Monday, July 18, 2022

“Some Vacation! Boring, Boring Boring!” - The Brides Wore Blood (1972) - Film #234

It is time to return to Florida for the regional vampire film The Brides Wore Blood (1972), the final film of director Robert Favorite, who had previously directed the exploitation films Riverboat Mama (1969) and Indian Raid, Indian Made (also 1969).

Some of your universe's critics fail to appreciate Mr. Favorite's masterpiece. For example, reviewer writes, "For God's sake, don't watch this unless you can spare a few brain cells or have a twelve pack that needs to be drunk in about an hour and fifteen minutes." Reviewer cherry writes, "It was steadily going downhill from the start but it REALLY takes a turn in the second half when the writers just threw in everything but the kitchen sink and hoped it would pan out. It didn't." And reviewer Kurt M. Criscione writes, "What a slog.... so slow and boring... great title and good premise and just crap..."

These reviews must be corrected immediately. Please read on for the truth about The Brides Wore Blood...

The story opens with a young man and woman lying in a bed in a basement. When the man rolls over, he find something in the corner of the basement. “Far out! Looks like a secret compartment,” says his lover. They pry open a cement block while the man explains, “My family’s lived here for over 200 years.”

“I know,” the woman replies. “My mom has a fit every time I come over here.” (It is unclear whether her mother is worried about the age of the house or the length of the family’s tenure in the house.)

They find a box behind the cement block. While they open the box, the man continues to explain the history of his family, which involves his uncle raising his father in the house. Inside the box, the couple finds the uncle’s journal. After a little back-and-forth about the morality of reading the journal—a back-and-forth that lasts upwards of five seconds—both of them begin to read the journal, the narration of which switches from the young man to his uncle, Carlos, who provides us with a flashback.

Fortunately for the audience, the journal begins not with the quotidian events of Uncle Carlos’s day but with an investigation into ghosts and vampires. “The legend of the DeLorca curse has some basis in fact. Family records show that while trying to contact spirits from the other side, the ceremony was interrupted when some evil”—pronounced, of course, “eeeevill”—“force was released and consumed Grandfather’s very soul. He thought he became a vampire and killed his own wife. The records state that each succeeding male descendant would suffer the same fate. I must do everything in my power to prevent this happening to my nephew Juan.”

Uncle Carlos (who resembles the offspring of John Carradine and Martin Scorsese) visits a medium, Madame Von Kirst, to try to break the family curse.

This visit to the medium leads to a flashback within a flashback as Carlos watches the culmination of his grandfather’s performance of the curse, viewing the scene inside a jeweled amulet. In the vision/flashback, the bearded grandfather stalks a woman through a castle, eventually biting her neck.

The film cuts to a Florida motel, where a platinum blonde woman finds a piece of paper stuck to the motel’s mirror with the address of Madame Kirst. The woman immediately visits the psychic, though she is a skeptic. After a reading using an ordinary deck of cards, Madame Kirst sends the woman to her destiny—which involves her flying to another city.

Meanwhile (or, perhaps, in a different flashback), Uncle Carlos sends letters to four women who must be present at a ceremony to break the DeLorca family curse. 

Perhaps predictably, the film cuts to a sleeping man who resembles Leonard Nixon that we have never seen before and the snake that crawls curiously up his shoulder.

The man with the snake is named Perro (perro means dog in Spanish, implying certain secrets that are unfortunately not paid off). Uncle Carlos wakes Perro up and reminds him and his pet snake that they have chosen four girls to break the curse. Perro, who is both mute and socially awkward, goes outside to what appears to be a miniature golf course to find young women, to whom he gives flyers about a tour of the Casa DeLorca mansion. Of course, the women Perro approaches are curious about such a tour; a waiter tells one of them eloquently, “It just might be worth your while to meet young, rich Mr. DeLorca himself. You get what I mean?” Such a positive, non-creepy recommendation sways the young woman and she smiles, anticipating her tour of the mansion.

