THE VAMPIRE WOMEN
(1965), B/W, 90 minutes
Distributed by Trans-International Films
Presented by Young America Productions
Produced by K. Gordon Murray
Directed by Manuel San Fernando
DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case, wrapped in plastic!
This incredibly creepy and atmospheric thriller really gets under your skin, and can rightly be called a “haunter”, one of those genre classics which stays with you a long time.
This is one of those films which has, rightly or not, been shoved into the “camp” or “cult” category, for understandable reasons: musclebound superhero, bizarre gothic horror elements, crazy dubbing, unusual mixture of sports and sci-fi, etc. Yet upon careful viewing, one discovers that it actually isn’t a “bad” film at all, eccentric and fantastic, yes, but neither ludicrous nor incompetent.
It has all the elements of a “Silver Age” horror comic book in its successful, dizzying juxtaposition of ultra-modern scientific superheroes and time-honored gothic-horror villains, with a curious fixation on physical prowess as virtue.
From the moment we see the creepy/silly model castle under the credits, punctuated by Raul Lavista’s evocative music, we hope at least for some high camp.
Then we enter the interior of the foreboding structure, which is virtually dripping with morbid atmosphere. We have reached the level of “goth”.
Below, in the dungeon, a row of upright coffins open up (shades of Lupita’s Dream in SANTA CLAUS!), and decayed women pop out. We now know this film will, at least, touch upon REAL horror.
(In another odd similarity to SANTA CLAUS, the prince of all evil, Lucifer, makes a personal appearance, this time as a corny shadow on the wall.)
When the repulsive, undead hags morph into buxom, sexy vampire chicks, and summon their flunkies, which are musclebound hunks, we realize we’re in for something akin to sex horror!
Professor Rolof turns on a super television screen gizmo which connects to an ultra-modern lab, and the film becomes science fiction.
Then we go to a wrestling match, featuring our hero “Samson” (or “Santo” according to the undubbed crowd, and the film takes on a primeval, gutsy primal aspect which skews its premise even further.
We think: Where are we? What genre is this? All we know is, good and evil, in their most overt forms, will figure prominently in this fanciful melodrama.
The title villains are fetching, if malignant, creations, alluring one minute and loathsome the next. We marvel at their dark power, and long to uncover their cryptic intent.
Even our beloved hero is a mystical character, a bulging enigma if you will, hiding behind his luminous veil, exposing only his bare chest and codpiece, confessing only his generic, genderic self, not revealing his spiritual position (except through thrilling actions and daring deeds). Keeping his true identity, his soul as it were, hidden, Samson/Santo is truly an “occult” figure himself, deserving of much speculation, as well as admiration…
Indeed, the notion of “mask as psychic firewall” is brought home quite clearly at a later costume party, where EVERYONE’s identity, thus agenda, is hidden, and the forces of good have NO idea which of the masks hide evil! This is powerful, if simplistic (virtually Bunuel- like) subtext, a good example of that peculiar overlapping between “art” films and “mass” films which proves that “bad” films ain’t as bad, nor “good” films as good, as we’ve been led to believe historically. The line between “art” and “entertainment”, in a form as psychological and subjective as film, is excruciatingly thin.
And the vampire women, essentially fallen virgins, come across not so much as evil, though they are that technically, but pathetic, pitiable creatures, slaves to a most immutable destiny, and thus motivated as much by dolor as malice.
There are many straight-forward scenes which also make this a genre classic: the Vampire Queen fades into a bat, in a lap dissolve that is primitive but highly effective; powerful torture scenes in the gloomy dungeon; great ritual scenes; Fabian Grey singing “Love’s Sonata” in a night club; a later wrestling match between Samson and a ferocious vampire-man; two Vampire chicks sitting at a table at a night club, looking like two lesbian actresses on break from the matinee of CATS, busting a cop’s mirror with their super-telepathy.
Here again, as in much Mexican gothic cinema of the period, an unholy villain meets “the Cross” in a reaffirmation of the Catholic culture from whence the film came.
Professor Rolof speaks to Samson through his super-TV screen, while Samson drives in his sports car! This fabulous impossibility brings home the most fanciful sci-fi aspects of this wild film.
The climax features wrestlers and sports cars and cops and the undead all converging in a wonderful, unearthly ballet of pop culture machismo, circa 1962.
The final fight, taking place in the spacious dungeon, is choreographed virtually like a dance, and plays very much like theatre.
Samson lights all of the vampire women on fire as they scream pitifully in their coffin/tombs, making his role darker than ever: apparently, he is not merely a defender of justice, but a religious zealot as well.
As Samson drives off, Rolof gives him a loving eulogy, even though he isn’t dead, and we know that Samson/Santo is a hero for the ages. Good stuff.