Film Review: For Better or Worse, “Vampus Horror Tales” Plays Like a 72-Hour Film Festival
Written by: Matt Patti | February 13th, 2023
Vampus Horror Tales (Isaac Berrocal/Erika Elizalde/Manuel Martínez Velasco/Víctor Matellano/Piter Moreira, 2020) 2 out of 4 stars.
This Valentine’s Day, do you want to spend the holiday reflecting on the horrors of love? With Spanish horror anthology Vampus Horror Tales, you can! This compilation of four tales of romance-gone-wrong may leave couples a bit worried … and single viewers perhaps a bit happier with their situation. But ultimately, in the end, all viewers will likely leave the film with a similar feeling: ambivalence. While the film’s concept is a unique and intriguing one, the execution leaves a bit to be desired.
Vampus Horror Tales begins with the audience meeting Vampus (Saturnino García, Amalia in the Fall), an old gravekeeper who has long given up on the idea of love. All he sees is death, and his constant task of dealing with corpses has made him a cold person with no empathy. Vampus plays host to the film, sharing with the audience four tales of terror all centered around a relationship with a very dark end. The short films within the larger movie are all directed by a different first-time director but all are very similar in theme with only slightly different circumstances. Some are better than others; I’ll leave each of their specific plots ambiguous for the purposes of this review.
The framing device that centers around Vampus is the strongest aspect of the film. Vampus is an odd old man who actually lives in the same graveyard that he oversees. Joining him there is a horrifying pet named Toby with whom he has formed a bond. Vampus welcomes visitors to the graveyard, but he often grows annoyed and tired of others, especially those that refer to him as “Mr. Fettes.” García turns in a decent performance as the eccentric, morbidly humorous Fettes/Vampus, and his interactions with others are always intriguing to see, though his continuously offered thoughts towards these people are unnecessary. He also delivers short recaps of each short story, giving his opinion on how stupid the characters are, specifically for falling in love. These offer some good humor but are very brief and passed over quickly.
The short stories themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. The very first one is the simplest in terms of plot, yet it is the best, with two great performances and one long—but quite fascinating—conversation that gets more and more intense until the shocking conclusion. The other three short stories have their ups and downs, and all are at least a tiny bit compelling, but unfortunately, they all end with a whimper. The last moments of each are either very straightforward and predictable or simply underwhelming, given the circumstances. Overall, the short stories are a bit disappointing, and I found myself looking forward to seeing Vampus again each time.
The shorts all play out very much like a 72-hour film festival, with positive and negative results. They all contain a common theme of love and lust destroying people’s lives, and it is quite refreshing to see a horror anthology that follows a similar thread. However, some of the similarities are a bit too obvious and obnoxious, such as the inclusion of the word “hot dog” in each film. This leads me to believe that these films were all contestants of the same film festival, compiled together. That’s just speculation on my part, as I can’t seem to find anything confirming that notion, and the press materials certainly don’t mention it, but an eagle-eyed viewer can spot obvious film-festival-competition clichés.
Overall, Vampus Horror Tales has its bright and dark spots, both figuratively and literally, as the black-and-white film can be quite hard to look at sometimes, with some scenes far too dark and others blinding. Vampus is the highlight of the film with his humor and strange personality, but the short stories that comprise most of the movie fall short. Viewers will likely feel underwhelmed by the film as a whole, since the shorts are such a large part of it. In the end, Vampus Horror Tales, just like many failed relationships, will leave most audience members disappointed, though thankfully without the heartbreak.