Movie Review: Fangs of the Living Dead

Fangs of the Living Dead Blu-rayFangs of the Living Dead (1969)
Directed by Amando de Ossorio
Starring Anita Ekberg, Gianni Medici, Diana Lorys, Rosanna Yanni, César Benet, Carlos Casaravilla, Adriana Ambesi, Julián Ugarte

There are times when you sit down with a movie and maybe you’re just not in the right mood, or frame of mind to really watch it. As the saying goes, you can never watch the same movie twice with the same eyes, and my experience with this title is a perfect example of this. I had seen this years ago, from a grainy old VHS tape, mainly because it was the same director as the Blind Dead series. But I didn’t remember that much of it at the time. When it came out on DVD, I course added it to the collection. I’m sure I watched it at some point, but just didn’t have a strong memory of it, meaning that if I had thought it was that great, I would have remembered it. Then the recent Blu-ray from Shout Factory came out and I was going upgrade to this new version when realized I remembered not caring for it that much. So I sat down with the DVD to refresh my memory and realized that I think I was okay with just this DVD version. Nothing really jumped out at me, so no reason to upgrade. But then I read that this new Blu-ray is actually the European cut which is a bit longer than the version I had. Then the “collector” part of me kicked in and decided I had to have this version now … I mean, it’s longer which means maybe I’m missing all the good parts! So I had to have it. Once it arrived, I sat down with it again, to see if this version was going to be another boring repeat viewing. Oh, how I was wrong.

The first thing you will notice about this release is just how freaking amazing this print looks. It is just gorgeous! The colors and the surroundings just fly off the screen. It is simply incredible the work Shout Factory did to make a little film like this look so good. And then that wonderful musical score by the uber-talented Carlo Savina comes seeping through the speakers. I’ve had the soundtrack for this for quite some time and have always thought it was just amazing.

Fangs of the Living Dead 3

Originally titled Malenka, The Niece of the Vampire, it was later re-titled in America with the Fangs moniker when it was part of the famous Orgy of the Living Dead triple feature, along with Revenge of the Living Dead (aka Murder Clinic) and Curse of the Living Dead (Mario Bava’s Kill Baby Kill). As much as I’m usually not fond of the American releases getting a new name, I think this one was a good choice.

The story is about a young woman who learns that she has inherited a castle, as well as the title of a countess. She travels to a small town in Germany, just a couple of weeks before her wedding, to sign some papers and find out the details. Once there, she learns the darker and twisted side of her family tree, and that she must now remain at the castle and never leave. The woman is played by Euro star Anita Ekberg, the Swedish model who became an actress, usually known for her performance in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), where she was walking around in the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome. While she does have a little bit of a reputation in the horror and exploitation genre, I have to say that her acting is not the greatest. In fact, I found it just terrible here. Anytime there is an intense scene, she goes quite overboard on the emotional factor, some even close to being laughable.

Fangs of the Living Dead 2

Thankfully, the rest of the cast does much better. Not that they are Oscar caliber, but at least make their characters believable and entertaining to watch. Julián Ugarte plays her “Uncle” who had beckoned her back to her homeland, telling her all the lurid secrets of her ancestors. Paul Naschy fans will recognize Ugarte from Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1968), where he played the mysterious Dr. Janos Mikhelov who was called to help the cursed Waldemar Daninsky. Even with some silly dialogue, he still delivers it completely serious and making every word count. He would also appear in Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark (1972). Another familiar face from Naschy’s pictures is Rosanna Yanni, who has a small role here as a local barmaid, as well as being one of the producers of the film. You can see her in Naschy’s Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) and Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973). Diana Lorys plays another barmaid who seems to be afflicted with anemia. Lorys starred in one of the earliest Spanish horror films, Jess Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962), as well as working with Naschy in Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974). But the Naschy connections doesn’t stop there since there are several locations here that you would see in some of his films. And while no connection to Naschy, Adriana Ambesi deserves a mention because she grabbed my attention every time she came on screen! While Fangs was her last feature film appearance, she had appeared in Crypt of the Vampire (1964) with Christopher Lee.

Fangs of the Living Dead 1

One would expect a little more skin … actually a LOT more skin to be shown on screen for being an European film, but this was made when General Franco was still in power in Spain and held an iron grip on the film industry and what was allowed and what was not. But this grip would soon loosen up considerably in the next decade.

Now as for the actual film itself, I will say that it is a bit of a mixed bag, especially the last part of the film, but I won’t go into it since I don’t want to give any spoilers. Although I might not agree with the way the story plays out, I absolutely love the way this film looks. It reminded me of some of those vampire films I watched as a kid that have all the trappings of your traditional bloodsucker movies. Beautiful and buxom women, scantily clad while roaming around at night either in cemeteries or family crypts in the depths of the castle, it would entrance me as much as one of the female vampires on screen! The film does have a little bit of the cheesy humor in it, mainly from one character, but while it does take away from the horror element, it is thankfully kept to a minimum.

Fangs of the Living Dead 4

Since Shout Factory did such a stellar job cleaning up this print, the colors throughout are on par with the likes of some of the Italian masters, such as Mario Bava. So just sitting back and admiring the look and sound of the film is well worth the cost of the Blu-ray. And yes, it is most definitely worth the upgrade. While Amando de Ossorio would become a name amongst Spanish horror fans because of his Blind Dead series, it’s great to see his start in the genre with this title.

And lastly, the film does come with an audio commentary by author Troy Howarth, who gives yet another interesting and entertaining history lesson about the film, and those involved with it. I’ve listened to several of his commentaries and have always learned more and more about these films. Never boring or rambling, he offers up little tidbits and history about the film, all the while making it like you’re listening to a friend. Okay … yes, Troy is a friend of mine, but nonetheless, I think you’ll find his commentaries a great addition to the disc and another reason to buy it! Not to mention the fact that you’ll learn a few things along the way!

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