Plot: workaholic ad executive dies for the job… and comes to regret it.
Argentine vampire horror has come a long way. In the Golden Age of exploitation Latin – and South American gothics took primarily after Universal Horror and Hammer Films, respectively. Reflective of our more enlightened times Dead Man Tells His Own Tale (released domestically as El Muerto Cuenta su Historia) is a horror comedy that at points is a zombie, ghost, vampire, Satanic cult, and post-apocalyptic flick. It bounces into several different directions at once yet manages to stay surprisingly coherent – even if it comes at the price of never truly developing anything that it presents to any substantial degree. More importantly, Dead Man Tells His Own Tale pushes an outspoken feminist agenda that couldn’t feel more relevant considering women’s rights still regularly get trampled on in Argentina. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale may not have the subtlety of The Love Witch (2016) or be as on-point as Shaun Of the Dead (2004), Fabián Forte is onto something – even if he’s not the Argentine Álex de la Iglesia.
This is what you get when you combine The Day Of the Beast (1995), a hetero-normative take on Vampyros Lesbos (1971), a zombie subplot out of Idle Hands (1999), spice it up with a dash of Liar Liar (1997), a bit of What Women Want (2000) and sprinkle it with the feminist theory and women’s lib angle from The Love Witch (2016). Suffice to say Dead Man Tells His Own Tale fuses together influences and inspirations that have no sensible reason to go together but somehow do anyway. It’s leagues better in terms of writing and direction than Bolivian sex comedy My Cousin the Sexologist (2016) while having that same made-for-TV look. For no apparent reason other than to look cool Dead Man Tells His Own Tale starts in medias res, is told out of chronological order, and switches viewpoint characters around during the third act. It has no reason to work but somehow it does anyway. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale is chuckle-inducing at points and some of the gore scenes are surprisingly well-realized. As the complete antithesis to Emilio Vieyra's legendary Blood Of the Virgins (1967) (with Susana Beltrán and Gloria Prat) these vampires are of the mind rather than of the sanguine persuasion.
Ángel Barrios (Diego Gentile) is a workaholic ad executive in Buenos Aires. He’s shallow, self-centered, and chauvenist and sexist to a fault. He has a loving wife in Lucila (Mariana Anghileri, as Moro Anghileri) but he ignores her whenever convenient and at this point his relationship with her is purely transactional. On top of that, he’s estranged from his precocious daughter Antonella (Fiorela Duranda). Lucila and him have been going to relation therapy with doctor Ana (Viviana Saccone) but Ángel’s not interested in improving himself and blames Lucila for their problems instead. Ángel’s best friend is his work associate Eduardo (Damián Dreizik) who still lives with his elderly mother Cristina (Pipi Onetto). One day Ángel and Eduardo are ordered to helm a commercial for a perfume brand. During the shoot Ángel scolds the hired model (Victoria Saravia) for no apparent reason. From that point forward Ángel finds it difficult to tell what is real and what’s not. He loses all track of time until one night he finds himself in a bar getting seduced by Bea (Emilia Attías), Eri (Julieta Vallina), and a woman looking just like doctor Ana. The seductresses slash his throat, and exsanguinated he ends up on the medical slab of Dr. Piedras (Chucho Fernández).
He awakens, hobbles home, and is greeted by little Antonella who immediately notices that there’s something different about him. Lucila is understandably annoyed but shrugs it off as another of Ángel’s all-night binges. When he meets Eduardo the following day Ángel is startled by his new condition. Eduardo explains that they were killed by three Celtic goddesses for their sexist - and toxic behaviour and that they now exist in a state of unlife (or undeath). To deal with their predicament he has started a therapy group with fellow victims Norberto (Lautaro Delgado), Sergio (Berta Muñiz), Coco (Pablo Pinto), and Gustavo (Germán Romero) – all of whom, just like himself, merely exist as golems. Ángel feverishly continues to work while being something of a ghost in his own household. He learns that the three goddesses are preparing for the resurrection of the Morrígan Macha (Marina Cohen) by killing all sexist males. To make matters worse Cristina indoctrinates and inducts Lucila into the cult of the Morrígan. As the cult conducts a nocturnal ceremony the dead rise, the earth splits open, and Macha is indeed resurrected. Unable to stop the looming apocalypse Lucila and Ángel are witness to how society and power structures change overnight. In the aftermath they reunite with Antonella and with more understanding of their own sensitivities they roam the wastelands in their jeep fighting to restore the world they once knew.
