Director: Amando de Ossorio
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

In the late 1960s after the arrival of Paul Naschy's LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO (known in the States as FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR), the popular Spanish horror cycle was just starting to boom. Known also as MALENKA THE VAMPIRE, THE VAMPIRE'S NIECE, THE BLOODY GIRL, and a number of other titles, FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD is the first genre feature written and directed by Spanish horror specialist Amando de Ossorio who would go on to deliver the remarkable quartet of "Blind Dead" zombies films (1971-1975), and its a solid entry in his weird and wonderful filmography.

Rome fashion model Sylvia Morel (1950s Swedish starlet Anita Ekberg, SCREAMING MIMI) receives a letter telling her that she’s inherited a castle from some long lost relatives, and that she's also been given the prestigious title of countess. When she arrives by plane, she discovers a so-called uncle that's as young as she is. The tall, gaunt uncle, Count Walbrooke, is played by Julián Ugarte, who had just donned a vampire's cloak and fangs for LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO/FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR and is here doing pretty much the same thing. The castle is properly eerie, strange things naturally occur at all hours of the night (including S&M sessions in the dungeon), and Sylvia learns of her family's undead history and a centuries-old look-alike relative named Malenka who was burnt at the stake for practicing alchemy (Ekberg essays this role as well, sporting a black wig in a sepia tone sequence). When fiancé Dr. Piero Luciani (RED SUN’s Gianni Medici, here billed as “John Hamilton”) and his wisecracking buddy (César Benet, here billed as “Guy Roberts”) show up looking for Sylvia, they become vampire hunters along with a drunken doctor (Carlos Casaravilla, another familiar face from FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR) and the superstitious locals.

A Spanish/Italian co-production shot largely in Spain, FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD might inhabit some light, comedic stuff (accented by Carlo Savina’s more playful than sinister score), but it’s still essential Euro horror in all its typical 1960s vampire movie splendor. Let’s call it an atmospheric horror semi-spoof that well-prepared de Ossorio for subsequent assignments. The authentic Madrid castle interiors and exteriors give the film a lavish appearance and there are many bosomy ladies strutting around to serve as rousing eye candy. The influence of Hammer’s Dracula series is obvious (and welcomed), notably the locals’ old-world cynical reaction to Sylvia’s announcement (about staying at “the castle”) in a tavern filled with busty barmaids as well as the way Ugarte commands his vampire bride as if he was channeling Christopher Lee’s feisty Count. There’s no nudity in the film, but there’s a highly erotic raven-haired vampiress in the form of actress Adriana Ambesi (TERROR IN THE CRYPT) who can hardly contain her low-cut lacey black nightwear, and although some consider Ekberg well past her prime here, she’s still stunningly beautiful. The cast is filled with Spanish horror regulars, including sultry Rosanna Yanni (COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE) and ravishing Diana Lorys (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF) — both actresses who worked frequently with Paul Naschy and Jess Franco — and Fernando Bilbao (the massive actor who portrayed the Frankenstein Monster in Franco’s DRACULA, PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN). Another Jess Franco regular, Paul Muller (THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA), has a cameo as a cigarette-smoking lab doctor.

U.S. filmgoers didn’t get to see the film until 1973, as it was released here (as FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD) as part of a triple bill labeled "Orgy of the Living Dead." The other two titles on the program were REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD (a retitling of Elio Scardamaglia's THE MURDER CLINIC, from 1966) and CURSE OF THE LIVING DEAD (a retitling of Mario Bava's KILL BABY KILL, from 1966). The U.S. version ran considerably shorter than the European cuts, and the TV prints that existed for the numerous public domain DVD releases barely ran 74 minutes. Scream Factory’s new 1080p HD Blu-ray restores the film to its proper 94-minute running time and bares the onscreen title “Malenka: The Niece of the Vampire”. For anyone used to the various DVD versions, foreign VHS tapes or TV broadcasts of this title, the Blu-ray will be more than a revelation in its realistic skin tones and astonishing detail, as well as the rich colors and perfect grain structure. Anomalies are limited to some fleeting white specs in a largely clean presentation. The film is finally presented in its proper 1.85:1, so the compositions are no longer cropped as they were on previous home video versions and Fulvio Testi’s cinematography can now be fully appreciated. Included are two audio tracks both in DTS-HD master audio 2.0: English and Spanish (Castilian). Both tracks sound acceptable, with the English track (having Ekberg’s real voice) being preferable in this case. English subtitles are included.

Author Troy Howarth is on hand for a well-rounded audio commentary that explores the quickly-shot film’s place in Spanish horror history in the days when the country was under General Franco’s dictatorship. Discussed are scenes that were trimmed for the American release, that Karloff was originally wanted for Ugarte’s part, the significant locations and their use in other Spanish horror films of the period, the director, the technical crew and the cast (he surmises that César Benet is actually aka actor César Burner, later the male lead in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, and that looks to be right). The “alternate ending” (2:53) is made up of tender dialogue between Ekberg and Ugarte (in Spanish with no subtitles) which eludes to a supernatural makeup of the character and replaces the thrilling destruction of the vampire (seen in the feature), and then (after the dialogue goes back to English) a final bit between Benet and Yanni which is from THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS school of not-so-surprise twist endings (something Ossorio would also revisit later in NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS). This alternate ending (the final part of which ended up in U.S. prints) is taken from a source of vastly inferior quality, but its inclusion as an extra is most valuable for comparison sake. A Spanish theatrical trailer (2:51) is included (in Spanish with English subtitles) and the Spanish credit sequence (under the title “Malenka”) round out the extras. The cover art is reversible, with alternate “Malenka” poster art on the other side. (George R. Reis)