Thursday, July 5, 2018

Al's Birthday Review: Vampir-Cuadecuc

It's Al's birthday again, and you know what that means - time for me to review a film of his choosing. Normally, this is an occasion that inspires regret (generally at allowing Al to survive another year and once again being forced to watch dreck as my reward).

This year, it's...more just confusion?

I understand Cuadecuc means "worm's tail," but also means the leftover film at the end of a roll. Symbolism!
Vampir-Cuadecuc has to be the oddest thing Al's ever had me watch. I'm not really sure how to describe it. It's...kind of part parody, part documentary, part tribute, and part, I don't know, CliffsNotes?

Anybody else see Sean Connery as Ramirez from Highlander here?
My understanding is that this was filmed during the filming of Jesus Franco's 1970 Count Dracula, and constructed from alternate angles and background shots, alongside some film of the actors, actresses, and film crew preparing for and working out shots...and sometimes goofing off after takes. Using that footage, Vampir-Cuadecuc tries to tell an abridged form of the Dracula tale, while also, I guess, showing the making of the Count Dracula film...

...all without dialogue.

Or a soundtrack, really. Unless you count thuds, incongruous airplane noises and jackhammers, and musical cues interrupted to sound like thuds. Oh, and repeated simulated thunder.

It's hard to really think of how exactly to review something like this. It's clearly on the experimental side of film making, and it's not like I can review the plot or anything. The direction, such as it is, and camerawork, such as it is, is either deliberately strange or just reused footage shot for another movie. The things I'd normally focus on - plot construction, quality of production, acting skill, direction...those things kind of go by the wayside or just don't much matter to something like this.

So there's no point in discussing the plot, such as it is...other than to say, it kind of astonished me how easily I got the gist of what was going on without any of the usual tools to help me. I suppose, however, that might be because I'm pretty familiar with the tale of Dracula's not all that hard to recognize at least the major story beats. It's still interesting at least to see a tale communicated in a very different fashion, but I wonder if this technique would work with a tale less familiar, or with someone who wasn't as familiar with the concepts and general flow of the story of Dracula. Would the story disappear, or would it still be drawn out by pictures alone? That's a question I can't answer.

Oh, Dracula, you scamp.
Otherwise...well, it just feels so odd to be watching a film this way, though - to see behind the curtain while ostensibly watching a film itself is strange. The things you'd normally expect to show up as bloopers - film crew appearing in a mirror, cameras showing up in the middle of a shot, actors laughing or smiling during serious scenes - all of those things show up here on purpose. It's like Deadpool's version of Dracula, at least if someone gagged him so he couldn't narrate over it.

I don't quite get the point of it. Is it supposed to be a documentary? Is it a unique film of its own? Is it some kind of commentary on, I don't know, us being enthralled as viewers by horror and vampires and the like? Are we supposed to see the film crew as characters in the film? Are they inactive observers, people who won't act while tragedy strikes before their eyes? Or perhaps some kind of unseen spirits, watching over the people of the story and providing aid to ultimately resolve it, represented by their work with makeup and effects?

Am I reading too deeply into this?'s just an odd look behind the scenes of the making of a Dracula film, one that attempts to place the work on various scenes in context and show a glimpse of just how a film was made while providing a look at the results of the hard work and preparation of the film crew and cast. I suppose you could look at it as an early version of a commentary track - a way of providing a look at the process of making a film while showing at least a version of the film itself.

I honestly found it quite fascinating. Confusing, but fascinating. I don't know that I'd say I enjoyed it, but it was certainly interesting to see behind the curtain here, and get a sense for how a film might come together. I just...don't quite understand why it had to be shown in this way, that's all.

