Tuesday, March 22, 2011

'Fangs of the Living Dead' has no bite

Fangs of the Living Dead (1969)
Starring: Anita Ekberg, Julian Ugarte, John Hamilton, Diana Lorys, Adriana Ambesi, and Guy Roberts
Director: Amando de Ossorio
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A model (Ekberg) is summoned to her ancestral home to receive her inheritance. She comes under the influence of her sinister uncle (Ugarte) and the cult of vampires that is forming around him.

"Fangs of the Living Dead" plays like a lobotomized version of "Dracula", with several scenes heavily inspired by the novel and with Ekberg's Sylvia standing in for Jonathan Harker, crossed with a "dark old house" movie and flavored with the graphic sensibilities and tight dresses of 1960s Hammer gothic horror flicks. If the filmmakers had stuck with this approach, the over-the-top acting, the melodramatic dialogue, and the dippy characters would all add up, whether intentional or not, to a hilarious send-up of the gothic horror genre. The overblown soundtrack music only makes it all the more funny. Unfortunately, it's all ruined when writer/director Amando de Ossorio tries his hand at a twist ending that tries to undo everything that unfolded in the film and reduces what was funny to a level of idiocy. And the twist on the twist doesn't help any. In fact, these are such misguided twists that one wonders if everyone involved with the production has severe memory issues, as it doesn't fit with much of what unfolded earlier. (That said, the "twist" itself could be a misfired attempt at spoofing horror movies, which would mean the movie was intended as a send-up all along; in the 1930s and 1940s, it wasn't uncommon for the supposed supernatural elements in a film to be written off through a revelation in the third act that it was all a hoax. The most blatant example of this can be found in "Mark of the Vampire".)

The film is further crippled by the fact that headliner Anita Ekberg is miscast. At 38, she was a bit long in the tooth to play the part of the "naive young heiress" and as a result she comes across more like a blonde so dumb that calling her retarded would be a compliment.

However, for all its weaknesses, the film features some nice cinematography, and the director manages to evoke a chilling atmosphere here and there, especially during the sequence when Ekberg is running around the castle in terror, and the one that riffs on the "Dracula" scene where the heroes wait for the undead Lucy in the graveyard. The drunken village doctor who stands in for the Abraham Van Helsing character is also a great deal of fun... and then there's the vamp-on-vamp battle to the death during the film's climax, one of the great cat-fights in cinematic history.

In the end, though, the bad far outweighs the good. The film rates the lowest possible Three I can give it, and it is only suitable for viewing as part of a Bad Movie Night.