Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Youtube film club:
Cuadecuc: Vampir

A bit of a strange one, this.

In 1970, Jess Franco, bankrolled by the ubiquitous Harry Alan Towers, made his own version of Dracula, featuring a Euro-cult dream cast of Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Soledad Miranda, Jack Taylor, Klaus Kinski and Maria Rohm. If the film that emerged is somewhat less than a classic, I don’t think it’s half as bad as people sometimes make out – it’s an honest attempt to film Bram Stoker’s novel at least, and it certainly has it’s moments.

But anyway - working on Franco’s Dracula in some capacity was a young Catalan documentary maker named Pere Portabella. For reasons best known to himself, Portabella seemingly hi-jacked a bunch of outtake and rehearsal footage from the movie (whether or not he had Franco’s blessing, I’m unsure) and mixed it up with the prodigious amount backstage footage he’d shot himself, processing the whole lot in high contrast black & white to create his own film – ‘Cuadecuc: Vampir’.

The result is difficult to describe. Not quite a documentary and not quite a horror film, it’s more like an avant garde exploration of gothic horror imagery, and perhaps an attempt to capture the underlying spirit of the strange moment in which Franco’s film was created.

When OkOk posted the link to the ‘Cuadecuc’ on Found Objects a while back, they advised that “..this film marvellously evokes the dark, eternal caverns of the unknown. Pure Gothic Ecstasy.” Whilst I can’t claim to have shared this level of reverie during my own viewing of the film, it certainly has much to recommend it to fans of haunted/unheimlich cinema.

The extreme contrast, degraded filmstock and disjointed, unsettling soundtrack all serve to invoke the spirit of Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and Dreyer’s “Vampyr”, inviting us to draw comparison between the gothic horrors of the 1920s and their survival into the 1970s, whilst fourth wall breaking interjection revealing the details of lighting, make-up and cheesy cobweb/bat effects provide a silent commentary on how flimsy the barrier separating transcendental gothic splendour from tawdry reality can be. The ‘vampire film within a vampire film’ conceit is fascinating in itself, and the backstage glimpses of the principal actors (minus Kinski, whose scenes were maybe shot by second unit or something?) slipping in and out of character will be worth the entry price alone for some of us weirdos. In particular, candid footage of Soledad Miranda hanging out and preparing for shots will be much treasured by her fans.

Some commentators (by which I mean guys on IMDB) have suggested a political interpretation of the film, implying the Portabella intended to present Franco’s film set as a microcosm of the crumbling regime of the director’s dictatorial namesake. A brief cameo by Jess himself, goofing around in an unfortunate side parting & moustache get-up that makes him look a bit like Hitler, would seem to rather crudely suggest as much. Geographically and temporally removed as I am though from the subtleties of Spanish politics circa 1970, this isn’t really an interpretation I can get much out of.

But whatever; however you choose to read this film, chances are you knew by the end of the second paragraph whether or not it’s the kind of thing you need in your life.

Those noble souls who are nodding affirmatively can stream or download from here.

A reminder of some previous Youtube Film Clubs you might have missed:

Mindbending Russian Animation
Witchcraft ‘70
Penda’s Fen
Fantomas & Les Vampires
Harry Smith
Meshes of the Afternoon

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