1 November 2017

SECOND RUN FILMS PRESENTS: VAMPIR CUADECUC. (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




VAMPIR, CUADECUC. (1971) DIRECTED BY PERE PORTABELLA. STARRING CHRISTOPHER LEE, HERBERT LOM, KLAUS KINSKI, MARIA ROHM AND SOLEDAD MIRANDA.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a stunning piece of cinematic history, this is, although I admit that I didn't know what to make of it when I first put in the disc. No titles, grainy black-and-white footage of gothic-style carriages and castles and olde-timey shenanigans and a soundtrack that initially sounds like someone knocking intermittently on a door.

Oh, and no talking at all, at least not until the last five minutes. And no subtitles or intertitles either, if you please. I actually wondered if I'd forgotten to put on the subtitles, or if I'd knocked off the soundtrack in some way. 

Funny stuff happens to mechanical equipment when I'm around. I'm nervous around technology, and in return technology gets nervous around me and starts acting up. But no, the footage rolls on and I gradually realise that I'm looking at a film version of Bram Stoker's gothic novel DRACULA, but wait! There's some strange stuff going on.

There's a man walking backwards through some bushes with a smoke-machine, and there's Christopher Lee, HAMMER's most famous leading man and an instantly recognisable Count Dracula, and what's he doing? 

He's lying himself down in a coffin (nothing strange about that, he did that a lot in his career!) and an unseen hand is applying cobwebbing to his prone person with a gadget that looks a bit like a hand-held fan.

Oh, very clever. I see what's going on here. This is a making-of film I'm watching, isn't it? And in fact, it is. That's exactly what it is. But it's a making-of film with a difference. Let's start at the beginning, shall we, dear readers, a place from which I've often found it expedient to begin in the past...

We're going back in time to 1970, when controversial Spanish director Jesus (or Jess) Franco was filming his own version of Bram Stoker's iconic classic novel DRACULA, the one novel that every horror writer, myself included, wishes they'd penned themselves. So perfect, so timeless, so goddamned sexy and, ahem, dare I say it, a meal ticket for life for the lucky writer. 

I only hope that Bram Stoker somehow knows how successful his book has been. I think it's the most-purchased book of all time, after the Bible and maybe Harry bloody Potter. I really hope that other writers up there in the afterlife are plying Stoker with booze and begging him to re-tell once again the story of how he came up with the idea...

The Franco film would star HAMMER's own Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, a role he was already used to playing by then, and Herbert Lom from the PINK PANTHER films in the role of Dracula's nemesis, Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Mina would be played by Maria Rohm and Jonathan Harker by Fred Williams, a dashed good-looking chappie. The handsome, charismatic Klaus Kinski would portray Renfield, the crazy bug-eater, and the role of Lucy Westenra would go to Soledad Miranda, a beautiful actress who would make a whopping six films with Franco that year before being tragically killed in an automobile accident, in the same year, at the tender age of only twenty-seven. That's so sad.

Franco went on to replace her with Lina Romay, another gorgeous dark-haired actress who starred in his movie FEMALE VAMPIRE: THE BARE-BREASTED COUNTESS, and who actually went on to become his romantic partner for the next forty years as well as his leading lady.

We can't really call him fickle, as it looks like Lina Romay was the great love of his life and one can hardly blame him. She was a right stunner in her day, right up until her death from cancer in 2012 at the still-young of fifty-seven.

Franco himself died of a stroke the year after, at the age of eighty-two. I always think it's so romantic when couples who've been together forever die within a short space of each other. They can't live without each other, that's why. Sniffle.

Anyway, an experimental film director of the time, this Pere Portabella fella, asked Franco if he could shoot a sort of making-of/behind-the-scenes film of Franco's DRACULA at the same time as Franco was shooting it. It seems like Franco was willing and the cast and crew were all willing, so Pere Portabella shot his low-budget film with a crew of three people and CUADECUC VAMPIR was the result.

Franco's film is supposed to be super-faithful to the narrative of Bram Stoker's novel, and you can see that from VAMPIR CUADECUC as well. Christopher Lee plays a Count Dracula who is old at the beginning but who becomes younger and more vigorous each time he replenishes himself with some of Lucy's delicious, no doubt low-calorie blood.

There are some highly sexually-charged scenes indeed as Dracula follows Lucy around the place hoping for an opportunistic bite, and the scenes with the three horny vampire-ladies who try to deprive Jonathan Harker of his own yummy blood are soooooo erotic also. It's a gorgeous, atmospheric, steamy and erotic version of the film even though there's no apparent nudity in it. Pity, that...

Christopher Lee must have had a good relationship with Pere Portabella, because he willingly clowns around for the camera while Portabella is filming him. He even lets us watch as he mischievously pops out his fake eyeballs at the end (eeuw, gross!) and gets his fake moustache peeled off.

I rather thought that the over-long, droopy moustache made him look a bit like a Mexican gigolo, and would definitely have preferred to see him sans the lip-warmer or the nose-neighbour, as Ned Flanders from THE SIMPSONS calls his own bushy dealie.

The making-of film is so atmospheric, and the bits depicting the cast and crew behind-the- scenes are filmed so seamlessly that they actually seem like part of the overall story. The musical soundtrack by Carles Santos just keeps getting better and better and more mesmerising as you go through the film.

The castle, the woods, the coffins, the vampire-ladies, the baby-in-the-bag, the mist, the bats, the wolves, it's all there. Everything blends together seamlessly to form as memorable and stunningly beautiful a re-telling of Bram Stoker's tale as you'll ever find anywhere. 

Pere Portabella is an expert at getting a spontaneous smile out of an actress in passing or catching an actor or actress off-guard for a moment, licking their lips or taking a breath or just taking a moment to get into character in readiness for being filmed.

There's not much Klaus Kinski in the making-of film. Maybe the director didn't like him, haha. The director himself was unpopular with General Franco, the then dictator of Spain, for some reason, but I wouldn't worry about that if I were Pere Portabella. Dictators are notoriously difficult to get on with. I knew a dictator once, but he died soon afterwards...

Anyway, the good news is that this superb film is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray from SECOND RUN FILMS. It comes with some rather smashing extra features, including an interview with Pere Portabella in which he says of the film: 

'It was a concrete moment of a process in which I had immersed myself from the start.'

There's also an interview with BFI curator William Fowler, who says of CUADECUC VAMPIR that it was a film that might have been 'too experimental for horror fans and too steeped in horror for fans of experimental cinema.'

Whatever about experimental cinema, this is a fabulous old curiosity of a film that should appeal to fans of Christopher Lee, Jess Franco, Soledad Miranda and Bram Stoker's DRACULA alike. It should be preserved and treasured, given the wealth of marvellous horror acting contained within and the old footage of some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that would not otherwise be available to us.

I Wikipedia'd the word CUADECUC, by the way, and apparently it has two meanings: it's the Catalan word for 'worm's tail' and it can also mean the unexposed footage at the end of a roll of film. Odd little word, isn't it? You guys can make up your own minds as to why you think Pere Portabella used this word in the title of his strangely surreal, magnetic old film.

The disc also features two short films by Pere Portabella, in one of which various people are being drenched in water and in the second of which, a crazy man is playing a piano with, erm, a ball. Don't worry about it. These experimental directors are all nutters, man...!


AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com







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