At night, the invited women arrive at Casa DeLorca and Perro (“that funny little man”) gathers them to wait in a living room. Eventually, Uncle Carlos greets them. “Oh, where did you come from?” asks one of the young women.

“From out of the ancient past,” replies Uncle Carlos. He then leads the women through the mansion as the filmmakers dissolve between various paintings and statues, mostly of cupids and cherubs. At the end of the tour, Uncle Carlos tells them about his nephew Juan, though they are not to meet him tonight, and says, “Now I must ask for payment.” He explains, “Payment is that you lovely ladies be my guests at dinner tomorrow night and meet my nephew Juan.”

The next day, one of the women, Laura, meets two of the others (somehow, they talk to each other in a marina from a distance of at least one hundred yards; somehow, the two bikini-clad women give Laura a ride in their two-seater convertible, and the film cuts just as they open the door for her to climb inside).

At night, all four invitees return to Casa DeLorca and meet Juan and Uncle Carlos for dinner—a dinner that begins with Juan slipping some powder into the cognac he brings to Yvonne, one of the women (the one who had previously spoken to Madame Kirst). The conversation turns to marriage and families. Uncle Carlos explains, “I do believe that a family heritage should be passed on through a son.”

One of the women, Dana, says, “I imagine every man does. But first, there’s love and marriage.”

The conversation strays to Uncle Carlos telling the story of how he employed Perro as a servant—a story that flashes back to Perro’s shack burning down in a fire. After this story, Laura leaves for a late-night date with her boyfriend (a date she mysteriously fails to keep) while Yvonne passes out on a sofa. Somehow, Uncle Carlos convinces Dana and Vickie to spend the night with Yvonne in the mansion, mostly because carrying Yvonne outside would “disgrace her.” Dana and Vickie go to their rooms and change into white nightgowns; Vickie complains, “Some vacation! Boring, boring, boring.”

Elsewhere, Laura’s boyfriend waits for her in a bar. The bartender, who coincidentally had served Yvonne earlier, tells Laura’s boyfriend all about the curse: “Supposedly, the master of the house has to pick a girl for a bride and when the first child’s born, she dies. I know it sounds weird, but I’m just telling it the way I heard it.” The boyfriend puts two and two together, inferring Laura might be in danger because she is having dinner with three other girls at the cursed house. He goes to the house but finds its gates closed so he impotently bangs against them before climbing over the fence.

Inside the house, Uncle Carlos explains his situation to Laura, who has been tied to a table. “I’m about to perform a conjugation,” he says, “which will allow Yvonne to conceive a child. Unfortunately, you are needed as an altar.” Uncle Carlos injects Laura with a sedative, a process shown in shocking detail that lasts several minutes.

Meanwhile, Laura’s boyfriend enters the house and assaults Perro and then Uncle Carlos. He manages to untie Laura and help her away from the table, mumbling, “There’s got to be another way out of here.” (The question of why he doesn’t want to escape the house by the same path he entered it is left unanswered.)

After losing Laura, Uncle Carlos, who has now inexplicably become both a werewolf and a vampire, uses occult powers to control Dana, waking her from her bed and forcing her to walk to him and submit to his biting her throat. Uncle Carlos also revives Perro telepathically. 

Yvonne, the intended mother, wakes up in a bed, then climbs out and explores the house—going upstairs instead of phoning the police, running away, or doing anything else that might be considered productive. In perhaps the film’s most horrifying sequence, Yvonne finds Vickie lying prostrate on a bed with bite marks in her throat, and is then chased by a knife-wielding Perro.

When Yvonne reaches Dana, who stands in a corridor with her back to Yvonne, Dana turns around to reveal rather large vampire fangs.

Before she can be killed or vampirized, however, Yvonne is rescued by Juan, who tells her she had a nightmare. Despite being dressed like the assistant manager of a small local bank, Juan uses the emotionality of the situation to seduce Yvonne. When she falls asleep, he says, “There is no hope. You will be my wife and carry my child. The curse must be fulfilled.” (The film remains cleverly and suspensefully ambiguous about whether the women have been lured to the mansion to break or fulfill the curse.)

