Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Empire of Dracula – review

Director: Federico Curiel

Release date: 1967

Contains spoilers

Oh, you just have to love Mexican Horror Cinema. Even when it begs, steals and borrows, and even when it isn’t the best example, there are more often than not moments that make a vehicle worthwhile.

The Empire of Dracula would appear to be quite a rare example and I have to say that in its ‘begs, steal and borrow” way it did manage to pilfer aspects that were rather reminiscent of the Hammer film from just two years before, that being Dracula Prince of Darkness (DPoD) of course.

the castle
The credits tell us that this is based on the novel by Abraham Stoker as a sombre piano plays. However as we see the Grey Mansion (the exterior establishing shot, clearly a model, is a castle but the interior and courtyard shots suggest hacienda) and we discover a little background we are told that the vampire of our tale is the Baron Draculstein (Eric del Castillo).

staking Draculstein
After seeing a cloaked shadow and fangs we hear a scream. A portly gentleman (Víctor Alcocer) runs for his life, however he is wont to stumble and fall – meaning the Baron is able to follow him at a walk. He is caught and has to fight for his life. Eventually, in a room, he fights the vampire off and grabs a curtain. The vampire retreats and hides behind his cape in a corner – though viewers might recall that the ripping of a curtain to kill Dracula at the end of Horror of Dracula was shown at the head of DPoD. The man grabs a poker and stakes the vampire with it – he turns rapidly to a skeleton.

the family
Madam Brener (Rebeca Iturbide) has told the story to her son Luis (César del Campo) whilst she lies in her death bed. The portly gentleman was his father and he gave his life to rid the world of Draculstein and banish him from the Grey Mansion (which belongs to the Brener family). Round her bedside are Patricia (Lucha Villa), Luis’ wife, and Patricia’s sisters Diana (Ethel Carrillo) and the mute Lily (Robin Joyce). Luis wants her to rest but she insists in telling him that she knows Draculstein will be reborn at the next New Moon and Luis must return to the Grey Mansion, find the cross of oak and destroy him forever. Luis doesn’t believe a word of it and Mrs Brener dies.

Fernando Osés as Igor
It is the 1st of October and a couple are walking beneath the New Moon… ish… because it isn’t a New Moon, despite being referred to as such, it’s a Full Moon! The man says it symbolises love or death. They walk for a bit and then she starts to shiver, so he returns to their buggy to get a coat for her. A black coach with black horses comes out of the night and runs the man down. The woman returns, finds her lover crushed and then is grabbed by the carriage driver, Igor (Fernando Osés, Santo Vs Baron Brakola).

bleeding the victim
She is taken to a crypt and tied above a sarcophagus. Igor stabs her and her blood spills on the sarcophagus, causing it to open and revealing the bones of Draculstein, which then reform into the restored vampire. A couple of points struck me. Whilst the victim was a different sex and had been kidnapped from outside, this was reminiscent of resurrecting Dracula in DPoD – though nowhere near as impactful as Hammer’s scene. The other thing that struck me was why has the servant waited so long (Luis was a child when his father died and the vampire was staked, a goodly time has gone by)?

Robin Joyce as Lily
Anyway Luis returns to the Grey Mansion but their carriage breaks down. The black coach appears, without a driver, and the women get in, whilst Luis drives it. When they arrive there is food put out for them and their luggage manages to find its way to their rooms (again, lifting from DPoD). Housekeeper Maria denies having put the food out or moving the luggage and claims that Igor died a few months ago – actually her role in the film is confused as to whether she is helping the vampire or hindering him – she gives one character an apotropaic. Very soon Diana goes missing – no one seems too bothered, assuming she upped and left, though we know she has been vampirised – and the whole family are in danger.

a shadow of two swords
The vampires fear the sun and are warded/burnt by crosses. The oak cross doesn’t seem special, to look at, but is rather destructive. Draculstein is a bit of a big wuss, to be honest. At one point he fights Luis with swords and they cross, causing a cross shape shadow to fall over Luis’ face. This elicits a scream from the vampire and he legs it! Rather than garlic, mandrake has an apotropaic effect and there is a whole patch of it planted outside the Mansion. There is a nice mirror moment with the vampiric Diana appearing in the mirror and stepping through to Lily’s room.

emerging from the mirror
The story is weak, to be honest, however there are nice moments (such as the mirror just mentioned). Eric del Castillo does not make a very threatening vampire and the fact that they just walk after victims seems plodding rather than menacing. A little more clarity around the roles and motivations of the staff would have been nice and a slower build to the attack on the family would have built a tension that was sadly lacking. I saw it in Black and White, apparently there was a colour version also but black and white probably suited the film more.

However it is a nice Mexican rarity and has worthwhile moments amongst the pedestrian pace. 4 out of 10. The IMDb page is here.


Kuudere-Kun said...

Have seen the Mexican Vmpire films are descendants of Calgiostro as Vampire Hunters? Rick Lai references that concept in his stories.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers for that Jared. Yes, some of the films involve descendants of Cagliostro. Thanks for the info re Rick Lai