Friday, 25 January 2013

La llamada del vampiro / The Curse of the Vampire

Following the death of Dr Mersch, Dr Dora Maeterlick and her assistant travel to a remote village. Maeterlick has an additional motive for taking up this new post. She, like Mersch, is interested in the subject of vampirism. The local nobility are sceptical about the existence of supernatural creatures, but the lower orders know better; so do we, having seen how Mersch died in the pre-credits sequence; this also makes us aware the nobility may have other reasons for their purported scepticism...

While the setting is not identified the names of the characters – others include Carl (not Carlos), Greta, Max and Otto – suggest a Germanic rather than Spanish setting. So does another character, Margaret, reportedly fleeing to Switzerland.

Situating horror films outside Spain was, of course, a common feature of late Franco-era productions. It enabled filmmakers to get away with more by providing the excuse that these images were not meant to represent Spain.

The distinctively Spanish nature of the film is, however, conveyed by aspects of the vampire myth as presented here.

Besides the usual tropes around crosses, stakes, and not reflecting in mirrors, these vampires are only active on the nights of the full moon. In other words, just like Paul Naschy’s werewolf character Waldemar Daninsky, they are perfectly normal people most of the time. Needless to say this makes their identification more difficult than usual. It also means that by the time the investigators have unmasked the vampires they tend to be romantically or otherwise involved.

In addition these vampires origins are somehow connected to the Knights Templar, thus alluding to De Ossorio’s Blind Dead films.

Pushing things a bit further, there is also a cursed lake/swamp vaguely reminiscent of the one housing the titular in another De Ossorio film, The Lorelei’s Grasp – itself another Spanish made, but German-set, production.

Music is used prominently throughout, but without any obvious coherence to the set of cues deployed – a Gothic cue being followed by a riff on Peter Gunn, for instance. Likely it was not just that that the cues came from the CAM library and (four) different (Italian) composers, since much the same could be said about many Spanish horror films of the period. Rather, it sounds like they came from a wide range of library albums.

The filmmakers make good use of locations, most notably and old castle. There are also some effective atmospherics, including the usual long passages of characters wandering along long passages and down into the castle dungeons, along with some suitably dream-like uses of slow-motion and day-for-night, especially in the flashbacks. The music in such scenes also tends to be more appropriate.

While not the best film for those with a preference for violent or gory horror this should appeal to those with a preference for sexy horror or the fantastique. Almost the entire female cast appear in skimpy outfits during the day and diaphanous nightwear at other times, and are not adverse to baring their breasts or, in some cases, displaying full-frontal nudity. There are also plenty of hints of lesbianism, extending into some softcore girl-girl frottage, plus some S&M play in the castle’s torture chamber.

The ending also provides a nice frisson...

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