Sunday, May 6, 2018

Daughter of Dracula / La fille de Dracula (1972)

Jess Franco filmed Daughter of Dracula back to back with the preceding film Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972). These two films seem similar and for me were sometimes easy to confuse with one another, but after reviewing them both back to back, I realize they are quite different in many ways. Unlike the previous film, the eroticism is amped up this time around, particularly with the love/feeding scenes between Franco regulars of the era Anne Libert and Britt Nichols. It isn’t necessarily the monster mashup like the previous film since for monsters we just have Dracula, a femme vampire, and a mystery killer. Perhaps it’s more of a Eurocult genre mashup, as this one has a reputation for being confused as to whether it wants to be an erotic vampire horror film or a giallo-like murder mystery.

Daughter of Dracula doesn’t quite reach its potential, but it’s nonetheless a relaxing Gothic horror with a captivating modern ‘70s setting in an old-world location that provides the right ambiance us Eurocult fans can’t get enough of.

Howard Vernon reprises his role as his own odd, unique, near-lifeless version of Count Dracula from Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. He’s even less active here, but Britt Nichols and Anne Libert get more to do this time around, even if Nichols’ vampire scenes may’ve soared a little more in the preceding movie.

Somewhere in Portuguese Transylvania, the dying Baroness Karlstein (Carmen Carbonell) confesses to her daughter Luisa (Britt Nichols / Carmen Yazalda) in secret about the family history of vampirism and that they are direct descendants of “the first Count” Count Dracula, a secret she does not wish to take to the grave. (so, Luisa is actually the female descendant of Dracula here rather than his daughter). It’s hard to tell if the family curse is something the mother is ashamed of. If she was trying to warn her daughter of the curse then it was a rather misguided attempt, since she grants her the key and sends her on the way to meet her ancestor still entombed beneath the cathedral tower (the Quinta da Regaleira chapel) on their land, where Luisa gets acquainted with the barely still operable Count Dracula.

This is preceded with wonderful shots of Nichols walking the grounds outside of the mansion on her way to the cathedral tower to descend into the crypt to commune with her toxic ancestor. The forested location here is just brimming with mystique and ancestral energy and is what I found to be one of the most magnificent location visuals in the film. The location (for this particular part in the film) is the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal.

The relationship between Luisa and Dracula does score points for peculiarity, but I can’t help wondering if it would make any difference if Dracula wasn’t even in the movie. We already saw a female vampire, who could only have been Luisa, kill someone (Eduarda Pimenta) during the intro grabber, so we’re not even sure what Dracula’s role in Luisa’s life is since she is already a vampire when she first meets him. He’s not even much of a father figure but more like her exotic pet she keeps in the crypt who she feeds people to (Dracula communicates to her telepathically with dialogue voiceover in the Spanish version unlike the French version where Dracula is silent- The music in the film is also so different between both versions).

Vernon’s Dracula is still just as eerie and inanimate as in the previous film; he seems to be confined to operating from his coffin this time, so it makes sense that he would have his descendant do his work, whatever that may be, since the vampirism affliction doesn’t seem to spread in this movie. It’s still a little disappointing that Dracula never leaves his crypt, but this is supposed to be Luisa’s story after all.

Family relations here are a little confusing. I think Luisa is the step daughter of Count Max Karlstein (Daniel White), since we learn from her dying mother that Luisa’s father had died a long time ago. Or Count Max Karlstein might be Luisa’s uncle, but Karine (Anne Libert) addresses him as Uncle, and she addresses Luisa as cousin, so the Karlsteins may just be a real extended family. The last name Karlstein is one letter off from being Karnstein, a Carmilla reference that is however rudimentary since Carmilla can easily be related to any kind of predatory lesbian vampire, and Luisa is certainly that.

Luisa beautifully plays the piano leading to a moment between her and Karine when, after talking about their childhood together, Luisa seduces and hypnotizes Karine, gently biting her lip with her fangs. Their characters are cousins, but Anne Libert and Britt Nichols have genuine chemistry. Their first love scene is so soft, tender, and relaxing. It’s the commercial highlight that does transcend its exploitative purpose that’s made ten times more artistic with the intercut shots of Daniel White serenading us and killing it at the piano with a moving modern classical sounding piece, as Jess floats the camera around White and around the entire piano. The soundtrack is credited to René Sylviano and Daniel White, so I’m not sure who wrote what, but I’ve always liked to think that Danial White is showcasing his own composition as a character in the film here.

