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Blood of the Virgins
(Sangre de vírgenes, 1967)

Emilio Vieyra

Argentina

77 min, color, Spanish (English subtitles)

Review © 2007 Branislav L. Slantchev

This film is unique in the history of cinema: it remains to this day the sole Argentinean vampire film! If for nothing else, this distinction should be enough for one to want to see it. As it turns out, Vieyra's outing is surprisingly good (in fact, ahead of its time in 1967) and it is only with regret that one must regard the lack of follow up to this nice effort. I blame the junta and of course the military government did hack to pieces just about every exploitation flick that came out during its rule, as the butchered and/or buried films with Isabel Sarli amply demonstrate. This country could have produced a more risque vampiric horror that would rival Hammer in quality and production values but that would have the undeniable advantage of beautiful females that seem to populate every Argentinean film I have seen. It was not to be.

Doomed 19th century romance And you wonder why nobody invited you to the wedding

I had some mixed feelings when I popped the disc in my player, mostly on account of the rather misleading artwork on the Mondo Macabro DVD. It shows a man with goofy-looking fangs dripping copious amounts of blood and bats flying in the distance, with a castle looming in the background. As it turns out, this has as much to do with the film as its title! Yes, that's right, as common practice dictates, there are no virgins in the film at all, and whatever blood there was, most of it was not theirs. I keep falling for that trick that worked so well for all those directors. I recall reading about Wakamatsu Koji saying that if you stick the word "virgin" in the title, the audience will flock to see it because it expects something forbidden. As it happens, the fact that all women had been known in the Biblical sense (some of them by multiple men) way before the events of this film in no way detracts from the enjoyment. Caveat emptor: if you expect innocent virgins succumbing to vampires crazed with lust, you won't see them. If you expect to see pretty women doing the same, then the film will deliver.

You could have just told me you had a headache! This vampire resurrects dead people like Jesus

It all starts in the 19th century when Gustavo (Walter Kliche) frolics in the woods with Ofelia (Susana Beltrán) whose bosom defies both the containment powers of her corset and gravity. After some moody scenes that remind me of Latin American soap operas, we find out that Ofelia is being forced to marry a man she does not love. This upsets Gustavo but he still insists that there's no way he could be induced to meet her parents. Since this vampire does not seem to have any trouble with sunlight, this aversion to paying the in-laws a courtesy visit can only bespeak of bad manners. Or evil intentions. It turns out to be a combination of these. When Ofelia does marry the other man, Gustavo shows up on their wedding night (bad manners) and butchers hubby just when he was about to meet the demands of his husbandly duties with gusto. That was evil because Gustavo could have easily done what he did next before the marriage thus saving the poor man from acquiring unnecessary ventilation ducts in his neck.

Totally gratuitous (but fun) go-go dancing Duel of the lighting fixtures

At the sight of the carnage (which Vieyra did not shy away from filming, which is why another reason he was ahead of his time) Ofelia faints and Gustavo proceeds to take advantage of the opportunity to suck some blood. From her breasts, naturally. Why else would we have the emphasis on those? Exploitation at its best, if you ask me. Ofelia dies and then gets resurrected. Unlike Lazarus or the Mummy, she wears a pretty dress and her coiffure is flawless. Fast-forward now to the present: we are treated to about 10 minutes of absolutely pointless vacation footage which depicts a group of easy-going young people on some sort of tour where they spend most of their time smooching, groping each other, occasionally skiing, and then obviously having lots of sex in the great outdoors. Then there's the famous go-go dancing scene which includes some topless girls and a decidedly bizarre sequence in which the camera stares up the crotch of a gyrating woman (in bikini, you perverts). None of this has anything whatsoever to do with the story.

No, darling, I am absolutely not fantasizing of nailing this broad What happened to biting NECKS?

Naturally, this group's car breaks down and they are forced to take refuge in the lodge (as I said, there is no castle here) which, wouldn't you know it, was precisely where Ofelia used to live before, well, continuing to live in somewhat less alive form. The group is not at all nonplussed by the interior which looks suspiciously well-dusted for something that is supposed to be abandoned. Not only that, but there's the creepy butler (who must also be undead because we have seen the same in the 19th century scene, so he must be something like Renfield) who shows up with a gas lamp to challenge Raul (Rolo Puente) who is armed with a candelabrum. There are some genuinely moody shots here, with a very nice play of light (although it clearly does not come from the candles) and shadows. When the sleeping powder the butler slips into the wine takes out everyone but Raul, the real fun can begin.

