Because the screen is the only well-lit mirror in town

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Taste the Blood of Dracula's Prime: 12 Psychotronic Vampire films now streaming the Amazon

Weird times, man. I've been laying low surfing around Amazon Prime like a deranged 'American Picker' of psychotronic oddities to collect and lay at your feet like so many dead mice. It's become even wilder and weirder out there then ever- all sorts of groovy stuff can be found under the plainest of rocks, while classics are unwatchable thanks to terrible transfer/uploads. Llike with psychedelics or that 'other' Amazon, the one in South America's swingin' rain forest, you need the right guide.

I'm that guide, man.  Quick! Turn left!

As I've written (in my 5 Films on Amazon Prime for a new TrumpMerica), there's a strong need to be picky in here, lest your aesthetic sensibilities be dampened, so stay close. Rule number one, if you go away on your own. Avoid the below distributor labels, fly-by-nite outfits all, who upload crappy blurry VHS dupes barely endurable even on a tiny cell phone:

FOUR TO AVOID: Synergy Archive (silver/gold trim); Cinema Classics (pale blue w/palm tree background); Moving Picture Archive (blue velvet curtain backdrop); 'Digitally Remastered' (dark yellow letters on black).

Also, unless you're really crazy, AVOID anything recent - no matter how good the poster looks. Anyone can get their film uploaded to Prime these days and while I'm sure they're all special in their way, it's just not the same as actual analog film. When it comes to crap like this, my brothers, celluloid is all, HD ultra-important, or--if not on celluloid--lit by talented journeymen in Romania for Charles Band. 

Now you know the secrets of successful slumming, so I'm giving you Dracula's living dead secret vault of international vampire titles, twelve in all, chosen just as much for the streaming image quality as for content- in no particular order. Keep your hands away from the actors' mouths and kick your shoes into the fire.

PS - I'm not shilling for Prime or actually giving you a password. But especially as Netflix only seems to care about their original material these days and Hulu has terrible organizational skills, for the weirdness hunters amongst thee, Prime is, dare I say it, the new Kim's Video. 

All Images below are Screenshots from Prime Itself to give you quality assurance.

(1969) Dir. Al Adamson (USA)
** 1/2 (Image quality - B-)

Somewhere between the hick carny hustle of Steckler, the macabre jouissance of Wood, the amateur competence of Mikels, and the laissez faire shrug of William Beaudine, Al Adamson waits for thee. More often than not his stuff is terribly preserved and even when it looks good it still seems like you're watching a home movie by a kid who's been following a film crew around and stealing shots for his super 8mm opus while the real cast is at lunch. His set-ups are lazy; his sound mixing done by Charles Haltrey and the Deaf Eggs, but sometimes I'd swear there's something magical about it all when it clicks into place, as it does here. If you're in the right mood for accidental Brecht totemism and sick with fever and lack of sleep and loved all the same movies and TV shows that every monster kid did in the early 70s--i.e. Universal horrors on local TV Saturday afternoons with Satan movie commercials for the local drive-in interspersed, and Addams Family reruns--you just might tolerate Blood of Dracula's Castle.

Alexander D'Arcy (the 'music teacher' in The Awful Truth) is the aristocratic vampire who tries to figure out how best to dispose of a Squaresville USA couple who've just inherited 'his' squatter's rights castle. Naturally it will save him from having to move out if he can, shall we say, 'have' them over for cocktails? Paula Raymond is his loyal Bathory-ish wife; John Carradine is the butler. As an escaped (werewolf) lunatic who shows up, Robert Dix (Richard Dix's son) looks like he just murdered his way out of a George Axelrod movie. There's a "big" sacrifice to Saturn or some (day-for) night goddess out on the dunes, or something, at the climax. It's a mess, yet whatever piece you slice off it, there's a refreshingly dark and amoral aura here, like The Addams Family if they actually chained up women in the basement to torture and drain of blood, laughing all the way and expecting us to do the same. If it wasn't made in 1971 I'd swear it was ahead of it's time for 1964. László Kovács did the photography, which may explain why it looks good even while having Adamson's paw smudges all over it.

