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"The Vampire's Coffin" (1958) Review
I owe it to USA Network's Groovie Movies host Commander USA, who shaped me into an instant fan of '50s/'60s Mexican horror films and subsequently K. Gordon Murray. Rich in atmosphere, these south-of-the-border cinematic delights showcased elegant costuming, imaginative art direction, titanic sets, incredible props, decent (sometimes horrifying, as in The Brainiac) make-up, some of which was to influence Hammer studio's horror films in the late 1950's.
Unfortunately, my DVD edition of The Vampire's Coffin (Ataúd del Vampiro) is far from the reportedly very good quality release by CasaNegra. Rather, it's the cheapie version from Beverly Wilshire, commonly found at discount retailers in the early 2000's. Sporting no extras other than chapter stops, this is NOT the preferred edition when viewing the film, I strongly recommend going the extra mile and purchasing CasaNegra's edition, which includes El Vampiro, the original in which The Vampire's Coffin, a sequel, is based. I'm unsure as to what CasaNegra's position is on K. Gordon Murray, who like many B-movie showmen of the day exploited international films to a make a buck, but I would hope they would at least give Murray credit for bringing these fine Mexican horror films to U.S. shores.
The Plot - Contains Spoilers!
As mentioned, the 1958 film The Vampire's Coffin is a sequel to the 1957 international hit The Vampire. Both films star three principal actors: Abel Salazar, German Robles, and the lovely Ariadna Welter. Salazar, who also produced, reprises his role as Dr. Enrique, again portraying the character with noticeable comic flair. In a fog-shrouded graveyard in the dead of night, Baraza, a lumbering brute (Yerye Beirute), escorts the recklessly curious Dr. Marion (Carlos Ancira) on an expedition to recover the coffin of Count Lavud (Robles). En route they're spotted by an old woman dressed in black funeral garb, who is later revealed to be the heroine's aunt - another recurring character from the original film.
Levund's coffin is transported to a nearby hospital, and placed in a chamber for study. Before long Baraza proves to be criminally maniacal and threatens to reveal Marion's secret unless generously compensated. He also makes note of Levund's expensive jewelry, still adorned on the corpse. While Dr. Marion is about telling fellow Dr. Enrique about the find, Bazara breaks into the chamber and releases Levund from eternal sleep by yanking a wooden stake from his heart. Levund is immediately resurrected and enlists Baraza as an Ygor-type servant.
Wasting no time going on the prowl, Levund quickly stumbles upon the presence of the mesmerizing Marta (Welter), who he tried to seduce in the previous film. Marta is a nurse at the hospital busy with her duties and spurning Enrique's numerous advances. She's also taken a liking to a little girl patient who has a fear of the dark. Before long, the sparse, late-night hospital staff is mired in contending with a living dead vampire in their midst, attempting to seduce or kill before sunrise.
Baraza sneaks Levund's coffin in an inconspicuous setting: in the basement of a savory, Gothic wax museum (complete with working guillotine and Virgin of Nuremberg)! Able to transform into a giant bat at will (complete with strings) Levund easily travels from wax museum to hospital in his quest to charm Marta. In one pivotal scene, Dr. Marion and the aunt find Levund's hiding place at the museum, where both perish - the aunt by iron maiden!
The finale occurs at a theater, where Marta is performing with a dance troupe (note: Welter's a terrible dancer but looks great in tights). In a scene reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera, Levund and Baraza kidnap Marta from atop the rafters, and take her to the museum. The end battle is a fight between Enrique and Levund, with the bat-creature making a prolonged appearance.
The Vampire's Coffin is a production not on par quality-wise to its predecessor. Rather, it remains a highly recommended creature feature that does not fail to entertain, and is a perfect fodder for midnight viewings. Running throughout the film is a juvenile, occasionally humorous flavor, which detracts from the impending danger as the plot unfolds, much of that due to silly overdubbing. The sets here are more bare and simplistic, seeming like a quickie job to cash in on the original's success.
In the tradition of great vampire films, both Robles and Salazar are charismatic in their respective roles as villain and hero, with Salazar unable to resist blurting comic relief. Both actors would go on to do other Mexican horror films, sometimes appearing together, with Robles iconic persona of Count Levund eventually ending up on the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
The fascinating thing about vintage Mexican horror films is how accessible and watchable they are. A mixture of U.S. straightforward storytelling and European Gothic ambiance, these unique films stand squarely among the better U.S. horror releases of the time, and helped bring classic monsters back to cinema, despite years of a thriving sci-fi era. By the time Hammer released Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, and The Mummy, classic monsters were all the rage in the late '50s and early '60s.