In search of the non-virgin female vampire Have the murder victim step in, please

This fun is naturally Gustavo sucking the blood of the women that the previous footage proved beyond reasonable doubt to be anything but virgins. Unlike most vampires who suck blood with reckless abandon and care not about the future of their food supply, Gustavo is forward looking and plans ahead by kidnapping the girls to stash them in his bloodery (the equivalent of a granary but used as a repository for blood). Just as humanity progressed from hunting-gathering practices by domesticating crops and animals, so does the future of vampires lie with proper husbandry techniques that would ensure a continuous supply of nourishment when times are lean because no good-looking women get lost in the vicinity. In this Gustavo is totally misunderstood by Ofelia who mistakes his strenuous efforts to provide for their cohabitation for a thinly veiled excuse to procure a harem the likes of which we have not seen since Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay. In expression of her disgust with her companion, she seduces Raul who wanders into her room on his tour of the house while everyone else is asleep and Gustavo sucks blood from tits.

Obligatory gratuitous shot of Susana Beltrán Have breasts, will have them bitten

The film then almost becomes a thriller as police and Raul search for the missing girls, one of whom (Laura, played by the delicious Gloria Prat) is actually Raul's girlfriend. (In the easygoing 1960s there was no problem whatsoever with bedding a curvaceous vampire while your no less pretty girl naps in the next room.) While all this going about takes place, we learn that Ofelia is existentially unhappy. For one, Gustavo had neglected to ask for her consent before making her immortal. Normally, one would expect most people to agree to be immortal so this should not have been a problem. But I think Ofelia's miffed on principle: one cannot just go around making people immortal without permission. Gustavo's arguments (which consist mostly of sucking blood from her tits) fail to convince her and she resolves to mount a revolution. For this purpose, she seduces Laura's brother (Ricardo Bauleo) and while his intensity as a lover does not maker her see fireworks, it does make her see the ghost of her ex husband. If you thought that a woman screaming someone else's name in the middle of your ministrations was bad, think about how much worse it would be if she actually saw ghosts of dead former lovers.

Gloria Prat at the tender mercies of Argentinean state health care Cape may be goofy but what a nice angle

Then a decidedly surreal bit follows in which the previously naked but now magically sporting a negligee Ofelia walks up to that ghost (which only she can see) and he gives her a very real knife. Tito is understandably confused but she alleviates his fears by telling him the knife is not for him. She then goes on to execute the bloody finale which has a very delicious twist that I should not reveal. I only have two questions: why did she need to seduce Tito and why did she have to wait a century before doing something that she could have easily done from the moment she woke up in her grave? I guess the answer to the second question is that she really did try to enjoy life as undead but all that culinarily boring diet of blood sucking must have been tedious. She probably longed for a burrito. Or maybe she got tired of offing so many girl virgins. Perhaps she preferred boy virgins but that hegemonic heterosexual hubby of hers would have none of that? Who knows what triggered the crisis that pushed Ofelia into sexual escapades that culminated in the knife-wielding rampage at the end? Not the director, that's for sure.

Riddle me this: what is that thing that one guy bites and another falls asleep on? Keep going, I am just checking out that apparition of my dead husband in the corner

Vieyra (who has a cameo as a police inspector) is not one of those hacks (like Jess Franco) who don't know how to make pretty women appear even more gorgeous or who don't know how to make a professional-looking film on a shoestring. The camera work, the lighting, and the scene compositions manage to hide the low-budget origins of the production and one tends to forget that most of the scenes were filmed in a couple of rooms with a cast of about 10 people. Without stock footage of bats but unwilling to make a film about vampires without some flying creatures, Vieyra resorted to filming seagulls and then tinting the sequences in red. This may appear shoddy to some purists but I think it actually worked very well: one could interpret these as substitutes for bats or as a metaphor of the free but bloody existence of the vampires or, my preferred view, as just an unsettling image designed to suggest that someone not entirely human is around, perhaps even watching with an eyesight contaminated by all the blood he has to drink to live. (The vampires do not turn into seagulls in this film, as we see in the end, they turn into bats.) All of these elements come together very well, making this a truly enjoyable film. At the paltry 77 minutes, it's also just long enough to avoid being boring despite the near total lack of action. The atmospheric sequences accompanied by an excellent musical score are absorbing for their sheer beauty. The film is a visual feast and one tends to forget the problems with the script.

This is for, um, cutting the birthday cake Random violence against the undead

Mondo Macabro are at their usual best: the transfer is gorgeous. It is full-frame and I am not sure whether this is the original aspect ratio or whether it is cropped. As far as I could tell, the framing looks right and never appears too tight. Either Vieyra did not utilize the widescreen to its full potential or this was how it was intended to be. The colors are appropriately muted but the yellows are vibrant, giving the blonde Susana Beltrán that sultry Hollywood film noir look that we have all come to associate with fatal women. The stereo soundtrack offers the Spanish dialogue which I appreciated immensely: a dub would have made this look like a cheap B-movie. The optional English subtitles are excellent. The disc packs some very nice extras in addition to the extensive production notes and stills, there's a long documentary on Argentinean exploitation cinema. Even if you have read the chapter on Argentina in Pete Tombs' Mondo Macabro book, there's still plenty here to inform you. The interview with the director is especially entertaining: one rarely sees a successful film-maker who is completely unapologetic about what some may consider shadier products. I definitely recommend owning this.

January 14, 2007