so bad it’s good obscure, public domain scares, and cheap VHS quality rips. This was how I first found some Spanish horror delectables. Today, however, those sets aren’t really viable compared to affordable streaming options. Unfortunately, be it the free horror channels, discount streaming tiers, or the big mainstream options, none of them have any of these films. Back when we had Xfinity and could browse all the thousand channels on the guide including the Spanish cable package, I used to see some great horror films listed on the Peliculas de clasicos channels. I’d write down great titles like Museo de Horror, El Beso de Ultratrumbo, La Cabeza Viviente, and more but can’t find any of them anywhere. How with today’s instant access to everything are these films still so inaccessible?

Cultural Drift is No Excuse!

It takes a lot of digging and research to find these titles, and although it’s easy to search with Spanish language filters, that creates its own set of problems. Sure I’ve been able to find a few Salazar sixties horrors or Mexican movies, but those searches also yield a lot of Paul Naschy pictures from Spain (and searching for his Waldermar werewolf films is another aggravating not all available pursuit). Soon, these lists skew to Spain, European productions, Jesus Franco, Dario Argento, and Mario Bava. Seventies Italian Giallo pictures are not what we’re looking for, and finding the right version of a film with different releases, run times, and different titles per country only adds more fuel to the frustrating fuego. Sometimes you think you are getting the right movie and it turns out to be something else, or worse a film you’ve already seen under a different name. I myself am guilty of putting all my Spanish horror viewing lists and recommendations together because it’s so tough to find just the Mexican scares. Of course, Spain and Mexico are different cultures with different español and different identities, and it’s problematic to presume they are interchangeable. Many years ago I had a vehement argument on an online film forum when a commenter said he wanted a role to be cast with Penélope Cruz or Salma Hayek or “one of those types.” O_o This person could not see why I objected to these actresses being lumped together as one and the same. On a non-horror note, I highly suggest the Maya Exploration Center’s Professor Edwin Barnhart’s Great Course lectures including Ancient Civilizations of North America, Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed, Lost Worlds of South America, and Exploring the Mayan World to educate oneself on the history of Southwest, Central, and South American communities.

The Classics are Better.

What irritates me most is the perception that because Hollywood or mainstream horror is more prevalent, that means it must be better. In my recent viewings, however, that’s been far from the truth. I’ve enjoyed the majority of independent Australian, New Zealand, Irish, UK horror, and European productions, sure. Canadian pictures, on the other hand, have been more mixed bag. When the festival finds are true to themselves, they’ve been good – but you can tell the difference when a north of the border production is compromising itself in hopes of an American sale and wide distribution, catering to the formulaic and cliché. I had such high hopes for The Curse of La Llorona. It starts well with colonial Mexican scares so viewers think we’re in for some period piece Hammer flair, but sadly the film – written and directed by white men, because of course – degrades into the typical kids in peril with whooshing entities and trite jump scares. Cultural fears are dismissed and protective warnings are treated like Mysticism 101, and the entire time I was waiting for it to end, I had one thought, which was that The Curse of the Crying Woman was better. There’s an entire Wikipedia page called “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema” but where are all the films? Netflix if you’re lucky has one DVD copy, and when that breaks, it’s just saves and unavailables.

It’s Frustrating and Offensive.

For viewer looking for quality horror of any kind, it’s disturbing how unique storytelling, different cultural scares, and the many horror stories to be told must be bent to serve white mainstream horror. The fact that these films are not widely available almost feels like an intentional burying – the way a great Asian horror film won’t see the light of day stateside because the rights were bought up and it is being deliberately suppressed until the rich white blonde jump scare cliché remake is released first. Why aren’t these classic, quality films being celebrated? Why are they not freely available to watch at any time? A black and white picture? So what! Spanish subtitles or a bad English dub? Big deal! Is it because they are not in English that white America suspects releasing these films properly won’t be profitable enough for them? Well that’s just too damn bad because I want to see these films. Do you have an inside source on where to find some classic mid-century Mexican horror movies? ¡Damelo!

 

For More Frightening Flix, visit:

Horror Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing

All Things Dracula Video Review

Ciao, Horror!

