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Arizona Colt
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« on: May 29, 2007, 05:20:44 AM »

MEXI-HORROR THREAD: VAMPIRES, BRAINIACS MASKED MEN MUMMIES & CRYING WOMEN

In 1957 the Mexican based Churabusco Studios and producer Abel Salazar, based on the popularity of the Universal monster movies and the then sudden rise of Hammer Pictures, decided to bankroll on horror movies of their own. Granted, there had been a few isolated examples of Mexican Fantastic cinema, but nothing like what was to come because of one film in particular.

That first film was called EL VAMPIRO aka THE VAMPIRE (1957). The movie was shot in B/W and was a huge hit for Churabusco. Producer Abel Salazar was also the main protagonist in this first horror picture and fellow Mexican actor German Robles would play the dastardly Count Lavud, a European vampire with an oddly Jewish star medallion around his neck.

THE VAMPIRE was about the Count getting revenge for his brothers destruction on a family (The Sicomoros) in a small Mexican township. Salazar plays a doctor who arrives along with Marta, the niece who was left by the train. The doctor has also been stranded and he travels with her to her family's hacienda. Of course the coachman that picks them up will only go so far and will not reveal his reasons. Once the two arrive, the niece notices the hacienda is most different than the way she left it. Very gloomy and spooky. She is informed by one of the servants that most people have left the town. Again, the reason is not given.

The niece sees her Aunt Eloisa and strangely she doesn't appear to have aged since she saw her last. She asks of her other Aunt only to learn she has died.
However, the dead Aunt, Maria (who is buried in a most gothic sequence near the beginning) has been seen wandering about the town. Apparently, the niece has arrived to claim her ownership of the hacienda but Mr. Duval (spell that backwards) wants to purchase the land for his own means.

The niece is later poisoned and nearly buried alive. She is saved by the doctor. Maria's brother realizes his sister had the same symptoms and now fears that she was buried alive. They go to dig her up and find an empty coffin. Maria is still alive. A secret kept by the house servants to uncover the plot of the evil Count Lavud.Lavud then plans to vampirize Marta but then the doctor stops him. Maria puts a halt to her sister, Eloisa. While the doctor grapples with two of Lavud's henchmen, Lavud escapes to his coffin. The energetic and half crazed Maria stakes him in his coffin as the sun rises.

While the general look, sets and atmosphere harken back to the B/W Universal horrors, the violence is reminiscent of Hammer which was then enjoying success with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. There are many striking and haunting imagery in THE VAMPIRE. The death of a Mexican boy by Count Lavud is a bit shocking, the burial procession of Maria, a scene of Lavud detailing his revenge to his two henchmen and the scene where Maria is discovered to still be alive are among some seriously gothic and eerie sequences throughout the picture.

The finale, although a tad silly with Robles dueling with Salazar with an apparently dull sword is way more exciting than any finale Hammer ever mustered for their DRACULA films. In those films, you got Lee choking the hero for a bit before he is killed in some way. Here, the duel is much more elaborate. The shortcomings are also on hand. With the remastering job done on these classics of Mexican horror cinema, the wires are obvious. But what do you expect from a film of this vintage? A classic all around, this is a highly recommended movie for those who fondly remember the Universal horrors of old.

Producer Salazar would star in six of his films. Robles, a stage actor, refused to accept his status as a horror star. His career as a screen vampire parallels and surpasses that of Christopher Lee. Robles would play Lavud in the sequel, THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN, which went into production before the first film saw release. He also played a vampire in the 10 part NOSTRADAMUS serial which was re-edited into 4 feature films and released in America by K. Gordon Murray. Those films are--THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS, THE MONSTER DEMOLISHER, GENIE OF DARKNESS and BLOOD OF NOSTRADAMUS, all 1961. Robles also did voice acting on a number of US tv shows and movies released in Mexico. He was the voice of Kitt from KNIGHT RIDER on Mexican television. Robles both respects and is bitter by the fact that over all his other accomplishments in film and the stage, he will forever be remembered for his portrayal as Count Lavud in the Mexican horror classic, THE VAMPIRE.

