Friday, January 04, 2008

Vampire in Venice – review

Director: Augusto Caminito

Release date: 1988

Contains spoilers

A flawed classic is the best way you could describe this film. Some of the film’s narrative becomes lost and it perhaps has much to do with the numerous directors attached to, and then fired from, the picture; and then Caminito – who had no directorial experience – taking over. It is also, ostensibly a sequel to Nosferatu – the vampyre, though the only real connection seems to be the presence of Klaus Kinski as the vampire.

The look of the vampire has changed – owing much to the fact that Kinski refused to sit through the makeup process. He is not referred to as Count Dracula and only as Nosferatu. The occurrences in the previous film have been completely forgotten within the script and the tenure of the vampire has altered also. He is less the plague carrier and, though plague is mentioned, he seems not to be the source. He is seductive, whereas the original character was repulsive.

The film begins with a hunt where a bat is shot accidentally. One character suggests it is bad luck to kill a bat but another states that it is not the case with this one – it is a vampire bat. A dog eats the bat carcass.

Professor Paris Catalano (Christopher Plummer) arrives in Venice having received a letter from Princess Helietta Canins (Barbara De Rossi). He admits, in his reply, that he is a foremost authority on Nosferatu and explains of his last appearance, in Venice circa 1786. This is where plague is mentioned as a plague swept the city – though there is no indication that it was caused by the vampire. Catalano is convinced that death is what the vampire most desires but urges caution to her plans until he arrives. I have got to say that I was a little unconvinced by the name they gave the professor. As he is referred to as an Englishman his name seems not English at all.

As things progress we discover that it was the house of Canins that was haunted by Nosferatu in that fateful year. That the matriarch of the house, the Princess (Maria Cumani Quasimodo), believes there is a curse upon the women of the house to be killed violently or be carried off by Nosferatu. Helietta believes that Nosferatu is buried alive in the catacombs below the house though Catalano believes he was shipwrecked.

To discover if it is the vampire under the house Helietta has a spiritualist come to the house, to the disgust of resident priest Don Alvise (Donald Pleasence), in order that they might contact Nosferatu. The séance works too well. We see that it contacts the vampire in his hideaway and Helietta’s call for him to come touches him.

Catalano was right, he was shipwrecked and now lives amongst gypsies, to whom he bestows eternal life. One gypsy shows him the image of the one who called him – though it is Helietta, he says that it is a vision from the past as she is the image of an ancestor he prayed upon. Now he has been called he abandons his exile and heads to Venice, where he cuts a swath through the womenfolk of the family.

The lore is unusual and worth looking at in depth. Catalano tells us that “the study of the {vampire} phenomena merely requires the entire span of man’s knowledge.” When asked how one might become a vampire he gives an extensive list including, being the illegitimate son of illegitimate parents, being the son of witches and warlocks, one who commits suicide, being hung, dying of plague, dying with blasphemy on your lips, being a murderer who dies unpunished and being the descendent of a vampire.

As to how they can die, there are some unusual methods. Though we see a staking and the vampire in the basement has been killed by being forced to ingest mercury and then staked, Catalano believes that Nosferatu can only be killed through love. That an innocent woman must give herself to him willingly. Even then, it transpires, his fate is in her hands.

The cross has no effect on Nosferatu, he breaks one and causes, with a glance, another to heat up and burn Catalano’s hands. He is able to take a shotgun blast and, in a fantastic scene, has a hole blown out of his centre that quickly reforms. We discover that he can fly and transform (it seems) into a bat. He can take on the appearance of another and cause a vampire to take on his appearance.

Reflections are oddly handled. At one point we see he has no reflection and yet at another he studies his own reflection. Was this a continuity error or was it because he approached his death – I prefer to think the later. Dogs go nuts when he is near, causing Nosferatu, in a brilliant scene, to kick manically at a fence, behind which dogs are going nuts. He can summon winds as well, it appears. He must sleep on accursed earth that has known human suffering and sleeps for 24 hours every 24 days, with the screams of suffering in the earth lulling him to slumber. Daylight, it seems, is not an issue.

I mentioned earlier that he could be seductive and one of his attacks is just that. Indeed the scene gives most romantic versions of Dracula a run for their money. Yet another attack is violent and has a sexual overtone that lends a feel of rape. This, to me, shows the polarity of the character. When he kills one person, by throwing them out of the window, he seems almost gentle in his ministrations until he throws a glove after their tumbling body with an air of utter disdain.

As I say, the lore is unusual. It borrows from tradition sometimes and other aspects – such as the times he sleeps and the use of mercury – are completely unique to this production.

The acting is generally excellent. Plummer, rather than chewing up the scenary as he would normally do, adds a gravitas to his role that makes us believe in the character. Kinski is superb as Nosferatu– even if he looks a little like an aging rocker gone bad – filling each scene with presence. Pleasance is fantastic but under-used. One wonders why his character was there and I can’t help but think he was meant to have a larger role that became cut in the troubled shoot.

The soundtrack is fantastic, heavily reliant on “The Mask” album by Vangelis. It could have so easily gone horribly wrong, the synthesised basis for Vangelis’ music spoiling the atmosphere of a purely gothic piece of cinema. However it fits perfectly, adding to the atmosphere rather than distracting from it. Ceccarelli’s more orchestral score also fits and the two styles juxtapose wonderfully.

