‘The fat man has put me in a bad mood.’
An overweight layabout finds a job as the caretaker at a mansion reputed to be owned by a vampire. As part of his duties, he removes a lance embedded in the entrance hall floor and revives the undead nobleman. Aided by the building’s caretaker, he takes on the supernatural threat, hoping to claim a hidden treasure…
Comedic vampire hi-jinks from south of the border, courtesy of writer-director René Cardona and popular Mexican funnyman Capulina. Together, the two mine the well-worn tropes of horror-comedy pioneered by old dark house mysteries of the 1930s and the slapstick tendencies of ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948).
Idle timewaster Capulina (Gaspar Henaine) is happy to while away the hours in bed reading about vampires, but the need for food sends him reluctantly to the local employment agency. There, he snags a job doing light maintenance work at the Castle De Frontenac, but dropping the name of his destination at the village tavern run by Carlos Agostí sends the locals into the expected panic. Arriving at the castle (even calling it a ‘mansion’ would be pushing the definition a bit), Henaine is greeted by black dwarf Carbonato (Aurelio Pérez), who informs him that the walls hide a fabulous treasure. The catch is that the master of the house is a vampire.
Fortunately, Count Drac de Fontenac (Juan Gallardo) is currently ‘resting’, impaled by a lance stuck in the floor many years earlier. His wife Pampita (Rossy Mendoza, doing her best ‘Lily Munster’ impression) has been bringing men to their home ever since, trying to find one who can remove the offending weapon and bring her beloved back to life. Of course, that man turns out to be Henaine, and he does the deed. Then it’s up to him to turn the tables on the undead with the aid of the trusty Pérez.
The history of cinema is littered with lame, bloodless attempts at horror-comedy. For every ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2004) and ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975), there are dozens upon dozens of almost plotless escapades leaning heavily on stock humour, signposted gags, laboured situations and endless repetition. Unfortunately, Cardona’s film ticks all those boxes with some enthusiasm, replacing wit and timing with frenetic action, mugging and a great deal of running about on its cheap sets. Part of the problem is that some horror conventions offer obvious targets for parody and attract the sort of predictable, lazy scripting in evidence here.
Cardona’s screenplay has a few scattered ideas, but they are never developed beyond their original setup. The notion of Mendoza’s search to find someone to pull the lance from the floor echoes the Arthurian legend of the ‘Sword in the Stone’, but this interesting concept goes absolutely nowhere. Similarly, Mendoza is obviously less than pleased when Gallardo wakes his harem of vampire brides from their long sleep. However, the opportunity to poke fun at their domestic situation is ignored in favour of Gallardo getting a custard pie in the face and other such creative shenanigans.
Henaine was known for his ‘family-friendly’ comedy, and although the film does not seem targetted toward children, Cardona plays it safe at every turn. Events are never allowed to become scary for even one second, and, despite the vampire brides’ appropriate nightwear, not one inch of naked flesh ever makes it to the screen. Such elements aren’t strictly necessary to make a successful horror-comedy, of course. However, the complete absence of even a suggestion of them removes a great deal of the potential for laughs.
If there is one bright spot in all this, it’s on the technical side. Sure, the sets are limited in scale and scope, but Cardona compensates with the lighting, soaking the interiors with splashes of lurid, primary colours. This look partly evokes the feel of Hammer Horror but is also reminiscent of the gothic flourishes of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava! It’s not on that level of expertise or quality, of course, but it’s interesting to speculate on whether Cardona was familiar with Bava’s work or if it’s simply a coincidence.
Henaine began his career in show business as a successful singer and musician in the 1940s. He formed trio ‘Los Trincas’ in 1946, whose combination of country stylings with boogie-woogie has been credited as a pioneer of the 1950s Rock’ n’ Roll explosion by some commentators. In the mid-1950s, he formed a comedic partnership with Marco Antonio Campos known as Viruta and Capulina. They worked extensively in theatre, radio and television, culminating in their first feature film, the horror-comedy ‘Se los chupó la bruja’ (1957). Henaine thought the film was awful, but it proved a box-office smash, and the duo went on to make a further 25 movies over the next 11 years.
The duo split somewhat acrimoniously in the late 1960s, but Henaine went from strength to strength. Sources vary, but he starred in another 40 films at least, even starring with legendary luchador Santo, the two pairing up for ‘Santo contra Capulina’ (1969), again directed by Cardona. Other fantastical projects included ‘Capulina vs The Mummies /The Terror of Guanajuato’ (1973) and ‘Capulina contra los monstruos’ (1974), which pitted him against versions of Universal’s classic monsters. He also worked with Cardona when the director stepped out from behind the camera to play the ‘Bond Villain’ opposite his incompetent hero in spy spoof ‘Operación carambola’ (1968). Henaine also enjoyed highly successful careers as a stand-up comedian, television star and recording artist.
Cardona was a veteran filmmaker with over 120 previous directorial credits before this film and more than another 20 afterwards. His work often included horror and science-fiction subjects, and he was responsible for some of Mexico’s most notable films in those genres. Examples include ‘Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Mummy/Las luchadoras contra la momia’ (1964), ‘Santo vs the Strangler/Santo vs el estrangulador’ (1965), ‘Night of the Bloody Apes’ (1969), ‘Santo in the Vengeance of the Mummy/Santo en la venganza de la momia’ (1971) and ‘Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead/Blue Demon y Zovek en La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973). He was also responsible for the bizarre Christmas classic ‘Santa Claus’ (1959).
A weary, somewhat tiresome doodle of a comedy that’s unlikely to provoke many laughs.