Monday, July 30, 2007

Vamp or Not? Alucarda


This is a film that has consistently appeared on vampire filmographies and as such I watched it without thinking that I might be forced to write a ‘Vamp or Not?’ piece for it. However, as the film progressed I really felt that it was the only way to go. What we have is a tale of possession almost in the mode of “The Devils”, with injections of Carmilla (indeed Le Fanu is mentioned in the writing credits) and imagery that Pan’s Labyrinth would owe a debt to in years to come – not surprising as Del Torro cites director Juan López Moctezuma as an inspiration. We should note that the film was released in 1975 and not 1978 as cited on imdb.

Of course, in a ‘Vamp or Not?’ investigation we are going to have to start with the film’s title, which is the name of the central character played by Tina Romero. It doesn’t take much to realise that Alucarda is A Dracula reversed. There is one further hint (just about) to connect this with Stoker’s vampire, which I’ll mention at the appropriate time.

Alucarda's birthThe film begins with the birth of Alucarda, in a crypt that is dominated by a statue of a Pan like creature. There is some kind of servant, who looks a little odd, and Alucarda’s mother (also played by Romero) tells the servant to take Alucarda to the convent and to not let him get her. Who this ‘him’ is, we never know – the devil? A pagan god? The answer doesn’t come, however once the baby has gone the mother looks fearful as noises fill the crypt and she begins to scream.

Cut forward fifteen years and Justine (Susana Kamini) is an orphan taken to the convent. She is led through the building by Sister Angélica (Tina French), past Dr Oszek (Claudio Brook) who is collecting his blind daughter, Daniela (Lili Garza). Justine is deposited in her room and Alucarda, her roommate, appears. Alucarda begins to show Justine her ‘secret things’ – which consist of general crap she has found. Thus starts their close friendship, which strongly hints at lesbianism.

Justine and AlucardaOutside, at one point, they see a funeral procession. Alucarda says it is a funeral for Cynthia, who killed herself and because of this she is being taken to unhallowed ground. Now I mentioned overtones of Carmilla and here we see one. We have the two young girls and the hinted lesbianism, true, but here Justine shows her fear of death and Alucarda states, “Everyone must die but there can be happiness beyond death.” This is very similar to the line from Carmilla when observing a funeral, “Why you must die. Everyone must die; and all are happier when they do.”

Claudio Brook as the gypsyIn another moment away from the convent they meet a satyr like gypsy (also played by Claudio Brook) who offers them charms to protect them from the demons that infest the forest. Justine is wary but Alucarda follows him. They reach a gypsy encampment where a gypsy woman reads Justine’s palm, seeing only darkness and shadows. Alucarda looks at the satyr gypsy’s wares and picks up a knife – forged from the tears of a gypsy girl he says – and then suddenly the girls run in fear.

with the gypsy daggerThey end up at a crypt, the exterior draped with fabric, which seems familiar to Alucarda. They enter the crypt (where Alucarda was born and where she now claims she can hear the voices of the past) and Alucarda suggests that they make a pact of love in blood. Justine is scared, thus the pact does not happen, and Alucarda moves over to a coffin. Now I mentioned a further, ostensibly, Dracula connection. The coffin is marked Lucy Western – close enough one feels to Lucy Westenra to class as a reference. The coffin contains a desiccated corpse and noises, such as came for Alucarda’s mother, fill the tomb.

tasting bloodAt a religious teaching, Father Lázaro (David Silva) tells the girls of possession and Justine faints. Alucarda is left with her in their room and starts ranting (in a possessed sort of way), pulling a crucifix from Justine. She mentions the pact again and the satyr gypsy appears. He helps them cut each other’s breast and they seal the pact with blood upon the lips and a kiss. Then Alucarda drinks the blood from her friends wound.

the flying nunCutting to Sister Angélica we see the nun praying and blood begins to seep from her face. Meanwhile the girls are with the gypsies and an orgy begins. The scene is strange, imagery abounding such as a Baphomet type goat headed creature – though it could be meant to be someone in a mask. Sister Angélica’s prayers culminate in her levitating and the gypsy fortune teller receives a wound to the neck, killing her.

nunsploitationFrom here on we hit fairly standard possession, nunsploitation material that culminates in an exorcism that kills Justine and sees Alucarda rescued by Dr Oszek (as he is a man of science not superstition). To this point we have had very little vampiric involvement, we have had references to Dracula and Carmilla, plus the sealing of a pact with blood (and blood drinking) but nothing definitive. There is also the fact that Justine is sensitive to sunlight, though Father Lázaro puts this down to her being possessed by a heliophobic demon. However the vampiric imagery does increase here on in.

finding a cripsy nunJustine’s body has been laid in repose, watched over by nuns, when it is discovered that it has gone missing. We have actually seen the hand twitch. They find the body of the nun and she is burnt to a crisp. Later Father Lázaro visits the crispy nun and she starts to move, only to cease when the priest beheads the animated corpse. At this point the Doctor believes and realises he has left his daughter with Alucarda. Sister Angélica leads them to the crypt.

coffin of bloodHere we get our most vampiric moments. Sister Angélica is alone and opens a coffin. Inside is Justine floating in blood – which matches the description of finding Carmilla at the end of LeFanu’s novel. She emerges, snarling like a beast, and approaches the nun but her approach is halted when Angélica implores God to help her.

bitenHowever the Doctor and a monk called Felipe (Martin LaSalle) come in and start flinging holy water on Justine’s back, which burns her. Enraged she lunges at the nun and bites her neck, leaving her to die in a spray of blood. The young girl then falls to the floor and dissolves into a skeleton. The remainder of the film is about finding Alucarda and has a touch of Carrie as she starts burning people with her mind.

In the main this does not seem Vamp, it is a possession story. However the ending, in respect of Justine, has very vampiric overtones. Her possession came about through a blood rite, she is heliophobic (a trait common to vampires, demons and witches), after she dies she sleeps in a coffin of blood, she is burnt by holy water and rapidly decays to skeleton and she bites the neck of a victim – though no fangs are evident. All in all I would say this pushes the film to have a rightful place on vampire filmographies – though the majority of the film is more like the Devils than your standard genre piece.

The imdb page is here.

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