Oct 14, 2015
Day 14: THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN (El ataúd del Vampiro, 1958)
Doctor Mendoza and hired thug Barraza do a really dopey thing when they disentomb the coffin of Count Karol de Lavud...but they do this dopey thing in the name of science! Well, Medoza does, anyway. Barraza does it for money. But the point is, they haul the coffin within back to a medical clinic where Mendoza intends to examine his prize, the body of a vampire. He argues that although reports of strange phenomena are often woven into legend, their roots lie in the rational reality of the perfectly explainable. Legends say that vampires succumb only to a stake through the heart, that they give no reflection, that they cannot survive in the sunlight...can this all be explained on a cellular level?
Before Mendoza can even bust out a beaker or some other science thing, however, Barraza sneaks back into the clinic and fucks shit up. To get the shiny, jewel-encrusted medallion around Lavud's neck, he must remove the stake from Lavud's heart which wakes the vampire. As reward for this good deed, Lavud hypnotizes Barraza and makes him a manservant, tasked with finding a new place for Lavud's coffin and basically whatever else Lavud doesn't feel like doing himself: killing pesky people, washing Lavud's capes, etc.
Mendoza and his cohort Doctor Saldívar try to find the vampire and put an(other) end to him before he can hypnotize young nurse/theatre hoofer Marta and make her his unholy bride.
The Vampire's Coffin proceeds as a series of starts and stops; there are lengthy stretches where characters talk and talk and open and close doors, but the charm of the whole thing prevents it from feeling slow or dull. We get some humor, a little sizzle with a dance routine, and a whole lotta gothic beauty. Sets and shots are all shapes and shadows, and the visuals are undoubtedly the highlight of the film.
In particular is a sequence that finds Lavud following a young woman down stark alleys and backstreets after her flirtation turns to fear. She picks up her pace, his cape billows...it's a scene that would do Jacques Tourneur proud.
While the visual style certainly elevates the film, it's very much in the Saturday afternoon Creature Double Feature realm: you'll find shocking moments here and there, but there's also a "you can see the strings on the flying bats" goofy sort of appeal. It's the kind of movie that characters in a horror movie would watch, you know, the way Tommy and Lindsay watch The Thing in Halloween.
The biggest letdown in The Vampire's Coffin, unfortunately, is the vampire himself. Lavud is perhaps the most milquetoast of all the cinematic bloodsuckers. As the Count, Germán Robles simply doesn't cut an impressive figure. He gets knocked about and frightened off, and he lacks the charisma and presence of other famous fang-wielders like Christopher Lee, who certainly didn't need a medallion in order to hypnotize men and women to be his friends or brides. And here I thought vampires were supposed to be scary and cool...Count Lavud is such a square!