My first experience with Mexican horror movies came from COMMANDER USA & HIS GROOVY MOVIES which premiered on the USA Network back in the late 80s. The Commander showed predominantly Mexican horror, Mexican horror-wrestling movies featuring El Santo (more on him later) and Hammer films strictly from their 70s period. It was here where I first saw THE VAMPIRE, THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN, THE LIVING COFFIN (a horror western), the NOSTRADAMUS series, THE AZTEC MUMMY series, DOCTOR OF DOOM, THE WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES, THE BRAINIAC and one of the most haunting mexi-horrors ever, THE CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE.

In CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE (1960 aka MUNECOS INFERNALES translated as INFERNAL DOLLS) a group of explorers steal an ancient Aztec idol from a temple. We don't see this but the film opens with the conversation of the group explaining the curse placed upon them for desecrating the temple. That night, one of the groups daughters complains she cannot find her doll. She claims it got up and ran away. A thunderstorm comes about and before its over, one of the group is dead.

Those that are about to die find a strange piece of tied hair or string lying about. Then, one of the hellish dolls appears in some fashion whether by being delivered inside a box of flowers or breaking into a house thereby stabbing their intended victim in the throat with a long needle. There souls are then placed inside a doll likeness of their former self by an evil black magician and his hulking zombie-monster servant who would play a creepy tune on a flute to give them life. A magical medallion comes into play during the conclusion and the dolls turn on their master resulting in a typical fire that destroys the villains lair.

The english version released here was heavily edited by a little over 10 minutes removing some of the violence and much of the story. It was still a movie that has remained in my memory all these years and I finally got to see it again when BCI released it along with another famous Mexi-horror NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES in both its english and its original Spanish language with subs. The english version has not been remastered and is not as crisp as the latter. Another recommended spook-a-thon.

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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2007, 05:21:23 AM »

One Mexi-horror in particular is most fondly remembered by exploitation fans. This film has one of the strongest cult followings ever. That movie is the incomparable 1961 so-bad-it's-good favorite, THE BRAINIAC (EL BARON DEL TERRORE). Producer Abel Salazar plays the lead.

At the films opening, a Warlock (Salazar) is being tried for numerous brutal crimes. Before the trial is over, the Baron mockingly displays his powers by making the manacles that bind him disappear! Then in another display of callous derision, he allows the Inquisitors to lead him off to be burned at the stake! As he burns seemingly without pain, a comet passes overhead and the Baron puts a curse on his executioners to return in 600 years and kill their descendants.

Flash forward 600 years and a meteor crashes into the Earth and out pops one of the strangest monsters to ever hit film. The Baron, now a creature with a large pulsating head and giant claw like hands and sporting a forked tongue by which he inserts into the back of his victims necks sucking out their brains! It's without doubt one of the most outrageous scenarios ever created. The Baron can also assume his human form should he desire. He takes up in a big house and goes about seeking out the descendants of his persecutors. The Baron also keeps a large bowl of brains(!) inside a chest should he get hungry. Watching him casually scoop up a spoonful of grey matter during a party at his mansion is a hoot. Former vampire German Robles has a brief bit as one of the Baron's victims. The finale sees the Baron defeated by the police armed with flamethrowers(!)

Abel Salazar obviously enjoyed and relished his one turn as a villain and he is most memorable in the role. It's a shame he never played another bad guy role or at least one other that I'm aware of.

A favorite on late night TV and also a mainstay on USA Networks short lived series REEL WILD CINEMA hosted by Sandra Bernhard, THE BRAINIAC deserves a spot on any exploitation movie fans DVD shelf. The recent remastered CasaNegra release is complete and uncut and on the english track there's one scene that was not dubbed and this bit is in Spanish only with subs.

The english versions of all these movies offer a certain nostalgic charm, but the original versions are miles away better in appreciating the films original intentions. Especially since the dubbed dialog is almost never what the actors are really saying in the original script.

THE BRAINIAC was directed by fantasy director Chano Urueta. He also directed another highly memorable but more obscure picture that same year, the incredibly sleazy THE WITCH'S MIRROR (1961). This jaw dropping horror flick is similar to the French horror EYES WITHOUT A FACE. But at its heart, WITCH'S MIRROR is a supernatural witchcraft versus mad scientist sleaz-a-thon.

