Blood of the Virgins
Argentina / 1967
Directed by Emilio Vieyra
Starring
Ricardo Bauleo
Susana Beltrán
Gloria Prat
Color / 77 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Mondo Macabro
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
4
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
The only vampire film ever made in Argentina. And it's in color!
   Director Emilio Vieyra's Blood of the Virgins (Sangre De Vírgenes) opens with a pre-titles prologue set in the 19th Century. Buxom blonde Ofelia (Susana Beltrán), from a well-to-do family of high standing, is madly in love with the mysterious Gustavo, who wants her to elope with him. An arranged marriage to another suitor, however, looms like a gathering shadow over their secret romance. If only Gustavo would formally introduce himself to her family, perhaps Ofelia's stern father would change his mind. Yet despite her entreaties Gustavo refuses, nor will he explain why. Ofelia has no choice but to go through with the marriage. On her wedding night her jilted lover silently appears by the conjugal bed, dagger in hand. In the midst of the couple's lovemaking Gustavo stabs the defenseless groom to death. Baring fangs, he then bites the hypnotized Ofelia in the neck. Yep, he's a vampire. (Doubtless he knew this wouldn't go over well with her folks.) The pop art title card hammers this home in case the fangs, neck biting and dripping blood weren't enough.
    Cut to a cemetery, in what looks like broad daylight, with the distinctively Draculean Gustavo approaching Ofelia's grave. The earth parts to reveal her coffin, and soon the reunited lovers are strolling away amid the headstones. (Many of which are large crosses. Is director Vieyra toying with the standard vampire lore here, or does he just not give a damn? I'm not really sure if the film's many 'Undead in Daylight' moments signal a departure from convention, either, or just bad day-for-night photography. I suspect the latter. There's also the strange substitution of red-tinted seagulls for bats, which makes absolutely no sense given that bats are shown in the crematorium scene at film's end.)
    After a groovy animated credits sequence we segue straight to the 1960s. For the next 10 minutes or so we follow a group of swingin' twentysomethings three women and three men on a skiing vacation in Patagonia. There is no dialog here, just little vignettes of the them hitting the slopes, seeing the sights, partying and making out. This is capped by a goofy go-go sequence at a nightclub in which two of the girls dance topless on the bar, shimmying with licentious gusto. (It's a purely gratuitous means of getting more nudity into the picture but I have absolutely no problem with this.) Revelry dispensed with, the group is next seen driving through the night along a desolate rural road. Their rented landrover runs out of gas, forcing them to make for a supposedly deserted lodge on foot (and actually exchange dialog). The place seems abandoned but once settled in they encounter a silent, creepy butler who brings out a decanter of wine, then disappears. One of the guys, Raoul, forgoes the refreshment and instead wanders off to explore the lodge by candlelight. His companions all fall into a drugged sleep, during which Gustavo appears and takes advantage of the slumbering gals. Raoul encounters Ofelia, who wastes no time getting him into bed; apparently content with physical love, she does not bite him. When Raoul awakens alone in the morning he discovers that his girlfriend Laura and the other two female tourists have disappeared. The guys search for them to no avail.
    Now I'm probably making this sound much more interesting than it really is. Mildly diverting up to this point, the film takes a decidedly dull turn as the police are summoned to find the missing girls and one by one they turn up, each suffering the ill-effects of Gustavo's bite. Laura is put in the hospital and her brother a new character that contributes nothing to the story (other than to also be seduced by Ofelia) shows up to help Raoul. By now, not much of anything is really happening that's truly interesting. (Other than Beltrán's nude scenes, I mean.) The movie just plods along to its rather flat climax, which, though bloody by the standards of the day, is something of a letdown. The problem, I think, is an almost utter lack of dramatic tension... No one takes up the mantle of vampire hunter; there isn't a single confrontation between the undead and the humans. Displays of female flesh aside, this inevitably results in boredom. I'm starting to yawn just thinking about it.
    Though often tedious, Blood of the Virgins remains an interesting curio for its Latin American spin on the tried-and-true vampire tale, especially when compared with the contemporary product of the world's then-foremost purveyor of undead cinema, Britain's Hammer Films. Hammer was still firmly entrenched in the gothic milieu at this time. Blood of the Virgins was made in-between the release of Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968); the Argentine film's difference in tone and eagerness to push boundaries could not be more striking. It seems odd that Vieyra, working in what was then a repressive police state, could make a horror film replete with sex, nudity and sangre while Hammer would take three or four years to catch up. (Argentina's government eventually banned Blood of the Virgins, it should be noted.)
    One aspect of the movie still leaves me puzzled, though... Just who are the "virgins" of the title supposed to be? There isn't a single unsullied maiden in the entire film!

Previously released in the U.K. for Region 2 DVD, Mondo Macabro brings Blood of the Virgins to North America in exemplary style, complimenting an obscure title with a terrific set of bonus features. As for the presentation of the film itself, the fullframe transfer used here isn't exactly pristine but is reputedly taken from the best existing elements. Generally it looks great. The only letdown is the somewhat scratchy audio. Fortunately it's adequate to the task and doesn't compromise enjoyment of the show. (Since the film was never dubbed into English, dialog is in Spanish with easy-to-read subtitles.)
    I wasn't really expecting to get many extras with a movie almost no one's ever heard of, so my surprise was a pleasant one. An episode of the U.K. TV show Mondo Macabro provides an entertaining overview of Argentine exploitation films. Divided into two segments, the first concentrates on director Emilio Vierya (best known for his gonzo horror-sex thriller The Curious Dr. Humpp), who comments on the many problems he had with government censors, while the often banned films of Isabel Sarli the sultry, bodaciously stacked sex goddess of the 1960s are the focus of the second. (After seeing clips of her in Fuego, I have firmly resolved to eventually see that notorious flick!) Also offered: a
Blood of the Virgins still gallery, trailers for eight Vierya films (to include action movies, dramas, and even a musical along with his forays into horror), another terrific Pete Tombs essay, and the same Mondo Macabro promo reel seen on the Mill of the Stone Women DVD. 3/30/04

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