(aka The Mark of Death)
I have to admit, I’m beginning to become fond of Mexican Horror films.
Now I’ll admit that’s because I’ve been steered towards some of their best, like El Monstruo resucitado, The Black Pit of Dr. M, The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales, and The Macabre Trunk, not to mention such silly but wildly entertaining films as The Ship of Monsters and La mujer murcielago [The Batwoman].
And The Mark of Death is one of the good ones. It has a lovely, Universal Studios look to its moody black and white cinematography, plenty of sinister goings on, and a classic mad scientist’s plot which is more that a little reminiscent of Hammer’s The Man Who Could Cheat Death which came out two years before (or perhaps the earlier The Man in Half-Moon Street).
Back in the 1890s, Dr. Malthus has found the secret of immortality. He now cannot die. Unfortunately, he can only stay young if he injects himself with the blood of young people — and the locals object to him kidnapping young girls and killing them when he gets caught red-handed (literally) so he is put on trial and hanged.
Seventy years later, his great-grandson discovers his secrets and revives the corpse of the original Dr. Malthus. The problem is that Dr. Malthus wants to stay alive at any cost, and is soon back to his old tricks, gathering a group of young girls in his private dungeon to feed off of. And young Dr. Malthus’ fiance is next on the menu…
Perhaps the best scene in the film comes when Malthus’ descendant finds the lab and we discover that the desiccated skeletons of his victims are still there. One can understand the locals not finding the ones in the secret dungeon, but surely they would have done something about the one still on the operating table! Okay, it doesn’t make much sense, but the image is potent.
When we first see the lab in the 1890s, it resembles nothing so much as those labs we’ve seen in so many of the Hammer Frankenstein films: about the only thing that’s missing is Peter Cushing.
However, when the young Dr. Malthus brings everything up to date, it ends up looking more like a mad scientist’s lab from a 1930s Universal Horror, complete with the big lights and lots of levers. It is supposed to represent the advancements of modern science, but, again, it is so right that we can ignore just how silly it all is! (although that small plastic radar dish looks suspiciously like it came from some kid’s toy, circa late Fifties or early Sixties…)
I watched this one with auto-translated auto-subs which left a lot to be desired, to put it mildly, although it made more sense than some of my attempts to do so have. Fortunately, there are a lot of silent scenes — some of the best and most suspenseful parts of the film — and it isn’t too hard to figure out what is going on. I’m not sure whether that was because the director wanted to put this one on the American market, or whether he was merely far more talented than your average B-Movie director. Either way, it ends up being far better than most of the cheap horror films of the era. Or of the Thirties and Forties, which this one resembles far more.
One word of warning though: Jerry Warren was responsible for the English language version of this one, Creature of the Walking Dead (1965). Like all of his attempts to transplant foreign films to the U.S. market, it features long, incomprehensible dialogue scenes to explain the new plot he grafted onto the story. You are better off ignoring it, and putting up with subtitles.
Even if they were auto translated and auto subbed.
So if you love classic Universal horrors and the Monogram and PRC horror films that imitated them– or even if you love the classic Hammer horrors — this one is definitely worth a look. It’s suspenseful, has a few great scenes and looks great.
And, above all, it is yet another reminder that not all Mexican films featuring masked men wrestling with each other.
Some of them are actually pretty good.
Like this one.