Well, that’s quite something, isn’t it? Let’s break down what we have here. First, the general plot concerns a chauvenist pig getting a royal come-uppance much in the way of the French comedy As the Moon (1977) or What Women Want (2000). Ángel falling under the spell of Bea is lifted wholesale from Vampyros Lesbos (1971). The Morrígan cult scene will look familiar to anybody who has seen Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971), The Wicker Man (1973), or Satan's Slave (1976). The dead rising to do their witch mistress’ bidding sounds an awful lot like Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973). Ángel not being able to tell what is real and what is not reeks of The Game (1997) and him becoming a ghost in his own house reeks of The Sixth Sense (1999). Three misfits trying to stop the impending the impending apocalypse was, of course, the whole of The Day Of the Beast (1995). Finally, it concludes with the ending of The Terminator (1984) copied almost verbatim. There’s absolutely no reason why any of these should go together, but somehow they do. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale starts out as a conventional drama but soon transforms into a ghost horror, a zombie romp, a gothic horror, a Satanic cult flick and towards the end it briefly becomes a post-nuke yarn. Under no circumstance do any of these subgenres usually go together but here the transitions are seamless. That Dead Man Tells His Own Tale never devolves into incoherence attests to Forte’s vision.
Argentinian horror has come a long way since the halcyon days of Armando Bó ushering his bra-busting paramour Isabel Sarli through near-constant controversy and into superstardom, where “la diosa blanca de la sensualidad” Libertad Leblanc hopped across genres and neighbouring countries turning heads and dropping jaws along the way, where Emilio Vieyra’s kink-horror exploits with his trusty mujer sin ropas Gloria Prat and Susana Beltrán upset censors continue to speak to the fertile imagination of cult movie fanatics everywhere more than five decades later. It was here that Roger Corman and his Concorde Pictures struck a partnership with Aries Cinematográfica Argentina to produce some of the most gratuitous barbarian/sword-and-sorcery features with locals Alejandro Sessa and Héctor Olivera and a host of buxom American starlets willing to take their tops off for the right paycheck. Expect no such excesses here. While chaste by exploitation standards Dead Man Tells His Own Tale boasts former model and television personality Emilia Attías and Mariana Anghileri among its principal cast. Attías and Anghileri combine the best of Cristine Reyes, Anne Curtis, and Fernanda Urrejola. Thankfully they act better than Bolivian sexbomb Stephanie Herala. As important as a few pretty faces and hardbodies may be to the marketability of a production, the script of Nicolás Britos and director Forte matters even more. As a bonus, the special effects are a pretty even mix between practical and digital.
It’s a question for the ages why a pretty little fright flick like this ended up with the somewhat misleading Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2017) derived title that it did. As these things go, its closest cousin is Álex de la Iglesia’s Witching and Bitching (2013). Director Fabián Forte was nominated for a Golden Raven at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (BIFFF) in 2017 and while he did not win, he might be one of Argentina’s directors to look out for. In the years since Forte has mainly been assistant directing and doing television work with no features for the immediate future. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale proves that there’s still some life to the old corpse and that Argentinian horror can still be relevant and exciting in this day and age. If titles such as Terrified (2017) are anything to go by Argentina is, just like any other country, swamped by the current trend of The Conjuring (2013) and Paranormal Activity (2007) imitations. As lamentable as that evolution is, it makes you long for simpler times when Latin America could be counted upon to deliver something different from its European and American peers. Is that still the case? That’s difficult to say. At least Dead Man Tells His Own Tale can content itself with its old school sensibilities and retro aesthetic.