J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, June 11, 2018

DWF ’18: The Lake Vampire


There have been some colorful serial killers in Latin America, like “The Ogress of Colonia Roma” in Mexico, “The Rainbow Maniac” in Brazil, Dorángel Vargas (“The Hannibal Lecter of the Andes’) in Venezuela, and Fidel Castro & Che Guevara in Cuba. However, Zacarias Ortega (also of Venezuela) can top all of their body counts put together, except maybe not Castro and Guevara. He claims to have killed under many names including the titular media-created moniker in Carl Zitelmann’s The Lake Vampire (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Dances with Films, in Hollywood, CA.

It is a heck of a mystery. A rash of severed heads have been discovered, but rather disturbingly, their missing bodies were drained of blood before they were decapitated. It is exactly the sort of lurid case that could be failed novelist Ernesto Navarro’s next book. However, the killings attributed to the so-called “Devil of the South” are not the first time this M.O. has been encountered in Venezuela. Retired police detective Jeremias Morales has investigated at least two other serial killings that employed the same technique. During the course of those inquiries, Morales starts to suspect Zacarias Ortega and Ramon Perez Brenes are indeed the same person, especially after his suspect tells him so directly.

Lake Vampire is a super-creepy fusion of a real-life blood-sucking serial killer with some darkly fantastical speculation. It is also one of the most adept films at employing flashbacks for dramatic purposes. Zitelmann hops back to at least three prior time periods, but he always maintains temporal clarity and justifies each rewind with some juicy revelations. Slyly, he preserves a great deal of ambiguity regarding the killer’s true nature until the big climax, but his sinister vibe signals something unnaturally infernal is afoot.

Regardless, the procedural stuff is smashingly effective, thanks in large part to Miguel Ángel Landa’s understated but quietly driven performance as Morales, sort of in the tradition of Morgan Freeman in Se7en, but much more existential. Abilio Torres nicely mirrors him as the younger Morales seen in considerable flashbacks. Plus, Eduardo Gulino chews the scenery Hammer-style as the various possible incarnations of Ortega.

Whether you decide to classify Lake Vampire as a serial killer film or a vampire movie, it is arguably one of the best of either sub-genre to come along in a good while. Granted, the final-final conclusion is a bit of a letdown, but that is par for the course. What matters is how the film gets there—and Zitelmann takes us on a really twisty rollercoaster ride. Unusually smart and unsettlingly eerie, The Lake Vampire is very highly recommended for thriller and horror fans when it screens tonight (6/11), as part of the 2018 Dances With Films.

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