Vampus Horror Tales
Directed By Isaac Berrocal, Erika Elizalde, Manuel Martínez Velasco , Víctor Matellano & Piter Moreira
Reviewed By Giles Edwards
A sinister gravedigger plays host to four horror stories, each directed by a different first-time filmmaker.
When it comes to making anthology films, three questions need asking: Does your emcee justify their existence? Do your stories have enough in common to justify co-presentation? And are those stories worth the telling in the first place? When it comes to Vampus Horror Tales, a compendium of four (or five, or six, depending) horror shorts, the answers themselves come up somewhat short. While intermittently impressive (and happily never boring), this splash of spine-tingly scenarios doesn’t quite satisfy. Like an atmospheric aspic, everything served hovers by itself within its confines, with each bite separate from the rest, never quite gelling.
The host for this offering is one Mister Frettes (Saturnino García), though he will continue to insist on being called “Vampus”. This eccentricity is never explained. Events kick off with a Youtuber / influencer / millennialist beardo who brags further that he “rate[s] films for niche websites”. This sly nod is wasted on the cemetery man, a flippant old soul given to incongruous laughter, who guides the viewer through the film. (Daniel Emilfork, of City of Lost Children fame, could have pulled this off, but García just doesn’t seem to feel the role.) Vampus stars in his own series of little scenes throughout, while also cropping up at the end of each featurette. His cutesy and inept quipping during his introductions and cut-scenes rudely wrenches the viewer from whatever atmospherics the storytellers have arranged.
The stories are all creepy in one way or another, but aside from that broad descriptor, the four films don’t sit together so much as sit in each other’s vicinity. La boda (“the Wedding”; dir. Manuel Martínez Velasco) presents an intriguing, existentialist take on punishment: two lost souls stuck in an emotional loop with overtones of reiterative doom; Cumpleaños (“Birthday”; dir. Erika Elizalde) explores the separate thoughts of a young lesbian couple that has grown apart while they travel through a spook ride; Segunda Cita (“Second Date”; dir. Isaac Berrocal) kicks off impressively with an unsettling cat-and-mouse battle between a resourceful blind woman and her tediously grandiloquent abductor, but succumbs to rote melodramatics before terminating its story prematurely; and Linaje (“Lineage”; dir. Piter Moreira) deftly fuses pandemic terror with vampirism, only to conclude with a beautifully filmed self-sacrifice doomed to act as a mere setup for Vampus to dish out yet another dispiriting punchline.
Sometimes, however, things work out beautifully—and much credit for this should go to David Cortázar, the cinematographer. A tunnel shot in Cumpleaños is worthy of great Film Noir; the husband in Linaje, carrying his afflicted wife through a large doorway into a flooded abandoned grand hallway is both touching and beautiful; and an inter-film scene involving a blind lottery ticket salesman, a drunken would-be lothario, and the titular Vampus is shot and cut like a funhouse fever dream. Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention a quirky running gag that is the only common element to each of the stories: the wares of a mysterious hotdog vendor are plot points for each of the short films (particularly Linaje, where we learn that the world is suffering from a horrible disease dubbed “the Hotdog Pandemic”).
I was never bored during Vampus Horror Tales, and I was always curious as to what would come next. On their own, each short ranged from “good enough” to “recommendable”; but the cemetery man’s antics were mostly a silly distraction from this showcase of talented young filmmakers. I hope to experience the visions of Martínez Velasco, Elizalde, Berrocal, and Moreira in the future—without interruption by a groan-inducing hotdog of a gravedigger.
Isaac Berrocal – (segment: “Segunda Cita”)
Erika Elizalde – (segment: “Cumpleaños”)
Manuel Martínez Velasco – (segment: “La Boda”)
Víctor Matellano – (segment: “Vampus”)
Piter Moreira – (segment: “Linaje”)
Film major & would-be writer.
Follow Giles on Twitter: @gilesforyou