Friday, November 19, 2021

Las vampiras (1969)

... aka: She Vampires, The
... aka: Vampires, The
... aka: Vampire Girls, The

Directed by:
Federico Curiel

Reduced to acting for the likes of Al Adamson, David L. Hewitt, Ted V. Mikels and Coleman Francis in a number of God awful films in the mid-to-late 60s, John Carradine essentially said "Fuck this!" and went down to Mexico to try his luck there. And, well, he basically ended up starring in a bunch of junk there, too, but at least this junk was a bit more fun, had slightly higher production values and was a change of pace. Plus he was always prominently billed and probably treated like the big star he was. While these films may have expanded his international appeal a bit, they don't appear to have done much for his Hollywood career since he was back acting for some of the same hacks when he returned to America. To my knowledge, none of the Carradine Mexican films ever received an official English-language release. Some did play in U.S. theaters, though; distributed by companies like Azteca Films and Columbia Pictures, but in their original Spanish language forms only. And Carradine, who did not speak Spanish, was always dubbed.

Carradine's Mexican output started with playing Satan in the ghost comedy Autopsia de un fantasma / "Autopsy of a Ghost" (1968), which also featured Cameron Mitchell and Basil Rathbone (in his final role), and the very interesting surreal short subject Los chicles / CHEWING GUM (1968), which was originally meant for a larger aborted project. He continued the following year playing a Nazi mad doctor in Enigma de muerte / "Secret of Death" (1969; also directed by Curiel), another mad doctor hoping to restore a formerly-beautiful woman's scarred face in MADAME DEATH (1969) and, you guessed it, yet another mad doctor, this time working on a youth serum, in Pacto diabólico / "Diabolical Pact" (1969). His fourth 1969 Mexi-horror, Las vampiras, at least didn't cast him as a mad doctor for the fourth time in a row, but instead as the temporarily deposed King of a vampire clan.

Carradine opens the film playing himself in an amusing, though brief, to-the-camera monologue explaining to us the ties between bloodsucking and Satanism and claiming that Edgar Allan Poe himself believed that vampires existed (which I highly doubt!) and thus so should we!

We then meet up with wrestling star Mil Máscaras (aka The Man of 1,000 Masks aka The Man Who Goes Through More Wardrobe Changes in a Single Film Than Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra) as he flies into town in his monogrammed airplane and then goes to an arena for a wrestling match against "Black Man" (he's black in case you were wondering) that lasts over 5 minutes. While driving through the country later that night, Mil and his personal assistant (Manuel Garay) witness a car accident. They find no one inside the wreckage, but a bunch of bats fly out as soon as they open the door. Later, "Black Man" disappears before a scheduled re-match and, again, bats are spotted flying out of his dressing room. Our hero begins to suspect that vampires are responsible and, since this is titled Las vampiras, he would be correct. Meanwhile, another bat witness, private eye Carlos Mayer (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.), hits the TV news to let the public know he saw bats emerging from a stolen Transylvanian airplane that recently landed in Mexico, but he's laughed out of the studio by the host.

After helping him do some research, Mil's secretary Alicia is found dead in her home; drained of blood and with fang wounds on her neck. The policemen on the case scoff at Mil's suggestion she was killed by a vampire. The wrestler then teams up with Carlos to investigate. The two start by checking out the Omega Cemetery, which is a breeding ground for all things evil because it was built by (gasp!) atheists and contains no crosses or religion doodads. They encounter more bats when they break into the tomb of Veria, the Countess of Alucard, who's been buried there since the 17th Century.

Now revived, Veria (María Duval) has taken up with a slew of other mujeres vampiro led by Aura (Marta Romero). Representing the Transylvanian sect of vamps are Badja, Cripta and Xenia, while Aludia, Boza and Zuedla are the Mexican reps. They all wear green, full body spandex bodysuits with wings and stand around flapping their arms up and down. The vamp chicks are all pissed off because nearly all of their ancestors have been wiped out by vampire hunters. Now there are no vampire men left... Well, except for one: Count Branos Alucard (Carradine). Though he was once "Supreme King of the Vampires," Branos is now elderly, half-senile, impotent and almost powerless due to a previous attack that left an oak splinted permanently lodged in his brain (?!) Due to his weakened state and psychological problems, he must be locked up in a cage. At least that's the story power-mad Aura is trying to sell everyone.

What's really going on is a struggle for power between Aura, who now proclaims herself "Queen of the Vampires" and Branos, who is merely faking his madness to trick her. Right now, Aura's got the upper hand since he's locked up and she can starve him and keep him weak. Branos claims he'd be just fine to lead them if only he could get a little blood. Caught between the two but more sympathetic to Branos, Veria orders a "Satan's Trial," which involves a dance of the vampire girls ritual as they leap around, spin in circles and flap their wings, which is hilarious but, to be fair, also fairly well-done as they at least hired real dancers to perform it instead of making the actresses do it. The rite concludes with Veria and Aura having to duel with torches, which unfortunately gets interrupted by more pressing matters. The girls are forced to temporarily put their grievances behind them for the good of their species.

Aura's wants to enslave men and find only the most athletic, courageous and intelligent men to transform into vampires to help them repopulate. Mil Máscaras and Carlos become targets because they were already spotted in Veria's crypt, which also puts a target on the back of Carlos' girlfriend Marian (Maura Monti). The vampires eventually acquire a posse of obedient muscle men, who are infected with some kind of virus that makes them brainless but gives them the ability to function as slaves for hundreds of years.

There's a booby-trapped room with a giant mace, a bunch of string bat attacks, a Vaseline-smeared nightmare sequence, lots of unflattering cone bras, boring scenes of a police lieutenant (Dagoberto Rodríguez) snooping around, a "tournament" where Mil and Carlos have to face off against armed warriors to prove themselves, fantastic opening credits featuring cut-outs of beautiful women's faces and blood-dripping letters and Carradine facing the indignity of trying to threateningly rise from a frilly, tasseled pink and purple coffin. The finale is weak and unexciting, but there's plenty of good dumb fun to be had before then.

I'm not aware of a single official home video release for this title, not even in Mexico. If you stumble across a DVD or DVD-R release, it's a bootleg. The version I happened to watch was recorded off Univision affiliate KMEX Channel 34 out of Los Angeles.

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