Jess Franco plays a well-learned, calm, and composed fellow, Cyril Jefferson, the secretary to Count Karlstein, although his position isn’t at first apparent, as I thought he seemed to be casually hanging out among the cast and going out for moonlit strolls on cold nights. Jefferson attributes the recent murders in the story to the supernatural, speaking in captivating horror poetry that could easily pass for black metal lyrics. Jefferson really fits into the gloomy setting. He and Inspector Ptuschko (Alberto Dalbes) have a few confrontations.
Dalbes’s inspector character is pretty low energy; he seems worn-out and apathetic, just wanting to solve the murder case already. He interrogates Count Karlstein with his eyes closed and his jacket collar pulled up to his face, looking like he’s sleeping on the sofa chair. This was something I considered to be more an interesting quirk; otherwise Dalbes may’ve been rather unremarkable here aside from being a welcome familiar face.

There is a cabaret scene here that is still magnificent and is a little reminiscent of the Miss Muerte performance in Jess Franco’s The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966), but when comparing it to the cabaret scene in Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, it ends up losing the battle, mainly because it is missing Josyane Gibert’s bubbly performance. I did experience some joy seeing Count Karlstein walking around the cabaret night club at the Majestic hotel smoking his pipe, seeming out of place, which is important for a certain plot point later, but without losing a shred of his elegance. 

The murder mystery component of the film seems to distract a little from Luisa’s story, as it seems a little more focused on the owner of the Inn, Ana (Yelena Samarina) and her affair with Count Karlstein, who is wrongly arrested for the murder at the cabaret for trying to cover up for Ana cheating on her husband. With these scenes you sometimes start to forget you’re watching Daughter of Dracula, and in the memory, it might even seem like they were from a different movie. I did like the way we weren’t sure who Ana’s husband was until towards the end, and the conversation that ensues regarding the affair is a melancholic little wrap-up to the subplot and leads in to an unsatisfying wrap up to the overall plot that makes it seem like Jess may’ve been more interested in the murder mystery story than Luisa and Dracula’s story.

I personally didn’t mind a little Agatha Christie intruding on my gothic sapphic vampire fable, but I thought they could’ve been integrated better. There’s no doubt that there was some kind of capitalization on the then popular giallo titles of the time, especially considering the black hat, black trench coat, and standout yellow socks the killer wore.

Nichols is a majestic presence, but I felt there was more room to explore and develop her character. The potential was there for a more memorable character. 

Even with its problems, there’s still a lot to Daughter of Dracula that makes it a worthwhile experience for Jess Franco fans, namely just spending time in this film’s world (there’s something magical and fairytale-like about the grounds of the Karlstein estate) and seeing those familiar faces. I fell in love with Britt Nichols and Anne Libert’s roles in A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1972) but thought the actors were underused in Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, so it was great seeing them in more substantial roles here (also see Les demons (1973)). 

This is a Jess Franco film through and through. Though it has been said by other reviewers that this is not the best place for first timers, and I would have to agree. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

Monday, April 23, 2018

Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein / Dracula contra Frankenstein (1972)

Jess Franco had already covered Dracula by directing a movie adaption of Bram Stoker’s seminal Gothic horror vampire novel from 1897 a couple years prior. So, what does Jess do next when returning to make another Gothic Count Dracula movie?... Take the Universal route and throw Dracula in with other classic monster figures, like Frankenstein and The Wolfman, to have a go at it and see who would win in a fight.

With Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, the familiar monster mashup style gets the Jess Franco treatment, which is essentially Classic Universal horror in color with Franco’s flavor of visual and hypnotic storytelling, yet for a Jess Franco film, the eroticism is quite tame, with no nudity to be found. It adapts certain elements from Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the Dracula angle, but the Frankenstein angle borrows more from Franco’s own The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) and less from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Curiously, the opening text, credited to David H Klunne (a Franco pseudonym), is pretty much a poetic and short synopsis of the film, rather than some sort of backstory setup to get viewers up to date, like an opening Star Wars crawl. That’s OK, because there isn’t really a whole lot to spoil, since the experience of the film, in this case, is a little more important than the story, which I think isn’t necessarily hard to follow, but it doesn’t really sink in either since there is a lot of visual depth, atmosphere, and cool ideas in what is a slow and thin plot.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

School of Fear / Il gioko (1989)

‘80s Italian horror TV movies aren’t always the most memorable and have a tendency to be a little underwhelming in comparison to the classic gialli and Eurohorror films from the ‘60s and ‘70s golden era. By the late ‘80s, we were at, or were even beyond, the tail end of the horror boom, with many Italian directors making movies more for television. Lamberto Bava directed a lot of TV movies throughout his career. His ‘80s horror TV movies paid a lot of homage to the classic gialli and horror films that sculpted the genre like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Inferno (1980), House by the Cemetery (1981), his father’s Black Sunday (1960), and even his own Demons (1985). A lot of times his TV films could be a little mediocre and almost feel like near-pointless rehashes, like Demons 3: The Ogre (1988), but Lamberto Bava also had a tendency to catch you by surprise with TV movies like Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil (1989), the hilarious and ‘80s satirical Dinner with a Vampire (1989), and the (previously) hard-to-find School of Fear.

Aside from being an interesting take on the evil kid trope, School of Fear / Il gioko does present a lot to chew on, and like Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil and Macabre (1980) is a little more of what I prefer from director Lamberto Bava. Don’t get me wrong, Demons and A Blade in the Dark (1983) are awesome too, but I honestly lamented for a time that we never really got something as twisted, different, and well-made as Macabre. It’s still no Macabre, but School of Fear feels a little more in the right direction towards something twisted and different.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Count Dracula's Great Love / El gran amor del Conde Dracula (1973)

Paul Naschy had a lot of success in a wide range of film genres, playing an even wider range of characters, but he is mostly remembered for his brand of gritty and beautiful Spanish gothic horror films. These movies had their low budget and pacing issues, but there was still something so attractive about them, with a reverence for the classic monsters, most especially the wolfman, and the inclusion of plenty of female vampires and femme fatales in general. Plus, with his charisma and sincerity to the material, it’s always a joy just seeing Naschy; whenever he makes an entrance in these movies, he causes viewers’ eyes to light up like they’re seeing a dear old friend. For me, it was always interesting to see what a zombie movie, or a mummy movie, or a cannibal movie, or even a giallo would be like after getting the Paul Naschy treatment.

It was my tendency to read other people’s takes on Paul Naschy movies, be they positive or negative, that inspired me to eventually take up the quill to see if I’d have anything interesting to contribute as a genre film blogger.

With Count Dracula’s Great Love, a costume horror drama with a satiable amount of violence and eroticism that according to Naschy in his memoirs was a critic and box office success, we have one of my favorite classic monsters done by one of my favorite filmmakers. It was directed by Javier Aguirre (Hunchback of the Morgue) but was written by Paul Naschy who also stars as Dr. Wendell Marlow and (forgive the spoiler) Count Dracula. I believe it is also the first in a short but notable line of horror films with Naschy and actor Victor Barrera (sometimes credited as Vic Winner or Victor Alcazar); the other three Naschy movies with Barrera are Hunchback of the Morgue (1973), Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973), and Vengeance of the Zombies (1973).

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lips of Blood / Lèvres de sang (1975)

With his first four full length films, between 1968 to 1971, Jean Rollin forged his own brand of erotic and poetic vampirism. The one of a kind auteur painted over the ‘in vogue’ gothic horror tropes, changed up the rules, and gave his vampires reign over dark and melancholic vistas far removed from the familiar world. The experience ends up being fantastically vampiric while also seeming at odds with the classic notion of a vampire movie.
Rollin would shed his brand of tragic vampire lore for a time to experiment with new dark takes on death (The Iron Rose (1973)), adventure, and revenge (The Demoniacs (1974)). To compensate for box office failures, and in order to have steady work between more personal projects, Rollin also directed several porn films under a different name (Michel Gentil).

