Filmed alongside Jesus Franco’s Dracula in 1970 (ignore the film’s opening text saying it’s from Hammer’s Dracula film – it isn’t), Vampir is an intriguingly odd movie. Filming behind the scenes of that interpretation of the Dracula tale – in high contrast black and white no less – a new tale is formed, one all the more sinister thanks to the lack of natural sound and dialogue. This has been replaced with ambient noises that are disconcerting and disturbing in equal measure. Almost as much as the vast periods of silence that dominate the film, in fact.
It creates a huge distance between the film and the audience, making you think about what you are experiencing and how you should interpret what you are seeing. This is not just a vampire film but a behind the scenes expose. I admit, it’s a bit of a weird one all the same. Scenes that would have intended to scare the audience in the original film are undercut by watching the cast and crew messing around on set, or revealing the secrets of filmmaking as par for the course.
It might be best if you looked on Cuadecuc as a parody: both of the horror genre and of filmmaking as a whole. Both of these, after all, only have the rules we give to them. If we were to throw out the rulebook about what cinema can do, what would the result be? Inevitably, something very much like this. I think my brain has just dribbled onto the floor.
What results is something that is disconcerting, yes, but not scary. It reveals the power of film, its ability to pull you into a story – any story – and obscuring all of the behind the scenes work that goes into making the action on screen a reality. It’s not always clear what exactly you’re watching, the camera occasionally zooming in or focusing on very specific details within a scene, on or around an actor.
Here, Christopher Lee’s Dracula is older than his Hammer equivalent, more taciturn and stoic than the sexual predator he is presented as elsewhere. This is in keeping with Franco’s vision of the character, who grows younger each time he imbibes blood. That is perhaps the only through line that is maintained. Everything else is disjointed, confusingly arranged.
The soundscape is also at odds with the images. Modern day sound effects – mechanical diggers, the hustle and bustle of city life – are dumped on top of the footage without rhyme or reason.
Our journey through the madness ends with Lee giving us a reading from Stoker’s novel. This is the only relatively sane part of the film. It fits with the preceding 70-odd minutes but is also at odds with it. Lee is superb, as you might expect, giving Stoker’s words added gravitas and intonation.
An interesting curio then, and perhaps more heavily indebted to the political regime in Spain at the time than is at first apparent. It’s something unique, subversive and intriguing in equal measure.