It’s been a while since I’ve seen Jose Ramon Larraz”s original Vampyres from 1974. What Victor Matellano has done is not simply remade the film, with Larraz given co-credit for the screenplay, but also tied this new version with literary, historical and cinematic references. Matellano doesn’t attempt to go beyond what may have been considered transgressive in the original, so that the blood and sex are relatively restrained by current standards. And in light of the original film, the casting of actors from horror films from the Sixties and Seventies can be seen as more than a gimmick to attract viewers.
Two female vampires, also lovers, live in a supposedly abandoned house in a heavily wooded area. By standing in the woods, with one sometimes pretending to be unable to walk the full distance, they get unwary drivers on the otherwise lonely road to drive to the house. Hospitality, with a very potent red wine, turns the guests into unwilling victims drained of blood. In some cases, the vampires simply catch someone walking through the woods, and deftly cut that person’s throat.
The Larraz film ends with an older couple checking into the seemingly unoccupied house that is home to the vampires. The female half of that couple is played by Bessie Love, most famous as a silent era actress. While Love had no horror films to her filmography at that time, unless you want to count The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, her presence brings a connection to cinema’s past. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Love’s last film was Tony Scott’s The Hunger. In the new film, we have Caroline Munro as the owner of a nearby hotel who might have some idea of what’s going on at that house in the woods, with Lone Fleming as the hotel receptionist. Munro starred in one of Hammer’s last and best vampire films,Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. Fleming remains still active in Spanish horror. Antonio Mayans, whose filmography includes work with Jesus Franco and Umberto Lenzi, appears as a mysterious man with a scythe. May Heatherly takes on Bessie Love’s role, while the then ninety-three year old Conrado San Martin plays her husband. Additionally, another Franco veteran, Jack Taylor, narrates the short “Making of . . .” supplement.
Theophile Gautier is referenced several times, first with a quote from his 1836 short story, “La Morte Amoureuse”, and with the short story read by a young woman, Harriet, who is camping in the woods. The passage quoted is of a woman sucking the blood from the wound of a man. Gautier is credited with writing one of the first known literary works about vampires. Harriet also likens her two male friends with her as being similar to Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori, the trio that shared ghosts stories, resulting in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein, and Polidori – The Vampyre. As it turns out, the three turn out to be closer to the would-be ghost hunters of The Blair Witch Project, also directly mentioned by one character, and alluded to when Harriet discovers that the mysterious black cloaked women can not be photographed.
Mattelano takes advantage of using a RED camera, to film with an agility that was not available for Larraz, both in the use of available light and in camera placement, with frequent overhead shots. Unlike the original which was filmed in England, this new version, also in English, was filmed in Spain. Definitely a remake worth seeing, and so very appropriate for the Halloween season.