Judge Paul Corupe vants to aspire su sangre.
From the depths of Evil comes a diabolical killer of beautiful women!
Those rubber bat-loving genre fans at CasaNegra Entertainment continue to blaze a trail in the Mexican horror DVD resurgence with The Vampire Collection, an essential pairing of early creature features from accomplished horror director Fernando Méndez. This classy, double-feature release bestows a brand new level of respect on these underappreciated south-of-the-border genre potboilers, with beautiful transfers, original Spanish soundtracks, and a smattering of extras.
Facts of the Case
Borrowing bits and pieces from both Tod Browining's film and the original Dracula novel, The Vampire (AKA El Vampiro) begins as Marta (Ariadna Welter, The Living Head) makes the pilgrimage back to her childhood home, accompanied by Dr. Saldívar (Abel Salazar, The Brainiac). A professed fellow traveler who decides to keep her company on the long walk, Saldívar has in fact been hired to investigate some strange occurrences at the estate. On arriving, Marta learns that things are indeed out of the ordinary-one of her beloved aunts has just passed away under mysterious circumstances, and another, Eloisa (Carmen Montejo,The Final Race), appears to be under the spell of guest Count Karol de Lavud (Germán Robles, The Curse of Nostradamus). Not surprisingly, de Lavud is soon revealed to be a fanged vampire, an undead monster who plans to resurrect his departed brother from the estate's basement crypt. More importantly, the calculating Count also hopes to recruit Marta in his evil plan-unless Saldívar can stop him in time.
The action continues in The Vampire's Coffin (AKA El Ataúd del Vampiro), as Count de Lavud's coffin is stolen by the vampire-obsessed Dr. Marion (Carlos Ancira, The Living Coffin) and his hired thug (Yerye Beirute, The Fear Chamber). Bringing the corpse back to his lab at the hospital, Marion quickly calls on Dr. Saldívar for help in his experiments, but foolishly removes the stake first. With de Lavud out roaming the streets, Marta is once again in danger of coming under the deadly spell of the blood-sucking prince of darkness.
When the Universal Monsters found new popularity on television in the 1950s, it was foreign filmmakers who were the first to jump into the fray and reinterpret these Hollywood screen icons for their own home-grown audiences. Hammer Film Productions gained fame for resurrecting both Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula in blazing color. But the Mexican film industry had already begun many of their own horror adaptations, incorporating a unique local flavor into the familiar stories and legends. Directed by one of the most influential figures in Mexican horror cinema, Fernando Méndez (The Black Pit of Dr. M), The Vampire and The Vampire's Coffin were the popular bloodsuckers that played an instrumental role in launching the country's fright film industry. While they would ultimately be surpassed in later years by more technically accomplished works, these early classics clearly set much of the groundwork for the genre, combining brilliantly stylish visuals with a palpable gothic atmosphere, all the while ladling on rich helpings of melodrama.
Balancing the aesthetics of the 1930s and '40s Universal horror classics with a distinctly European flair, both films boast a sophisticated, but shadowy, atmosphere of graveyards and crypts. This atmosphere easily out-creeps Universal's 1931 Spanish version of Dracula, the first real achievement in Mexican horror. As with his slightly superior The Black Pit of Dr. M, Méndez and favored cinematographer Víctor Herrera manage to evoke chills with uncanny set-pieces and modest special effects. Viewers are whisked from a dilapidated hacienda and foggy forest clearings in the first film to a cobweb-ridden theatre and a wax museum's chamber of horrors in the equally spooky sequel. Far more cinematic and skillfully constructed than many of the lower-budgeted affairs that later become closely associated with Mexican horror, these films only occasionally dabble in the sticky swamp of camp. They prefer to emphasize top-notch set design and the deliriously suave Count de Lavud to claim their place as influential classics of the genre.
In his first on screen roles, Germán Robles makes for an impressively charismatic and spooky vampire. Despite his relative unknown today, he easily holds his own against far more familiar turns by Bela Lugosi and just a year later, Christopher Lee. Very tall and thin, Robles strikes an elegant but commanding figure in his tuxedo and cape. Robles makes eerie use of carefully considered actions, whether it's slowly rising in his coffin and flicking his eyes open, to slow-and surprisingly violent-swoops towards a fresh neck. Pulsating with an undercurrent of eroticism, his portrayal is a graceful update of Lugosi's characterization. As a testament to Robles's excellence in the role, these refinements became part of the vampire's iconic screen image for years to come.
As usual, CasaNegra Entertainment has done an excellent job putting together this double DVD set. Both The Vampire and The Vampire's Coffin are offered up in clean, vibrant transfers, preserved in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios. Only The Vampire features some slight source artifacts dancing across the screen, but they're not much of a distraction. As for audio, viewers can select between the original English dubs, or the preferred Spanish mono tracks with English subtitles-both sound incredible, considering the source material. The main extra on this set is an informative, if occasionally deadpan, commentary on The Vampire by writer and historian Robert Cotter, who gives a good outline of the film's history and reveals all kinds of fascinating tidbits for Mexi-Horror fans. Also on board is David Wilt's self-explanatory photo essay, "Fear a la Mexicana! Mexican Horror Cinema, 1953 to 1965," an obituary for actor/producer Abel Salazar, a pair of campy English-language radio spots, and the requisite cast bios and still galleries. A more unique inclusion is a fun, vintage French photo novel from the film, which can be accessed on your computer's DVD drive.
CasaNegra Entertainment strikes the rich jugular of Mexican horror again, with stupendous results. The distinct entries on this DVD set, The Vampire and The Vampire's Coffin, are easily among the best films Mexico has to offer genre buffs, making this a compulsory release for fans of worldly weirdness.
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• Commentary by historian Robert Cotter
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