Bone Tomahawk

 

Latinx Month: FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ, The Witch’s Mirror

By Kristin Battestella

The Witch’s Mirror – Oft spooky actor Abel Salazar (The Curse of the Crying Woman) produced this black and white 1962 Mexican horror treat with Isabela Corona (A Man of Principle) as a creepy housekeeper amid the excellent smoke and mirrors and titular visual effects. From a macabre prologue and illustrations to Victorian mood, candles, and rituals, El Espejo de la Bruja has it all – love triangles, jerky husbands, revenge, betrayals, grave robbing, and ghoulish medicine. The plot is at once standard yet also nonsensical thanks to all the sorcery, implausible surgeries, ghosts, fire, even catalepsy all building in over the top, soap opera-esque twists. The sets are perhaps simplistic or small scale with only interior filming, but this scary, play-like atmosphere is enough thanks to wonderful shadows, gothic décor, and freaky, sinister music. Several language and subtitle options are available along with the feature and commentary on the DVD as well – not that any of the dubbing, subtitles, or original Spanish completely matches. The audio is also messed up in some spots, but the script is fun and full of cultish summonings and medical fantasies. Maybe this one will have too much happening for some viewers, as every horror treatise is thrown at the screen here. However, this is a swift, entertaining 75 minutes nonetheless and it doesn’t let up until the end.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Mirrors and Superstitions!

 

Mirrors and Superstitions!

By Kristin Battestella

I don’t know about you but I won’t purchase a second hand mirror thanks to these reflective frights!

Dark Mirror I stumbled upon this 2007 thriller late one night on IFC and enjoyed the unique aspects here. It’s so nice to see a non-blonde or idiot buxom pretty perfect lead in Lisa Vidal (New York Undercover). An ethic mom with issues like sneaking a smoke, possible marriage trouble, unemployment, and creepy neighbors- we haven’t seen the likes of this realistic well-roundedness in a horror film in sometime. The intriguing twists on cameras, mirrors, flashes, glass, and illusions are well done- not overly excessive but better than other similar films like Mirrors and Shutter.  Even Feng Shui gets involved in the twisted mythos here. The spooky L.A. house design also has some non-Sunny SoCal flaws, complete with hidden objects, altered reflections, deadly history, deceiving twists and turns and an unreliable narrator hosting the entire picture. What exactly are we seeing? What is real and what isn’t? Some of the storyline is a little confusing, and not all the acting is stellar, but the freshness here is entertaining and thoughtful throughout.

Mirror Mirror – Ironic country music and frightful orchestration accent the bloody period introduction of this 1990 teen creeper. Yes, that’s a generic title complete with a barebones DVD and no subtitles, but the spooky mix of antiques, hats, and shoulder pads make for a gothic mid century meets eighties style. Like dentistry, the innately eerie mirror aspects pack on the macabre along with blue lighting, distorted demonic voices, gruesome dreams, and bugs laying on the atmosphere. The 30-year-old looking teens in too much denim are mostly tolerable thanks to relatable new kid in town outsider feelings and feminine spins. Rainbow Harvest (Old Enough) is perhaps too wannabe Lydia from Beetlejuice and there is no sign of authority or investigation whatsoever, but the dark tone, a bemusing Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) handling the research, and the neurotic Karen Black (Burnt Offerings) make up any difference. This is a solid R, but the blood, nudity, water frights, and dog harm are done smartly without being excessive. The familiar Carrie, Teen Witch, and The Craft designs will be obvious to horror viewers, but it’s a fun 90 minutes of out of touch parents and teachers, high school cliques, and escalating creepy crimes. The titular evil from the other side takes hold for a wild finish – but never, ever put your hand down that garbage disposal, ever!

