My notes on El Vampiro Sangriento (The Bloody Vampire) (1962)/La Invasión de los Vampiros (Invasion of the Vampires) (1963)
Several Mexican horror franchises – apparently to circumvent some union rules and save money – started out as serials but were instantly spliced together into film series. The Nostradamus and Aztec Mummy sagas, for instance. This two-film series from writer-director Miguel Morayta (Capula contra los Monstruos) seems to have been made as a diptych, but has baffling ellipses as if a missing middle part of a trilogy explained why some characters vanish or have different relationships for the second film. The arch vampire is Count Siegfried von Frankenhausen, also known as the Vampire of the Moon, played with an evil moustache, glowing eyes, alarming fangs and the usual cloak by Carlos Agosti, who also shows up in Las Luchadoras vs el Robot Asesino, Capulina contra los Vampiros, Santo en el Tesoro de Dracula and many other Mexican horrors. Though the evil prime mover, von Frankenhausen has to fight for attention in both films – which feature a great deal of bizarre business, fresh (if loopy) new takes on vampire mythology, and peculiar, disorienting effects (the saga opens with a slow-motion coach and there’s consistently weird modernist music).
As in the Nostradamus films – and, frankly, Dracula – some fanciful leaps are needed to stir actual historical persons into a brew of vampire lore and gothic melodrama. In El Vampiro Sangriento, we meet a Count Cagliostro (Antonio Raxel), descendant of the famous mountebank, and his daughter Ines (Begoña Palacios), who are passing on arcane knowledge and passing to less-interesting hero Dr Riccardo Peisser (Raul Farell). In the universe of this film, there are two breeds of vampire – living vampires (eg: Count F) who are Dracula-type dastards and dead vampires who are their victims and lie in their graves until their creator is killed, whereupon they rise (with stakes still stuck through their chests) and theoretically invade the world. According to the wisdom of the Cagliostros, the only cure for a living vampire is a transfusion of boric acid, derived from the rare black mandrake root – but handily that grows in regions where vampires stalk.
The setting is some haunted country adjacent to Mexico (ie: a carriage-ride away). Strangely, the Cagliostro menage live only a few houses apart from Count Frankenhausen without either antagonist being aware of the proximity – though their respective minions, Justus the grave-robber (Pancho Cordova) and Lazaro the butler (Enrique Lucero) are drinking buddies. The Frankenhausen mansion is ruled by Frau Hildegarde (Bertha Moss), a Mrs Danvers-type housekeeper who is mean to the Count’s semi-catatonic bride Countess Eugenia (Erna Martha Bauman). Sometimes, the Count turns into a very big, very fake, bunny-eared bat on strings, but somehow this is weird enough to fit in with the generally creepy, unsettling, often downright confusing tone of the film. There’s a flurry of action near the end, but the villain is still alive at the fade-out.
La Invasión de los Vampiros ditches the Cagliostros and brings on hitherto-unmentioned disciple Dr Ulises Albarran (Rafael del Rio) to carry the heroic action and relegates the Count (Agosti again) to lurking in the background. The action moves to the Lagoon of the Dead, in which Brunhilda Frankenhausen (Bauman, maybe playing the daughter of the character from the earlier film) sometimes skinny-dips under the full moon – these moonlight bathings coincide with the exsanguination of young men of the region.
A clutter of local sub-plots involve the mayor (David Reynoso), the local doctor (Fernando Soto) and a priest (Enrique Garcia Alvarez) while Hildegarde is still doing her domineering servant act in the household of Brunhilda’s grandfather Marques Gonzalo Guzman de la Serna (Tito Junco) while secretly worshipping the Count, who sleeps in a coffin in a hidden chamber dominated by the distinctive Frankenhausen crest (a silver skull with an F under a big bat). While Ulises is brewing some boric acid, he’s attacked by the Count in bat form and skewers him with a spear – which means that all those dead vampires rise and walk around, howling for the heroine’s blood but not actually doing much. Transfusing boric acid into the bat corpse sorts things out, but I’m not sure why.
These are both splendid-looking, monochrome gothics and some of the players enter fully into the melodramatic spirit of the thing, particularly Agosti, Moss and Bauman. There are, however, silly bursts of action and quite a lot of the storyline depends on people doing very stupid things. The climactic invasion is an early instance of a Night of the Living Dead-style mass undead rising, and the ghouls calling a name might come from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, but once the dead vampires are up and about and besieiging the house they get disappointingly little to do and are done away with rather too easily.