Writer: RF Luchetti
Producer: Ivan Cardoso
Cast: Andréa Beltrão, Nuno Leal Maia, Ariel Coelho
Year of release: 1986
Reviewed from: Portuguese VHS
Back in the 1990s, I was twice invited (with my journalist’s hat on) to attend the Fantasporto Film festival in the delightful Portuguese town of Oporto. And I had a grand old time on both occasions, hanging out with film-makers and journos from around the world.
Among those people who were present on both occasions was a Brazilian fellow named Ivan Cardoso, several of whose films were released in Portugal on VHS by Mario Dorminsky, the driving force behind Fantasporto. I bought three such tapes... and they proceeded to sit on my shelf for many years, gradually becoming less and less likely to be watched as DVD became the defacto format and the number of VHS players in the Simpson household (and indeed, around the world) reduced considerably.
So now it’s 2008 and I’ve got a couple of hours access to the one remaining VHS/DVD combi when it’s not being used by either Mrs S or The Boy, so I thought what the heck, let’s watch a dodgy Brazilian horror movie. Unfortunately the first tape that I tried, O Escorpiao Escarlate, turned out to be knackered so I’ll probably never know what that’s about. However, The Seven Vampires played okay.
So, to get down to brass tacks: is this a clumsily made, naive attempt at a horror movie or is it a pastiche of clumsily made, naive attempts at horror movies? The geographical and temporal distance (As Sete Vampiras was released in 1986 so it was already a decade old when I bought a copy) robs the film of cultural reference points for this reviewer. But the Portuguese blurb includes the word ‘comedia’ so I have to take this as a pastiche. In which case I suppose it’s quite good. (Actually, I should have just checked the sleeve which proclaims, ‘Comédia, terror e... muito sexo!’)
But not as confusing as the plot, which opens with two workmen discussing a very large crate, recently unloaded from a ship. Their boss doesn’t know what’s inside either: “I only know that we have to put meat in that hole every three hours,” is the first of many superb (and I suspect, accurate) subtitles. The crate belongs to Fred Rossi (Ariel Coelho, who was in John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest and is a dead ringer for HP Lovecraft), a botanist who has shipped in a large carnivorous plant.
This rather impressive, Audrey II-style prop has a large central florette with three or four leaves/petals, each equipped with numerous long, sharp teeth, plus a dozen or more snake-like appendages, each ending in a hungry mouth. Fred’s wife Silvia (Nicole Puzzi) obviously isn’t the sharpest chisel in the toolbox because she stares at this wriggling, writhing specimen for quite some time before exclaiming, “That plant just moved!” She is off to a dance class run by her friend Clarisse (Susana Matos) and is concerned about leaving Fred alone. “Don’t worry,” he assures his wife. “The plant won’t eat me.”
Sometime later, the widowed Silvia enters into business with Rogério (Johnny Herbert - no, not the racing driver) who owns a swinging nightclub in need of a star attraction. The current show includes a fake-oriental magician who calls himself Fu Man Chu and a swinging rock’n’roll band - Bob Rider and his Crazy Rhythm. Rider is played by Leo Jaime who was a genuine Brazilian pop star, formerly with João Penca e Seus Miquinhos Amestrados. He also appeared in Cardoso’s O Escorpiao Escarlate and starred in the Brazilian version of The Rocky Horror Show! Under the Fu Man Chu make-up is veteran actor Wilson Grey, whose career from 1948 to 1996 incorporated John Hurt-starring prison drama Kiss of the Spider-Woman, a 1972 version of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and several films in the Trapalhões series, notably haunted house comedy Os Fantasmas Trapalhões, Rider Haggard knock-off O Trapalhão nas Minas do Rei Salomão and superhero spoof O Incrível Monstro Trapalhão. But the Wilson Grey picture that I most want to see is the 1977 epic Costinha e o King Mong in which popular comedian Costinha encounters a jungle tribe who worship a giant man-in-a-suit gorilla. Apparently featuring a climax in which the ape climbs the Christ the Redeemer statue, this looks like it could give Queen Kong a serious run for its money...
