Obscure Horror Cinema: Vampires in Havana

by William Burns

Because of a truly damaged political relationship, the rich cultural history of Cuba has largely been ignored in the U.S. (with the exception of music of course). Thankfully, Alejandro Brugués’s delightful Juan of the Dead has opened up a much needed outlet in the States for Cuban horror films. Brugues’s ingenious use of zombies as a metaphor for the devastating consequences of Castro’s dictatorship is particularly relevant, yet there was another film that used a horror motif to comment on Cuba’s political history 27 years before. That film was the animated feature Vampires in Havana. Directed by famed animator Juan Padron, Vampires in Havana takes place in the pre- Communist days of Cuba, when corrupt regimes and the Mafia ruled with an iron hand. The glitz and glamour of the casinos and night clubs were in stark contrast to the crushing poverty of the Cuban people. Trumpet player Joseph Amadeus von Dracula (whose trumpet parts were played by famed jazz musician Arturo Sandoval) is a part time revolutionary working to overthrow Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado. His uncle Werner Amadeus von Dracula has been keeping a secret from Joseph, they are vampires, descended from Count Dracula himself. Werner has perfected a formula that allows vampires to exist in the daylight. Chicago gangsters and a group of European vampires are both muscling into Havana, looking to obtain the formula for their own nefarious reasons. Padron’s movie is a horror comedy that critiques the foreign manipulation and colonialism that sought to drain Cuba of its resources, necessitating a popular revolution to stop the very real bloodletting that kept the vast majority of Cubans under the heel of dictators supported by organized crime and global corporations. Obviously, the anti-capitalist message of the film made it impossible to see in the USA during the Cold War, but with that great equalizer of the internet, Vampires in Havana is available to all. 


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