Meanwhile, Laura and her boyfriend have trapped themselves in the basement behind a chicken-wire door, where they attempt to fight off a robed, green zombie/mummy—a fight that ends in the boyfriend’s death by machete.

After Laura is strangled to death, Uncle Carlos makes the zombie/mummy vanish by pointing a crucifix at it. At the same time, Juan climbs into the bed of the sleeping Yvonne.

The next morning, Uncle Carlos apologizes to Yvonne because the curse is being fulfilled and she is pregnant with Juan’s vampire child. “I’d kill myself rather than have a thing growing inside of me.”

“There’s still hope. I’ve written to a friend, and I trust she’ll be able to help us.” Of course, he is talking about Madame Von Kirst, who sent Yvonne to the Florida mansion in the first place.

When the psychic arrives, she performs a ceremony over Yvonne’s sleeping body. “I summon the evil from within to be expelled,” she incants, somewhat confusingly. After the ceremony, she tells Uncle Carlos that they won’t know if the spell was successful until the baby is born, but everything should be okay because all the vampires will remain in their coffins until then. When Yvonne awakes, Madame Von Kirst encouragingly tells her, “Don’t worry, my child. Everything will be taken care of.”

Unfortunately for the protagonists, the filmmakers introduce more complications. The police find a corpse (presumably Laura’s) nearby that has been dead for seven or eight months, indicating the pregnancy is close to completion. (The police are never seen or mentioned again.)

Inside the mansion, we hear Yvonne’s desperate thoughts: “Oh God! To be the mother of a vampire’s child! And after the baby comes, then what? Will they kill me, or will I become like Dana, a thing? I’ve got to escape or die.”

Yvonne is not completely hopeless, however. She convinces Perro to take her for a walk. She is so pitiable that Perro agrees. As soon as they exit her bedroom, the clumsy Perro trips down the stairs and falls over a railing. Yvonne takes advantage of the coincidence by locking herself in a downstairs room. Unfortunately for her, she has locked herself in the large room where the coffins of Juan and Dana are stored.

In a creepy scene, Dana rises from her coffin and attacks Yvonne.

At the last minute, Uncle Carlos rescues Yvonne by breaking a broom and using the sharpened handle as a stake to destroy the undead Dana.

Of course, the final confrontation is between Uncle Carlos and Yvonne, but Juan is quickly dispatched when Yvonne pulls a curtain down, exposing him to sunlight. 

In the chilling coda, Uncle Carlos returns Yvonne to her bedroom. Alone, she decides to kill herself using a shard of a shattered mirror. This grim scene is intercut with Uncle Carlos and Madame Von Kirst discussing the curse, with the psychic pronouncing, “I’m certain the child will be born normal.” 

Will Uncle Carlos reach Yvonne in time to tell her the baby will be normal?

Sadly, no. They are too late, finding Yvonne after she has plunged the mirror shard into her belly.

The film simply ends without returning to the original flashback device in which the young lovers found Uncle Carlos’s journal.

The End

If you have read my appreciative description of The Brides Wore Blood, you no doubt realize that a major touch point for the film is the vampire films of Mr. Andy Milligan. Robert Favorite's film follows Mr. Milligan's The Body Beneath (1970), a film in which a family of vampires plots to continue their lineage by breeding with an unsuspecting woman. Whether or not The Body Beneath was an influence on The Brides Wore Blood, they are complementary films, and of course both are high points of vampire cinema, though they have their differences. For example, The Brides Wore Blood is filmed in a relatively sedate manner, with the camera rarely moving, a far cry from Mr. Milligan's style of swinging the camera back and forth to emphasize moments of horror. Other than the stylistic differences, however, both films are sensitive depictions of depressed vampire families attempting to deal with family curses by luring attractive women to various mansions.

One question remains: Do the brides actually wear blood? The answer is more complex than might be expected. This is because there are no brides in the film. Pregnant women and vampire women do bleed in the film, so perhaps a better title would be The Pregnant Women and Vampires Wear Blood.

Yes. That is a much better title.