Sunday, December 24, 2006

El Ataúd del Vampiro - review

DVD set

Directed by: Fernando Méndez

Release Date: 1958

Contains spoilers

This film was the sequel to El Vampiro and the title translates as 'the coffin of the vampire'. Once again the vampire Lavud (Germán Robles) stalks the earth.

Now, in the review of the first film I mentioned that there was some confusion regarding the name/identity of the vampire and the confusion does seem to continue here. Once again Robles is credited as playing Duval (Lavud backwards, his assumed identity in the first film, and mentioned once in this film) and Count Karol de Lavud, which in the first film was identified as the name of his brother. His brother is not mentioned at all in this film and, indeed, we see the vampire’s tomb and it is marked as the tomb of Count Lazlo de Lavud. I think it safe to assume that the use of the name “Count Karol de Lavud” was a credits error, but the confusion does mirror the plot of this film as, unlike the first, much confusion and a mismatching of concepts are thrown into the mix.

sneaking through the cemeteryWe begin in the cemetery near the Sicomoros Hacienda. A man, we later discover to be called Barraza (Yerye Beirute), sneaks through the mist, arriving at the crypt. He is picking the padlock to get in when a hand falls upon us shoulder. Without flinching he looks up and sees his partner in crime Dr Mendoza (I assume Carlos Ancira as imdb have his character recorded as Doctor Marion, but the names and spellings of characters on imdb are different to those subtitled on the Vampire Collection DVD set). Anyway, the two break into the crypt, open up the tomb of Count Lazlo de Lavud and remove the coffin. The Doctor opens the coffin and we see, in a mirror, the skull of the vampire. They are removing the coffin when, out of the mists, María Teresa (Alicia Montoya) comes, screaming “No!” She tries to stop them but is roughly thrown aside and they exit the cemetery with as much speed as their burden allows.

It is a great opening, full of atmosphere as the first film was. Unfortunately that atmosphere is not maintained through the rest of the film and I suspect this has much to do with the change in location for the rest of the film. We move to a city, with main locations of a hospital, a theatre and a waxwork museum. With the exception of the waxwork museum the locations seem too modern and/or sterile to maintain the excellent gothic atmosphere that the first film produced.

the count - deadThe coffin is taken to a hospital and the doctor tries to get rid of his hired thug by paying him off. Barraza insists on looking in the coffin (something he steadfastly avoided in the opening) and we see Lavud, his body uncorrupted and a stake in his chest and, as the audience we begin to wonder what the thing was earlier with the skull – do not fear this is answered later. For his part Barraza seems obsessed with the Count’s pendant, convinced it is worth money. After fleecing a lot more money out of the Doctor he leaves and the Doctor asks that another doctor, Dr Zaldivar, be paged.

Elsewhere in the hospital a girl awakens and screams. From a nearby room Marta (Ariadna Welter) hears the scream and goes and comforts the girl. The girl is scared as she believes she may die and Marta calms her explaining that a fractured leg will not kill her and she is due to be discharged in the morning. She leaves the room and meets Dr Enrique (Abel Salazar). Now my initial reaction was one of, okay he’s a doctor and, given their kiss at the end of the last film, they obviously are together and work together now. Not so. It is confused, it is never properly explained as to why she is in the hospital but she is leaving the next day to return to the theatre as it is her love and life. Strange really as in the first film she said she was a shop girl. There is a tannoy call for Dr Enrique Zaldivar – well we know his last name now!

Enrique goes to see his colleague who tells him that he has been grave-robbing and stolen the corpse of Enrique’s vampire. Enrique is troubled, but it is the act of grave-robbing that seems to have upset him. He tells his colleague that Lavud was no vampire, just a murderer who was obsessed with drinking blood. Enrique maintains this position for a little bit of the film and then spends the rest of it trying to convince those in authority that there is a vampire loose! Mendoza wants to show him something and makes him look at the well-preserved corpse in the mirror. In the mirror, again, we see skull and suit. Mendoza speaks some badly scripted techno-babble about light rays penetrating the skin and the scientific truth behind the superstition. What he says makes no sense and what we see makes less.

What we now have is a situation that a dead vampire’s flesh does not reflect. If this is the case, when they are undead why is it that neither flesh nor bone reflect? Indeed, why is it that when dead their clothes reflect and yet when undead their clothes cast no reflection either (even though something they hold does)? It is a perennial problem in vampire films that maintain the no reflection rule. Why don’t their clothes reflect? We suspend belief in most movies and just accept that the clothes vanish also. In this we cannot, it is so held up to our face and illogical that it becomes an issue.

