Words on the undervalued erotic vampire drama

Mexican horror filmmaker Juan Lopez Moctezuma’s 1975 American co-production MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY is a true anomaly. On one hand, it’s an obvious – if somewhat late-from-the-gate – entry into the “lesbian vampire” cycle of exploitation film that reigned throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. It certainly is kin to movies like Jess Franco’s VAMPYROS LESBOS, the Hammer Horror riff on Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and especially the Stephanie Rothman directed, Roger Corman produced Southern California sex-vamp oddity THE VELVET VAMPIRE. And yet there’s so much more going on within its meandering running time. And while it lacks the stylistic flourishes of earlier Moctezuma fever dreams like THE MANSION OF MADNESS and ALUCARDA, it is no less hypnotic and surreal, albeit in a much different, much more manic way. It often feels like a perversion of a 1970’s American prime time drama, complete with wonderfully tacky lounge music, eye-level framing and brightly-lit action.  Hell, even the fonts used for the opening titles feel like they’re ripped right out of FANTASY ISLAND.  But every time MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY settles into some class of  clean, safe, even borderline banal groove, Moctezuma steers it into absolute insanity. There are plenty movies like it and yet…there’s nothing quite like it.

The film stars Cristina Ferrare (who, incidentally starred in an episode of FANTASY ISLAND years later) as the Mary of the title, a pretty and quite obviously disturbed bisexual artist living on the fringes of Mexico. This is apparently just the latest stop for a woman who is always on the move, trying to stay one step ahead of both the law and a black-hatted, shadowy figure (the legendary John Carradine), both who relentlessly pursue her. Why? Because Mary leaves a body count in her wake. She’s a sort of vampire, a woman cursed with a disease that turns her into a killer, insatiable in her lust for human blood. Into Mary’s alternately grisly and glamorous life comes a handsome American lad (David Young, NIGHTBREED) who loves the murderess unconditionally, affections she reciprocates and the likes of which deeply compromise her lethal appetites and  life on the lam. And while Mary’s smart enough to outfox the probing eyes of the authorities, that dreaded feral man in that giallo-inspired outfit – who, as it happens is actually her equally vampiric father – is far harder to shake.

The plot of MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY drapes loosely over the film, lazily propelling a series of strange, sometimes beautiful, often erotic and occasionally deeply disturbing sequences that drift in and out of the screen like the seaside waves that Moctezuma so clearly is enamored with. Ferrare makes for an unforgettable villain/victim; when she kills, she’s savage and yet we empathize with her plight, with the struggles – both moral and physical – of her disease. No better is this dichotomy illustrated than in the stunning set-piece that sees Mary approaching a jovial fisherman whose coffee she drugs. When the previously warm and gregarious older man realizes his drink has been spiked, he tries to run, with the blade-wielding Mary clumsily chasing and slashing away at her “food”. The scene goes on for some time and Moctezuma expertly jerks our emotions around, before the pair finally collapse in a bloody, sand-stained embrace. Unforgettable.

Driving this gauzy, sexually-charged and bizarre blood opera is that lilting, aforementioned lounge music score by composer Tom Bahler (RAW DEAL), a kind of maudlin, romantic swoon that sounds like the backtrack of a skeezy soap opera, which makes sense as Bahler’s main composing credit is serving as the soundsmith for long running daytime drama GENERAL HOSPITAL. This is NOT a horror film score which – when juxtaposed against scenes of a rotting Carradine stabbing at his vampire child, or Ferrare making love to and murdering her lesbian lover, or children poking at the corpse of a real dead, beached whale – certainly creates a sense of disorientation and greasy shock. It all feels so off-kilter and wrong and that’s why it works.

MARY, MARY, BLOODY MARY is kind of a messy masterpiece. The character of Mary reminds me somewhat of Marilyn Chambers’ Rose in David Cronenberg’s RABID, but Moctezuma’s movie is a far more passionate work, a film that is as fascinated by the artistic inner life of its “monster” as it is her impulse to commit the most atrocious of acts. It’s a picture that refuses or is simply unable to behave by rational horror movie rhythms. And it’s maddening that more contemporary horror fans don’t speak on it more.