Friday, October 26, 2012

Blood of the Vampires (Gerardo de Leon, 1966)

I would have loved to see the original version of this film, which is also known as Curse of the Vampires and Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin. But with the sad state of the Philippines' film preservation efforts decades ago, I'll take whatever version is out there. At least the film didn't disintegrate like Daigdig Ng Mga Api, which is allegedly the masterpiece of maestro director Gerardo de Leon. 

The horror film's English-dubbed version, which I've seen, is from a video transfer. Blood of the Vampires is the video release title although I think Curse of the Vampires, its international release title, is the better and more appropriate English title. 

The Escudero family is under the spell of a curse. Every family member, excluding the patriarch, will become vampires. The matriarch, long thought to be dead by her two children, wakes up every night thirsting for human blood. A near death experience convinces the Don to modify his last will. In the event of his death, the evil-possessed mansion will be razed down to the ground!

There are some gaping holes in the plot. What triggered the intense hatred of Daniel for Eduardo? Who or what killed the matriarch? How was she killed? These gaps lead me to believe that the running time of about 80 minutes is a truncated one.

The dubbing is another matter. There's no dialogue that connects to the original title, Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin. In what context was the title line uttered? Was it uttered at all? The English dialogues don't amplify enough why Amalia Fuentes won the Best Actress award from the FAMAS group. The make-up though was a knockout. The transfiguration of the evil Leonore to the good beautiful lady is a stunning one. I can't help but noticed the resemblance between Amalia Fuentes and Hilda Koronel. 

The film Blood of the Vampires is unfairly lumped along with so-called B-movies of our national artists, Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero. It is more than a mere horror chiller. The script, by Ben Feleo and Pierre L. Salas, alludes to the Philippines' colonial relationship to Spain. The Spanish mestizo Eduardo Escudero (Eddie Garcia) commands utmost obedience from his indio wife-slave. The blood-thirsty Escuderos, bearers of the shields, are vanquished not by sunlight but by a cataclysmic fire. The resource-sucking Spanish colonizers, caught up in a sweeping conflagration of war among nations, eventually succumbs to the United States of America. 

The odd mix of disparate elements make the movie a unique viewing experience. The mise-en-scene reminds me of Francisco Coching's detailed illustrations. The use of authentic dungeons, and eerie lighting effects add a creepy feel to the proceedings. There's also a tinge of incest in the affairs of the Escuderos. The English dubbing, though, sticks out like a festering wound. I almost forgot the reprehensible use of black-faced servants. Why the need to portray them as blacks? 

A recent news article has a Japanese web site ruing the loss of a Filipino-made film titled Batman Fights Dracula. If the film is as good as the Dolphy starrer James Batman, then indeed it is a quite a tragedy. Film buffs are left with no recourse but to look forlornly at the poster. Meanwhile, they can check out James Batman and Blood of the Vampires. The latter may not be a top-rate de Leon film but it is good enough to earn a slot in movie scare-athon plans this Halloween break. 

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