Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vamp or Not? La Notte Dei Dannati

coverThis was a 1971 Italian horror, directed by Filippo Walter Ratti, which was primarily a story of a witch but, as we have seen, there is much cross over between the witchcraft and vampiric genres.

There was, I felt as I watched this, something rather reminiscent of Poe’s ‘Fall of the House of Usher’ – something that is rather fitting as the works of Charles Baudelaire are a key part of this and Baudelaire was the first to translate Poe into French.

The film begins with the journalist Jean Duprey (Pierre Brice) sat at home, smoking a pipe, as his wife Danielle (Patrizia Viotti) reads an article out about a murderer caught due to Jean’s investigative prowess. A Government Minister phones, but he does not take the call and then a letter is delivered.

Jean and DanielleAt first it sounds as though the letter might have been written by an old lover but it is from an old male friend called Guillaume de Saint Lambert (Mario Carra). The letter seems unintelligible at first until Jean realises it refers to a volume of Baudelaire’s works that Guillaume gave him and the true message is encoded within the works. Primarily he refers Jean to the poem L’ennemi. The final two lines of that poem read “And that dark Enemy who gnaws our hearts, Grows strong in blood as he drains us of ours!” Certainly that has a vampiric resonance.

illness takes hold of GuillaumeJean and Danielle travel to the castle in which Guillaume lives. When they arrive they discover that he has married a woman, Rita Lernod (Angela de Leo), and she informs them that Guillaume is ill with a disease un-diagnosable by the doctors and is under the care of one Professor Berry (Alessandro Tedeschi). Guillaume, when he speaks to Jean alone, says that he is going mad and that this malady kills all in his family when they reach 35. In many respects he is an amalgam of both Roderick and Madeline Usher.

marked for deathJean discovers that there is no registered Professor Berry – though Rita tells him it is an assumed name to make Guillaume believe it is his childhood doctor (else he would refuse treatment). Danielle fears the castle and a picture of witch burning sparks dreaming visions in which she is the witch. At one point Jean speaks to Guillaume and we see an image of a skull superimpose over the man’s face.

odd funeralIt is no surprise then to find that Guillaume dies. It is more of a surprise that Jean finds nothing odd in a funeral procession that involves carrying a skull at the head of the procession and the pallbearers wearing sackcloth hoods. One would have thought the great thinker and investigator would have pondered the unusual tradition but it is never mentioned.

Rita enthronedHe and Danielle are to leave when a body is found near the castle. It is a naked woman with claw marks down her breasts and not a drop of blood in her body. We know, because we saw it, that a shadowy figure (clearly Guillaume) took her to a ritual area where Rita sat upon a throne before clawing her body. The police, however, are baffled and want Jean’s help. It seems, once they i.d. her, that she was Guillaume’s cousin and had been taken from Strasburg – some 100 miles away.

Rita agesSo Jean investigates, a second body is found (the first victim’s sister) but that is 300 miles away and Danielle seems to come under Rita’s (sexual) control. Eventually Jean discovers that Guillaume’s ancestor, back in 1650, burned a woman as a witch. That woman’s name was Tarindrole – an anagram of Rita Lernod. Yes, it is she getting revenge on the family of her killer. It seems that the killings are to keep her young. Certainly, at the end, we see her rapidly age.

Guillaume seems to be a zombieGuillaume is some sort of rotting dead servant – more zombie than anything, I would say. As for her – she appears to be immortal and that immortality costs others their lives. They are drained of blood but the whys and wherefores of this are not explored – indeed all we see is clawing. This would bring us slightly into a vampiric arena but for the fact that it is unclear as to why they are drained – and there is no evidence of blood drinking.

All in all I would have to go Not Vamp on this one, there just isn’t enough to cross over from a purely witchcraft genre film. The big problem with this as an actual movie, despite all the mysteries going on and the gothic atmosphere summoned within the castle, is that the film is deathly boring. It really was a bit of a yawner, I’m afraid. The imdb page is here.

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