Wide World of Horror: ‘¡Vampiros en La Habana! (Vampires in Havana’)

¡Vampiros en La Habana!images (1)
Written by Ernesto & Juan Padrón
Directed By Juan Padrón
Cuba/Spain/West Germany, 1985

Comedy in horror is very hard to pull off. Many horror comedies are produced every year, and very few of them are worth the time spent to watch them. There are some horror comedy gems, but there are far more that are forgotten about the moment the viewer is done watching them. Those are the middling horror comedies, the ones that don’t possess exceedingly positive or negative qualities. They don’t stand out from the crowd, and that’s why they are so easily forgotten. Heavy political subtext notwithstanding,  ¡Vampiros en La Habana! is an easily forgotten horror comedy.

In terms of animation ¡Vampiros en La Habana! is, to put it as succinctly as possible, no great shakes. The animation found in ¡Vampiros en La Habana! is dodgy at best, and most of the time cheap and garish looking. The animators behind ¡Vampiros en La Habana! wouldn’t have their work confused with that found in a Pixar Animation Studios film. Rather, the animation in ¡Vampiros en La Habana! looks like it was done by a group of guys sitting in a bathroom stall at a truck stop. Harsh words, but the animation in ¡Vampiros en La Habana! is quite harsh looking. Of course, the roughness of the animation fits the roughness of the story. This is, most likely, a case of the animation being mangy out of skill and intention.

The story in ¡Vampiros en La Habana! is very, very, very, very stupid. That’s a lot of very, but ¡Vampiros en La Habana! features a story that is worthy of as many stupids as possible. Again, this is probably an instance of a stupid story matching both the skills and the intentions of the writers. The word stupid is not being used as an infantile insult, rather it is a fitting description of the story found in ¡Vampiros en La Habana!. The state of the story in the film is easily the main reason why the comedy aspects of Juan Padrón’s film do not work. The story isn’t funny, the characters aren’t humorous, and none of the jokes land because stupid does not equal funny.

There is a lot of political subtext to be found in ¡Vampiros en La Habana!. It’s not the type one mulls over, or the type that spurs one on to some sort of political course of action. Instead, the political commentary in ¡Vampiros en La Habana! is of the cheap and easy variety. Cuba is a tiny little island that just wants to get by and it is caught in the games being played between the European and American powers. The film makes this obvious in its first ten or so minutes, and it repeats this commentary for the rest of its run time. Maybe the commentary is true, but that doesn’t make the commentary poignant or well done.

To say that ¡Vampiros en La Habana! doesn’t entice anyone to seek out more Cuban horror. Hopefully some of the more recent entries from Cuba into the horror genre, like Juan de los Muertos for instance, fare better. ¡Vampiros en La Habana! is a flawed film from beginning to end. It wants to be funny, but it comes across as stupid. It wants to be politically astute, but it’s far too repetitious and simple minded for that. ¡Vampiros en La Habana! wants to be a zany and memorable horror comedy, but it’s a one and done film that is easily forgotten the moment the last reel flashes across the screen.

-Bill Thompson

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