Why was there no dialogue? Would it be more confusing with the dialogue skipping around? But then...why were some of the strange things chosen for the soundtrack? Why were there airplane noises as I watched a horse-drawn carriage? Why were there jackhammer noises as Dracula walked down the street? Other sound choices were clearer - a thudding sound during the staking of a vampire, for instance, made perfect sense as representation of a hammer. The later repeated plays of a loop of music, ending in a sudden cut, were really really annoying, but also understandable as a different way of representing the hammer blows in another staking scene. But the airplane and jackhammer elude me. Maybe the airplane is because that's where the story moves back to England? Is that it? But really...couldn't we just give this whole thing a nice set of piano pieces or something and call that a day? The various sounds chosen are unsettling, sure, but they quickly get more annoying than anything else.

The choice to use high contrast is much more of a mixed bag. In some shots, it makes it darn near impossible to tell what's going on at all, but in others, it's absolutely wonderful. There's one shot in the middle of the film in particular that I'll show below, where...I believe it was Mina...finds Dracula draining her friend of blood and her eyes go wide in astonishment and fear. 

The starkness of the contrast really draws your eyes in to her face and her widened eyes. It made me think of bits in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, and how that show used color, light, and shadow to great effect to drive home the mood. 

...that's probably the first time someone has referenced an anime in talking about this film.

In any can be a very effective technique at points. At other times...well, I suppose overall it does add to the film's kind of unsettling mood, along with the weird sound effects. For me, the contrast, like the sounds, went a bit far at times and took things from unsettling to irritating, but less so in cast of the contrast. It's just that there are points where the contrast is used for a clear reason and to great effect, and there are points where it kind of seems a bit pointless, just there to be different.

I'm not sure I should be commenting on the acting in something like this, really, but what's there is honestly great. Christopher Lee, especially, is amazing as Dracula, for what I can understand of his performance here. Even in a film this odd his intimidating persona comes through just fine. Everyone else puts in a good show as well. Never having seen Jesus Franco's Count Dracula, I find I'd rather like to watch it now (though several critic reviews I've been looking at appear to be somewhat warning me away).'s an odd watch, but not a bad one. It helps that it only runs for about an hour and ten minutes - I'm not sure I would've liked sitting through a full feature-length version of this, but it's not a bad way to spend an hour. Confusing as all heck, but not a bad way.

It does end in astonishingly odd fashion, though. In what I suppose is the film's ultimate peek behind the scenes, it suddenly entirely abandons its lack of dialogue and indeed its entire setting and instead shows Christopher Lee as Christopher Lee, sitting in a chair with Dracula - the book, not the vampire. Lee, in blessed actual audio, explains - after one false start - the lead-up in the book to the end of Dracula, and then reads the account of the death of Dracula from the book, as only Christopher Lee can. It's really cool to hear the best Dracula reading Dracula, and it feels like Lee has a lot of passion for the story - despite his distaste for eternally reprising the character for Hammer Films' version.

It is, however, somewhat mystifying to see this film ending that way. Did they not get to shoot extra footage of the death of Dracula from Count Dracula? It's just kind of a way it's a look even further behind the scenes, but in a way, we're robbed of seeing the preparation and filming of the final scene of the film. I think it's kind of a shame...but then again, I did get to hear Christopher Lee read Dracula, and that's all kinds of awesome.

We also get to see him taking out his Dracula lenses, while Harker and Morris watch in a theater. Somehow...he looks awesome even then.
Overall...I'm not sure what to think, or how to describe how I feel having watched Vampir-Cuadecuc. It has to be one of the most unusual experiences I've had watching a film, but it was still interesting, more so than a lot of other films I've watched (especially for Al's birthday). It was at times strange, at times interesting, at times disquieting, but it always felt genuine

I could appreciate it for much the same reason that I appreciate documentaries, or blooper reels, or director commentaries - it's always interesting to see what goes in to making a film, the hard work and preparation and the real people who play some of our favorite fictional characters. So...I'm not sure I understood exactly what was going on here, really, or any statement it was trying to make. And I'm not sure I can really recommend this. At the same time...I'm glad I watched it. It was a new sort of experience, and not one I expect to see replicated in my viewing anytime soon.

This is the face of a guy who knows he's the coolest dude in the universe, and knows you know that too.
Portabella might've made it, but at least it wasn't shiitake.

No comments:

Post a Comment