An evil doctor is having an affair with another woman and both conspire to murder his wife. Meanwhile, the wife's mother, who is also a witch, warns her daughter of the insidious plan. She does not listen and is poisoned for her trouble. After her death, the mother places a curse on her son-in-law invoking a spell involving a magical mirror (and lots of fog). Through withcraft, the doctor's new wife is burned badly when she is plastered with a kerosene lamp. He goes about murdering other women and grafting their skin onto his wife to restore her beauty. To further complicate matters, the ghost of his first wife keeps coming back for vengeance resulting in a wild ending utilizing every special effect in the book (up to that time).

The scenes in the mad scientists lab are shocking for this time period with his cold storage with the headless and limbless corpses. Not to mention the witchcraft elements that up the exploitation value considerably. An unknown gem that was the second release from CasaNegra along with their first release...

THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1962 aka LA MALADICION DE LA LLORONA). I first saw this movie on COMMANDER USA and was not that impressed with it. But after seeing the new remastered edition from CasaNegra, it's a different story.

A young woman goes to an isolated villa to visit her Aunt who also has a creepy deformed henchman under her employ. Her Aunt turns out to be a vampiric witch who is trying to revive the dead body of the llorona, or the Crying Woman of the title. The legend of llorona is a real folktale in Mexico about a ghostly woman who haunts the forests at night searching for her dead children. In this movie, she is presented as a vampire-like character. Sudden bursts of violence were removed from the K. Gordon Murray release such as a man mauled by two huge dogs at the opening another scene where a woman is trampled underfoot by a carriage. The standard gothic atmosphere present in past Mexi-horrors is found here as well. This is a more serious minded movie and delivers on several levels.

Apparently Mario Bava had permeated Mexican cinema as well because there is a sequence that is reminiscent of a famous image in BLACK SUNDAY. The shot in question is the appearance of Barbara Steele flanked by two large, imposing hounds with a castle backdrop behind her. A similar scene is found in ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHIEKS in which Ilsa arrives at a party dressed most seductively flanked by two big dogs.

The NOSTRADAMUS series, which I don't remember very much about, only that they were lots of fun, was a Mexican serial broken down into 4 feature films for American consumption by mogul K. Gordon Murray. The films plots were fairly interchangeable of what I can remember. They dealt with the vampire Nostradamus and his revenge on the family of a doctor. In one movie he had a hunchbacked assistant and their were minor differences from film to film but until these see release I can say little about them other than they got played a lot on television.

Another Mexi-horror that I can't remember much about but have vivid memories of one scene is 1960s THE WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES. This one was supposed to star German Robles in the vampire role but he refused. Here, the vampires, (many of them possessing huge bat heads on human bodies) are brought to life via a huge pipe organ fashioned from the bones of humans. I think music may have been used to destroy them as well. CasaNegra releases this one in September along with another Saturday afternoon schlocker, 1959s THE LIVING HEAD about a group of scientists who remove the head of an Aztec warrior from a tomb along with a mummy entombed with it. The Head then commands the mummy to kill the men responsible for the desecration.

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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2007, 05:22:23 AM »

Speaking of mummies, Mexi-horror had their own mummy series. THE AZTEC MUMMY series was at least three films and one lucha libre cross over flick. These are THE AZTEC MUMMY, CURSE OF THE AZTEC MUMMY, THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY and the zany, ROCK 'N' ROLL WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY which was another series entirely. The Aztec Mummy series was vastly different from the Universal MUMMY movies in terms of the monster but the atmosphere was the same. The only thing I remember about the first film is a striking flashback scene where a victim has their heart pulled out on an altar for the Aztec Sun God. The others especially the ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY was a riot even to a little kids eyes.

The aformentioned Luche Libre movies were a combination of the popular wrestling mixed with the Fantastic cinema of Mexico. The most popular of all of these were the films that featured El Santo (The Saint). The extremely popular Mexican wrestler who never, throughout his entire career, ever removed his mask. Outside of his long and wildly popular wrestling tenure, Santo often appeared in horror/action hybrids that also featured wrestling matches sprinkled throughout the movie.

A handful of his films were released here from K. Gordon Murray where his name was dubbed Samson. After the huge success of the SANTO movies, other Mexican masked wrestlers would begin doing movies. The most popular outside of Santo was Blue Demon. He and Santo teamed up on several occasions one of the most memorable being SANTO & BLUE DEMON VS. DRACULA & THE WOLF MAN (1972). The later color luche libre movies like SANTO & BLUE DEMON VS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER and SANTO IN: THE VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY could not hold a candle to the earlier B/W offerings but would still offer some schlock fun.

