Fangs of the Living Dead
Fangs of the Living Dead
Review by C. Demetrius Morgan
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A woman, Sylvia, living in Rome receives word she has become heiress to a posh estate with a castle and is now, by the by, the Countess Waldrick. Upon learning of her sudden fortunate inheritance- and just why is it that deaths of family members always equate to sudden windfalls of European estates with castles in these movies?- she immediately leaves Rome and makes a bee line to Waldrick (?) in order to claim the estate and family fortune. Once there she encounters difficulties of the predictably clichéd gothic horror movie variety.
Full Screen version
Listed Jacket Run Time: “88 scary minutes”
Actual Run Time: 74 minutes
Theatrical Running Time: 98 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated. (PG)
Cast: Anita Ekberg, Gianni Medici, Diana Lorys, Adriana Ambesi, César Benet, Carlos Casaravilla, Fernando Bilbao, Paul Muller, Adriana Santucci, Aurelia Treviño, Juanita Ramírez, Rosanna Yanni, Julián Ugarte, Keith Kendal.
Director: Amando de Ossorio.
AKA: Malenka/ Malenka la risposta del vampiro/ Malenka, la nipote del vampiro/ Malenka the Vampire/ Bloody Girl/ Malenka: la sobrina del vampiro/ The Niece of the Vampire/ The Vampire's Niece
When I first popped this DVD into my player and saw the intro title proclaiming “A Ben Barry and Associates Television Release” I almost popped the disc and took it back. In hindsight I probably should have. That said it’s been a while since I purchased this title but, if memory serves, I shelled out $9.99 for it. (Have to love those impulse buys.) Keeping that in mind I‘m not sure what to make of Retromedia. On the one hand they appear to offer, when you can find their titles in stock, some nice video rarities. However the video quality never seems to be more than average. Nor, sad to say, is the information on their packaging entirely accurate. Not sure why that is. For instance I‘ve compared two old Italian spaghetti space opera titles I originally purchased from Retromedia with versions found in a 50-movie pack and a multi movie pack from Breentwood. Content wise I saw little difference between any of these versions, which leads me to suspect Retromedia is offering the exact same PD prints of movies every other budget DVD outfit offers, only at grossly inflated prices. Not cool.
Do the Retromedia titles offer anything that the others do not? Not really. Then again I have not noticed any intrusive digital artifacting in Retromedia releases, which is a plus, however there aren’t any extras. Not even trailers! Quality wise the Retromedia releases seem better on standalone players, though some interlacing problems (visible in the screen captures found in the PDF version of this review) appear during playback with certain software players. However packaging and presentation are first rate. In fact this appears to be the norm for the few Retromedia titles in my library.
Is this an indication Retromedia takes greater care in transferring their source material? Could it be some of these other budget DVD outfits don‘t care about quality? Am I expecting too much? I have many questions alas the answers are anyone‘s guess.
Overall- despite my inability to locate any comparable single release versions of Fangs of the Living Dead to make side by side comparisons with- based on previous title purchases from Retromedia I am sad to report that this version is the less than complete PD version of the movie. Do not believe a word on the jacket cover, it’s all lies. How such an incongruity in actual and listed running times could occur is beyond me. Something is definitely amiss here. I suspect this movie was originally intended as a send up of the horror genre with a Scooby Doo twist, alas this version is so severely cut that what it’s director originally intended is anyone’s guess.
The Setting: The bulk of the movie occurs within the environs of a musty old castle.
The Story: Sylvia, little miss newly coined countess, leaves Rome for Waldrick, wherever that’s supposed to be, where she intends (one assumes) to lay claim her inheritance. Sounds good so far. So what is her first stop after the stock footage plane ride? A pub set lifted straight out of a Hammer Horror where our giddy heiress drinks beer and chats inanely with barmaids! What?
Ok, so the movie is playing up the clichés. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
Depends on your tolerance level for more stock footage of a castle follows inter cut with scenes of the overjoyed heiress riding in a coach which ends up, rather predictably, at the front door of what looks to be the façade of a gothic manor house. Sylvia is informed the count never comes out at this time of day and will meet with her later that evening. Give the writer marks for effort in trying to establish a bit of foreshadowing with that scene. Alas most scenes are equally transparent and clichéd to the point that, if you‘ve seen one gothic horror movie, then nothing here will come as much of a surprise to you. Not even the double scoop plot twist “surprise” ending.
