Friday, March 21, 2008

The Dracula Saga – review


Director: León Klimovsky

Release Date: 1972

Contains spoilers

The first thing to say about this is: Look at that cover! Now that is what movie art should be. I was so taken by the cover that I scanned it and made a wallpaper of it for my desktop. The next thing is: What a nice little DVD set. Again the folks at Deimos have done us proud, the print is nice (there is some problems with outside shots texturing slightly but all in all it is great), the film is both subtitled and dubbed. When all is said and done they do make a nice DVD set.

As for the actual film… Well, its mixed bag time. The film looks great but the story is a bit patchy. We’ll get to that, of course, but the film begins with a voice over in which Count Dracula (Narciso Ibáñez Menta) explains how his line is nearly extinct and, to keep it going, he sent his granddaughter Berta (Tina Sáinz) away.

Tina Sáinz as BertaWe see Berta, in a strangely shot sequence, being pursued by a hairy, fanged beast. It becomes readily apparent that this is a dream and she wakes up in a carriage with her husband Hans (Tony Isbert). Berta is pregnant and returning to her grandfather’s castle. It becomes more than apparent that she knows nothing of her family history.

The carriage comes to a halt when the horses refuse to go on and the carriage driver suggests they spend the night in a barn. Not prepared to do so, Hans and Berta set out on foot to the nearby inn. The woods are supposedly haunted by lamiae but they move through without incident until Berta sees a hand poking out of the foliage. This belongs to a girl, bleeding from the neck and naked breast. The girl stands but quickly faints. The couple take her to the inn.

Stilla bittenIt is here that the patchy story starts to hit in, characters and concepts are introduced and perhaps, in the main, not followed through. What we find however is that the local doctor (Heinrich Starhemberg) is a sceptic but the innkeeper’s daughter, Stilla (Betsabé Ruiz), is a vampire victim, who covers for the new victim as she vanishes off. We see Stilla, later, visited by a cloaked figure.

First victim appears happyOne thing I liked about this movie was the bite marks left on the victims. I know it might seem a small thing but they were really well done. It becomes clear, as the story goes on, that the loyalties of someone bitten immediately fall to the vampire. In addition to this the girl from the woods seems, almost, in a sexual ecstasy as she lies injured.

The next morning the administrator of the Count, Gabor (J J Paladino), comes to the inn to pick up Hans and Berta. When they arrive at the castle, Berta wishes to see the tomb of her grandmother. She is shocked to find coffins for her grandfather and her cousins Irina (Cristina Suriani) and Xenia (María Kosty). Gabor tries to gloss things over and suggests that she will see her family that evening. Hans suggests that, as morbid as it sounds, her family have bought their coffins in advance.

what was with the wine?They sit and have dinner together but Berta feels that the meat is undercooked, it is dripping with blood, and Hans finds the wine unpalatable. The wine was an oddity. Clearly too thick to be wine the inference was that it was blood, but it was too bright in colour. There is no definitive explanation in the film.

Hans is staring disaster in the faceBerta is more and more worried but then her family reappear and her worries seem to evaporate. Her Grandfather has a new wife, Munia (Helga Liné). All seems to be going well, however when they insist that Berta drinks the wine she freaks out and leaves the table. The film then follows her descent into madness and Hans seduction by the vampire women (and ultimately his demise).

the deformed offspringThe passage of time is marked by the size of Berta through her pregnancy and the story takes both interesting and bizarre twists. There is a priest attacked, though there seems little consequence in the later plot. There are gypsies who seem to be plot devices rather than characters. Then there is the freakish Bolerio, the creature locked away in the castle. Obviously a child or grandchild of Dracula the child has webbed hands and a malformed head, as well as being a Cyclops. He is the embodiment of the taint in the line and the reason Berta’s unborn child is so important.

family snapshotThe effects that create Bolerio seem poor nowadays and yet other effects work well (there is one exceptionally well done stabbing). That said the feel of the castle is wonderful and has a Hammeresque tint. The biggest failing is in the fits and starts within the story.

Narciso Ibáñez Menta as Count DraculaSometimes it feels as though a critical aspect has been left out. It is always possible to work out where the film has jumped to, but it does take an effort and perhaps a more lyrical plot progression was needed. If I sound harsh I don’t mean to; I found the film a joy to watch visually but not so much story wise. That said the ending was wonderful, so much so that I won’t spoil it for you. 5.5 out of 10 is given with the caveat that the film, as a whole, hovers above average but I do think it well worth a watch for any Euro-horror fan.

The imdb page is here.


Evan said...

Great review! Just bought this yesterday, myself. Thought it was an interesting plot but seemed to drag a little, aside from things being left unexplained (i.e. The German Doctor). I love the ending myself, as well.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Evan. The great thing with the Deimos DVDs is that they are lovely sets as well.

And that ending...

OllieMugwump said...

I've made a point of seeing this sometime in the future.

I've got "Vampires Night Orgy", Helga Line was 'okay' in that she looks gorgeous here and that penultimate screen-cap could be a cover for Stoker's novel.

Deimos should also do "Strange Love of the Vampires/Night of the Walking Dead" Klimovsky's other (rarer than rare) genre piece.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

olliemugwump - this was far superior (content wise ) to Vampire's night orgy. To be honest I think Diemos should do most old Euro-Horror, they make such a good job of it.

The T said...

Great review! A little slow, and the cyclops creature is just too horrible, but an enjoyable film nevertheless!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers the T

Steven W. Bentley said...

I saw this film at the drive-in years ago, and though the movie itself is not much, my family has made fun of Bolerio for years, mocking his fish-like mouth movements and webbed hands whenever we possibly can. As a result, when I saw this out on dvd I jumped at buying it. I find Klimovsky's genre work to be beautifully surreal, and almost dreamlike. Charming stuff, and a wonderful review.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks Steven, it is a testament to Klimovsky's work that his films can have a character such as Bolerio in it and yet the film still be worth watching through its sheer beauty.