El Vampiro Sangriento is a Mexican black & white vampire film, written and directed by Miguel Morayta. The story is probably set in the early to mid 19th century, and it borrows names and themes from Gothic tradition while creating its own lore.
Somewhere in Mexico, the Count of Cagliostro (Antonio Raxel), having arrived in the country a few years back, instructs a small group of disciples in the secrets of his ancestors, including medical and alchemistic knowledge. The true drive of this family, however, (who also seem to possess a recipe for a youth potion) is to destroy vampirism and – most importantly – the family who keeps spreading this disease throughout the centuries, the Counts of Frankenhausen. As luck would have it, one of the Frankenhausens (Carlos Agostí) has also set up shop in Mexico, not far from Cagliostro. But Cagliostro goes on an expedition before he learns of this interesting neighbour, and so it falls to his daughter (Begoña Palacios) and her fiancé (Raúl Farell) to start a dangerous investigation.
As you can see, the film borrows names from Gothic tradition: Cagliostro, a historic figure appropriated for Gothic films before, and Frankenhausen, a name echoing Frankenstein. A number of other elements are also rather classical, like vampires sleeping in coffins, having no reflections in the mirror, and being able to turn into bats. They also seem to be particularly attracted to young, attractive women, which keeps the film in line with others of its time. While Cagliostro talks about vampirism like it is a disease, with cures and antidotes, it is also quite clear that it is a curse: only the firstborn Frankenhausen of every generation will develop vampirism, at a certain age; while the rest of the family is free from this affliction. This twin-nature of the story, with elements of science as well as the supernatural, can be seen throughout. Frankenhausen seems to have a pact with the devil, and can command supernatural forces. Yet he also relies on potions and poisons prepared by a local herbalist.
Visually, this is a very classical horror film. In fact, El Vampiro Sangriento feels in some way more like a 1940s/1950s film than a film of 1962. The only thing that departs from this classical Gothic feel are some of the performances, where there are glimpses of a Mexican drama, glimpses of something that feels more like Zorro and less like Dracula. Agostí, for example, plays Frankenhausen very much as a Mexican grande, and not like a German aristocrat. Similar things could be said about the performance of Erna Martha Bauman as Frankenhausen’s wife, as well as the dynamic between the two.
Its convincing soundstage sets as well as the props and costumes all contribute to give this film a great look – but one or two of the practical effects are decidedly sub-par, such as the vampire teeth, and a vampire-bat that looks like someone glued bits of an umbrella to a manky toy rabbit. This bad-looking bat is made worse by the fact that the film keeps drawing attention to it.
The film also has some good ideas, nice “special effects” and very good cinematography by veteran cameraman Raúl Martínez Solares. One example is the use of a stage-coach that is made eerie by the use of “mild” slow-motion and the fact that no sound was added for the hoofs and wheels. These coach scenes are among the few scenes not shot on a soundstage and unfortunately the film’s attempt at day-for-night shoots is less than convincing.
All roles in this film are cast perfectly, and the acting by the entire cast (Bertha Moss, Pancho Córdova, Enrique Lucero, Lupe Carriles, as well as those mentioned earlier) is very good. And even though many of the characters are written in a two-dimensional way, I cannot find a single weak performance.
Weaknesses in the writing include minor plot holes and unconvincing, “jump-cut” character developments. But the biggest problem is the blatant use of plot conveniences as already indicated above. These conveniences could be overlooked, but the film rushes towards an unconvincing, unsatisfying ending which feels like they desperately needed to wrap up filming. You also feel like there are a small number of scenes missing which were either not shot, or got somehow ruined so that they had to be dropped in editing. The weak ending is made worse by an entirely unfitting choice of music for the closing scene.
For the most part, this film feels like a 7 out of 10, but the perplexing ending is bringing my overall rating down to 6 out of 10, or lower. That said, the film still feels vastly superior to its Mexican contemporary, Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro.