'Vampus Horror Tales' Adds Spanish Flavor To The Usual Anthology Film Fare

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Oh, the horror anthology. As a cinematic sub-genre its roots lie not in film, but the pulpy realm of classic mid-20th century comic books. Those garish rags of cheap newsprint and lurid covers cast a spell on many a 1950’s child, the undisputed king of which was EC Comics, whose gasp! choke! style of bloody bite-sized morality plays filled such titles as The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories and, most notoriously, Tales From the Crypt, which inspired the equally-infamous latter-day HBO television show of the same name.

While EC’s horror line was ironically buried in an early grave after only five years thanks largely to a McCarthy-era U.S. Senate witch hunt that sought to blame comics for juvenile delinquency, those ghastly four-color terrors influenced a host of creators who went on to become spooky stars in their own right. A pair of those, Stephen King and George A. Romero, conspired to create the 1980’s Hollywood anthologies Creepshow and Creepshow 2 which, coupled with the later TV revivals of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and their close cousins Tales From the Darkside and Monsters (and R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps farther down the road), cemented short-form horror in the public consciousness.

With the advent of YouTube, Tik Tok and shortening attention spans, the anthology film’s grab-bag mentality has staged a not-so-surprising resurrection in recent years. Trick r’ Treat, the V/H/S franchise, Grave Intentions, Monsters In The Closet and I Dream Of A Psychopomp have garnered varying degrees of commercial and critical success, and now Argot Films/Vima Producciones/Racoord Films/Wild Duck Productions/Red Rum/Infilmity Video Productions latest subtitled Spanish import, Vampus Horror Tales, brings a uniquely art-house noir sensibility to the anthology formula.

Saturnino García takes center stage as Sr. Fettes, the wraparound feature’s grumbling, misanthropic host. Duty-bound to his position as a graveyard groundskeeper and aggravated by both the modern world and its insipid inhabitants, Fettes adopts the sinister persona Vampus and eagerly discusses his nihilist philosophies while luring unsuspecting victims to their deaths in order to feed his ‘pet’ zombie, Tobi. In a direct connection to those EC yarns of yore, Sr. Fettes takes time between bouts of boastful bloodletting to share four of his favorite comic book stories with the audience, and it’s here that Vampus Horror Tales truly begins.

The introductory offering, ‘La Boda’ (‘The Wedding’), focuses on Marta, a bride trapped in a junk-filled nightclub basement with her intended groom’s best friend, Santi. Bickering while they search for an exit, Santi’s constant questioning slowly reveals the vicious cycle of violent passions that put them in their never-ending predicament. That’s followed by ‘Cumpleaños’ (‘Birthday’), the movie’s weakest episode, a vignette of betrayal involving two friends lost in the tunnels of a horror-themed amusement park after their ride breaks down.

The final installments, the shocking ‘Segunda Cita’ (‘Second Date’), and vampiric ‘Linaje’ (‘Lineage’), are far stronger. ‘Second Date’ tells of Margot, a sensitive and attractive blind woman brought to a remote cabin getaway by her new beau, Alex, who quickly exploits Margot’s disability for his own perverse purposes. Stranded in an unfamiliar environment with a sociopath on her heels, the resultant cat-and-mouse chase is the film’s most harrowing sequence.

‘Lineage’ continues the tension and finishes the anthology on a high mark. Set in an eerie world where an unknown viral contaminant has reduced infected individuals to Morbius-like living vampires who shun the sun and demand large quantities of blood, beleaguered husband Marco takes his suffering wife Cami to an abandoned manor house with the hope he can feed her stolen plasma packets long enough for a cure to be discovered. As the longest and most emotionally resonant section, the juxtaposition between Marco’s dreams of what-might-have-been and gruesome reality are simultaneously heart-breaking and haunting.

Filmed entirely in moody black and white, the shadowy cinematography of Vampus Horror Tales is its single greatest asset. The visuals echo the overarching themes; this is a place of morally gray figures struggling amid impenetrable darkness, but that stylish presentation overpowers the sometimes weak narrative content. As a host, Sr. Fette’s cantankerous behavior owes obvious debt to his closest celluloid sibling, the Crypt Keeper (though the emulation is less of Kevin Yagher’s cackling animatronic ‘90’s smartass than Sir Ralph Richardson’s droll take on the character in Amicus Films’ underrated 1972 theatrical version of Tales From The Crypt), but his appearances in the movie prove to be the dullest parts. García imbues Vampus with a certain swagger, but his frequent, tedious antisocial tirades make him sound less the menacing monster than a grumpy, chainsaw-toting Grandpa Munster.

The remaining actors give far richer performances. There’s a focus on couples throughout the movie that the later installments in particular thrive on, and paired with the stylish atmosphere, such a dynamic serves to make Vampus Horror Tales a rewarding viewing experience that, while imperfect, earns a respectable 3 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.

3.0 / 5.0