The Characters: There’s Sylvia Morell, the unsuspecting heiress who is giddy to learn of her inheritance; Count Waldrick, the mysterious uncle who sends Sylvia the letter informing her of her mother’s demise; and of course the titular Malenka, Sylvia’s mother who apparently dabbled in black magic sorcery and happens to be a vampire. A point of interest is that the actor playing the count, who is supposed to be our heiress‘s uncle, looks far too young for the part. This could easily be played up for the astute players. After all a vampire would look unnaturally youthful, but how many would catch on?
However had I traveled to a far distant European country and had to meet with said uncle I’d at least expect said uncle to be older than me. If said person didn’t look the part I would like to think that I possessed the presence of mind to, at the very minimum, question said person about his true identity. Nothing of the sort really happens here. Still it’s something to think about when next setting up a game with a vampire.
Overall the characters here aren’t all that intuitive or smart. Sylvia’s fiancé, for some inexplicable reason, has a best friend sidekick who character seems to exist for nothing more than comic relief. Indeed many are caricatures of horror clichés.
The Living Dead: Speaking of the dead, I was rather taken aback by the opening scene. When Sylvia receives her uncle’s letter informing her of her mother’s death and pending inheritance her first reaction is to call her fiancé in an orgasmic rush of joyous abandon to share the “something fantastic that happened to me”. Her mother dies and she doesn’t bat an eye or shed a tear? Guess she really hated her mother. Yet the woman left her an estate and a title! Those wacky Europeans. And the undead? The nosferatu? Those wily blood-sucking vampires? They are there, sort of. Sadly there’s not a whole lot worth writing about where they are concerned as it would give too much of the plot away.
Moral: One should always use Google to research reviews of titles before purchasing.
Suggested Game Uses
The movie does have its moments, for instance there are a few choice bits of dialogue worth borrowing such as this gem: “The coldness of the grave is in my veins.” However I’d primarily suggest this as worthwhile viewing for anyone looking to set up a game of gothic horror spiced with a pinch of humor. It’s a small pinch of humor, Fearless Vampire Killers this is not, but still very entertaining to watch. Be sure to take notes.
Thanks for reading this, my next to last DVD review of the Halloween season. I hope you’ve been enjoying these reviews as much I have enjoyed sharing these B-movie cult classics, and not so classic rarities, with you.
That said what did I think of the movie? Fangs of the Living Dead uses what has long since become the standard clichéd vampire movie formula: Woman inherits aging estate after being informed of the demise of a hitherto unknown relative. Woman travels to distant land to claim estate. Woman discovers all is not quite as it seems through a series of blunders and/or misadventures. Woman either narrowly avoids becoming a vampire only to be mistaken for her vampire relative or is bitten, thus requiring vampire hunters to track down and slay the vampire in an effort to restore the hapless heiress to health, spilling gallons of red colored corn syrup along the way. Or something roughly resembling that outline. With a few twists.
It‘s the same basic premise used in Vampire Happening, a much funnier movie for totally different reasons. What’s the difference? The writer‘s attempted to add spice to an perennially bland and overused plot recipe with a pinch of silly black magic and witchcraft shenanigans ala Scooby Doo. Which means Fangs should be far more suitable for family viewing that Vampire Happening. The plot also has its dark twists and turns, but they are more akin to the sort found in a Scooby Doo cartoon.
There were times I wondered if this movie might have been intended as a send up of the horror genre. Only those with full the uncut version may know for sure. I have to admit to a bit of morbid curiosity about what those 14 missing minutes might have contained. Gore? Doubtful. Nudity? Probably not. But what then?
About the DVD itself: I was shocked to see the artifacts that appeared when I first popped the disc into my PC’s DVD player and fired it up to generate screen grabs. On my normal set up the picture, though a bit grainy, looked fine. Too, since discovering that the title is available from a number of other budget DVD distributors at a list price that’s nearly a full half what I paid I can’t help but feel just a wee bit the fool, especially now that I know the disc contained not the 88 minute version promised but what is presumably the 74 minute TV edit. Do I regret my purchase? Not really. This movie is classic bad B-movie horror kitsch. Too, knowing that it actually once played as part of a triple feature at Drive-ins makes me wonder how many actually watched this one. I’ll bet not a lot!