(1960) Dir. Renato Polselli 
*** (Image quality: B+)
(In Italian w/ English subtitles)

Luisa (Hélène Rémy), the gorgeous platinum blond heroine in this atmospheric Italian horror film looks a lot like a less conventionally svelte Eva Marie Saint or Gunnel Lindblom, which for some reason is enough in and of itself for me to love this film. The busload of showgirls breaking down near an old creepy castle wasn't old hat when this came out (1960) so it's exciting to watch as the ladies improv vampire dance routines and to appreciate the naturalistic way the plot coheres around seemingly random exchanges. Equally compelling is the natural rapport between Luisa and her equally platinum-blonde Nordic-ish hotel roommate Francesca (Tina Gloriani) conjuring weird parallels with Persona and Stage Door. And when Francesca gets turned out by the vampires she tries to lure Luisa into the fold via weird quasi-lesbian bed sharing and head games. As with Rome's still-alive neo-realist 'found value' approach to its countrys post-war ruins, fine atmosphere is hewn from the living rock of a bombed-out castle and its winding catacombs, so once sealed crypts are accessible by Third Man-style stumbles down piles of rocky rubble, and the transfer on Prime has got that pencil sketch black and white photographic richness that illuminates every crack.

The vamping is divided between the mysterious Countess Alda (Maria Luisa Rolando) and her bullying male consort --she acts all endangered by him but it's more complex than that. He wears a goofy mask with ping pong eyeballs when he's thirsty but becomes younger and 'handsome' after drinking blood, an unusually smart touch that taps into the insecure amped-up macho vanity at the dark heart of Italian manhood. In prime pimp style, he drinks from his ladies once they've drunk from the men--cuz he's not gay or anything. And if his lovely young victims come back to life he stakes them, shouting "I'm master of my domain!" The Italian language being spoken over subtitles helps it all seem 'arty' and the score delivers both theremin-goosed passages for vamp moments and muzak-style filler whenever composer Al Piga can't discern the emotional tenor of a particular scene. Classic Italy! Ciao bene!

(1966) Dir. Curtis Harrington 
*** (image quality: A-)

A tale of crashes, deaths, and rescues involved with escorting a vampire alien ambassador from a Martian moon to Earth, this AIP gem used to be available only in faded ugly pan and scan TV prints/transfers. Now it's even in Blu-ray--which I bought and am still glad I did even though you can see it in a gorgeous full color restoration on Prime anyway. Now it glows much like its compatriot in ALIEN-inspiring, 1965's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (see: Growing up Alien). Mixing a cheaply licensed Soviet bloc sci-fi film (MESTRE NASTRESHU) with new footage starring Dennis Hopper, John Saxon and Basil Rathbone (among others), Corman protege Curtis Harrington creates a film that's unique, fun, effective, coherent, and looks way more expensive than it was.

Acting as a fine mirror to issues of gender as well as Soviet-American relations of the era, the footage is matched brilliantly to its respective sides: the Dionysian and ornate deep red Russian footage for the female vampire Martian ship and the "Red" planet sufraces - while the Earth scenes and space ship interiors are in nice powder blues and cafeteria grays on threadbare Apollonian sets with John Saxon and Dennis Hopper amongst the astronauts. Basil Rathbone stays on the ground by the monitors. Judi Meredith wears enough make-up for a dozen Soviet department stores but looks great in the ship dial reflections. Together it's like an unholy union written in the stars and read by lovers holding hands across the Berlin wall. When the Red ambassador gets taken aboard the American craft, the hypnosis starts and the blood drinking and the orders from on high not to harm the specimen, no matter how many human astronauts perish like so many sailors on Dracula's London-bound schooner. This time however, everyone but John Saxon agrees: save the queen! She has diplomatic immunity, but if she wants to drink Dennis Hopper's blood just warn her first: the thorazine is long gone!

(1964) Dir. Ákos Ráthonyi
**1/2 (image quality: B-)
Dubbed in English

Eurosleaze mainstay Adrian Hoven is a possible vampire aristocrat squaring off with a tourist detective over a hottie blonde (Erika Remberg) in this cool black and white German variation on the mid-60s neorealist Eurosleaze horror film. The real stars are the cobblestones, Remberg's lingerie, the crazy tunnels and some nice expressionistic shadows, including a weird silhouette of jazz hands at the window of prospective victims. Not quite as lurid as a Franco film or as procedural as a German krimi, it manages to have one foot in the aftershave-and-sideburns tackiness of its Eastern European swinger moment and another in the timeless Gothic past. As for the story, the vampire aspects are cleverly folded into a class resentment study and there are hints of the dream poeticism we find in later Czech films like Valerie and her Week of Wonders. The print/transfer on Amazon is okay, could be worse, kind of sepia-tinged, but whatever. Find the old Image DVD which has enough of better upgrade to make it worth it, if you like it. Not quite as robust as Vampire and the Ballerina, but if you're feeling the groove after seeing, you may agree that the sexy Remberg makes up the difference.

Gordon Murray dubbed it and released it in the States on a double bill with Tomb of Torture, also on Prime, but in infinitely worse shape.

(1971) Dir. Jean Rollin
**1/2 (image quality - A)
in French with English subtitles 

Marie-Pierre Castel, Mireille Dargent are a pair of cute young outlaw clown girls on the lam who wind up trapped within the spacious grounds of crumbling vampire chateau. It has lots of winding stone stairs, a mausoleum, graveyard, castle, and hilly grounds with paths all winding back to itself in prime dream logic 'no escape' style.  Like all Rollin films it's a kind of Ghost World for the Bataille set, but with vampirism taking the place of adult responsibility as the wedge that forms between the two plucky virgin heroines. This is spelled out when the head vampire orders the girls to use the promise of sex to lure men to their death at the castle, but to keep their virginity intact. One of the girls dutifully follows this instruction but the other falls in love with her quarry, losing her virginity to him (which she intentionally invites to save herself from vamp initiation) even enduring a flogging by her once-bosom pal to get her to spill his hiding place (only to have him shove her out of the way and run off later like a prize douche!). 

Prime used to have dozens (though he really only ever made the same film, over and over) of Jean Rollin's lyrical dream-like art school neurotica but--as befits its title and somber resolution--this is the only one left. (Not counting Zombie Lake but why would you?) at least as of this writing (though Prime constantly adds and takes away from its Rollin cache). The quality is lovely if not quite magnificent, and should allow for pleasant napping (the best way to watch a Rollin film is while half-asleep - and the pace makes such a state all but inevitable). Stretches do seem to run by where you can feel Rollin not sure what to do next-except capture the rippling wind in the grass. For example: the girls' initiation evening involves one sitting next to the beta vamp lady as she plays a minimalist tune on piano for ten minutes, while the other goes into a red-lit mausoleum and then comes out.  It all ends in one of those "party's over" speeches that seems to denote an auteur ready to declare the full breadth of his obsession exhausted. The only caveat: exhaustion is so close to his subject matter one wonders if he's kidding himself. He'll NEVER be through with it. And though its drenched in sex and lurid violence, there's not an objectifying or misogynist bone in its body. As Acidemic contributor Ethan Spigland writes:
"Despite the gratuitous nudity and requisite sex associated with the genre (and often demanded by producers), Rollins films never come across as misogynistic. In Requiem for a Vampire, the men tend to be either brutish, foolishly gullible, or impotent. The last vampire accepts his fate with quiet dignity, but possesses no sexual magnetism. His female vampires, by contrast, convey an erotic power. Though women are associated with the chthonic, we never sense the fear of the castrating phallic mother that one encounters in such films as Lars Von Triers Antichrist . Rollin seems to be in thrall to their ecstatic jouissance. " (more)
(1973) Dir. Jess Franco
**1/2 (image: B-)
In French with English subtitles

The period of 1971-1973 was the peak for vampire lesbian movies coming out of Europe (thanks largely to the boffo box office of Hammer's Vampire Lovers 1970 which was among the first to seize the advantage of relaxed censorship). 1971 alone had about 42 versions, all with the surname of the lead vamp character Karnstein (ala Le Fanu's "Camilla") or Bathory (the real-life historical murderess). This one, bad as it is, is a Jess Franco masterpiece and can be found slithering under a wide array of international titles and ratings: The Bare-Breasted Countess, Erotikill, and Loves of Irina are all tailored to the needs of each country's censors and distributors. In some places lurid gushing violence was cut out and pornographic close-ups inserted; in other places vice versa; and in the version on Prime--not in HD but still looking pretty spiffy--there's neither. Yet even in this toned-down version, the movie's still 100 minutes and has plenty of innocuous (and sometimes tedious) softcore gyrating. Titillating it ain't, of course, but it is rather hypnotic in a second chakra aligning miasma kind of way, success varies with your state of mind. Mostly there's great misty morning standing around with Lina Romay (who's excellent and mute and usually naked) as the last countess in the Karnstein lineage, living in self-imposed exile on the strange island of Madeira where she's slowly decimating the population of libertines, male and female (she kills by biting the enflamed sexual orifices of her victims and feeding on their hormonal 'ahem' essence). Walking around in the early morning mist clad only in her Vampirella-inspired costume, she's quite a vision.

As a doomed poet, ever at his writing machine, pining for death and in love with Irina even before they meet, Jack Taylor (the Franco go-to for steely-eyed romantic lead) has one of his finest hours. Baudelaire approves from beyond the grave and--with the whispering wind and trees and glowing white sky of Madeira's mountains surrounding them--the pair's weird love manages to be eloquently conveyed with barely a word, just lots of embracing and then running from each other, then pausing, paralyzed--each saddened by their being too experienced not to see the inevitable damage their love will bring upon themselves. They don't want to be together for the very reason that being together will prevent them from being together. Taylor's piercing blue eyes seem legitimately haunted over that conundrum. He's a long way from the flatline masculine puffery he offered a few years earlier in Franco films like Succubus. He's conveying a genuine existential dread of the kind alcoholism or drug addiction brings when you use your own warped perceptions of reality to strip away the layers between you and the harrowing void... You know, always facing the agonies of waiting withdrawal... for love and art.

Change the name to 'Kuersten' and she could be talking about me!
If you're only a casual viewer of the 60s-70s Eurosleaze genre it can be hard to understand why anyone would give Jess Franco a red cent to make his godawful films, or waste a minute of time to see them. It took me seven tries to get even fifteen minutes into Female Vampire back in '00, when I covered the Franco oeuvre for a certain canonical search engine. Even having seen and liked some other Franco stuff (Succubus, in particular), with this one I figured I was looking at inept student art film pornography. But the eighth try it all clicked: I was sick with a cold, strung out on cough medicine and half-asleep and lo! - the magic took ahold of me like a pair of velvet claws soggy scuttling below vaginal seas. I 'got' it and it was glorious.

The key to understanding Franco's style is to inverse Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, i.e. Franco's films are an adventure, not of mind, but of sight and sound. With touches of Herzog and Malick swirled in its trans-national naturalism; vintage 60s cocktail boots and post-giallo lounge lizard loucheness spatter with all sorts of nouvelle vague tricks to cover mismatched dubbing in a dozen languages by an international cast (as small an amount of dialogue as possible). It's no wonder Orson Welles was a colleague (Franco did second unit work for him on Chimes at Midnight), each is a master of bending vision to match what's already around you rather than the reverse (I refer of course to Welles' later European phase --Othello, Chimes, Mr. Arkadin, The Trial). I
A lot of this hard-to-peg existential ennui, I've deduced, is bred from language barriers in everyday life that globe-trotting filmmakers encounter. When the alienated/existential dissonance associated by daily Babel Tower struggle is taken as part of reality's fabric, the films of Antonioni, Rollin, and Franco start to finally make sense. In our modern era too it can be hard to imagine the appeal of such films as this but remember that this was the era before hardcore pornography was street legal. These kinds of films were risque but still respectable. Sure, Female Vampire is an incoherent jazzy mess, but so is seduction, sex, love - no matter how airbrushed Maxim wants to make it. This is sex with a bush, baby. Franco isn't trying to woo you into some kind of Mulveyan eye possession but to devour you from the outside-in via a vagina dentata clockwork zipper.

As far as music, though he's not Ennio Morricone, frequent Franco accompanist Daniel White is--as always--Franco's most essential collaborator. Here he lathers on the swirly cacophony, the silken lounge lizard eyes-across-the-casino seduction, the breathy swooning hotel room breathing, and under it all there's a diegetic layer of constantly chattering birds, bats, peacocks, god knows what other animal noises. It's hypnotic and we're used to straining that shit out of our daily sensory input, so when the animal calls suddenly stop we're left to wonder if its intentional, if Franco just got bored and forgot to rewind the tape, or they ran out of noises. If you're nodding off in your easy chair, the blood beyond your eyes drained from either arousal or too many Turkish cigarettes, then you can nod off and be almost asleep when a peacock call sounds suspiciously like a human scream. By the time you wake up the noise is gone -- did it happen?

In that sense, Female Vampire isn't a movie at all really, but an X-rated writhing melancholy jazz riff on a movie, the way Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" isn't really a 'cover.' Instead of a movie Franco gives us a be-bopping ghostly counterpoint echo/antecedent to a movie, a kind of negative space reverse-fill, like Motian's snare riding up inside the crook of a LaFaro bass line.  Here a flying vampire bat is not a flapping piece of rubber on a string (as it would be for Universal) but a bat-shaped hood ornament on a car speeding down the Madeira by-way. Each isn't a real bat, so who cares what makes the wings flap. If you can dig that, you're finally ready to watch the works of Paine Dreying.

(1991) In Cantonese w/ English subtitles
*** / Image - B+

What better way to follow two slow-moving but aesthetically pretty Eurosleaze vamp pics than with this boisterous fast moving (albeit flatly-shot) Hong Kong horror comedy from 1991? The action follows a virgin medical intern as his car breaks down and he winds up crashing "the Count's" mansion, in the midst of a ritzy vampire happening, hoping to call for a tow. Instead he winds up losing his virginity to a cute young neophyte vamp (a scene that manages to be erotic, scary and touching at the same time) while other guests are being killed downstairs in crosscuts. Returning to work, he has a sudden craving for blood (luckily he works at a hospital with a full 'bank'). Meanwhile back at the mansion, the Count (he and his main concubines are all white, allowing for colonialist subtext) bites the wrists of all the collected blood of his various ladies after the end of the evening, like a pimp getting his cut --when he gets to the hero's virgin blood he finds it so delicious he demands the neophyte bring him back to the castle for a fill drain, but she's young and maybe in love! The stage is set for a hilarious, chilling showdown. The film leaps along various familiar threads (Lost Boys, Near Dark, etc) but does so with speed, agility and --if not exactly aesthetic miracles--astounding inventiveness. There's an awesome brawl crashing a parking lot Tibetan monk demon-repelling ceremony (allowing for everyone to don ceremonial garb) and tons of cool touches like the use of a surgical laser, an operating light shaped like a cross, giant syringes full of acid, and a magical Buddha statue the Count makes the mistake of spitting on.

(1972) Dir. John Hayes
Movie - **1/2 / image: A

Potent, lurid, unapologetic - even a tad disturbing in its Larry Cohen-style bluntness--GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE sew familiar ground with distinctly 70s-thriller seeds: a vampire kills a man on a date and drags the woman into an open grave to sexually assault her, and bite her of course. He rises from the grave afterwards and soon is starting a career as a professor; she winds up giving birth to a bloodsucker that needs blood not milk from mama (so she dies). The baby grows up into a brooding half-vamp man (William Smith) with a huge collar, who vows to find his evil father and destroy him. While researching the occult, the vamp kills sexy librarians who wont loan him rare grimoires, and seduces and destroys an array of sexually open hotties in the neighborhood. Though his big fangs are a little silly, Michael Pataki does a very cool thing with his eyes where they seem to go completely dead and impassive when the fangs come out, like shark eyes. Director Hayes makes the most of Paul Hipp's solid--if TV Movie-style--cinematography and the Prime print is lovely with deep moody blacks which seem to envelop our bad guy like a blanket. If you've only ever seen this in some crappy PD edition, try it now.

There's a lot of other small things too to make it worthwhile, most notably the moody avant garde score by Jaime Mendoza-Nava, the way we see the film's large female cast as adult women, not 'girls', with evolved 70s women's lib attitudes towards sex and careers, but seen through the skeevy lens of a vampire sex addict (that of the typical of the delusional misogynist who misreads women's sexual cues and then blames the woman for being a tease) as in the strange inversion of the BIG SLEEP bookstore scene at the local library. I also like the tight angles and cramped vibe, making us wonder if the film was shot in actual houses and apartments rather than on sets. Either way, it works: everyone is pressed up against each other and powerless to escape - which makes the final knock-out, kick-the-railing-in brawl between father and son all the more cathartic. But even then, beware! This is one nightmare that will never end.

(1988) Dir. Robert Bierman
**1/2 / Image - A

A lot of us genuinely debauched 90s New Yorkers wistfully thought of this film while being underwhelmed by American Psycho. Nic Cage is way crazier than Bale without trying half as hard. He's less rich but is even more of a bully, especially after being seduced and drained of precious bodily fluids by clubbing vampire Jennifer Beals. But is she even real? As with Ferrara's superior THE ADDICTION, because the vamp attack occurs in the anonymity of the big city -- and there are no witnesses in the boudoir-- we wonder if she's just a schizophrenic mirage. Be it either way, vampire or hallucination, you'll laugh, cry, and kiss reality goodbye when you dig Nic babbling to the street pole at the end. Young, hungry and hammy, Cage pushes nearly every scene way way off the deep end, torturing his bewildered, hard-working Latina secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso) and his patient, clockwatching lady shrink (Elizabeth Ashley), Sure, it can all be a little overly improv-manic, at times scenes seem to drag on just so Cage can get it all out of his system, but as a kind of male version of REPULSION and snapshot of late-80s NYC addiction-alienation, it can't be beat.

Alas, Bierman's big directorial weakness is this compulsion to crosscut constantly, almost mockingly, to the staid working class foil secretary and her drab proletariat life (riding the subway; giving $$ to beggars; family gatherings, etc.) with Cage's debauched madness, as if to contrast the two ends of New York City life--the privileged white 20-something who moved here after college (hey hey!) and the working class ethnicities of the outer boroughs. Very admirable I'm sure, bro, but Alonso's goodness is just a series of cliches -- Bierman seems unwilling to lend any kind of real 'felt' depth.

Irregardless, if you hadn't realized back in '88 (when he'd just come off Raising Arizona and Moonstruck) that Cage was a staggering wild talent --genuinely edgy as in the edge between genius and hammy terribleness (that adenoidal affectation of a voice in Peggy Sue got Married gave his early fans grave doubts about the former)--you knew it after Vampire's Kiss. True manic craziness has seldom reached such heights, ever, and maybe not even here.

*** (image - A)

(from: Manson Poppins): Lensed by the great DP, Bill Butler (JAWS, DEMON SEED) in great countercultural AIP semi-documentary style, part Kovacs elaborate pull focuses, part Gordon Willis darkness and wall paint texture, the film might be a bit shoddy special effects wise but it looks great. Manson Poppins

(1933) Dir. Frank Strayer
**1/2 / Image - B

It's a PRC with a top shelf Universal sets --they must have had some weird deal to use them after they were through with them for the night. So there are lots of great old stairwells and finely painted rock walls, oil lamps and cobblestone streets in that grand, nebulous, everywhere and nowhere Universal small 'vaguely Eastern European' village tradition. There are even some of the same craggy character actors (like perennial bürgermeister Lionel Belmore). So even if there's no Bela Lugosi or real vampire, there's Lionel Atwill as a scientist who needs blood for his experiments and controls Robert Frazer through telepathy, Dwight Frye petting bats, and Fay Wray screaming on the operating table while homicide detective Melvyn Douglas pounds at the door! As Timothy Carey put it while strapping Linda Evans to the log splitter conveyer belt in Beach Blanket Bingo, I got a weakness for the classics, baby. If you do too, Vampire Bat is a fine point at which to weaken. Maude Eburne is the comic relief; murder-mystery barnstormer Frank Strayer directed.

(1970) Dir. Andy Milligan
**1/2 / Amazon Image: B

If you too are rooster-level fascinated by the white chalk line between low-budget / high-camp art (Warhol, Fassbinder, Waters) and the junk basement DIY drive-in filler (Steckler, Lewis, Mikels) then you know that somewhere between the outsider sub-Sirkian soap smut of Kuchar, the drag grotesquery of Smith, the magickal high butchness of Anger, the punk sneer of Jarman and the pulpy opportunism of Al Adamson, there lurks Andy Milligan, a pioneer of grindhouse local NYC DIY bathhouse gay art movies, back before Stonewall, when gay films were considered easy busts by vice squads with too much time on their hands. Maybe it's that sense that the cops might bust in and grab the works that makes Milligan's films seem so urgent and important. A modern sort of theater group-ish reworking of Dracula and House of Frankenstein, the Body was blown up from 16mm to 35mm for distribution, as was the style and the result is washed-out to the point that all the whites have gone quite turquoise from grief, and blacks turned electric grey--and everything in between either a primary color or the look of stressed finish, which fits well the Gothic austerity of the decaying British abbey where most of the action occurs. The story of a few days/nights in the life of a vampire couple--the "reverend" Algernon Ford (Gavin Reed), wife Susan (Jackie Scarvellis), their hunchback servant Spool (Berwick Kaler), and some thuggish underlings, there's plenty of transfusions, betrayals (and in a surprising scene, an apology to Spool by Algy) and enough talk about needing the right royal blood to waken Illuminati conspiracy theorists from their twitchy slumber. Chosen (female) descendants are forced into breeding new vampire heirs (and once imprisoned set about trying to befriend Spool into helping them escape), meanwhile circumstance is compelling the whole clan to move to America as the cops are closing in on their cemetery digs.

Nicolas Winding Refn is apparently a fan of Milligan's and worked to get this film released (on BFI Flipside at any rate) and so consider the grungy overexposed Dark Shadows to be some kind of high art; the house in UK where it was filmed was supposedly the backdrop for the Stones' album insert--the gatefold image on which oodles of lids have been de-seeded over the decades, Beggar's Banquet. Funny too that there's a big banquet scene at the same table here, one filmed awash in tints and diaphanous cellophane cape filters, a barrage of cannibalism and fruit mashing, followed by some impassioned monologues twisted around around in a solar flare daze, all conjuring genuine madness like a super 8mm camera passed around at a real Satanic time travel bacchanal.. There's a nice score of woodwinds (library cues?) and occasionally a buzzing heartbeat undertone. With all that Vaseline on the lens and all those layered canopies of cellophane colors, it's the kind of off-the-cuff expressionism that's still alive today only in the work of Guy Maddin. It all works because whether intentional or not, those colors are alive and unique in kind a two-strip Technicolor kind of way that suits the 'reeling in the centuries' mood.

All in all pretty impressive considering Milligan was his own cinematographer, editor, wardrobe mistress (using aliases for each job no doubt to make the film seem more 'professional' - we've all done it). Maybe my expectations were just so low thanks to Weldon's damning praise but I admire its lurching, strange edits and occasional lapses into a kind of Masterpiece Theater flourish. It works to create a mood where anything can happen, and I like the use of sudden cuts to the three witches/sisters/brides of the vampire (all in different color cellophane capes) emerging like a pack of silent hounds whenever a guy or girl is chosen for death (rather than slow draining). If you actually enjoy this film all the way through, maybe it's true what Weldon says, there's no hope for you. But since Amazon Prime also has Guru the Mad Monk, you will soon get over any delusions of being a true fan.

Or you can turn off the TV and go out in the night... maybe there is hope yet. But there's so much more to see down here in the bargain crypt....of Dracula's Prime. And who knows when they'll disappear? By the time you read this they could all be gone... or worse...

PS. LATE ADDITION (9/29/16):

(1974) Dir. Jose Ramon Larraz
*** / (Amazon Image - B+)

By the time Vampyres came out the lesbian vampire cycle was beginning to wane, but it's still one of the best, less lyrical and lulling than Franco or Rollin maybe but more satisfying in total with good pacing and interesting offbeat characters, a moody dark green patina (lovely indoor candle lighting and outdoor twilight gloom) and a scenario any man could related to: being lured to the house of two hot girls after the pub closes (gorgeous blonde innocent Anulka Dziubinska and terrifyingly carnal Marianne Morris) getting drunk with them by the fire and then waking up drained and alone, or worse, dead. In short, an indispensable primer on the dangers of priapism no man (or lesbian) should be without.

1 comment:

  1. Yay Deathmaster! It was googling that movie after watching on Amazon that originally led me to this wonderful blog.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...