The Vampire (1957)

THE VAMPIRE (Mexican) (1957)
aka El Vampiro
Article 1813 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2006
Posting Date: 7-30-2006
Directed by Fernando Mendez and Paul Nagel
Featuring Abel Salazar, German Robles, Ariadne Welter

A vampire threatens the residents of an estate.

I must admit that the appeal to me of many Mexican horror movies has little to do with how scary or effective they are, but rather has to do with how strange and silly they look to my eyes; they’re fun, all right, but I can’t take them seriously as horror movies. Still, there are a few exceptions, and this is one of them; it attempts to tell a serious and straightforward vampire story, and except for the fact that it has a few dull stretches, it succeeds. It hearkens back to the Universal horrors of the thirties and forties, but it manages to find its own voice. I like some of the touches, especially the woman running around in secret passages doing her bit to battle the vampire. I also like the Abel Salazar character; usually, this person would be of the Van Helsing variety, but Dr. Enrique is not only a skeptic, but he’s a bit of a coward as well. All in all, the movie is very effective; it is only marred by the clumsy K. Gordon Murray dubbing. It marked the screen debut of German Robles, who would become something of a Mexican Bela Lugosi; he played vampires in the immediate sequel (THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN ), as well as in THE CASTLE OF THE MONSTERS and all the Nostradamus movies. Salazar produced as well as starred, and he is also remembered for playing Baron Vitalius in the hilarious THE BRAINIAC , which would also feature Robles in a small role. This one is recommended for anyone wishing to experience Mexican horror at its best.

Valley of Eagles (1951)

Article #1735 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-14-2005
Posting Date: 5-13-2006
Directed by Terence Young
Featuring Jack McCallum, Jack Warner, Anthony Dawson

A Norwegian inventor develops a method of creating electricity through sound, but his invention is stolen by his assistant and his wife. He then joins forces with a police inspector to try and catch them.

You know, nothing makes my heart sink like a movie that opens with the demonstration of some amazing invention, and then instead of exploring the impact the invention has on the world, it consigns the invention to the role of first prize in a more conventional cinematic struggle. It then becomes merely a case of whether the good guys can keep the invention from falling in the hands of the bad guys; most serials with slight science fiction elements fall into this category. That’s pretty much the direction this movie goes at the ten minute mark, and had the movie stayed at that level, I wouldn’t have liked it as well as I did. Fortunately, the movie is much better than that; not only is it made with a great deal of subtlety, suspense and wit, it also refuses to keep still. At the thirty minute mark, it shifts once more, this time from an espionage thriller to an adventure movie when the heroes join a group of reindeer herders in an attempt to keep on the trail of the thieves, and it is here that the movie starts to develop a surprising degree of emotional resonance as the scientist’s experiences with the “savages” makes him doubt the legitimacy of his own obsession with science. As a result, the movie ends up a much richer and more satisfying experience than I thought it would be. Still, I do have some reservations; there are a number of scenes of animal deaths and attacks here, and though some of them seem to clearly be stock footage, I’m still not sure about others; in particularly, scenes of eagles attacking wolves bother me. Still, I am amazed at the sequence where we encounter a tribe of men with trained eagles which they use instead of guns for fear of avalanches. Keep a sharp lookout for Christopher Lee in the small role of a police detective.

The Vanishing Shadow (1934)

Article #1716 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-25-2005
Posting Date: 4-24-2006
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Onslow Stevens, Ada Ince, James Durkin

An unscrupulous businessman attempts to get hold of shares in a newspaper firm that are in the possession of a young man who has no intention of giving them up to him. The young man has hooked up with an eccentric inventor to help him.

With all of the inventions on display in this movie, the fantastic content is assured. There’s a machine (known as the Vanishing Ray) that renders its wearer invisible, a gun that shoots a ray deadly to organic objects, a gun that shoots a ray that allows you to cut through anything, any number of bizarre booby-traps, and a robot. I’m almost surprised that the crooks aren’t primarily trying to get their hands on these, but it seems as if the newspaper stocks are the big prize in this one. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining early serial, with somewhat more complex character motivations than usual; the hero’s girlfriend is the villain’s daughter, and since neither of them want to lose her affection, they both have to exercise a greater amount of caution than usually shown. The villain has to deal with a henchman who dislikes at having his hands tied in dealing with these matters, and the hero has to deal with his inventor sidekick, who is something of a loose cannon. The latter character is one of those I love to see in a serial but rarely do; he’s almost gleefully paranoid, places booby-traps all over the place (which, more often than not, put our heroes in peril rather than preventing attacks by the villains), and loves toting his destructive weapons around with him. Some of the cliffhangers are just strange, but for the most part they’re fairly decent. All in all, a fun little serial.

Vulcan, Son of Jupiter (1961)

Article #1626 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2005
Posting Date: 1-24-2006
Directed by Emimmo Salve
Featuring Richard Lloyd, Gordon Mitchell, Bella Cortez

When Mars and Vulcan, rivals for the hand of Venus, have their powers taken away by an angry Jupiter over their squabbling, they go to Earth. Mars attempts to stage an uprising against Jupiter, while Vulcan attempts to save his people who are captured by lizard men and then made slaves by the minions of Mars.

