José María Elorrieta is not a name that I really know, not even his pseudonym, Joseph De Lacy, but his film Curse of the Vampyr (1972), I know and love very much. The films of the late 60s and early 70s always make me think of the times during which they were made: the changing of cultural mores with an emphasis on more of the intellectual rather than the spiritual; the awakening of cultural sexuality; and of course, the artistic depiction of all of these changes. Curse of the Vampyr seems to be born from these cultural changes; however, all intellectual discourse or thought aside, it's a fantastic and perverse exploitation film for the sticky-floor crowd, the horror fans, or the young folks sick and tired of their parents' cinema.Perhaps the opening sequence is a signal: an old man is sitting downstairs, relaxing in his robe with a stack of books. From atop the stairs a young blonde woman spies the old man and quietly descends the staircase. When the old man notices her presence, he is shocked by the dagger in her hand but perhaps even more shocked by her revealing smile, showing two fangs. The maidservant must have seen this night coming, because she enters with cross in hand and subdues the beautiful blonde. A stake is driven in her heart in bloody fashion. Cue credits.
The town needs a doctor. Enter Dr. Materlick (Diana Sorel), a gorgeous woman who tells the mayor that she knows he requested a man for the position but her credentials are more than suitable. She is accompanied by her beautiful nurse assistant Erica (Beatriz Elorrieta). Fine, says the mayor, we are glad to have you here. Our locals are of the usual type: irrational and superstitious and fear vampires. Is that a problem?
Before Erica and Dr. Materlick can finish their first glasses of wine, the pair are summoned to the castle by Baron von Rysselbert's manservant. The Baron (Antonio Jiménez Escribano) has had a heart attack. Now, if the Baron was a Count, then he would be a vampire. But he's not, so he ain't. Erica and Dr. Materlick give the Baron treatment and assure the Baron's son, Carl (Nicholas Ney) that his father will be all right. Carl's grateful for Dr. Materlick's help and invites her to stay on at the castle to attend to his father. Dr. Materlick accepts. She notices the two puncture wounds on Carl's neck. How did he get them? the doctor asks. Carl doesn't know, and oh, it's nothing.Typical set-up for a vampire film: old castle, superstitious locals, and the outsider who encounters the vampiric goings-on, only to have to eventually confront and end the evil. To be truthful, I would have watched, and more than likely loved, Curse of the Vampyr if it stayed typical. I doubt, however, that I would have written about it if it was typical. It ain't. The old man from the opening sequence is revealed to be the Baron and the young blonde woman sporting the fangs and dagger is Margaret (Loreta Tovar), his niece and Carl's cousin and lover. Carl reveals candidly to Dr. Materlick that the Baron loved Margaret more than anyone else in the world. In an eerie sequence, the Baron descends to the castle's catacombs where it is revealed the Baron is keeping Margaret's corpse, stake protruding prominently from her chest. In an entrancing slo-mo sequence, Carl and Margaret are seen near the edge of a serene and quiet lake, laughing and chasing each other. Margaret dashes away from her young lover and turns a corner to find a fairly disgusting-looking man with a sheet wrapped around him. Margaret is quickly under the spell of the disgusting-man's gaze who then bites her neck. Carl finds Margaret laying nude on a patch of grass. He goes to lovingly embrace her, and Margaret gives him the kiss of the undead.
Intrigued by these haunting and compelling scenes, I was still quite unprepared for the turn of events around the halfway mark of Curse of the Vampyr. Carl had warned the viewer though. He tells Erica, who he has now become quite smitten with, that during the full moon, he will change into something horrible. In a terrific sequence, in a spin on the werewolf legend, Carl standing in front of a mirror becomes sickly looking and grows fangs. His image disappears from the mirror. The freakish Carl immediately visits Erica's bed and bites her neck. Erica rises and goes down to the catacombs to free Margaret by removing the stake. The two head to the countryside for a frolic and feeding in another fantastic slo-mo scene where they subdue a local.
Curse of the Vampyr has some fairly clever twists, such as Carl's vampire with traits typically associated with traditional werewolf lore. Beyond the film's ideas, plot line, and images, Curse is really revels in its escalating and perverse subject matter. Bedtime attire for the ladies is always see-through and/or short, and while the initial nudity of the film is fairly tame, the sexuality of Curse becomes more explicit, culminating in a fairly strong lesbian sequence involving Margaret and a recent widow later on. Curse's plot becomes a vehicle for the exploitation shenanigans. Even the vampiric violence is imbued with a strong sexuality, and Curse of the Vampyr's ending forgoes a tidy conclusion to substitute a bizarre melange of exploitative and nonsensical imagery.
Curse of the Vampyr is an atypical film from a director whose work is unfamiliar. Totally unexpected from a totally traditional genre, well worth seeking out.