In 1975, Rollin returned to vampires with the exceptional Lips of Blood, which also ended up being a commercial failure, and so to try and bring in money, Lips of Blood was reformatted with new hardcore pornographic inserts and transformed into the more exploitative movie Suce moi vampire (1976). For me, the existence of Suce moi vampire undermines the significance and spirit of Lips of Blood, and, kind of similar to my feelings on House of Exorcism (1975) (the reworking of Bava’s masterpiece Lisa and the Devil (1973)), I don’t have much interest in seeking it out.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Terror Creatures from the Grave / 5 tombe per un medium (1965)

The onset of the Halloween season this year has really put me on a black-and-white horror kick for some reason. I’m looking forward to checking out some classics I haven’t seen yet, such as City of the Dead (1960) and Eyes Without a Face (1960), and revisiting some favorites like Carnival of Souls (1962) and Night of the Living Dead (1968).

I used to approach black-and-white movies apprehensively, thinking that they would likely be a boring chore to sit through. I missed out on discovering a lot of classics when I was younger with this mindset, a mindset that surprises me considering that I had always been able to enjoy black-and-white TV-shows as a kid like Lassie and The Three Stooges, which happened to give me the false perception that the world must’ve been in black-and-white back then. I had always preferred color, but nowadays I really have no preference. There’s something both oppressive and romantic about black-and-white cinematography, a separate experience with its own charm that I don’t think is inferior to color cinematography. What finally gave me a taste for black-and-white film and caused me to not see it as a diminished experience due to technological limitation was Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), which also turned my interest to the black-and-white Italian horrors of the ‘60s that I probably would’ve had no interest in otherwise.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fruit of Paradise / Ovoce stromů rajských jíme (1970)

After realizing film was her true calling, the first lady of Czech cinema Věra Chytilová enrolled in the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) in 1957. At the time, she was the only woman at the school and was faced with resistance. She was pushed back, but she wanted to direct and had ambitions to make different kinds of movies. Chytilová recalls potentially upsetting the directors at the academy when she told them the reason she wanted to study was because she didn’t like the films they made, feeling that they were predictable and arranged. When the Academy wanted to throw her out, it was a major blow for her that resulted in depression and a suicide attempt. She ultimately resisted being driven out and graduated, in the process directing successful medium length films Ceiling (1961) (of which she also wrote) and A Bagful of Fleas (1962). A Bagful of Fleas and her first feature length film as director Something Different (1963) both won film critics awards.
Chytilová married cinematographer Jaroslav Kucera (Morgiana 1972); they worked well together and collaborated on The Restaurant the World (1965), Daisies (1966), and Fruit of Paradise (1970).
Daisies is Chytilová’s most popular and well-known film. It is a staple in the Czech New Wave movement that’s a fun, technically impressive film with an unconventional narrative about two young, disorderly female leads sticking-it-to-the-man, with copious amounts of style and entertainment ensuing. The movie is supposed to be a cautionary tale on the consequences of destructive behavior, but for me, it’s one of those films you fall in love with and get hooked on.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mania (1974)

When it comes to the unique definitive Renato Polselli experience of histrionics, eroticism, violence, and sadomasochism, movies like Delirium (1972), The Reincarnation of Isabel (1972), and even The Truth According to Satan (1972) are the best examples of Polselli films that have created a small but loyal fanbase. These have long been some of my favorite cult films, but I also adore the romantic black and white early Italian horror efforts from Polselli The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and The Monster of The Opera (1964). The seed for this auteur’s characteristic style of madness and set spectacles was planted in Monster of the Opera, the film itself still planted in the fun dance-meets-classic-monsters gimmick featured in Vampire and the Ballerina, but something wildly unhinged was taking shape. The entertaining delirium, screaming mad characters, and disorienting editing that is Polselli’s signature would essentially be fully realized in Delirium and Reincarnation, but for the longest time there was a missing piece of the filmography that Polselli fans were literally deprived of for many, many years, a once lost film called Mania.

Sanitized by the censors and given a limited theatrical run in 1974, Mania quickly disappeared and was long considered lost until a 35-mm print surfaced in 2007 in a film archive in Rome, Cinema Trevi – Cineteca Nazionale. It was going to be released on DVD by No Shame soon after, but they went out of business before that could happen. Miraculously a crude version of Mania showed up on YouTube without English subtitles back in September of last year. Thankfully, just recently, Terence linked me to a decent version with subs (which is also now on YouTube), and I honestly now feel like a significant void in my life has been filled.

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