Review: El Vampiro (1957)

Written by Ramon Rodriguez
Directed by Fernando Mendez
Starring Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, Carmen Montejo, Jose Luis Jimenez, German Robles
Released October 4, 1957 (Mexico)
RT 95 min.
Home Video Casanegra (DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

El Vampiro

From the very first shot of El Vampiro (1957), I thought, “Wow!  I’m watching a Hammer film!”  A vampire stands in a fog-layered courtyard and stares at the window of a woman’s bedroom above.  In the passing of a single frame of film, he disappears and a big bat flies up to the balcony.  In his human form, the vampire then enters her room, lays the woman back on her bed and covers her body with the cape spread between his arms and across his back.  When he rises, she has two tiny puncture marks on her neck.

This scene represents the lush production values of the movie, although the latter part of it is obscured by the opening credits. El Vampiro evokes Hammer (the sets are big and their decoration detailed) as well as Universal (the photography is black and white and the action is traditional.)  The overall atmosphere is the movie’s strength.  It takes place largely at a deserted hacienda that has fallen into disrepair, but includes cavernous cellars and hidden passages behind movable bookshelves.

Marta Gonzalez (Ariadna Welter) arrives at “The Sicimoros” to visit her sick aunt, Maria Teresa (Alicia Montoya.) Unfortunately, it was her bedroom that the vampire visited at the beginning of the movie and her aunt subsequently died.  She was just buried by her brother, Emilio (Jose Luis Jimenez) and sister, Eloisa (Carmon Montejo), Marta’s uncle and other aunt.  Before she died, she was convinced a vampire was in the house.  It turns out that Marta’s travelling companion, Enrique (Abel Salazar), is a doctor that Emilio summoned to examine Maria Teresa.

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The plot of El Vampiro offers some nice surprises and I’m reluctant to spoil them here.  While I happily predicted a couple of them, I was caught completely off guard by another.  I felt a little silly for not noticing it; however, I think it’s a good example of how you can take a generally familiar story and place it in new surroundings so that it feels original.  What is, in essence, a retelling of a classic vampire tale, seems like something altogether new when it takes place in Mexico.

That’s not to say the movie doesn’t put its own spin on the vampire legend. German Robles’ Count Duval is reportedly the first vampire to have elongated canines.  Max Shreck’s Count Orlok from Nosferatu (1922) had long incisors and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931) showed no teeth. El Vampiro has great fun with the familiar lack of mirror reflection, but expands the mythology by saying that a vampire must be buried alone.  If buried among others, another vampire will come looking for revenge.

Director Fernando Mendez and cinematographer Rosalio Solano accomplish some remarkable onscreen effects, special and otherwise, through simple camera manipulation. For special, while the transformations from vampire to bat are instantaneous, Robles adds movements preceding and following them that really embellish the effect.  For otherwise, in one scene, the camera pulls back and suddenly Eloisa is there, giving the impression that she was standing behind “us” the entire time.  I actually jumped when it happened.

The score by Gustavo Cesar Carrion has a terrific melody, although it’s a little short and repetitive. Nevertheless, it’s another sign of quality and attention to detail.  I’ll admit I wasn’t as enamored by El Vampiro as others seem to be.  However, it’s no surprise to me that it has been received so well.  No offense intended, but when I think of Mexican horror, I think of luchadore films.  I expect masked wrestlers fighting monsters between matches.  I don’t expect something as well written, acted and directed as El Vampiro.

Today’s passport stamp:MexicoPart of the Countdown to Halloween.  Tomorrow… More Mexico!

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