Sunday, December 6, 2009

La saga de los Drácula (1973)

... aka: Dracula Saga, The
... aka: Dracula: The Bloodline Continues
... aka: Last Vampire, The
... aka: Saga of Dracula, The
... aka: Saga of the Draculas

Directed by:
León Klimovsky

Berta (Tina Sáinz), a descendant of the Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) clan, hasn't been back to her birthplace, a tiny Transylvanian village, since she was a child. Now living in London, married to Hans (Tony Isbert) and in the early stages of pregnancy, Berta receives a telegram from her some estranged relatives asking her to pay them a visit. Berta complies, but once she and her husband arrive in the village, she soon starts regretting they've ever come there. Their coachman refuses to take them to the castle so they're forced to walk by foot. On the way there they discover a topless woman lying in forest with puncture wounds on her neck and breast. They take her to a local inn/tavern where the superstitious townspeople write off the attack (and other similar recent attacks of young women in the area) to a pack of wolves but seem to live in fear about Castle Dracula and its inhabitants.

The next day, Dracula family "administrator" Gabor (J.J. Paladino) meets Berta and Hans at the inn and offers to take them to the castle. Once they arrive they can't locate anyone... but do find inscribed grave markers for each of the family members. He serves them a meal of raw meat and suspiciously thick and foul tasting wine to wash it down with while they wait for the family, who won't be arriving there until later that evening. Grandpa, the aged Count Dracula (Narciso Ibáñez Menta) shows up to reveal that he's remarried a sexy and much-younger young woman named Munia (Helga Liné). Berta's two cousins and childhood playmates; Xenia (María Kosty) and Irina (Cristina Suriani) are still around, too. Everyone seems overjoyed that Berta is pregnant and have a toast that evening to "The future Count Dracula." Though the Count tells his granddaughter they suffer from a genetic disease, it isn't long before the entire family are revealed to be vampires and they want Berta's baby to carry on the family bloodline.

I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised with this one. Despite the fact it's not difficult to find (a DVD was just released last year) this has a measly 67 votes on IMDb and a ho-hum 4.8 rating. While it starts like your usual Gothic horror yarn with all the usual trappings, it eventually charts it own course and becomes sort of like a vampire version of ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) with the blood sucking family holding the pregnant, innocent descendant prisoner in their castle. The woman's useless husband cheats on her with the sexy mistress of the castle and then passes on the vampire gene to the woman's unborn baby after they have sex. The baby then starts feeding internally off the mother, turning her sickly, anemic and eventually batshit crazy. Throw in a one-eyed, web-fingered melty-faced monstrous child kept hidden in the attic, two bizarrely-filmed nightmare sequences (one where our heroine is being chased through a building by a bat-faced monster and another where she leans in to kiss her grandmother and her head falls off!) and a bloody axe rampage at the finale where heads and limbs are hacked off right and left and you have this bizarre Spanish gem.

It's blackly humorous, the cast is great (especially Menta as the bearded, weathered Dracula, who is perfect in his part) and it's even surprisingly creepy at times. The special effects are decent (with vampires given an effectively otherworldly slight green tint at times), the film has a nice misty soft-focus look and the score is excellent. Gothic/ vampire horror fans get what they want (old castles, foggy forests, dark dungeons...) and exploitation fans get what they want (gore, sex and a hilarious scene where the the two vampire cousins strip off in front of a rabbi in the woods and kill him) and everyone is happy. The cast also includes "Henry Gregor"/ Heinrich Starhemberg (the son of Austrian prince Ernst Ruediger von Starhemberg) as a crippled doctor, Betsabé Ruiz as a vampire victim, Luis Ciges and Elsa Zabala.

Klimovsky is best known for his numerous pairings with Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy and holds the distinction of directing the actor more times than anyone else (if you exclude the times Naschy directed himself). The Naschy / Klimovsky collaborations include THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1971), Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf (1971), VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972), Devil's Possessed (1974), A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1974), DEATH OF A HOODLUM (1975), Kidnapped (1976) and The People Who Own the Dark (1976). Other Klimovsky horror efforts that don't feature Naschy include Edge of Fear (1964), VAMPIRE'S NIGHT ORGY (1973), I HATE MY BODY (1974), NIGHT OF THE WALKING DEAD (1975) and Trauma (1978). If you ask me, his work is much more interesting than he's ever been credited for.

The 2008 Deimos DVD (which has been remastered from the original negative and looks great) gives you the option of watching the film dubbed (which is actually surprisingly well done) or in its original language with optional English subtitles. The disc also includes the trailer, an altered credits sequence and alternate "clothed" scenes used for more bashful markets to replace the nudity.


