Fangs of the Living Dead is the English-language version of Malenka or Malenka: La Nipote del Vampir among others and it also happened to be the first horror film directed by Amando de Ossorio, the man responsible for the Blind Dead series of films. For a first outing, the man did a good job and created a fairly moody picture filled with all the hallmarks of good Spanish/Italian horror films including a dastardly villain, a very gothic atmosphere and more than enough beautiful women to satisfy any movie-goer. In a film dealing with vampires, the one thing that you would expect to see at some point, especially by 1969, is blood and sadly, it was noticeably absent. Atmosphere can take you so far and there are times when it has worked magnificently like in Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, and it does indeed work here, but it would have been nice to see de Ossorio take a little bit of a risk and beef up the horror aspects of the film to actually make it more frightening than it was.
The greatest failing this movie had was not living up to expectations as you maybe go into this expecting something akin to Hammer or even Bava. It was suspenseful and there was some notable tension present when the lead character played by Anita Ekberg was first confronted with the truth of her family’s heritage by her uncle, Count Walbrooke and an excellent score to carry everything along. The film also played the gothic angle quite well and the castle setting was used to full effect, sometimes feeling bigger than it was and quite imposing, while at others, small and claustrophobic, particularly whenever Sylvia felt the urge to leave and never return. The problem with it all was that it was simply not as scary as it could have been, even should you watch this in the dead of night. It is more drama than anything else and that is not a bad thing by any means, but it feels like watching an episode of Dark Shadows more than anything else. The one thing which can be called horrific in this film was the burning of Sylvia’s ancestor who was supposed to have been a witch. It is due to that fact that the entire family is supposedly cursed and why Sylvia cannot leave. In all though, the movie was a pretty tame affair and it is a bit of a shame as de Ossorio could have done so much more.
Ekberg put on a good showing and managed to convince the viewer of her character’s innocence and while she was the star of the entire thing, it was the other women who would steal it from her – Adriana Ambesi sporting a very revealing outfit and Diana Lorys who could be found working at the pub. Indeed, even Julián Ugarte was a little more animated in his performance than Ekberg and made for a really good villain. There were a couple of moments that dragged and depending on which version of the movie you saw, of which there are at least a few – some of it would fail to make sense.
Despite all of its faults though, Malenka or Fangs of the Living Dead – whichever cut you manage to see, is still worth the time to seek out and give a watch, if only to discover where de Ossorio began his career directing chillers and to enjoy a little slice of early Italian and Spanish horror.
3 out of 5