When thinking about the exploitation horror-sleaze movies of the 60s & 70s (you know: guys with comical facial hair staring uncomfortably into middle-distance, attractive girls getting naked at every opportunity, a groovy jazz/beat soundtrack, terrible dubbing, a nonsensical plot & copious use of the zoom lens), the first place you think of is mainland Europe. One place you probably don’t associate with such stuff is Argentina, but in the 60s a couple of forward thinking directors (notably Emilio Vieyra & Armando Bo) spotted a hole in the market for such movies in the Spanish-speaking world. Although only a handful of films were made (not least because “Blood of the Virgins”, the film under review here, got banned by the Argentinean Government) & they remain a mere footnote in the history of horror, there is plenty to recommend them to fans.
“Blood of the Virgins” is notable mostly for being the first Argentinean vampire movie, directed by Emilio Vieyra fresh from “The Curious Dr Humpp”, which has since become something of a cult classic. That “…Virgins” has not received the same following is down to a couple of factors. First, as mentioned above, it was banned by the Argentinean Government, & thus little seen until recently, & it never got a dubbed for release in English-speaking territories. And secondly, there’s the simple fact that aside from its curiosity & historical value, ultimately its vampiric tale is over-familiar from countless more widely distributed European movies of the same period.
The movie starts with Ofelia (Susana Beltran) faced with a dilemma – marry the man her parents have chosen for her but who she does not love, or the mysterious Gustavo (Ricardo Bauleo) with whom she is in love. When Gustavo refuses to meet her parents for no readily apparent reason, she leaves him & marries her parents’ choice. On their wedding night, Gustavo intrudes on the couple, revealing himself to be a vampire – which in fairness her parents were never going to be happy about, & which she wouldn’t have guessed since in this film, sunlight is apparently no problem for vampires. He kills them, & then later resurrects her from the grave to be his vampire bride. After a supremely cool animated credit sequence (a regular feature of Vieyras’ movies), we cut to the modern day & a lengthy jazzy montage showing a group of young holiday makers having fun. Incidentally, I don’t believe any of the kids are virgins, after watching the entirely gratuitous but highly enjoyable topless go-go dancing scene towards the end of this sequence. We then cut to them driving late at night in their Scoobyvan, which surprisingly breaks down leaving them to seek refuge in a deserted villa, which unexpectedly turns out to be the house where Ofelia lived. They settle down for a night in the darkness & startlingly get rather more than they expect.
To be completely frank, if you’re a fan of these kind of movies, there’s little in “Blood of the Virgins” which you won’t have seen elsewhere, & if you’re not the chances are you’ve not even bothered to read this far. What is perhaps surprising is how many things here actually pre-figure the more well known variations – for example the intercut shots of bats flying in a blood-red sky looks forward to Jess Franco’s “Female Vampire”. It’s quite a creepy effect until you look closely & realise that they’re actually seagulls. Despite the familiarity of its basic narrative however, there’s still much to enjoy. There are a couple of nicely graphic moments of bloodletting, a quite ridiculous amount of female nudity, the scenery is lovely & a welcome change from the European norm, the climax adds a surprising emotional element, & some of the early scenes in the dark villa are genuinely creepy. In the interview contained on this DVD release Vieyra says that he lives for the cinema & making movies, & this enthusiasm shows through in the film. He has a rare natural ability with the camera, & shoots scenes dynamically with a variety of well-chosen angles & smart editing. One thing you don’t expect from films like this are good performances, but with the notable exception of Bauleo (who is hysterical!), most of the cast are pretty decent, with Beltran actually being (whisper it) quite good. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about the film for me though was the score by Victor Buchino, which has some great moments of real beauty, mixed in with the expected (but still great) groovesome material.
The UK R0/PAL DVD is from those nice folks over at Mondo Macabro, & they’ve put together a surprisingly good package for such a little-known movie (this was indeed the worldwide video premiere of the film!). The picture is 4:3 (I can only assume that this is the correct ratio, although some of the framing appears slightly tight), & looks startlingly good. There’s inevitably some print damage throughout (lots of white specks), & a couple of shots are excessively grainy but given the nature of the movie I was blown away by how good it looked. The audio is Spanish stereo (although it’s actually only mono), & suffers from a lot of background pop & hiss, but again this is pretty much unsurprising & it’s rarely intrusive. English subs are optional, player-generated.
For extras, they give us a great episode of the Mondo Macabro TV series about Argentinean exploitation movies, which I actually saw on the TV & which first peaked my interest in Vieyras work. There’s also lengthy production notes. MM have since released a US version of this disc, which differs only by adding a couple of extra trailers.