What's so bloody about this particular vampire? Isn't using that title sort of like making a film called The Hairy Werewolf? As my friend Wendigo and I learned, however, in the universe of Miguel Morayta's film, Count Siegfried von Frankenhausen is the only game in town. As vampire hunter, pedant and all-around windbag Count Cagliostro explains, the Frankenhausens are the only vampires on earth -- living vampires, that is, but we'll get to that later -- and have been since the 12th century. Vampirism in El Vampiro Sangriento is really a hereditary disease. It doesn't confer immortality; the Frankenhausens must reproduce, and the eldest son acquires the "infirmity" when he comes of age. He becomes "the Vampire of Moonlit Night," killing victims by drinking their blood while injecting "vampirina" into their bloodstreams. "These dead vampires are waiting," Cagliostro's assistant explains, "They remain quietly in their caskets and do nothing at all." But if the current Count Frankenhausen should die, the dead ones will rise from their caskets with an insatiable lust for blood. The Count himself, therefore, must be handled with care until Cagliostro can perfect his device for injecting a special acid into the dead vampires' bloodstream to neutralize the vampirina and keep them dormant.
K. Gordon Murray, the man who mutilated many a Mexican movie to fit a TV time slot. IMDB gives a 110 minute running time for the original Mexican version. The print available in Mill Creek Entertainment's Undead collection falls about fifteen minutes short of that time. Yet no one who's seen the American version, I suspect, would want it any longer.
The Vampire's Bedroom: Count Frankenhausen (Carlos Agosti) in repose (above)and rampant (below).
The Cagliostros -- the Count and his daughter Anna -- are vampire hunters, but only gradually does it dawn on them, through the casual acquaintance of family servants, that one of their neighbors is their mortal enemy, the scion of the evil bloodline that cursed our hero's grandmother and caused her to be burned at the stake. The film's tone is set by its opening scene. It shows a coach travelling very slowly across a gothic Mexican landscape en route to "The Haunted Hacienda." We're told later that no vehicle can go as fast as this, but the coach makes Tombs of the Blind Dead look like drag racing. The slo-mo, it turns out, represents how quietly the thing travels, the wheels and hooves not even touching the road. And the coach has a very excellent driver: Death Herself.
Your Driver: Safe -- Reliable -- Courteous
Wendigo appreciates that Morayta tried for an eerie effect here, but to be eerie we have to see something normal to compare it with first. Otherwise you're not sure what you're seeing -- a sensation we often felt this time out. Morayta has a lot of time on his hands and seeks out every possible way to waste it: redundant arguments between Frankenhausen and his mortal, javelin-wielding wife, whom he accuses of being insane for thinking he's a vampire; interminable exposition translated by K. Gordon Murray's team into that always-charming Z-movie arrogance ("Surely someone of your intelligence should be able to understand," etc.) that makes every scientist sound like an ass; detailed recipes for sleep potions assembled on the spot by a treacherous crone; a visit to a torture chamber and a bald torturer we didn't know Frankenhausen possessed until nearly 80 minutes into the movie.
Vampin' aint easy: Frankenhausen's life is full of wife and servant troubles, but nothing that torture can't tidy up.
But nothing compares to an epic digression on the subject of coffee that occupies Frankenhausen and Anna's boyfriend the local physician for what feels like the length of another feature film, sponsored by the Mexican coffee industry. In the interest of your mental health I'll give only a sample here:
Doctor: Your Excellency, I am curious now that they are about to serve coffee. Do they refer to the drink that is so popular in Arabia?
Frankenhausen: Exactly, my dear sir.
Countess: You never did drink it?
Doctor: No, to tell you the truth. Coffee I understand is from Asiatic lands. It is obtained through infusion. I know that. The fruit is from a tree originally Ethiopian. Its name is coffee.
Frankenhausen: You're obviously very well informed.
Doctor: Well, I've studied much alchemy as well as chemistry. In my work we prepare all the organic solutions that we know today, sir. I know about coffee only in theory, you see. I must admit that I haven't seen the bean yet. I can only guess what it's like.
...And on and on they go. This is one occasion when people must regret that Murray didn't cut a film enough. The Bloody Vampire is digressive to the point of delirium, but it has a surprise at the very end, after Frankenhausen has fallen for Anna Cagliostro, who has infiltrated his household as the new maid, the others having been turned into dead vampires during the Moonlit Night cycle; and after Frankenhausen has learned from his unfaithful servant Lazaro under torture that Anna is his enemy; and after his attempt to dead-vampirize her at The Haunted Hacienda is thwarted by the doctor and Cagliostro's scarfaced minion Justice (!?!) despite Frankenhausen's transformation into one of the biggest, ugliest and sort of cutest fake bats ever shown on film. The surprise: it isn't the end! The bunny-eared bat makes his escape to make plans for the sequel (The Invasion of the Vampires) while Cagliostro offers his sublime summation: "It's all over, except for the threat to mankind."
I'll be back!
I can tolerate some pretty bad movies, and Wendigo can tolerate some really eccentric vampire cinema. Both of us had a hard time tolerating The Bloody Vampire. Wendigo found it entirely lacking in pace or momentum, and pointlessly convoluted and digressive. He found its dialogue deadly, the dubbers being determined to fit a syllable into every lip movement until the characters end up speaking the pompous, protracted way no one does in life. Its vampires and hunters seem equally ineffectual, and there seems little point to any of their activities -- or none that we'll see in this episode. Plot elements are introduced (like Cagliostro's vampire-killing machine and his need for mandragora roots) but never utilized, while Anna's infiltration of Frankenhausen's castle results in no actual investigation that we saw. On it's own, this film is just a jumble of stuff that doesn't reward the superhuman patience it requires to sit through it.
Wendigo will concede that in Begonia Palacios as Anna Cagliostro The Bloody Vampire has a comely heroine who is, for once, the most attractive female character in the film.
The film does have some decent production values, including reasonably authentic period costumes (the vampire looks cool except for his fangs) and some impressively deep sets (or location interiors). It has the right gothic look a lot of the time, and a respectable amount of sadism but the dialogue and tangled plot threads leave it looking goofy. It left Wendigo with no interest whatsoever in seeing The Invasion of the Vampires. Another round with the Frankenhausens and the Cagliostros is more than he can stand, though I might take a chance if I'm in the right mood. It's been a long time since he's seen a Mexican vampire film (on the old Commander USA show) but he knows that the country produces better bloodsuckers than this one.
Judge for yourself with this clip en espanol original, uploaded to YouTube by Ottolumiere: