Though it starts out with an impressive, ghoulish bang, Amando de Ossorio's The Night of the Sorcerers (La noche de los brujos, 1973) rapidly falls back on tired jungle adventure cliches, while its horror elements get increasingly silly and repetitive. It's hard to take the film seriously when the monsters turn out to be vampire women in leopard-skin bikinis.
The highly effective prologue is another matter. In Bumbasa (presumably Africa) circa 1910, a white woman (Barbara Rey?) is captured by a tribe of black African voodoo worshipers, who viciously whip her into nakedness, eventually raping her. They then carry her to their sacrificial altar as a party of Great White Hunters close in. Alas, they arrive moments too late - she's spectacularly beheaded - and the tribe in turn is massacred in a hail of bullets. Cut to the severed head which suddenly opens its eyes and screams in terror. (It also, by this point, has vampire fangs.)
From here the movie jumps ahead to the present day, where Professor Jonathan Grant (Jack Taylor) leads a "photographic survey of animals on the verge of extinction." Accompanying him are seasoned guide Rod Carter (Simon Andreu), his jealous half-breed girlfriend Tunika (Kali Hansa), photographer Carol (Loli Tovar), and spoiled heiress Liz (Maria Kosty) whose father, as the jungle movie cliché goes, financed their expedition. (Why rich heiresses always want to accompany explorers/scientists in these pictures isn't clear. All they ever do on these trips is complain.)
Mysterious local Tomunga (Jose Thelman) turns up, urging the band to get out of the area, but for no good reason is steadfastly ambiguous about the reasons why - something to do with a legend of "witches" that roam the area in "devil leopard" form during the day, but whom become blood-sucking vampires by night. Late that night photographer Carol thinks it would be a swell idea to wander off into the brush, alone, to take some pictures....
Though regarded as one of the premier architects of the '70s Spanish horror boom, Amando de Ossorio, best-known for his "Blind Dead" films, can't do much with The Night of the Sorcerers beyond that slam-bang prologue. Once the leopard bikini-clad vampire women turn up, the film becomes no less ridiculous than campy predecessors like She Demons (1958) and Slave Girls/Prehistoric Women (1967), both of which this film resembles. Wide-eyed with teased hairdos, the girls run through the forests in slow-motion, while their undead, putty-faced voodoo servants shuffle through their rituals with a lethargy that makes Kharis the Mummy look like a sprinter. Even the effectiveness of the opening is greatly diluted because the ritual is repeated several times during the film, always from the same angles.
Mirek Lipinski, in his fine essay on the picture included as supplementary insert, defends the film while acknowledging its general silliness. He goes into some detail about the picture's day-for-night photography, and why the decision was made not to tweak these scenes in the video mastering process (because it would alter the film's original theatrical viewing experience). Fair enough, but even by early-'70s standards the day-for-night cinematography is just plain bad. Most of the film takes place at night, but Francisco Sanchez's camerawork is never remotely convincing, probably because good day-for-night requires extra time and care this film's shooting schedule probably didn't allow. The scenes around the altar seem to have been shot on a soundstage, and it doesn't match up with the rest of the exteriors, which Lipinski helpfully reports were shot on location the "Safari Madrid" animal habitat.
The film's general shoddiness is everywhere. In the daytime, the vampire women take the form of animals, played by stuffed leopards whose heads peer out through some bushes. Fernando Garcia Morcillo's roller-rink organ-driven score is like something out of an Emmanuelle knock-off.
The tired jungle cliches uneasily mix with the '70s sexploitation elements, which in turn don't blend well with the intended horrors. Except for the frequent nudity and gore, The Night of the Sorcerers is like dozens upon dozens of jungle movies poverty row studios in Hollywood (and some of the majors, for that matter) cranked out continuously until the genre was completely played out by the end of the 1950s. If you're familiar with those movies, you'll know exactly where Night of the Sorcerers is heading within five minutes of the opening titles.
Kali Hansa especially is exotically attractive, but the vampire women are neither titillating nor scary - just goofy-looking - and the many digressions where Andreu and Hansa go off somewhere to make love only grind the narrative to a halt. The climax, which falls back on a cliché of B-Westerns, is particularly lame, as is the predictable wrap-up.
Video & Audio
Though Deimos Entertainment announced on their website that The Night of the Sorcerers's transfer would be in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, it's actually full frame. This is a big disappointment, especially since owners of widescreen TV's can't even reformat the picture to fill the 16:9 image and watch it in its original Castilian Spanish because the English subtitles will drop off the frame. The transfer otherwise is fairly good, though the framing really suffers. An alternate English-dubbed track is acceptable. Both it and the Castilian track are 2.0 Dolby Digital mono.
Beyond Lipinski's helpful liner notes, which also offers an informative biographical sketch of director de Ossorio, extras include a theatrical trailer, the original Spanish credits to supplement the English ones used for the feature presentation, alternate footage featuring less explicit footage of the girls, and a still gallery.
The Night of the Sorcerers is a very minor Spanish horror film, and the DVD's good supplements don't help the pointlessly full-frame transfer. Still, genre fans may want to Rent It, if only to catch the inspired prologue.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.