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).

Taking on a role previously made iconic by Max Schreck and Bela Lugosi, and in a way competing with the, then, current Dracula Christopher Lee, is no easy feat. Considering Naschy’s shorter powerlifter physique, he might physically be at odds with the public perception of Dracula as a tall 6 foot plus slender man. Nonetheless, I still think Naschy pulled the Dracula look off in his own way, while still keeping it traditional with the slicked back hair, cape, and pale features, although when in Dracula form he really doesn’t do a whole lot except stand around and transmit telepathically, a la Howard Vernon’s Dracula from Jess Franco’s Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972) and Daughter of Dracula (1972). Naschy was certainly a lot more vicious and animate playing the wolfman, but he borrows certain recurring elements of tragedy and love from his own Hombre Lobo mythos to give this Dracula a human side, and as a Paul Naschy film it kind of works. It is in no way the best Dracula, but it is Naschy’s own personal Dracula.

The premise is a familiar one for Naschy’s horror films, where true love is needed to break/fulfill a curse of sorts; this time the conditions are such that the love interest be a virgin. Why a virgin and not the love interest with the longest list of past lovers is unknown to me, but as chance would have it, a selection of some of the finest stock of potential love interests happen to be touring the Borgo Pass in Transylvania in the vicinity of a castle that used to be a sanitorium with a bloody history that was shut down, for presumably decades, before being purchased by a reclusive Austrian scientist, Dr. Wendell Marlow (Naschy).

A refined gentleman, Imre Polvi (Vic Winner), is travelling by horse and carriage with four beautiful women, Karen (Haydée Politoff), Senta (Rosanna Yanni), Marlene (Ingrid Garbo), and Elke (Mirta Miller), whose presences are certainly part of the fun. They are so colorful, each with their own distinguishing color of attire. These four will eventually feel like close friends to viewers.

Their carriage loses a wheel that literally runs away deep into the forest and is never found again; plus, the horses in their spooked disgruntlement kill the coachmen, stranding the travelers, giving them good reason to seek shelter at the nearby castle, where they are welcomed by Dr. Marlow and encouraged to stay for a week or so.

The inside of the castle is marvelous, as are the numerous gothic horror troupes that are included, such as dark corridors, candles, a lavish dinner table, and thick nightmarish ambiance. I absolutely love the use of foggy slow-motion visuals of vampires moving through dark corridors, an extraordinary technique used previously by Naschy and Leon Klimovsky in The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) that was later imitated by Amando de Ossorio in the Blind Dead films. The film makes use of a more diminished (aka creepy) musical number for its main theme, and it works so well for the slow-motion scenes where the visual and sound gel to create a real sense of otherworldly dread. Also, the main theme gets used a lot and manages to never feel overplayed.

An odd instance occurs when Karen awakens one night to investigate a noise, and in the dark corridor she runs into a vampire (José Manuel Martín), one of the thieves from the beginning of the film who was changed by an unseen Dracula. (This thief vampire makes my skin crawl every time I see him. He’s included as an alternative antagonist who sets the vampire character turnovers in motion.) Karen is understandably terrified and faints just as Wendell arrives to catch her and carry her back to her room. What’s peculiar is how casual the whole thing is. It makes you wonder if Wendell even saw the vampire in his hallway. This leads to an interesting ambiguity regarding Dracula and whether or not his identity as Wendell is a cover up or if Dracula is somehow reborn in Wendell.

Even though the film plays it out like a twist, most people going in already know this is a movie with Paul Naschy playing Dracula. Wendell abruptly changes identities from Wendell to Dracula late in the film, but it’s still interesting how different both identities are. There’s something genuine about Wendell’s friendly side that doesn’t seem deceptive. It’s true that at the beginning of the film Dracula attacks a couple of thieves in his castle, suggesting that his identity as Wendell is a coverup, but it is possible that Wendell has episodes of being evil before ultimately succumbing to being Dracula. It’s an unusual but interesting uncertainty that is more or less playing with viewers’ expectations, but I like it because we get to see more of Naschy’s character-acting aside from just the Dracula identity which itself would’ve been disappointing if it was all the Naschy we got here.