DVD Rating: 1 ½. (Note to Retromedia: You owe us 14 minutes of movie!)
Movie Rating: 5 ½. (TV edit.)
Perspective: Originally released to theatres in Europe circa 1968 as Malenka. Written and directed by Armando de Ossorio (Tombs of the Blind Dead, Return of the Blind Dead, Night of the Sorcerers) starring Anita Eckberg (S*H*E, Killer Nun, The Mongols) Fangs of the Living Dead played in the U.S. during the early seventies with Curse of the Living Dead (Kill Baby Kill) and Revenge of the Living Dead (The Murder Clinic) as part of the Orgy of the Living Dead drive-in triple feature.
Negatives: I feel gypped. Cover blurbs are designed to make a movie sound as appealing as possible and we’ve all learned to take that jacket synopsis with a grain of salt. However to list the wrong running time is a blatant misrepresentation of the contents of a DVD. As a consumer I don’t like being lied to. No matter how you look at it 74 minutes can’t be padded out to the “88 scary minutes” listed on the back cover. I mean, c’mon, Retromedia didn’t even try to cover their arse by including extras! There is no excuse for such erroneous sleeve information, most especially when the sticker price happens to be well above that of competitor’s versions of the exact same title. As such I would caution against blind purchases from Retromedia and suggest their titles be approached with the following time tested warning in mind: caveat emptor. I‘ve not, as yet, added this company to my “never buy from list” but I certainly wont rush to purchase their releases without researching them first ever again.
Positives: With Amazon dot com listing competitors releases of this title starting at $3.88 there is not much positive to say about this release beyond the packaging was ok, the disc art looked nice, and the video quality was not bad. Alas the video quality wasn’t exactly great either. On a stand-alone unit the picture is a bit grainy, but tolerable, however when played back on my PC it has visible interlace artifacts and, when not viewed in full screen mode, skips with a jerky motion every now and again. The upside being you can probably make some adjustments to fix this with certain software players.
Availability: In addition to the Retromedia release at least one prolific budget DVD distributor, Brentwood, has this title listed for sale both as a single release and as part of their multi movie pack line. Additionally there are (or were) versions available from Ventura, St. Clair, and Westlake Entertainment. All versions, save Ventura‘s, list running times of 88 minutes. (The Ventura version claims a 90-minute running time.) Also available from Diamond as a double feature DVD with The She-Beast. Prices vary but should start at, or around, $3.99 for individual titles. Consider any sticker price above $7.99 for these budget releases a total consumer rip off.
Not sure if the above DVDs are worth buying? Compare the above prices to the price listed for a VHS tape produced by a PD dub house such as Sinister Cinema, which offers Fangs of the Living Dead as a double feature with Kill Baby Kill, for $19.95. That doesn’t include S&H by the way. It’s a no-brainer which is the better buy. Nor are the DVD-r offerings from “collectors” any better, many of which claim to be “uncut” versions yet list no running times or explanations of what the differences in content are supposed to be. Worse some offering DVD-r versions seem to think their gray market copies are worth $25 plus exorbitant S&H fees! Is a DVD-r in a plastic keep case (if you are lucky) and a color printer produced insert (if you are really lucky) worth $25 bucks, American or otherwise?
Guess that depends on how curious you are. I think most of us would sooner use our money as toilet paper than shell out $25 dollars for a DVD-r. If you think that’s too harsh consider this: If you get a multi-region DVD player and spend your money on imports they are going to cost just about the same, after S&H, as the list price for those DVD-r copies. Think people! Where do these “collectors”- assuming they aren‘t simply video pirates- get the movies they rip to DVD-r in the first place? That’s right from imports! Shop smart, or not, I’m just a reviewer and these are my observations and opinions.
A PDF version of this review with screen captures can be found here.
Coming soon: Horror Rises from the Tomb!
Copyright © 2004 C. Demetrius Morgan