Haunting the graveyards of Spain, Sr. Fettes, better known as Vampus (Saturnino García) is a grave robber, murderer, fine chef, and connoisseur of horror comics. When he’s not dispatching annoying people who refuse to refer to him as Vampus, he spends his time making sure that his pet is well fed. As we are welcomed into Vampus’s home he regales us with four of his favorite horror stories. Thus, we enter the world of Vampus Horror Tales.
The anthology film format can be a mixed bag. There’s been a handful of great anthology flicks released over the years which makes it easy to forget just how bad some of them can be. For every bona fide classic we get, there’s a couple dozen absolute stinkers out there. Sometimes they feel like an afterthought. When a creative team doesn’t have an idea strong enough to stretch out to a feature length movie, they just take all their half-baked ideas and throw them in a blender. Why come up with one good idea when you can come up with four or five mediocre ones?
I approach each new anthology film I come across with a healthy dose of cautious optimism. I go in hoping for some fun, bite-sized horror, but more often than not I get a series of disappointments whose short running time is the only saving grace.
Bucking the trend of the typical anthology, Vampus Horror Tales is a fun, creepy, and entertaining ride. It takes the time to establish distinct plots with interesting characters, and never fails to be interesting. Despite the short runtime for each segment, it puts in the effort to ensure each part tells its own complete story.
Each short is helmed by a first-time director, and while that may be a good way to court disaster, each director does a fantastic job of bringing the eclectic collection of horror stories to life. Shot in stark black & white, the movie looks fantastic. While clearly a modern film, the aura it exudes is that of an old-fashioned fright fest. If not for the modern dialogue, generous gore, and the occasional piece of technology, one might think Vampus Horror Tales was a long-lost horror classic from decades past.
Between each short, Vampus plays the role of your classic horror host. Equal parts silly, threatening and homicidally insane, Saturnino García plays the part with gusto. He’s fun to watch and seems to be enjoying himself as he hams it up for his segments.
While each story is stellar in its own right, the movie does run into a problem with tonal consistency. The types of stories range from the surreal to the mysterious, to the artsy to the genuinely disturbing. The tonal inconsistency leads to some emotional whiplash as the film progresses. The Vampus segments and the first two shorts are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, sitting perfectly within the Tales from the Crypt style it’s clearly influenced by.
Things change as we get into the third story, Segunda Cita, which eschews the fun, schlocky atmosphere in favor of a much creepier kind of horror. When Vampus returns to lead us into the final segment, his Horror Host shtick feels almost offensive in contrast to the story which had just reached its dark conclusion. It comes across as crass (and not in the fun way) to return to the silly atmosphere after what we had just witnessed.
Perhaps a rearrangement of the showing order could benefit the whole. However even then, you’ll still run into the same issue. There’s fun horror and there’s disturbing horror. Both are great but mixing them together is a bit like putting a candy bar in your meat loaf. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but generally I’d say it’s best to keep those two things separate.
Despite that, Vampus Horror Tales is a definite winner. It captures the fun horror vibe that so many others seem to struggle with. Maintaining a balance of funny, creepy, and entertaining is a real juggling act. It takes a skilled showman to pull it off. Lucky for us, Vampus is nothing if not a consummate showman.
Vampus Horror Tales is available on digital and on demand February 14, 2023.