I remember very distinctly reading this 1987 New York Times blurb on the Cuban animated film ¡Vampiros En La Habana!. And in the years from 1985 to 1990, vampires had turned the corner, for me, from something to fear (yes, I was very much afraid of Dracula and his brethren as a child) to something alluring and powerful. “The Vampire Lestat” was ubiquitous on the bestseller lists, The Lost Boys promised a world of eternal youth and rock and roll, and the Marvel graphic novel “Greenberg the Vampire” was an erotic fever dream I couldn’t comprehend but just went blam in my hormone-addled seventeen year-old mind.
I had thought all the while that Vampires in Havana was one of those sexy Nelvana adult animated movies, like Heavy Metal, Fire and Ice, or American Pop. But I finally took it in this, the year 2019, and discovered its a goofy, weird stylized film, with sophomoric sex and some terrific music.
And then there’s the Cuban revolution.
Vampires in Havana (1985)
Director: Juan Padrón
Writers: Ernesto Padrón, Juan Padrón
Notable Voice Cast: Frank González, Manuel Marín, Irela Bravo
Plot: I’m going to take this one on myself. In 1930’s Havana, Pepito, a young lusty trumpet player, discovers he is a vampire and a descendant of Dracula and that his uncle, who bears the delightful name Werner Amadeus Von Dracula, holds the secret to a special formula that allows vampires to live under the sun. Pepito has a girlfriend Lola (which doesn’t stop him from making time with the evil general’s wife) and a gang who also bedevil the evil general in attempts to overthrow the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado. Meanwhile, rival vampire mafia gangs from Chicago, Germany, Italy and Spain descend upon Cuba in order to gain control of the formula. A madcap chase involving all parties ensues.
Commentary: Vampires in Havana is charming, bizarre, lewd and sexist all at once. It has a sort of Fritz the Cat vibe minus that movie’s mad genius. The animation style is cute and would lend itself to a family friendly work were it not for the type of story that it is. A modern viewer might get caught off guard by the double whammy of the time and cultural gap. The general’s wife is pretty much the worst kind of female character ever, and ethnicities are portrayed with their respective exaggerations, which is jarring.
There were some nice moments of Cuban music courtesy of famed jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. There was also a live action vampire film in a brief scene that looked just terrific.
Ultimately, Vampires in Havana is a raunchy and very entertaining love letter to the Cuban revolution, and so…
What We’re Afraid Of: The film’s metaphors are the furthest thing from subtle. The vampire gangs, who are comically corrupt and morally awful, stand in for capitalism and colonialism, ready to suck the island dry, while the plot condemns the ruling elite of pre-Castro Cuba.
But, [HEAVY SPOILERS] the film’s ending is very relevant to today’s United States, where healthcare and pharmaceutical drugs are tools to concentrate and amass wealth. Pepe broadcasts by radio the secret vampire formula in a charming, wonderful song backed by a great band, and robs it of any of its capitalistic value, bringing joy and hope to vampires over the world.
We’ve had moments where we could choose a generous path with pharmaceuticals, and we haven’t. What’s the current price of insulin these days? Will our scientists really not be motivated if they make millions as opposed to billions?
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