‘You do not make tribute to the hospitality of Mr Marqués disturbing his habits.’
An alchemist is sent by his master to a remote region to investigate reports of vampires. When he arrives, he finds the populace in thrall to tales of the spirit of the murdered Contessa Frankenhausen, who lures young men from the nearby village down to the lagoon of death…
This is a direct sequel to writer-director Miguel Morayta’s previous film ‘El Vampiros Sangriento/The Bloody Vampire’ (1961). Abel Salazar’s ‘El Vampiro’ (1957) was a recent box office bonanza, and Mexican movie theatres rang with the cries of ghosts, monsters and werewolves, but, most of all, with vampires.
The full moon rises and brings with it not the howl of the werewolf but the ghostly shade of the Contessa Frankenhausen (Erna Martha Bauman) in a see-through nightgown. Young bucks in the local village seem unable to resist following her down to the isolated shoreline where she disrobes, and they end up dead with a telltale love bite. Handsome young occult scientist Dr Ulises Albarrán (Rafael del Río) arrives just in time to see the latest would-be lothario being carried back home by torchlight, a pale, lifeless cadaver.
Our young hero is a disciple of the Count Cagliostro, who has sent him to the region to investigate these strange happenings. He comes with a letter of introduction to local bigwig, the Marqués Gonzalo Guzmán de la Serna (Tito Junco), an old friend of his master. Junco lives in the rambling ‘Villa of the Spirits’ with old retainer Frau Hildegarda (Bertha Moss). Some years before, he married his daughter Eugenia (Erna Martha Bauman) to the mysterious Count Frankenhausen (Carlos Agostí). The newlyweds left for the city as soon as their daughter Brunhilda was born, leaving the child in Junco’s care. Recently they returned, but Agostí vanished, and Bauman’s corpse was found at the lagoon. Since then, she’s haunted the woods nearby, and villagers have been dropping like flies.
Further investigations convince del Río that the family hacienda holds the key to the mystery, especially after he encounters Bauman one night in the library. Junco tries to put him off but eventually comes clean; the supposed apparition was the grown-up Brunhilda (Bauman again, of course). She’s kept under lock and key because he fears she has inherited some unfortunate tendencies from her father. Meanwhile, Moss keeps a comfy coffin available for Agostí in a secret room in the hacienda, where he rests in his animal form as an outsized rubber bat.
Despite the familiar setup, Morayta adds a few welcome wrinkles to vampire lore, although they are mainly carried over from the first film. Victims of the vampire remain in a cataleptic state, only rising after their master is staked. Something may have been lost in translation because this doesn’t fit with Agostí’s talk of conquering the world with his hordes of the undead. This expansion of the vampire’s usual mission statement beyond drinking the blood of village maidens is a tiresome cinematic cliché now, of course. Still, it’s refreshing to see it expounded in such an early example of the genre.
Most pleasingly, del Rio proposes to defeat the vampires using science, or what passes for it anyway. Explaining that staking a vampire isn’t always enough, he clashes with the village priest, Father Victor (Enrique García Álvarez), when he proposes to burn the bodies of all Agostí’s victims. Threatened with ex-communication from the church, the alchemist backs down and decides to inject them with Boric Acid instead. This chemical can be synthesised from black mandrake, a rare variation of the plant root that ‘grows only on Vampire Lands’. No explanation is offered as to why it only grows there, and this is confusing when it stands in for the more traditional garlic later on in the film. Credit to Morayta for his new ideas, but a little clearer definition would have helped.
The film’s other strong aspects include Morayta’s ability to conjure a spooky atmosphere, especially with the fog-wreathed exteriors early on. The scenes where the vampires (with stakes in place!) wander about and surround the hacienda at the climax are also oddly reminiscent of George A Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968). The sound design is excellent, too, with Luis Hernández Bretón expanding on his work in the first film and delivering a score with even more emphasis on discordant music. The music helps to reinforce the separate, other-worldly feel of the drama and the isolated location where it takes place.
There are a few less impressive aspects of the production, however. Agostí’s animal form bears a passing resemblance to Lugosi’s ridiculous creature from ‘The Devil Bat’ (1940) and is about as convincing. Agostí also gets far less screentime. Whether this was due to problems with the actor’s availability or was an effort to heighten suspense is unclear, but he does seem strangely absent from the action at times. Our hero is also saddled with the inevitable ‘comedy sidekick’ in the form of a cowardly villager, Crescencio (Fernando Soto), although his presence is thankfully limited. Curiously, several of the principal cast from the first film do not make an appearance. Villains Agostí and housekeeper Moss are present and correct, Bauman plays her original character’s daughter, and mute servant Lucero is here, but none of the heroic protagonists. Ultimately, this is a good thing as del Rio makes a far more convincing leading man than his equivalent in the first film, and Bauman is a more appealing heroine.
The original film did an excellent job of foreshadowing the events of this sequel, but Morayta assumes a little too much prior knowledge of the story here. An audience unfamiliar with the first chapter could be forgiven for being a little confused by the setup here, particularly regarding Junco’s relationship with granddaughter Bauman. Apparently, he’s been keeping her hidden in the hacienda for her entire life and, in a passing aside, mentions that he’s been feeding her on a diet of blood! This history is never developed further, beyond an inference that Boric Acid can wash away her dodgy inheritance. All I can say is that she seems like a remarkably well-adjusted young woman, given that kind of an upbringing!
Overall, this is a stronger film than the original with more depth to the conflict, even if the ultimate brawl between del Rio and Agostí falls prey to some laughable monster FX. Why Agostí needs to hypnotise Bauman to pose as her mother and act as a honey trap for him is also a puzzle. Is he too lazy or incompetent to hunt down his own victims? Considering that his housekeeper procured servants to become his brides in the first film, perhaps he is that hopeless.
Bauman was a former beauty queen who had a short career on the big screen before switching television in the late 1960s. However, her credits include several notable genre pictures, including René Cardona’s take on the legend of ‘La Llorona’ (1960) and ‘El mundo de los vampiros/The World of the Vampires’ (1961). She’s also assigned an uncredited bit in Cirio H Santiago’s ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978), but, as that was filmed in the Philippines and she was all but retired by then, it’s quite possibly a misidentification.
Another tale of Vampires South of the Border with enough interest points to engage a receptive audience and stand out from the crowd.