Fangs of the Living Dead

January 9, 2011 at 8:50 pm (5 Heads, Fangs of the Living Dead) (, , , , )

Fangs of the Living Dead – 1969 – Italy/Spain

A Spanish flick, set in Italy, starring Miss Sweden (Anita Ekberg in two roles), Fangs of the Living Dead is typical Euro vamp grue (see The Vampires’ Night Orgy and The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman). With a spooky castle, family curses, sultry women and stoic men, Fangs of the Living Dead is traditional, some might say played out. It’s definitely comfortable in its genre.

An Italian model with a ridiculous accent inherits a countryside castle surrounded by townie superstition. Having never seen a vampire movie, the model visits the castle and meets her sinister Count uncle, his wrestler-like manservant, and the mysterious sexy vampire Malenka. Anita Ekberg plays the model and Malenka both, which I never realized—an impressive feat! Talky back-story ensues until the model is convinced by the Count to break up with her fiancé and stay forever in the castle. Character motivations are pretty illogical—just go with the flow. Her fiancé (a doctor denying the supernatural) and his horny comedic buddy come to the castle where the plot unfolds predictably until the Count is killed and everyone else returns happily to civilized Rome. Move along.

Fangs maintains interest with gothic atmosphere. The castle is a true stone monstrosity with claustrophobic halls, dusty wooden furniture, iron chandeliers, and faded tapestries. I’d have appreciated more location shots, but what’s there seeps ambiance. Also, there are some genuinely ominous moments amid the endless dialogue scenes. In one, the model flees through underground crypts. The formally interesting tunnels, high contrast lighting, and oppressively reverberating sound create dread. Another time, Malenka makes a nocturnal visit to the model. Gliding in her black dress, her face is equal parts menace, innocence, and blankness.

Speaking of Malenka, no vamp flick is complete without sensuousness. There’s tastefully no nudity, but the cast is 80% voluptuous women, barely covered in low blouses and slit skirts. Malenka’s and the model’s relationship has lesbian overtones, especially overt in a sexualized biting scene. Beyond that, there are several ambiguous whippings and a hair pulling catfight. It’s very stylized and never explicit (making it more intriguing), but the intent is obvious.

Technically, Fangs is a mixed bag. Most DVD versions are full screen and the compositions suffer, but they didn’t seem interesting to begin with. Occasional moments are beautiful, but mostly the shots are static with flat overly bright lighting (people like to sleep with the lights on). Other than some Theremin warbles and a wailing discordant pop theme, the music is forgettably unobtrusive and has the typically gloomy feel you’d expect.

Fangs is good like all 60s and 70s Spanish horror flicks are. It has a gothic sensibility, emphasizing atmosphere over gore. Unfortunately, it’s drearily derivative, without style, energy, or strong performances (no Paul Naschy here) to separate it from the pack. The thrills are there, but they are lots of other places too. Fangs is for the diehard fans.

Rating: 5/10 Shrunken Heads. You’ll find chills if you try hard.

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