Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Leptirica (1973)

... aka: Лептирица
... aka: Female Butterfly, The
... aka: Moth, The
... aka: She Butterfly, The

Directed by:
Djordje Kadijevic

Yugoslavia wasn't well-known for their horror output (or movie industry in general, really), but there were a handful of pre-1990 genre films produced there over the years. The Barbara Steele vehicle THE SHE-BEAST (1965) and Lucio Fulci's AENIGMA (1986) were Yugoslavian co-productions, and there was also STICENIK (1973), VARIOLA VERA (1982), STRANGLER VS. STRANGLER (1984), DEJA VU aka Reflections (1987) and A HOLY PLACE (1990), among others. Most of these were not released outside of Europe. Leptirica (which is translated on the subs as meaning "The Moth," though I also see it listed as "The Female Butterfly" or "The She Butterfly") is a 62-minute vampire tale which debuted on TV and was based on the story "Posle devedeset godina" by Milovan Glisic. It's set in the small, pastural, impoverished village of Zarosheje, where most of the townsfolk - even the priest! - seem to just lazily lie around getting drunk. The town depends heavily on a small water mill, where wheat is ground into flour, to provide them with food. Unfortunately, each miller they've hired has been mysteriously killed off. Since the victims have their necks gnawed up, everyone starts to believe that a "vukodlac" (vampire) is the one committing the murders. And, of course, they're correct.

The story revolves around three primary characters. The first is Zivan (Slobodan Perovic), a stern, antisocial, hard-working farmer who lives on the outskirts of town, does his own thing and doesn't really fraternize with the rest of the villagers (can't say I blame him because they're a bunch of loud drunks). The second is Radojka (Mirjana Nikolic), Zivan's sheltered, "beautiful as a butterfly" daughter, who spends most of her time in the fields tending to the sheep. The third is Strahinja (Petar Bozovic), a young man whose parents are dead. Strahinja has fallen in love with Radojka and wants to marry her, but Zivan refuses to offer up his blessing because he claims his potential son-in-law is too poor. Feeling he's fighting a losing battle, Strahinja decides to become the latest miller so he can save up enough money to leave the village. His first night at the mill, he's attacked by a cloaked, hairy-faced fiend with sharp fangs and claws, but manages to survive the attack by hiding under some bags of flour. He reports what happened to the villagers and they organize a posse to wipe out the vampire.

The killer may be Sava Savanovic, or connected with Sava. Despite being dead for centuries, Sava is still well known in those parts as having been a vampire and perhaps is now back from the dead via either reincarnation or possession (it's never quite explained). One major problem the villagers face is that no one knows exactly where Sava is buried. Customs state that a stallion can lead them there, so they get one and it indeed directs them to an unmarked grave. Instead of opening the casket, they drive a stake directly into it and then cover it with holy water. A butterfly, which seems to be representative of an evil force here, flies out. Despite not capturing or killing it, the villagers believe they have finally rid themselves of the curse. Some guys finally coerce Strahinja into going to Zivan's and taking what is rightfully his; Radojka. They storm into the home and run off with her, then plan a wedding. Things don't quite work out as planned for the groom.

Leptirica isn't particularly well-made or well-acted, has an unsteady tone (comedy elements often seem forced or completely out of place) and it really lacks visual punch, though it's watchable, has a few faintly eerie moments and the country setting provides an interesting backdrop to the action. The biggest problem is that the whole thing is just too predictable. We pretty much know where it's going from the beginning and the film offers up very few surprises along the way. The vampire make-up, with the hairy-face and mouth full of sharp fangs, and the fact the vampire makes chimpanzee-like noises, is a little unusual. Even more bizarre, a man supposedly "died of fright" while watching the premiere on TV, which had tabloids of the day labeling the director a "terrorist!"

Never released in the U.S., this currently has the ridiculous, excessively high rating of 8.1 on IMDb, which I attribute to nostalgic viewers, or patriotic ones. The film is more like a 5 or 6.



BW said...

Although I've not seen this one yet, I heartily recommend A Holy Place, which I believe is by the same director. Good take on a Gogol story, with uneasy sexual undercurrents.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yep, it's from the same director. I just looked it up and see it's an adaptation of Gogol's "Viy." Is it available on DVD with English subs? Might be interesting to compare it to the 1967 Russian version of Viy, which I just watched last night (a little goofy at times but the final 10 minutes were amazing!)

BW said...

I don't think A Holy Place has any legit DVD release unfortunately. I got what I presume was a fan subbed TV rip from Megavideo last year so I presume it must be circulating in other such places as well.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I looked around and found an English fansubbed copy, so I'll be adding this to my summer viewing list.

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