October Horrorshow: Fangs of the Living Dead, aka Malenka

The first line in Anita Ekberg’s obituary lauds her as the star of Felinni’s La Dolce Vita. One would be hard-pressed, however, to find an obit that mentions her star turn nine years later, in 1969, in the anonymous faux-gothic vampire flick Fangs of the Living Dead (originally released with the less descriptive, and less fun, title, Malenka).

A Spanish/Italian co-production, Fangs is a cheapie horror flick from writer/director Amando de Ossorio. I refer to it as faux-gothic because, while it has all the trappings of a gothic horror flick – a remote village, a castle, a suave vampire, etc. – the story takes place in contemporary times.

Ekberg plays Sylvia Morel, who early on is referred to as the most beautiful model in all of Italy. That must make Dr. Piero Luciani (Gianni Medici) particularly happy, as he is her fiancé. But, with the wedding fast approaching, Sylvia receives word from an uncle that she has inherited her estranged mother’s title and lands in Waldrock, presumably somewhere in the Balkans. Sylvia decides to travel to Waldrock to sign whatever papers or documents she needs to, then fly back to Rome with plenty of time to spare before the wedding. Of course, if things were that simple, we wouldn’t have a movie.

Sylvia arrives in Waldrock, and audiences familiar with Dracula tropes and Hammer films will find themselves in familiar territory. Sylvia is taken to her family’s castle, where she is greeted by her uncle, the Count (Julián Ugarte). The first thing he does is show her the family crypt. It’s a pretty creepy way to introduce Sylvia to her family’s legacy, but this is a vampire flick, after all.

The Count is a terror on the land, preying on the nubile women of the village to satisfy his hunger for blood and his lust for flesh. He doesn’t hide what he is from Sylvia. He wants Sylvia to abandon her life in Rome and take up her duties as countess, following in the Fangs of the Living Dead movie posterfootsteps of her great-grandmother, Malenka (also played by Ekberg in flashback), who was burned at the stake as a witch in the 19th century. Her crime was developing a serum that would allow her family to live forever, but it was this serum that turned them into vampires. It’s a slightly different take on the vampire mythos, but that doesn’t matter all that much. It’s all made up, anyway.

Meanwhile Piero, after receiving a Dear John letter breaking off the engagement, travels to Waldrock with his friend, Max (César Benet), to get to the bottom of Sylvia’s sudden change of heart.

By this time, the film is following a script that is decades old. Piero finds common ground with a local doctor, Horbinger (Carlos Casaravilla), as they attempt to put the Count’s victims to their final rest. All this leads to denouement at the castle, and a rather traditional ending. That is, it’s traditional if one is watching the mutilated 74-minute American cut from 1973 (that’s the version this reviewer saw). That version cuts twenty minutes out of the film, and it looks like some of the footage left on the floor was important, as I had to go back and check for scenes I thought I had missed. Nope, they just weren’t in the film.

About that ending I refer to above, I won’t spoil it. But the film clearly sets up for one ending, an original one at that, and then pivots to pure cheapness. There is a restored cut available for those who would want twenty more minutes of this flick. I won’t be seeking that out.

That’s not because this is a bad flick. It’s certainly not great, either. In fact, it’s shitty. But just because a movie is shitty doesn’t mean it’s bad. Shitty movie fans understand this. What makes this film shitty is the low budget, the bad dubbing, the brutal cutting, the simple nature of a very derivative plot, and a star slumming it for a paycheck, amongst other things.

There is nothing in this film which is original or groundbreaking, other than it being an early example of Spain’s fledgling horror industry. It has some interest, then, for students of that obscure genre of film, but most of its cachet is in is shittiness. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck. Well, this movie looks like shit, so…

Fangs of the Living Dead may be a chopped-up version of a better film, but that just adds to its shitty movie credentials. It does have enough bright spots in cast and plot (including the employ of chesty victims for the Count, in Diana Lorys, Adriana Ambesi, and Rosanna Yanni) that it stays out of the nether reaches of the Watchability Index. It takes over the #185 spot from Return of the Living Dead Part II. This one is for horror fans who like digging deep for their thrills.

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