Anyway, the two doctors go to get some equipment locking the door, but Barraza climbs through the window. He opens the coffin and wants to steal the pendant. Yerye Beirute as BarrazaUnfortunately it is stuck on the stake so he removes said stake and steals the medallion. As he looks at it the Count rises. A couple of logic problems arise here. Firstly there is no blooming great hole in the Count’s clothes, where the stake had been. Secondly we have an internal logic error in that, in El Vampiro, we ascertained that native soil was necessary to resurrect the vampire and suddenly simply pulling the stake works. Barraza sees the Count and fires his gun at him, hitting him in the chest four times with no effect other than putting bullet holes in his suit (which draws our attention to the first logic error again). He begs for his life but Lavud has no intention of killing him. He takes his pendant and uses it to hypnotise the thug into being his servant – this seems a new trick and we’ll look at it some more later. Lavud declares he wants revenge on those who killed him – all thoughts of resurrecting his brother and taking back the hacienda seem to have fled.

The doctors return and enter the empty room (Barraza has exited through a window and Lavud has vanished into thin air) seeing only an empty coffin and a removed stake. Enrique goes to find Marta when María Teresa arrives to tell Enrique that the body has been stolen and he confesses all. Meanwhile Lavud visits the little girl and bites her, causing her to scream and Marta to wake up. Just a note here that each hospital bed has a crucifix above the bed so the effects of the cross are definitely less pronounced than they were in the first film. Ariadna Welter as MartaThe vampire then goes to Marta and before she can scream hypnotises her and then declares that once he puts his pendant around her neck she will be his forever. Okay… firstly this was never mentioned in the first film, Lavud never hypnotized his enemies nor did he bind them with his pendant. Secondly why didn’t he just bite her? We found out in the first film that two bites turns the victim and Marta was bitten in the last film – surely the easiest way to get her would be to have a little taste. Enrique enters the room and Marta is on the floor in a faint – we do not know if the pendant was put on her or not.

The Count gets Dr MendozaBarraza goes to a waxwork museum, great to add a little atmosphere in the movie, which was lacking in the rest of the film, and takes over it. It seems, we later discover, that he used to be the security guard for the place and he seems to have something on the owner. María Teresa and Dr Mendoza later turn up at the door. As Barraza goes to the door a bat swoops down and becomes the Count.

A batLet us talk bats for a moment. They can look quiet good when we close-up as it appears they used a real bat. Other than that they look as poor as they did in the first film and the wires still show! Worse than that, and something I didn’t notice in the earlier film, was the fact that these bats seemed to sound like seagulls!

a blooming stupid place to hideAnyway Lavud tells Barraza who is at the door and that they are enemies. Warned, he lets them in and lets them search. María Teresa finds the coffin (which had vanished from the hospital) and suddenly they realise they are in peril. Mendoza is captured and killed by the Count as Barraza hunts María Teresa. In a moment of total stupidity she hides in an iron maiden, well you can guess her fate….

The film then trundles on and I’ll leave the plot there – though I want to spoil the ending as it does make up for what has been a mismatch of a film. The acting seems solid enough, though I was less convinced by Abel Salazar as Enrique than I was in the last film. In the last one I said that I had trouble buying into him being a doctor. Seeing him in a hospital setting made it even harder to buy into him being a doctor.

The vampire lore begins to fall apart and much of that is due to the scriptwriters changing and/or breaking their own rules. I mentioned reflections and the logical flaws they introduced. This is compounded at one point when we see Marta in the mirror as the Count tries to place his pendant round her neck. The pendant, invisible when he wears it, is clearly visible when in his hand.

never walk down dark streets with el vampiro behind youWhilst the atmosphere is lacking there is a very nice scene of Lavud stalking a victim through the streets and a very nice use of shadows during this scene. That said there is a confusing scene towards the end, when the iron maiden is opened and, rather than María Teresa’s corpse falling out, a black cat runs out. Was this supposed to indicate that she was a witch? I waited with baited breath but the scene was throwaway and never touched upon. Perhaps she was a witch who transformed? Perhaps her corpse was removed and then a cat got stuck? Who knows?

Cool vampire deathAs I have said, the ending does make up for the rest of the film. The vampire is killed (well it was obvious he would die, wasn’t it?) by having a spear thrown, getting him in the heart. Nothing too special there, but it is thrown at him as a bat, staking the bat which then transforms to the staked Count. I did like that and that scene alone raises the score of this to 4 out of 10, however I can go no higher as a distinct drop in atmosphere, a mismatch of concepts and brutally illogical plot flaws makes this an unworthy successor to the previous film.

The imdb page is here.

No comments: