The Vampire’s Coffin directed by Fernando Mendez
In the ordinary course of things, a movie sequel begins production only after the original film has proved itself a success at the box office. This, however, was not the case with the sequel to the 1957 Mexican film El Vampiro. Producer Abel Salazar, apparently, felt so confident that his film would be a hit — and it was; tremendously so — that he began work on that picture’s follow-up even before the first one saw the light of day. That sequel, released in ’58, was called The Vampire’s Coffin, and does what all good sequels should: expand on the story line and themes of the original, bring back characters from the first (four, in this case), and do its darnedest to top its predecessor. Like its more famous forebear, The Vampire’s Coffin, directed again by Fernando Mendez, must be deemed a complete success.
When we last saw the Count Duval (played here again by Spanish émigré German Robles) — revealed to actually be the vampire Lavud — in the first film, he was lying in his coffin with a stake through his heart, courtesy of the elderly Aunt Maria (Alicia Montoya). The sequel picks up days, possibly weeks, later, when Aunt Maria unsuccessfully tries to stop a pair of crypt robbers from stealing the titular coffin. The casket is coincidentally brought to the very hospital where Dr. Enrique (whose actual name, we learn in this film, is Enrique Saldivar, played again by Abel himself), the hero of the first film, works, and where his current flame, showgirl Marta (Ariadna Welter, who played the damsel in distress in film #1), is for some strange reason helping him out. Trouble looms, however, when one of the tomb raiders, Barraza, removes the stake from Lavud’s chest, reanimating the undead bloodsucker and commencing all the nastiness once again…
The Vampire’s Coffin has a very different feel than its original. Whereas that first film took place in the countryside, with an emphasis on its hacienda in the middle of nowhere, the sequel feels more urban, and transpires in what seems to be a small city. The main selling points of the first film — the remarkably dreary sets of Gunther Gerszo, the stunning B&W cinematography of Rosalio Solano, and those amazing, stationary mists — are largely absent in the second; though Gerszo also worked on the sequel, his sets here are more mundane, but fortunately, Victor Herrera’s lensing is often quite remarkable. What this film can justifiably boast is some very impressive use of light and shadow, most especially in the scene where Lavud chases a young woman down a nighttime street. Still, the first film LOOKS better than the second; it is more artfully composed, with numerous scenes that you just want to freeze and admire.
But the second film, if more prosaic, certainly moves quicker, and is more action oriented. Among the many exciting sequences is the one in which Aunt Maria tries to escape from Lavud and his hypnotized, thuggish henchman in a dreary wax museum, replete with fully functioning guillotine and iron maiden; the one where Enrique fights that same henchman, Barraza, on a high ladder perched atop a playhouse; and the wonderful finale, in the wax museum again, where Enrique fights it out with Lavud (as he had in the first film) whilst Maria lies nearby, in dire peril. Some truly exciting sequences in this follow-up, to be sure!
Truth to tell, when I first watched the film in question, I was somewhat appalled at how stupid Enrique was acting. In several scenes, he voices the opinion that — despite everything he had witnessed in the first film — Lavud is not a genuine vampire, but merely a normal man who likes blood! Wha? How can any reasonable man be so naive? A repeat viewing, however, made me realize that Enrique was merely trying to cover up before his coworker, Dr. Mendoza (the other tomb raider), as well as dispel Marta’s fears and concerns; Enrique redeemed, and all that. Abel, as usual (I have also seen him in such wonderful Mexican films as The Brainiac, The Man and the Monster and The Curse of the Crying Woman), is a nicely ingratiating performer, and I was relieved to realize that his character had an ulterior motive for his seeming callowness. Still, Enrique does come off a bit goofier in this film, by dint of the picture’s emphasis on amusing situations, such as Enrique being unable to explain to his hospital boss just HOW that coffin has disappeared, and his failed attempts to convince the police that there IS a vampire flapping about. Fortunately, the film never devolves into silliness, and the amusing bits are kept in check.
One strange inconsistency that I did notice, in what is otherwise a seamless continuation of the original, is the matter of Lavud’s reflectiveness in mirrors. In the first film, he is completely invisible in a mirror — as is Marta’s vampiress Aunt Eloisa, too, for that matter — but here, he appears as a skeleton in a reflecting surface; only his skin is invisible. Don’t ask me to explain; maybe it has something to do with being staked and coming back? But despite this possible glitch, and despite the film’s aforementioned difference in tone and feel, The Vampire’s Coffin remains a very fine sequel; a perfect double feature, natch, when viewed following the original. And thanks to the good folks at Casa Negra, both films are currently available on great-looking, extras-packed DVDs. Not for the first time, thus, am I being compelled to say, with gratitude, “Gracias, Casa Negra!”