However, there is the possibility of a real bloodsucker as we are introduced to the long-suffering (but unnamed) Chief of Police (Bene Nunes) and comedy cop Inspector Pacheco (Colé Santana) who is less irritating than one might expect. “Two crimes in two months!” bemoans the Chief, which is either meant to be ironic or hasn’t been translated properly. Both crimes are actually murders where the body has been drained of blood and this leads the ever-alert coppers to suspect that the same person may be responsible. Pacheco is adamant that they are dealing with a vampire but the Chief poopoos this ludicrous idea.
Meanwhile Ivete (Simone Carvalho), one of the ‘vampire’ dancers, is worried for some reason and goes to see private detective ‘Raimundo Marlou’ - I kid you not - (Nuno Leal Maia) who spends his time reading detective comics but is fortunately assisted by competent secretary Maria (former children’s TV star Andréa Beltrão). Ivete is subsequently seduced by Rogério (who is supposed to be an item with Silvia now, I think) but when they return to his swanky house, he is murdered while Ivete is in the bath.
Meanwhile, back at the plot, Maria somehow finds herself in a situation to overhear a telephone call which sends her and Raimundo to a particular location. Inspector Pacheco, who is still pursuing his vampire theory (the number of murders having risen to eight now, we’re told) also arrives and the masked maniac, when shot, turns out to be... well, I’m not entirely sure because most of his face is burned, but I’m assuming it’s Fred.
Nor is there any explanation of why Fred was going around killing people or why the bodies were drained of blood. Unless being eaten by a plant not only burns one’s face but also creates haemovorous tendencies. To be fair, the synopsis on the BFI database (pretty much the only description of the film in English until now) says, “a killer vegetable transforms a scientist into a vampire, who brings horror to the chorus girls at a hotel, who are performing ‘The seven female vampires’.” But that’s really not clear from the film.
Several of Cardoso’s feature films and a compilation of his early shorts were released on VHS in the USA by Something Weird and the rights to his most notable pictures are now handled by a company called One Eyed Films, which seems to specialise in Brazilian popular cinema.
The only non-Brazilian festival where As Sete Vampiras definitely played was Sitges in Spain. At the Festival do Cinema Brasileiro de Gramado it won Best Screenplay and Zéze Macedo won a Special Jury Prize for her small but memorable role as comedy hat-check lady Rina. At the Rio-Cine Film Festival the picture won no fewer than four awards: Best Editing - Gilberto Santeiro; Best Art Direction - Oscar Ramos; Best Supporting Actress - Andréa Beltrão; and Best Film. Carlos Egberto also won an award (somewhere) for his cinematography; to be honest the film looks fairly ghastly but I suspect it was shot on 16mm and that this isn’t a great VHS transfer. Leo Jaime’s title song was a big hit on the Brazilian pop charts too, by all accounts.
As for Ivan Cardoso himself, information about the man in English is in short supply. He started making films in 1969 and has directed more than 70 since then, ranging from documentaries to experimental, abstract pieces to hardcore porn but he is best known for comedy horror features. In fact, his brand of comedy horror became its own subgenre in Brazil where it was dubbed ‘terrir’ - terror that makes you laugh. I’ve got a whole bunch of stills, leaflets, posters and other stuff which he very kindly sent me in 1999 after we met in Oporto but there’s nothing in there that looks actually biographical.
The most complete list of his films is on the CITWF website, which is vastly more comprehensive than the Inaccurate Movie Database. However, it only goes up to 2004 and therefore omits his most recent feature, 2005’s Um Lobisomem na Amazonia which stars Paul Naschy. (Not as Waldemar Daninsky but as a lycanthropic scientist named ‘Dr Moreau’!)
MJS rating: B
Review originally posted 9th November 2008