One of my favorite more low-key parts is when the girls go exploring the castle and find a library and end up reading several passages from Van Helsing’s memoirs, or as I like to think Van Helsing’s diary before The Monster Squad got ahold of it. A lot of cool, macabre lines about the legend of Dracula get read aloud, which mainly serves the purpose to introduce Dracula’s daughter Radna as a plot device, but I think she was underdeveloped as far as a character, and I would’ve honestly like to have her role in the story gone further instead of getting pushed aside by the new direction the climax takes.

The romance that develops between Karen and Wendell isn’t bad. I honestly thought that Naschy and Politoff have good chemistry here, although Naschy stated in his memoirs that they didn't get on very well together. I really do like the scenes of Wendell and Karen walking the castle grounds on a moonlit night. 

We do escape the castle grounds a few times to witness the vampires do their nightly business of stalking, preying, and invading the homes of villagers to feed and even kidnap a sacrifice for the big ritual the movie is hinting at. During some of the outdoor scenes, I realized that the three female vampires seem intended to represent Dracula’s brides, which I thought was a clever.

Count Dracula’s Great Love may be a little slow, but it is punctuated by so many brilliant moments. The story, though not without its flaws, is passable, and for its time was an interesting new take on Dracula and vampires while still feeling faithful to the classic movies and also having an appropriate amount of influence from Bram Stoker’s original novel. I think it has some of the best vampires of the early ‘70s mainly on account of how they are presented. Some of Dracula's quarks may not work for everyone, but I will say that while Dracula’s telepathic voiceovers in the dubbed English version do seem hokey, they work better in the Spanish version. The shift in direction at the end does feel abrupt, but the theme itself is so characteristically Naschy that in any other film it would fail, but it works here. It took several viewings before I noticed the brief but still epic closeout scene. Since I have a habit of watching movies so late, it is likely that I was usually half asleep at that moment to notice, but it was freaking fantastic. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Byleth – Il demone dell’incesto (1972)

I’m not much in to demonology; I only remember a couple names of demonic entities off the top of my head, like Beelzebub, Belial, and Astaroth, but I had only heard about the demon Byleth in reference to the Italian horror film Byleth – The Demon of Incest (1972), and with the title to go off of, I pretty much thought of Byleth as some sort of ghastly, incest inducing demon. I tried to look in to it a little, but other than this film, I found very little relating Byleth to incest. The connection of the theme of incest to Byleth in this film is perhaps more in reference to the belief that the demonically possessed display sexually deviant behavior. 

As far as lore goes, the demon Byleth (sometimes spelled Beleth or Bilet) is a monarch of Hell and a fallen angel. He rides a pale horse and commands eighty-five legions of demons. The sounds of trumpets and melodies precedes his presence when he is conjured. His pale horse suggests he could possibly be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death.

When summoned, Byleth will test the courage and worthiness of the conjuror by appearing most intimidating, frightful, and extremely pissed off, and if they are too inexperienced and unprepared, the ritual will likely result in the conjuror’s death (although it’s said that Byleth can be softened with a bottle of wine). If through all manner of advanced esoteric ritual, they manage to subdue Byleth, he reveals his true form, which is supposed to be that of a beautiful young girl who has the power to make someone fall in love, kind of like a love genie.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Devil’s Wedding Night / Il plenilunio delle vergini (1973)

For me, The Devil’s Wedding Night is kind of like a Dracula movie but with Rosalba Neri playing Dracula, which is just a prepossessing idea. However, that’s not quite what it is, as it plays more like a spinoff, fanfic, or sequel to Dracula, where Count Dracula is the stuff of legend, with his power being the focus of archeological research. It’s interesting that in the film’s story Edgar Allan Poe seems to be an upcoming new sensation, which sets it around the first half of the 19th century, making it predate the events in Bram Stoker’s novel that occur around the 1890s. So, The Devil’s Wedding Night could actually be a prequel to Dracula. I mean, who was that mysterious smirking man in the woods, at the tavern, and on the castle grounds we kept seeing? The mysterious man is a nice touch who’s most likely a servant to the ring, but there’s nothing ruling out that he could have been Dracula the whole time, perhaps a powerless Dracula who needs the black mass wedding ceremony to be reborn.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Help for a Friend in Need

A dear friend of mine has fallen on to hard times and is in danger of losing her job now that her car has broken down. It’s looking to be a costly clutch repair. I’ve never asked for any money in the past for my work here, but please, if anyone has appreciated anything I’ve written on this site, the best tip to me would be to help my friend with a GoFundMe donation by clicking HERE or on the image above.

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