The opening credits of this minor Mexican gothic horror film make a point of claiming that it’s ‘based on the novel by Abraham Stoker published in 1897’, which unsurprisingly few Dracula movies bother with. The credit might be a sop to ward off legal action from Hammer Films, since it’s an arrant imitation of Dracula Prince of Darkness, to the extent of opening with an imitation of the finale of Hammer’s 1958 Dracula. The look, however, is black and white and the pace is hectic.
The hero is called Luis but most character names are German or English, so it might take place in a Mexican version of the British version of Transylvania haunted by Christopher Lee. An opening narration establishes that the region has been terrorised by the Draculsten family for ages – the subtitles and most reviews go with Draculstein, but it’s clearly spelled on tombstones and family grimoires – and then we get into a scrappy fight between Baron Draculsten (Erick del Castillo) and middle-aged savant Brener (Victor Alcocer) which ends when the dying Brener pulls the curtains open and the vampire crumbles to dust.
This all happens at Brener’s family house, the Mansion Gris, and the official story is that it was a home invasion gone wrong, though Madame Brener (Rebeca Iturbide) knows better. Some years later, Brener’s son Luis (Cesar del Campo), his wife Patricia (top-billed Lucha Villa), Patricia’s sister Lily (Robin Joyce) and surplus woman Diana (Ethel Carillo) travel to the Mansion Gris to reopen the estate … just after turncoat minion Igor (Fernando Oses) has abducted a woman and speared her so her blood drips on Draculsten’s tomb, bringing him back to life to resume a feud with the Brener clan.
Unlike Lee in Dracula Prince of Darkness, the oily-haired del Castillo has some ranting dialogue – and it’s the supporting character of Lily who’s mute, at least until terror makes her call out at the finale. Neurotic Diana plays the Barbara Shelley part and is transformed into a hag-haired vampire hoyden who floats out of mirrors. Without an equivalent to Andrew Kier’s Father Sandor, the stolid Luis has to handle the swashbuckling heroism himself and frequently gets into fist and swordfights with the vampire – who is as prone to being knocked down by a good biff on the chin as the baddie in a barroom brawl western. The main villain is dusted after a particularly drawn-out battle in the crypt and the film springs an extra action sequence – perhaps inspired by House of Frankenstein, though similar scenes had featured in earlier Mexican vampire films – with a coach chase that ends up with the destruction of Diana.
The screenplay by Ramon Obon, from an idea by producer Luis Enrique Vergara (said idea presumably being ‘let’s see if we can get away with remaking Dracula Prince of Darkness?’), is in the business of inventing variant vampire lore. Rather than being staked, these bloodsuckers die if their chests are touched by a particular sacred oak cross that has to be filched from the tomb of the first Baron Draculsten. And rather than garlic or wolfsbane, these vampires are repelled by mandrake leaves – usually it’s the mandragora root that is thought to have magic properties – and Lily cannily fends off vampire Diana by standing in a patch of the plants for protection. It’s directed at a clip but without much atmosphere by Federico Curiel, screenwriter of the sublimely strange El Baron de Terror (aka The Brainiac) and director of the Nostradamus-as-a-vampire serials.