Oculus – Family scares, guns, and glowing eyes creepy get right to it as siblings are trying to both remember and forget their past tragedy in this 2013 mindbender full of askew dreams, unreliable memories, statues covered in sheets, and one cursed antique mirror. I would have preferred leads older than their early twenties – clearly appealing to the young it crowd – and despite an understandable awkward or instability, Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaites (Gods of Egypt) are too wooden at times. Fortunately, the more mature Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galatica) and Rory Cochrane (Empire Records) and child support Annalise Basso (The Red Road) and Garrett Ryan (Dark House) do better. The non-linear past and present retelling, however, is confusing – the parallel plots aren’t quite clear until the paranormal investigation brings everything together in one location with elaborate equipment, carefully orchestrated timers, and fail safes for a night of ghostly activity. The video documentation makes for smart exposition at the expense of a larger cast or showing the accursed historical events – replacing the tried and true research montage for today’s audiences without resorting to the found footage gimmick. There are no in your face camera effects or zooms with booming music when the frightful appears, and the viewer is allowed to speculate on the seen or unseen reflections, there or maybe not whispering, and distorted blink and you miss them doppelgangers. Is there a psychological explanation or is this all supernatural? Although the recollections or flashbacks of the crisscrossing events should have been more polished – are we watching two, four, or six people as this battle replays itself? – the paranoia builds in both time frames with canine trauma and alternating suspense. Yes, there are Insidious similarities, the product placement and brand name dropping feels unnecessary, and the uneven plot merge cheats in its reflection on the warped or evil influences at work. The finale falters slightly as well, however, there is a quality discussion about the titular manipulation, and the time here remains entertaining as household horrors intensify. WWE Studios, who knew?

The Witch’s Mirror – Oft spooky actor Abel Salazar (The Curse of the Crying Woman) produced this black and white 1962 Mexican horror treat with Isabela Corona (A Man of Principle) as a creepy housekeeper amid the excellent smoke and mirrors and titular visual effects. From a macabre prologue and illustrations to Victorian mood, candles, and rituals, El Espejo de la Bruja has it all – love triangles, jerky husbands, revenge, betrayals, grave robbing, and ghoulish medicine. The plot is at once standard yet also nonsensical thanks to all the sorcery, implausible surgeries, ghosts, fire, even catalepsy all building in over the top, soap opera-esque twists. The sets are perhaps simplistic or small scale with only interior filming, but this scary, play-like atmosphere is enough thanks to wonderful shadows, gothic décor, and freaky, sinister music. Several language and subtitle options are available along with the feature and commentary on the DVD as well – not that any of the dubbing, subtitles, or original Spanish completely matches. The audio is also messed up in some spots, but the script is fun and full of cultish summonings and medical fantasies. Maybe this one will have too much happening for some viewers, as every horror treatise is thrown at the screen here. However, this is a swift, entertaining 75 minutes nonetheless and it doesn’t let up until the end.

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Doppelganger – The opening Drew Barrymore suckling scene feels a little too carried over from Poison Ivy, but the follow up blood and screams with mom Jaid Barrymore add to the 1993 kitschy. The very dated style, light LA grunge feeling, and passé cast are way over the top, and vampire lovers are removed from an onscreen script rather than a shoehorned in plot necessity like today. Thankfully, Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H) is bemusing and so is the “Hey, it’s Danny Trejo!” moment, but seriously, George Newbern (actually the Adventures in Babysitting guy) isn’t Paul Rudd? Sadly, the slow motion soft core wanna-be shots don’t work until more blood and creepy aspects enter in- symbolic windows bursting open and yes, growling winds just make things laughable. It’s all too quick to get to the sex and titillation- casual lesbian on the dance floor motifs and forced use of the word ‘twat’ feel more awkward than cool.  The scares are obvious, and poor music choices, sound mixing, and bad dialogue re-dubs don’t help as Barrymore comes off more like a PMS queen or mental bitch rather than an innocent girl with a slutty, killer lookalike. Though the plot itself is too thin, things becomes more interesting when the murder investigation raises a few questions. Unfortunately, even the FBI agent (Dan Shor aka Billy the Kid from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) lays the smack on really thick! Barrymore doesn’t have a full command on the dry dialogue scenes, either. However, despite the baby doll dresses and old lady headscarf, teen Drew is looking flawless. I’m sure there’s a male audience that can have fun with that, the unintentional camp, and the cheap entertainment value here- except for the finale. Good Lord, what happened there?!