Intrigued with Eternity: The Allure of Vampires Captured in Spanish-Language Cinema

Americas (English Edition), November-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Intrigued with Eternity: The Allure of Vampires Captured in Spanish-Language Cinema


RENFIELD: "AREN'T YOU DRINKING?"

COUNT DRACULA "I NEVER DRINK WINE."

In the mid-1950s, Mexican producer and actor Abel Salazar was desperately searching for the right man to play the main character in his movie El vampiro (1957), a Mexican reading of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. Finally one evening, he went to see a play at the legendary Blanquita Theater in Mexico City and discovered a young Asturian actor that fit the part perfectly. "I've found my vampire!" he said to himself, and approached German Robles, a tall, thin, serious actor of 27. Robles went on to do a memorable cinematic rendition of Stoker's novel, playing Count Duval, an eccentric and sleepless character with a habit of taking walks at night, sleeping in a coffin, and fatally biting the jugular of his victims.

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The movie, with its gloomy setting in a dark provincial Mexican town, was a bit, and a year later, Salazar produced an equally successful sequel El ataud del vampiro (The Vampire's Coffin, 1958). In spite of the tight budget available at the time for movies of this genre, El vampiro is probably one of the best examples of Mexican horror film. Some have remarked upon the similarities between the physical looks and acting styles of German Robles and Christopher Lee, the actor in the English movie Dracula (1958). Lee worked for the British company, Hammer Film Productions, personifying Dracula for almost a decade, but it would be ridiculous to say that he influenced German Robles, since the Mexican movie came out a year before Dracula.

The recent boom of US vampire movies and novels--Stephen Meyer's Twilight, which has sold 42 million copies since 2005; his first adaptation of this trilogy which grossed 177 million dollars in the first seven weeks following its debut; and the countless number of famous directors that have based their works on Stoker's novel (Tod Browning, Roman Polanski, Andy Warhol, Werner Herzog, and Francis Ford Coppola)--makes one wonder whether Latin American vampires can coexist in a literary genre that originated in 19th-century Europe. But the answer is clear. Quite a number of vampire movies have been made in Latin America, and while some aren't very good, others are well qualified to bear the standard of cult films.

The first time that Count Dracula was heard speaking the language of Cervantes was in 1931. The Spanish version of Dracula was being filmed then at the same time as the famous Tod Browning version that launched Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi into stardom. The English version was being filmed by day, but at night--in the same studios--the Spanish adaptation was being created. The Spanish film in this case sought to be an exact copy of the English original, which was the custom in those days for successful Hollywood films. The Cordoban actor that played Dracula was very physically similar to Lugosi and he was even advised to move his cloak in the same way as his Hungarian colleague did. The English version was not distributed commercially in Hispanic markets and, until very recently, could only be seen in movie clubs, on television, or on video. Many believe, however, that the Castilian adaptation is technically much better than Browning's. Dozens of films from this period were lost or destroyed with time, but the only known copy of this gem was found stored in a film library in Havana and is still in good condition for showing. Years later, with El vampiro, Bram Stoker's character was finally portrayed in a movie with real Latin American flavor.

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After the success of El vampiro and El ataud del vampiro, Abel Salazar made another vampire movie unrelated to its two precursors. It was called El mundo de los vampiros (The World of Vampires, 1960). The film is a classic revenge story involving a vampire and one of his descendents who kills him. …

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