Even by sword-and-sandal standards, this is pretty silly stuff. Usually, the gods keep somewhat in the background in these movies; here they’re front and center, with a tired and cranky Jupiter, an effeminate and fawning Mercury, a sarcastic Pluto, and a slatternly Venus (among others) romping around Olympus, home of the Gods and land of choral music and ground fog. The lizard men have long fangs and wear lizard costumes. The prisoners use a brilliant strategy to escape from them; they toss a musical dwarf into the sea. We also get to see Vulcan tote that dwarf around like a six-pack at one point. Still, I will admit that the dwarf is pretty handy with a club, even if he uses it primarily to hit people that are already down. Supposedly, the plan to attack Olympus involves building a tower tall enough to reach it, but even by the end of the movie they haven’t made much in the way of progress on it. It’s bizarrely plotted, full of howler lines, and ends with Jupiter laughing manically. This is a strange one.

Virgin Witch (1972)

Article #1625 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-26-2005
Posting Date: 1-23-2006
Directed by Ray Austin
Featuring Ann Michelle, Vicki Michelle, Keith Buckley

Two sisters run off to the big city. One gets hired by a modelling agency which is actually a front for a witch’s coven.

As stated above, the two sisters run off to the city, which requires they parade around in micro-mini-skirts. One sister applies for a modelling job, and naturally her interview requires that she strip naked for the lesbian head of the modelling agency. Both sisters go to a mansion for a photo shoot. This requires that the new model lounge around naked on the top of the car while the other one parades around in her micro-mini-skirt and be startled that creepy men leer at her. The model then is initiated into the witch’s coven, which requires that she strip naked and be rubbed with oils, and then everyone else strips naked for the orgy. It is at this point halfway through the movie that the truly inexplicable happens; the movie decides it has a plot, and the rest of the running time is largely devoted to the struggle of power between the new witch and the leader of the coven. It’s not really a great plot, but given the ubiquitous parade of female flesh that has passed for a movie up to this point, I was surprised that a story even existed. And the movie even somewhat abandons the constant parade of flesh to make way for the story, though not totally; after all, we have at least one more orgy before it’s all over with. As for me, I suppose something positive could be said about a movie that pulls itself up from the level of being a total waste of time to one that is only primarily a waste of time. Still, that’s hardly a recommendation, is it? For exploitation fans, or anyone who thinks that this movie sounds just like their cup of tea.

The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960)

Article #1624 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2005
Posting Date: 1-22-2006
Directed by Renato Polselli
Featuring Helene Remy, Maria Luisa Rolando, Tina Gloriani

A troop of ballerinas has to contend with a vampire from a nearby castle.

Don’t confuse this one with THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE. That one is an Italian horror film from the early sixties about a troop of ballerinas being terrorized by a vampire in the form of Walter Brandi. This one, on the other hand, is – uh – an Italian horror film from the early sixties about a troop of ballerinas being terrorized by a vampire in the form of Walter Brandi. Of course, in the other film, the so-called ballerinas weren’t really ballerinas; once you saw them dancing, you knew that in reality they were burlesque showgirls. When they dance in this one, on the other hand, they remind you of – uh – burlesque showgirls (though at least these look a little bit like ballerinas). On second thought, go ahead and confuse the two movies; I don’t have a problem with that. Quality-wise, I would have a problem picking between them; they both came across as third-rate Euro-Horrors. The only real difference I could tell is that PLAYGIRLS was a little sleazier. There are probably more differences, but if it’s all the same with you, I’m not up to going back and watch the other movie to try to sort them out. Life is too short.

Venus Meets the Son of Hercules (1962)

Article #1295 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-30-2004
Posting Date: 2-27-2005
Directed by Marcello Baldi
Featuring Roger Browne, Jackie Lane, Linda Sini

Tammanus (the son of Jupiter) comes to earth to save a kingdom from an attack by evil foreigners. However, he falls for a mortal woman and gets caught up in the machinations of a schemer to the throne.

This one is just plain weird, and I’m not even sure I can quite put my finger on the reason why. The hero is actually a god in this one, though he becomes sporadically mortal; still, he appears only intemittently in the story. The movie itself jumps back and forth between the cheesy (the dubbing and the dialogue) to the spectacular (the opening battle sequence is actually quite impressive at times) to the arty (the entire dance sequence in the temple of Venus) to just plain surreal (the encounter with Venus and the end of the movie). It has a comic relief character who is actually somewhat amusing; I was even a little scared for him when he almost dies in the final battle. I also has one of the strangest torture sequences I’ve ever seen (involving two spiked walls, a narrow wooden plank, and gallons of burning hot water). It also gives you a chance to see a Greek God prance around in his dark blue underwear. The soundtrack isn’t really awful, but it does seem to belong to a different movie. The climax involves a giant man-eating plant. And it begins and ends with the catchy “Son of Hercules” theme.

By now, you should know whether you want to catch this one or not.