songofcopper: (peter hammill)
I’ve been scribbling in my purple notebook. I did a lot of that last year: so, you see, whilst I was indisposed, I was not wholly idle. At the moment I’m doing a sort of vampire tale, inspired by watching some of the films of Jean Rollin. My favourite of these so far (and I think, my overall favourite vampire film by anyone) is ‘The Shiver of the Vampires’. It’s difficult to describe well without spoilers, so instead here are some stills:

shiver_of_the_vampires_castle
Mauve-tinged castle



shiver_of_the_vampires_isolde
Isolde, a vampire with a flair for surprising entrances

shiver_of_the_vampires_servants
Servants to the vampire household

shiver_of_the_vampires_library
The hapless bridegroom, brained by flying books

shiver_of_the_vampires_cousins_2
The vampire cousins! A delightfully eccentric duo.

shiver_of_the_vampires_cousins_3
They definitely disapprove of your boring wardrobe and bourgeois lifestyle.

shiver_of_the_vampires_cousins
Dandified sneering, taken to an Olympic level!

Anyway - if you like drifting around in candle-lit castles wearing velvet and brocade, to a soundtrack of *trying-to-be-prog-but-mostly-making-a-bargain-bin-psychedelic-noise*, if you have a sense of the ridiculous and don’t care too much about the niceties of plot, then you’ll probably like this quite a lot.

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Meanwhile (twirling pen around fingers): Why write about vampires? What can there be left to say about such hackneyed nonsense? I think that in itself - the saturation-level cliché - is the draw. There are so many obvious things to say, it becomes a happy little puzzle to try and avoid saying those things and to say something different instead.

Another vampire film I particularly enjoyed has its own take on this. ‘They Have Changed Their Face’ (1971, dir. Corrado Farina - he of ‘Baba Yaga’ fame) portrays the deathless parasites as capitalist industrialists.

hanno-cambiato-faccia-name
The clue's in the name...

This in itself is not new - I just started reading ‘Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula’ by Christopher Frayling, from which I learn that 19th C. Russian authors inched their critiques of Tsarist oppression past the censors by dressing them up as folkloric vampire yarns.

Indeed, the idle rich as bloodsuckers is yet another familiar trope, but this film manages to combine the usual Gothic murk and rural superstition with clean shiny mod chic efficiency. It’s got a slightly dystopian vibe (think ‘We’ or ‘Brave New World’), maybe a pinch of Kafka too (bureaucracy; inescapable impending doom; you were never free in the first place, silly). Whilst the attraction of vampires is usually musky, decadent and sensual, here we are allured by wipe-clean surfaces, labour-saving devices and everyone-belongs-to-everyone-else androgyny. The protagonist can’t move a muscle without hearing advertising, and part way through he learns that his destiny has been pre-programmed since conception. There’s a touch of the Bond villain about our vampire - for a start he is played by Adolfo Celi, and instead of the usual deformed serfs/scantily-clad brainwashed babes he is assisted by a troop of anonymous boiler-suited henchmen who manage to make their fleet of little white Fiat 500s look menacingly sinister. There’s even a SPECTRE-style board meeting with deadly consequences for those who disappoint the boss.

With its wry, pessimistic tone and 70s furnishings, in a way it kind of reminds me of Reggie Perrin with added vampires! But in a melancholic, stylish, Italian manner, rather than bumptious British humour.

It looks like this:

hanno-cambiato-faccia-corinne
The extraordinary-looking Geraldine Hooper as Corinna.

hanno-cambiato-faccia-fiats
Cute baby cars become remorseless, glaring monsters.

hanno-cambiato-faccia-mod
No dusty old furniture and messy candles for these vampires.

hanno-cambiato-faccia-himself
The Boss.

*****************************

One last fanged curio for your interest: ‘Blood is the Color of Night’ (1964, dir. Gerardo de Leon), which has the distinction of being ‘the first colour horror picture produced in the Philippines’. This is a great example of necessity as the mother of invention: colour stock was scarce/expensive over there at the time, so it had to be used sparingly. For that reason, some scenes in this film are in b&w, others are in full colour, and others are tinted - in jewel-bright blue or ruby red. This even becomes a plot device: when you see an eerie red glow, you know there is vampire business afoot. It gives the whole film a special atmosphere, without which it would be just another obscure and wacky b-movie.


blood_is_the_color_of_night_Dr_Marco_3
Dr. Marco in the pink.

The extremely memorable villain of the piece is Dr. Marco, who is pretty blasé for a vampire: he gets around the sunlight problem by wearing groovy shades. However, in a nod to tradition, he does not neglect to swish a cape, and is accompanied by a motley entourage of fellow vamps/henchmen. There are moments of (unintentional?) humour when Marco displays his vampire powers: his wild stare, accompanied by ooooEEEEEooooo Theremin effects, can hypnotise weaker minds, and he also has a habit of disappearing and reappearing: pop! Plus, being a modern kind of fellow, he revives his undead vampire lover with a transfusion machine.

The storyline has so many things in it! Twins, secret parentage, full-on Catholicism, village revenants, amateur transplant surgery, a vicious fruit bat, and all manner of like things. Enough for a mini-series. At times the plot gets a bit muddled and it’s definitely got that make-do-and-mend b-movie feel, but the excellent Dr. Marco, along with Charito, the likeable heroine, plus all the other fun stuff, make it very enjoyable.

Feast your eyes (and fangs) on this lot:

blood_is_the_color_of_night_Dr_Marco_2
He's just too cool.

blood_is_the_color_of_night_red_tint
When the world glows red, look out!

blood_is_the_color_of_night_Dr_Marco
Dr. M's hypnotic glare.

blood_is_the_color_of_night_Dr_Marco_and_Charito
Charito in peril.

A location such as the Philippines, where colonisation has imposed the Catholic faith, makes an interesting setting for a vampire tale. I was curious to know whether Filipino folklore has its own vampire-like creatures, and it turns out it does.

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Vampire stories almost always pit Christianity against (other forms of) superstition, and modern science against local folklore. Customarily you find that the church’s notions of passion/sacrifice, transubstantiation and eternal life are mirrored and mocked by their vampiric equivalents. I wonder if this is a way of expressing the horror and scariness of religion itself. No-one is really scared of dying - it’s the before and after states that are terrifying. Pain whilst still alive, followed by decomposition, paradoxically countered by the horrifying, bizarre alternative of life after death - these are fearful indeed.

In his book Mr Frayling tells that reports of vampires often crop up in places where there is religious or political conflict/a change of rulership. It’s one of those ‘formal discredit’ tropes. A bit like how Roman historians were obliged to make the previous emperor look as effeminate and mentally-unbalanced as possible, and 18th C. cartoonists ceremonially exaggerated the Prince Regent’s waistline. Nowadays we take aim at Mr Trump’s awful hair, epidermal orangeness and tiny wee extremities. These ritual taunts have little to do with actual events or policies, but they help us communicate our wordless fears about powerful individuals.

Despite everything, we still value our souls.
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