My favorite of these is the hugely enjoyable SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962 aka SANTO CONTRA LAS MUJERES VAMPIROS). This was my first exposure to Mexi-horror and it just so happened to be a luche libre combo. I was fascinated by this movie. Not only did you get gothic, atmospheric horror trappings but you also got wrestling. During this time in my childhood I was a fan of wrestling particularly Dusty Rhodes, MAgnum TA, 4 Horsemen, Road Warriors, etc...so this was quite a startling melding of styles. In one scene, the wrestling and horror are intermixed when the Vampire Queen replaces Santo's opponent with one of her henchmen who, when unmasked, is revealed to be a werewolf from the neck up(!). He escapes by turning into a bat. The image of a masked and caped wrestler speeding around in a sportscar and battling crime is a lasting image and one that lasted for decades and to my knowledge, the luche libre genre is still going.

Another TV staple was SAMSON IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1962) about Samson battling an evil scientist who brings waxen statues of monsters to life.

There was also another fantasy action series about a masked crimefighter called Neutron. At least four of these exist--NEUTRON AND THE BLACK MASK, NEUTRON AGAINST THE DEATH ROBOTS, NEUTRON VS. THE MANIAC and NEUTRON VS. THE AMAZING DR. CARONTE (1961-2).

A similar series from Spain with a crimefighter named Superargo was produced. Of these I have seen SUPERARGO VS. THE FACELESS GIANTS. Here, Superargo is a blue and black suited masked hero with a turban wearing sidekick who possess mystical powers of the Middle East. They drive around in a fancy car fighting evil. Superargo was also an ace with the ladies in an apparent nod to the JAMES BOND series. I remember this one being quite good. There are at least three SUPERARGO movies that I am aware of.

In addition to the SANTO series, the women wrestlers had their own as well. I only know of a few of these, the aforementioned ROCK N ROLL WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964), ROCK N ROLL WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE ROBOT, DOCTOR OF DOOM (1962) and that films remake in color, the gory NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES (1968 aka THE HORRIBLE SEXY TRANSPLANT). Two versions of this movie were shot. One that featured lots of gory violence and another that had lots of nudity. The international version had both. The film dealt with another mad scientist conducting graphic brain transplants one involving the brain of a mad gorilla in the body of a hulking lunatic and the female wrestler who must stop the creatures rampage of gore.

Recent release I have yet to see are--

THE MAN & THE MONSTER (1957) about a pianist cursed for killing a female composer and making off with her sonata. He then becomes a werewolf and goes on a killing spree. Abel Salazar plays the hero.

THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (1957) about two scientists obssessed with death, make a pact that upon death, the dead doctor will return to tell the experience of death itself. The living doctor is accused of murder and executed, his mutilated corpse returns from the grave to get revenge on the other dead doctors daughter.

THE LIVING COFFIN (1958) a Mexican horror/western similar to Roger corman's THE PREMATURE BURIAL from '63. Saw it on TV but remember nothing about it other than somebody being buried alive and a coffin full of bones...and gunfights.

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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2007, 05:38:23 AM »

Wasn't there a "Coffin Joe" series that came out of Mexico, that was real popular? Love the masked wrestler movies.

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Arizona Colt
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« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2007, 02:14:34 PM »

That was Brazil.

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Man with no dame
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« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2007, 05:51:38 AM »

It's strange how Mexico borders our country, yet we get so few of their films. Canada on the other hand.........

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« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2007, 09:20:43 AM »

I've just finished watching THE WITCHES MIRROR(1962),my very first taste of Mexican horror and it was a hugely enjoyable hour and a half for myself and Mrs Banjo.

A woman sees her death at the hands of her adulterous husband in a witches(her godmother) mirror,her godmother is unable to use evil forces to prevent this but instead helps the deceased exact revenge on her husband and new wife.A very atmospheric (black and white) gothic horror,and surprisigly grisly,which incorporates a neat take on the Frankenstein story  that is equal to anything i've seen from Hammer.I can't wait to see some more Mexi-horror. Afro

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