wed 22/11/2017

DVD/Blu-ray: Vampir Cuadecuc | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Vampir Cuadecuc

DVD/Blu-ray: Vampir Cuadecuc

Experimental filmmaking with a bite: Christopher Lee in a 'Dracula' like none you've seen before

Christopher Lee dies to bite another night

Pere Portabella’s remarkable Vampir Cuadecuc is almost impossible to classify. It may have been filmed on the set of Jesús Franco's 1970 Hammer horror film El Conde Dracula – with the obviously enthusiastic participation of a cast led by Christopher Lee – but it certainly isn’t a "making-of" film. In fact, it seems wrong to call it a documentary at all: so vivid is the Catalan director’s imagination that the result is best treated as its own original version of the Dracula story.

But it’s the Bram Stoker novel as we have never seen it before, focused through the intoxicating prism of cinema at its most experimental: images are in high-contrast black and white, often reversed, while the score by Carles Santos is a treat of contemporary music in itself, playing across a whole range of styles (louche lounge music is set against the scream of jet engines, and there are minutes towards the end when you may wonder if the soundtrack has stuck). It’s silent, except for the final few minutes (from a compact 65) in which Lee reads from the last scene of the novel to camera, another element that allies it to the Expressionist tradition of Murnau's Nosferatu or Dreyer's Vampyr.

It surely belongs as much in the art gallery as it does in the cinema

There’s an irony to the fact that Lee had apparently been drawn to Franco’s film for its promised faith to the original, particularly in following the novel’s structure. The designers of that film found some glorious locations around Catalonia, medieval basilicas and palaces that become even more atmospheric and charged in Portabella and cinematographer Manel Esteban’s visual riffing.

We can only guess at how on-set interaction between the two crews worked out: the process of Franco’s production is certainly a part of Portabella’s film, as we watch a smoke machine prepare for an exterior scene, or witness cameras, lighting and make-up in progress around the set (an awful lot of spiderwebs get sprayed on in the process). But it must have been amicable, and Franco and his British producer Harry Alan Towers can only be respected for engaging with the idea at all. Not least because Portabella, dating back to his producer role on Luis Bunuel’s 1961 Viridiana (which brought the director back to Spain) had a controversial reputation in the Spanish film establishment, and in the country as a whole. The confiscation of his passport meant that he couldn't attend the film’s 1971 Cannes screening, or another the next year at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Vampir Cuadecuc surely belongs as much in the art gallery as it does in the cinema).Vampir CuadecucThe 29-minute interview with the director, specially filmed for this Second Run release, makes clear how the production was in every sense unofficial, equally unhindered by political pressures from the Franco regime as by union demands. The rough visual texture came from filming both with out-of-date Kodak stock, and on sound negative (in Catalan cuadecuc means “worm’s tail”, and also refers to the unexposed footage at the end of a roll of film).

Inevitably, it makes us ponder metaphoric comparisons with the wider political situation in Spain at the time, although it fits equally into local strands of Surrealism. Tantalising that there’s no sign of Klaus Kinski in Vampir Cuadecuc, given that the actor was in El Conde Dracula, and Portabella's mad visual style would surely have been right up his bonkers street. (Heavens only know how Herbert Lom ended up as Van Helsing.)

The cast clearly enjoyed their work on the side for Portabella, slipping him a wink or making faces, not least the only Spanish lead, Soledad Miranda (pictured above) playing Lucy Westenra. Lee must have appreciated Portabella's approach because he went straight on to another experimental film, Umbracle, with him. The political tone there was more overt, including a sequence of Spanish filmmakers discussing censorship: again Lee reads from a dark classic, this time Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven.

The score by composer Carles Santos is a treat of contemporary music in itself, playing across a whole range of styles

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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