Not to be confused with the same years’ The Vampire, a US science fiction monster movie with John Beal, Fernando Mendez’s moody El Vampiro is Mexico’s first contribution to the worldwide of gothic horror revival of the late 1950s. A reprise of the Universal style of black and white monster picture (owing something plotwise to Son of Dracula), it hits on a couple of innovations (fangs, especially) that would recur a year later in Hammer’s Dracula and become standard in vampire movies.
It opens in media res with the cloaked, distinguished Senor Duval (Germán Robles) looming in the courtyard of a hacienda in remote Sierra Negre and turning into a bat, fluttering up to a victim’s boudoir for a bite. Then, at a rural railway station, young heroine Marta (Aridana Welter) meets cute with nattily-trenchcoated undercover psychologist Dr Enrique (Abel Salazar) and hitches a lift to the Sycamores (Marta’s family estate) with a minion transporting boxes of Hungarian earth to Duval, ostensibly so he can grow some roses from his ancestral land.
Many sources list Duval as an Alucard-style alias for Count Karol de Lavud, the vampire interred in the crypt of the Sycamores, but they are separate characters. Duval is the late Count’s vengeance-seeking vampiric brother. As in Vampire Circus, the villain – whose real name (Lazlo Lavud) isn’t revealed until the sequel – is out to resurrect his dead sibling (though he never gets round to it), but he concentrates on the traditional vampire business of drinking the heroine’s blood. Aunt Eloisa (Carmen Montejo) drifts around in a slinky black shroud as Duval’s vampire sidekick and her mad, supposedly dead sister (Alicia Montoya) periodically comes out of the cobwebby crypt waving her crucifix and ranting about the vampire threat.
Much business is parroted from Dracula: vampires not showing up in mirrors, Duval entering the heroine’s bedroom via the balcony and biting her neck, physicians puzzling over two small holes in the neck, a vampire in immaculate evening dress sitting up in his coffin. Robles, who does a Spanish language version of a Lugosi accent, is one of the most striking Dracula knock-offs – his Duval returns in a lively instant sequel, El Ataúd del Vampiro (The Vampire’s Coffin). Robles also starred in another vampire series/serial starting with La Maldición de Nostradamus, as an undead version of the seer Nostradamus, and parodied his vampiro image in the Abbott and Costello-style Mexi-monster/comedy free-for-all El Castillo de los Monstruos.