The main star, however, is Venice herself. The decayed opulence and apparent decadence add an atmosphere all of its own. The film is simply breathtaking. Herein lies the rub. If you want to see the film you’ll have to track down the VHS (though I understand there might be a German print DVD) and, of course, the transfer is flawed now. This film deserves a full digital clean up and DVD release.

It is flawed but breathtaking and I can understand why some hate it. I still have memories of hiring it from the video shop almost two decades ago and being blown away, however. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

This is another one of my favourite vampire movies. I actually enjoy it more then the movie is was a sequel to.

A little ways from my house is a cult video emporium called TRASH VIDEO that has lots of old horror on video tape - where i discovered Hammer Horror, Eurohorror (Franco, Rollin, Bava etc), Count Yorga and this little gem. I wasn't aware of it being a sequel to NOSFERATU: THE VAMPYRE back then - I can't remember if i'd seen it then. I was taken with how haunting this film is - and thinking about it I think that is a guage I used to rate vampire films. The only other vampire film I've seen set in Venice is ETERNAL - that recent film about Bathory.

Still this film is quite well done and the Nosferatu is quite menacing though they give no reason why he is tired of his immortality. I enjoyed the lore as well, especially how NOSFERATU is 2nd in power only to Lucifer and you can see why. The sountrack by Vangelis was apt for this movie and if you look hard enough you'll find an electronic copy of this film - though for some reason mine has chinese/japanese subtitles.

They don't make vampire films like this anymore - I curse the day they started making Vampire films with Teenage characters - you don't need them....

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, League of Extrapordinary Gentlemen has moments in Venice but vampire films set there are few and far between.

This is the only classy one (I disliked Eternal) and it is a great movie.

I son't mind teens but it is nice to have an adult orientated movie once in a while.

Anonymous said...

Oh Yes I've seen LXG and I enjoyed it, Mina Harker's character was quite good, so was Dorian Grey's tho Stuart Townsend basically copied his performance of Lestat from Queen of the Damned.

I enjoyed Eternal for what it was - Montreal looks like a lovely city too - they don't do many films with Bathory - I think the last one was Countess Dracula with Ingrid Pitt back in the Hammer days - and I'm still trying to get my paws on "Blood and Roses" by Roger Vadim? it's in parts on youtube though....

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Blood and Roses not being on DVD is a sin.

Bathory appears now and then, she is in some of the Nashy films, for instance Night of the Werewolf and is a computer spirit (or some such) in Stay Alive.

More recently two films are in/have finished production based upon her.

Anonymous said...

You're right - I've seen Night of the Werewolf and its original version Werewolf Vs Vampire Woman. I am actually a big fan of Jacinto/Paul Naschy - i think NOTW is actually quite menacing - I cackle at the wolf-man's snarling and grunting tho the vampires in this film are done quite well - they are utterly evil and when they scream after touching/seeing a crucifix it turned my blood cold (and I'm a seasoned vampire buff). Also when they do the sneak attacks/gliding in slow-mo - the Bathory crypt scenes are striking too.

That's why I have high hopes for BLED - most american vampire films are dross - tho SS and VJ could be deemed US productions tho they are 100 times better due to the Romanian locales.

Stay Alive was okay tho I was disappointed we didn't see more of Bathory's backstory at the finishing school - it would have been cool to see her fall from Grace - I think it was one of the last films besides Skeleton Key to be filmed in New Orleans before Katrina struck...

I am trying to get hold of those two films you are talking of? one is a Czech film called BATHORY with Anna Friel and the Other one is THE COUNTESS with Julie Delpy? I don't know if I want to see them to be honest - I prefer the 'myth' that she was a black sorceress that actually did what she did (note: like Cruelty and the Beast by Cradle of Filth) not the victim of male noblemen in her family that accused her of false crimes so they could claim her holdings and wealth..

one more thing is there a way I can know if I recieve replies to my comments without having to check each page manually? thanks.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, I think you can subscribe via atom to post comments but I do not know how that works mate

Neal Snow said...

Just recently watched this film for the first time (was double tough finding a copy of it - mine had inbedded subtitles, but better than nothing)after hearing so much negative about it over the years, and I was pleasantly surprised. It's a pretty good vampire film.

BTW, while watching it, I figured out a way to enjoy this film as a direct sequel to Nosferatu without stretching believability too much. Hear me out.

As anyone who watched Nosferatu knows, at the conclusion Jonathan Harker leave town, supposedly carrying the curse of Dracula with him. He already showed signs that he was turning. So who is to say that the vampire from the Venice film isn't a vampirized Harker who took on more traits and memories of Dracula as time passed? It would explain why the vampire in this film has a head of hair and why he doesn't refer to himself as Dracula, because he isn't, not exactly.

Maybe that's stretching, but going into the movie with that scenario in place seems to fit, at least for me.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Neal - glad you were able to source it, this does need a digi-clean up and proper release imho.

I would say that your theorem is, on the surface, quite attractive - but the film sees Nosferatu in Venice centuries before... that said, where it works less as a sequel for that reason your theory could lead us down another other way - that rather than the vampirised Harker this was the one who turned Orlock/Dracula