Eugénie (1970)

...aka: De Sade 2000
...aka: Eugenia
...aka: Eugénie de Franval
...aka: Eugenie de Sade
...aka: Eugénie de Sade
...aka: Eugenie Sex Happening

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

The opening credits, which don't waste any time getting right down to the nitty gritty by having a full-blown lesbian scene going on as names splash across the screen, state this is "based on a novel by the Marquis de Sade." That novel is "Eugénie de Franval," something I haven't read. And while I can't speak for this film as an adaptation (the 18th century tale has been moved to a modern day setting), I do know enough about de Sade to say this does justice to certain Sadean themes, such as finding exhilaration and comfort in the sexually forbidden and romanticism in cruelty, torture and death. The lesbian scene that opens the film is interrupted when a man comes into the room, one of the women leaves, the man acts as if he's going to make love to the other woman and then suddenly strangles her to death. All of this turns out to be a home movie that was filmed by a pair of serial killers. The man screening it is a reporter by the name of Attila Tanner (played by director/writer Franco under the name "Franco Manera"). Attila follows the viewing with a trip to the hospital to visit a mortally wounded young woman named Eugénie Radeck ("Susan Korday"/ Soledad Miranda), the female accomplice seen in the film, and listens to her deathbed confession, which is then recounted for us.

Eugénie (whose mother died just days after giving birth to her) lives in a large, snowbound home in Germany with her stepfather Albert (Paul Muller), a well-known and controversial erotica writer. Completely infatuated in a decidedly unhealthy way with the man who has raised her since birth (and vice versa), Eugénie begins sneaking into his library to read his sexually-sadistic books and finds herself becoming intrigued. She tauntingly exposes herself to him; giving him glimpses of her legs, staring intently and hanging on his every word. Albert tells her of the pleasures to be had in inflicting pain upon others and wants her to experience it first hand, so he arranges for Eugénie to accompany him on a French press tour. The two sneak a flight over to Brussels, hire a nude model (Alice Arno) and dear old dad takes pictures while his daughter murders her. The two return home, pick up a hitchhiker and then smother her to death, making passionate love after it's all over. Before long, the two have claimed a handful of victims, sinking their bodies in a nearby ice-covered lake. For an encore, Albert wants Eugenie to seduce a man, make him fall in love with her, break his heart and then kill him; something he plans on filming. He selects an overly-sensitive, virginal jazz trumpeter named Paul ("Andre Montcall"/Andrés Monales) as their prey. Eugenie starts dating him and finds herself falling in love; which turns out to be the undoing of both father and daughter.

Yes, this is very distasteful, unsubtle, exploitative and sometimes disturbing material that not everyone is going to want to see, but it's still a worthwhile piece due to how it's executed. Franco manages to effectively capture the sick relationship between an intelligent, twisted, manipulative and jaded murderer and his equally warped, painfully subservient daughter while keeping true to the spirit of the source author by imbuing the film with a dreamy, (very) darkly erotic feel. He also manages to get good performances from his two leads. Muller is very good in his role but the beautiful Miranda really walks away with this one. She's often seen sitting in a fetal position, almost hugging herself, and gazing blankly at her father; someone she's almost elevated to God-like status in her own mind. Miranda manages to create a sort of tragic anti-heroine here, who's disturbed yet oddly naive and innocent all the same. Just looking at who raised her, and his motivations for doing so, is enough to make her a somewhat sympathetic figure regardless of the terrible things she ends up doing. Franco, on the other hand, is something of a minor debit in his acting role. Though important to the structure of the film, Franco himself is far too wooden to really bring the character, who seems to be stalking the father, to life.

This French/Liechtenstein co-production also boasts a haunting score from Bruno Nicolai, as well as superb cinematography from Manuel Merino, which primarily plays off whites and reds as the cold, wintery isolation of the Radeck home (where father and daughter live in their own little world) clashes with the red warmth of the jazz club (where Eugenie actually gets a chance to interact with others and potentially experience what a more 'normal' relationship is like). It's loaded with nudity and sex (though the director doesn't linger on it for a boring eternity like he does in some of his other films) and while there is some blood, there's no real effects work here. In other words, the blood is simply smeared on victims and that's that.
It was filmed in 1970, though IMDb claims it wasn't released until 1975. This wasn't Franco's first nor would it be his last trip to the de Sade well. He also made MARQUIS DE SADE: JUSTINE (1968), EUGENIE... THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1969), JULIETTE (1970; a film that went unfinished due to star Miranda's tragic passing in an auto accident), PLEASURE FOR THREE (1974), EROTIC SYMPHONY (1980), WICKED MEMOIRS OF EUGENIE (1980), CRIES OF PLEASURE (1983) and HELTER SKELTER (2000), all of which are said to have been based on de Sade's work. The unrated DVD is from Blue Underground.

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