Cuadecuc vampir (1970)

I’ve finished with the ICM Top 500 Horror list for now, and am going to spend the next few days ticking off some titles from the Jonathan Rosenbaum list. To ease us from one to the other, let’s begin with this fascinating bit of work… The Museum of Modern Art calls it “a delirious reflection on the codes and conventions of the horror film through the language of structural materialist cinema”, but I daresay they would call it that. In plainer terms, it’s a film shot during the making of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula, which the opening credits oddly ascribe to Hammer, who would surely never have let Franco near them; and yet it’s not really a “making of”, or if it is, it’s one of the strangest examples of the form ever made. Directed by Pere Portabella, we do get some views of the behind-the-scenes stuff (I particularly liked the fan device that blows cobwebs onto things), but other scenes are of a less obvious nature. What’s actually going on in some of them? We see Franco’s camera crew filming certain scenes, but if that’s what they’re really doing then wouldn’t they have also got Portabella and his crew in the picture they were shooting? Are we looking at re-enactments of the scenes acted for Franco, rehearsal footage, even bits of Franco’s own film? The absence of speech (except at the very end) only makes things more ambiguous… But if you’re broadly familiar with the story of Dracula, it’s not hard to follow, and it never looks anything less than astounding thanks to Portabella’s decision to shoot in very high-contrast monochrome. It’s a decidedly abstract retelling of Dracula, and of Franco’s film, but a fascinating one. Alas, Portabella’s never let it be released on video or DVD (I scammed my copy from Youtube, no idea of its provenance but it’s remarkably good quality), but a restored print’s been doing the repertory rounds for a while, so maybe one day…

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