Friday, April 09, 2021

Honourable Mention: The Barcelona Vampiress

Until I looked into this 2020 film directed by Lluís Danés I had never heard of Enriqueta Martí Ripollés. However, I understand that in Spain she is a well-known and infamous figure, much like Jack the Ripper, under his pseudonym at least, is a commonly known serial killer. She was called variously "The Vampire of Carrer Ponent", "The Vampire of Barcelona" and "The Vampire of the Raval" by the Spanish press of the time (Carrer Ponent and Raval being provinces of Barcelona). So, like the more internationally famous cases of Fritz Haarmann and Peter Kürten, this was the case of a(n alleged) serial killer who was dubbed as a vampire by journalists.

the historic Martí

I caveated Martí as being allegedly a serial killer as there is a school of thought that suggests that whilst she was a disturbed individual, and whilst she did kidnap at least one young girl, Teresita Guitart Congost whose discovery in her home lead to Martí's arrest, she never confessed to murder and was never put on trial (though apparently she did admit to using children as ingredients in potions and salves she created as a healer – children’s blood being effective at combatting tuberculosis, it was claimed). She died awaiting trial at the hands of other inmates (her death in this film differs in that she simply dies – a character says at the hands of the nuns holding her – and we should note that the actual Martí’s death certificate said she died of uterine cancer). This film does entertain the theory that she was not a murderer.

Nora Navas as Martí

So the film… It begins in black and white – the film using a beautifully realised primary black and white, which is occasionally visited with a vivid red and moving into full colour at times also. Journalist Sebastià Comas (Roger Casamajor) is injured and dictates his story about Martí (Nora Navas) to friend and prostitute Amèlia (Bruna Cusí) who diligently types. He uses quite inciteful names for her – hyena, witch, kidnapper. She has died, some say at the hands of the nuns.

Amèlia and Comas

The film goes back a couple of weeks and confirms that the year is 1912. Comas combs his hair and ensures the track marks on his arm are covered, as he heads off to a press conference. His fellow journalists gossip when they see him – he has been missing for a while and mention is made of an asylum – later we discover that his father gave a deathbed confession that he had abused Comas’ sister (Alejandra Howard), which lead to her suicide, the confession causing him to go mad and try to kill his father. Now deemed ready to integrate into society again, Comas is haunted by visions of his sister and cannot sleep – hence the morphine abuse.

the bloody carriage

At the press conference they are told that the rumours of missing children are just that, rumours. When a journalist asks about Teresita (Lola Darbra) the police chief admits that is a real case but any other is not. Afterwards Comas' fellow journalists catch him up. Teresita has been missing two weeks, there is also talk of a bloody carriage that prowls the streets stealing children. As it is, a distraught father comes to the paper as no-one will help him find his daughter. He has travelled searching for her (there was likely some international child trafficking at the time) to no avail, but on returning has discovered a brothel in town that deals in child prostitution.


So, as Martí is caught and Comas covers her case for the newspaper, he also uncovers child trafficking and prostitution. But the clients of the brothel are from the city elite, the rich and powerful. He finds an editorial brick wall when it comes to the scandal and, further, finds himself vacillating between believing Martí to be innocent and guilty. All the time he is going further down the rabbit hole, with visions fuelled by guilt over his sister’s death.


I mentioned the use of colour and the film is a veritable box of tricks when it comes to filming techniques, using an almost expressionist attitude to some sets, freezing the background as the character walks through it, including shadow puppet moments and much more. It never feels overdone (though walking through the red curtain into the colour filmed brothel did break the spell slightly as my mind rushed from the scene and over to Lynch’s Twin Peaks – unfortunate and more me than the film). The film is from Comas’ point of view and Roger Casamajor gives a fabulous performance.

biting her own wrists

Not a vampire film but, given the moniker bestowed on her, of genre interest. With regards her being named as a vampire, in film at least this is down to her tearing at her own wrists with her teeth (clearly to self-harm). This desperate act is captured in an article Comas writes but is editorially distorted to suggest that she is so thirsty for blood that she will suck it out of her own veins. In a tabloid move the article is changed by the editor so that it actually calls her a vampire.

The imdb page is here.

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