Film historian Denis Gifford once opined that the Mexican horror film set out to emulate the classic Universal Pictures horrors of the 1930s, but wound up with something more akin to the output of poverty row’s Monogram Pictures in the 1940s. That’s probably a fair assessment, but it’s one that was made in the 1960s — long before anyone outside of Spanish-speaking countries saw the films in their original form and their own language. That’s changed in the intervening years, and while the films do feel a lot like the Monogram cheapies — and share their lack of concern over little things like logic and story construction — they’re actually more ambitious than that suggests and are surprisingly atmospheric. El Vampiro (1957) is no exception — and it bears the distinction of beating Hammer’s Horror of Dracula to the punch by a year concerning vampires with fangs. It’s also the film that kicked off the genre. Producer-star Abel Salazar (casting himself as the hero) definitely put a lot of effort into the picture and it shows. The story is your typical Dracula knock-off with its Hungarian dinner-suit-wearing caped vampire — only this one, Count Lavud (German Robles), somehow found himself in Mexico, where he set up residence as Sr. Duval. (Apparently, he’d seen 1943’s Son of Dracula with its Alucard/Dracula inverted names.) Nothing terribly unexpected happens, but the film is surprisingly successful at translating the stock events into their South of the Border setting. Plus, there’s a charming quality to the movie’s rather…uh…elementary attempts at effects work. (Truth to tell — and hokey as the are — the bat effects here are much better than anything Universal ever managed.) Salazar makes a pleasing hero and German Robles — effectively positioned so that you can’t tell he’s the shortest vampire this side of Kirsten Dunst — is an impressive Count Lavud. It’s all creepy, atmospheric, and, yes, a little on the silly side.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen El Vampiro Thursday, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.