Tuesday, March 30, 2021

La Marca del Muerto – review

Director: Fernando Cortés

Release date: 1961

Contains spoilers

This could almost be a “Revisited” article as I have kind of looked at this before. However that was a version reedited and dubbed for the US market (and for that read "butchered") by Jerry Warren and released under the clunky title Creature of the Walking Dead and boy was it a snooze-fest.

I did say, when I reviewed the American re-edit that “it may not have been the film's fault” and suggested when summing up that “How the proper Mexican version would fair is another question.” Well, today we will see – and whilst the broad brush of the plot is the same, it is worth recapping.


Beginning at a church, as the service has ended, the first thing we note is that the awful voice-over narration has gone. We see Dr. Malthus (Fernando Casanova) spying on a young woman leaving the church and then following her, momentarily hiding from a passing carriage. He catches her and smothers her with a cloth, drugging her (conveniently) outside his door. In his lab he has placed her on a table. He re-administers the drug as she starts to come around and cuts her blouse, allowing him to put a canular into her neck and start extracting her blood.


The blood is pulled into his contraption and he is about to put a canular into himself, to transfuse himself, when he hears a banging. He casually moves to his study and places a bible on his desk when the door bursts in – it’s the police... Cut forward. A newspaper seller calls out about the trial of Dr. Malthus, who has confessed to the murder of six women, though despite confessing he is unrepentant. A priest called to see him is warned that since his arrest he has suddenly aged though his strength remains prodigious. Malthus is arrogant, insists he will have his revenge through his descendants but is hung for his crimes.

Rosa and Gonzalo

There is then a neat little establishing montage that shows us time moving from the 19th Century through to the 1960s. Rosa (Sonia Furió, Dr Satán y la Magia Negra) and her mother have fixed up the Malthus house for Rosa’s fiancé Gonzalo Malthus (also Fernando Casanova) who has been in Europe for five years. Like his ancestor (of whom he refers to as "sinister") he is a doctor.


On his first night in the house he is in the study and beneath the portrait of his ancestor a plaque suggests that truth be sought in the bible. In his head a voice repeats over and over that he is a Malthus and the cross on the cover of the bible seems to pulse. On opening it, words appear that only a Malthus can see, giving a clue about an angel falling… Now all this was odd given that the vampirism in this is meant to be scientific, this sequence seemed supernatural. Nevertheless, he spots a bas-relief of an angel, pulls it down and finds a passage to the lab. In there the body of the last victim lies on the table still and, through a concealed door that he stumbles upon, is a room with cells containing desiccated bodies and his ancestor’s notes on the experiments he conducted.

body of his ancestor

Dr Malthus’ notes claim that aging occurs as nerve cells die but he discovered that the treated blood from someone under 25 can renew those cells. It claims that he was over 100 years old and further claims that his treated body would not truly die but could be revived. Gonzalo becomes obsessed with the notes, studying them over weeks and ignoring Rosa. She invites him for a meal, it just happens to be her birthday, but he goes to the cemetery instead and steals his ancestor’s corpse. He eventually makes it to Rosa’s house, whilst the guests are having coffee, but the young (22 years old) maid answers the door and, opportunistically, he kidnaps her instead of going in! Using her blood he revives the corpse of his ancestor and the maid ends up a prisoner in the cells.

aging process

I’ll leave the plot there. Enough to say that the treatment only keeps Malthus young for a couple of weeks, necessitating new ‘donors’. Also, Malthus is the spitting image, when young, of his descendent – bar the ever present ligature mark on his neck from his execution. When Gonzalo fails to be useful (and obedient), Malthus looks to take over his life. Of course, Gonzalo only has himself to blame and acted like a “wrong ‘un”, which started the whole debacle… but is it any good?

modern victim

Truthfully it isn’t the best film in the world, Gonzalo’s motivations are poorly explored and Rosa really should have just dumped his neglectful ass. The film is sooo very melodramatic and yet… it is so much better than the US re-edit, it paces better (despite being longer), the narrative is explained in dialogue and action rather than voiceover and it just works better on every level. As I say, not the best film but the score doubles from the re-edit to 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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