AKA: ¡Vampiros en La Habana!
Genre: Dark Comedy/Supernatural
Year Released: 1985
Distributor: Vanguard Cinema/Gorgon Video
Running Time: 69 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 17+
Related Films/Series: More Vampires in Havana
For Fans Of: Fritz the Cat, Ghost Stories (anime), Shawn of the Dead, Santo vs. The Evil Brain
-Director Juan Padron is a winner of Cuba’s National Film Award and he got his start as a cartoonist before getting into animation.
-Film Buff Bonus: Vampires in Havana utilizes one of the most famous film quotes that no one ever said when a character says “Play it again, Sam!”. Well, looks like FINALLY there’s a movie that used that quote and it’s NOT Casablanca!
-Hilarious in Hindsight: So let me get this straight. Pepito is able to go outside any time despite him being oblivious to his vampiric heritage for most of the film? That means him and Blade have a ton in common in that light. Am I the only one who notices this?
Here’s a country I’ve never covered here on Iridium Eye: Cuba! It’s been a while since I’ve covered anything from Latin America, but I must have missed that country when looking for cinema in that part of the world. This would also be the second time I would review an animated film made in the Americas that wasn’t made in the USA with the first being the Brazilian movie Boy and the World. A movie like this could be a nice change of pace as my film reviewing heart was in Havana-na-na-na.
Come on, that Camilla Cabello reference was unavoidable, and you were thinking of that song when you saw the title! Anyway, moving on…
Vampires in Havana starts at first during the nineteenth century where there are various factions of vampires across Europe and America. There have been experiments in the vampire community in order to function in sunlight, but several experiments have failed. One experiment was Count Dracula (yes, THAT Dracula) melts like the Wicked Witch of the West after being exposed to the antidote. His son Werner Amadeus von Dracula and his nephew Joseph “Pepito” Amadeus von Dracula flee Europe and move to Cuba. Pepito was able to be the successful test subject of this formula called Vampisol (or Vampisun) that makes vampires immune to sunlight, but he isn’t aware of his heritage. It’s in the 1930s in a pre-Castro Cuba, so Machado’s police are investigating any potential revolutionaries that Pepito is affiliated with whenever he’s not playing trumpet or hanging out with his girlfriend Lola. Meanwhile, the European vampire mafia is beefing with the Chicago mafia to get control Vampisol and to have a monopolistic control of that invention. Pepito is caught in the crossfire once he finds out he’s a vampire as the Chicago mafia, Europe cartel, and Machado’s policemen especially when he finds out his blood-sucking uncle wanted Vampisol to be something for free to the vampire community worldwide.
The premise of this film certainly had me intrigued. Seeing vampire cartels wanting financial fiat over other markets was fun. I also thought it was funny how the Chicago mafia had indoor beaches or how some vampires have bars underneath blood banks which get the blood from the patients discreetly appearing in some kegs. There was some creative world building while parodying elements of vampire lore such as crosses, silver bullets, or how some vampires like certain types over others (O positive is considered the tastiest to them and have vintage blood saved as if it was wine). Those were some aspects that made me laugh in this film. I even thought Pepito’s solution to this manhunt was hilarious which I won’t spoil, but it was certainly original in it’s humor. The soundtrack also works at it mixes Cuban jazz with some spooky forms of incidental music in between. The concept of Werner’s wish to make Vampisol for free was an interesting metaphor for having some services for free. Yes, one could make a solid argument that ties into what happened after Machado lost power, but it doesn’t have to be communist or socialist fodder and it’s not really preachy.
Vampires in Havana has more elements than not which really sucks though. The animation was mediocre for it’s time period. I’ve seen Hanna-Barbera cartoons made a decade before this film that were just as good, if not better animated than his film. There were also offensive portrayals of some Black Cuban characters who are straight up Sambo archetypes. No, just because you have Lola who’s biracial (she’s explicitly mentioned as a mulatto in passing), it doesn’t give anyone carte blanche to enforce racism elsewhere as I’ve mentioned in my Rabbi’s Cat review. I also thought the humor got way too bawdy like domestic abuse played for laughs and rampant nudity like a poor man’s attempt to make a Ralph Bakshi work. One example of some humor that I found offensive was one minor character from Spain bragging that if it wasn’t for the Spaniards, then the Cubans would just be Tainos wearing “feathers on their asses”. I’m not even Latino and even I found that to be uncalled for I can’t believe that character got away with a line like that. I also didn’t care for most of the characters as they were more archetypes than real characters since many of them were one-dimensional in their personalities.
Feel free to skip Vampires in Havana. The animation is subpar and most of the jokes were too unfunny or too offensive to really get into. Sure, there were some cheap laughs and creative world building, but that didn’t save this film from being watchable for me. Someone can drive a stake through this movie, and I wouldn’t care a bit. This animated dreck is all too passable. Well, at least it’s slightly better than Twilight, I guess.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-3 if you like vampire movies.
Subtract 1 point if you don’t like bawdy adult humor.
-Creative world building with the vampire communities
-Pepito’s solution to the Vampisol conflict in the end
-Shoddy animation production
-Offensive stereotypes of Black Cubans and the Spaniard’s comment about Cubans
Final Score: 2/10 points
Content Warning: Vampires in Havana is nothing family-friendly like the Hotel Transylvania series or Frankenweenie if you’re looking for monsters in animated films. The language is very strong in both the Spanish and English dialogue (the film uses both in one audio track). Since it’s a vampire movie, expect tons of blood in darkly comedic ways like the blood bank hijacking scene. Characters do get shot, die, and there’s dark humor throughout. The sexual content is definitely R-rated with multiple instances of nudity and Pepito’s trumpet playing having an ability to make women play with their breasts worse than Taki did when he was in Mistuha’s body in Your Name.
All photos used under US “Fair Use” laws. Vampires in Havana is property of Juan Padron, Vanguard Cinema and Gorgon Video. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of Vanguard Cinema and Gorgon Video.