Friday, November 27, 2009

Vamp or Not? Vedma

dvdThe story Viy, by Nikolai Gogol, has been made into a film a few times now. Most beautiful, in my opinion, is the 1967 film of the same name. Then again, the Mario Bava directed effort from 1960, Black Sunday, might not be recognisable – at first glance – as the same story but it is amongst my favourite vampire films. Black Sunday was kind of remade by Lamberto Bava in 1989, but the resultant Demons 5 was a barely recognisable poor facsimile.

In 2006 Oleg Fesenko remade the story – pretty much in the mode of the 1967 Viy – and called it Vedma. I said that it was pretty much a remake of Viy but I wanted to go through this as a ‘Vamp or Not?’ Whilst this, like the earlier film, seems to show a strigoï it deviates a little in lore and that deviation actually probably adds vampiric elements to the film. For those new to the term we are looking at the traditional form of strigoï, in other words the evil souls of the dead that rise to torment the living, and are one of the bases of the modern vampire myth. There are two forms, the strigoï mort is a dead, or should I say undead, vampire. However the strigoï vii is a living vampiric witch. The strigoï vii will invade the dreams of children and ride them through their nightmares, this is commonly known as being hag-ridden and is a form of psychic vampirism. On death, the strigoï vii will become the strigoï mort.

chance meeting with a priestIvan Berkhoff (Valeri Nikolayev) is a reporter for, given some of the pictures on his wall, a less than salubrious tabloid – the reference to the Pulitzer Prize was, one feels, sarcasm – and is woken by his phone (which is picked up by one of the two ladies he is in bed with). It is his editor and he has been missing for two days, he is threatened with the sack but is soon on his way to Castleville; a place said to be bewitched. As for where this film was set? This is a Russian production but the writing seen – for instance the framed newspaper articles – was in English and it looked like a bizarre mix of Russia and mid-west America in costume and prop design. On the way to Castleville he stops in a bar, has an altercation with a local and ends up speaking to Father Touz – a large bear-like priest, who discusses faith with him.

the old woman offers shelterAs he reaches Castleville’s outskirts his car breaks down and then we see that the weather turns bad. On the radio a man discusses black magic and the mortuus vivus or the living dead. He mentions how the moon can give birth to dead things – something straight out of the earlier vampire stories such as the vampyre and Varney the Vampire. He also goes on to say that water is their element (it is pouring down) – this is due to its association with the moon, but is kind of opposite to standard vampiric lore – and that that night is, astrologically, a particularly bad night. Ivan leaves his car and it locks itself behind him. He has no choice but brave the storm. He finds a house, requests shelter and is given entry by an old woman who shows him to a room.

taking a bathHe runs himself a bath and is in it when a young woman enters the room. He is rather lecherous towards her as she pours him a drink. She tells him, as she leaves, that her name is Meryl. When she returns she is in a nightdress and gets into the bath with him. The lamp burns out as he kisses her shoulder and then we realise she has become the old woman – so does he. She is grabbing at him aggressively and he strangles her below the water. The plug comes out and she drains into the plug hole which then starts belching water back into the bath. He gets out of the room and water starts pouring below the door, a hand appears at the glass and then a tsunami of bathwater crashes through the house, chasing his towel wearing self outside.

flying by the carHe finds himself besides a truck (which we recognise as belonging to Father Touz) and drives off. The old woman appears at the side window, chasing the truck, and he crashes. He gets out of the cab and checks the flatbed. Touz is in it, quite dead with blood at his eyes. Ivan takes his clothes (and his caged rooster) and walks into the night. A policeman picks him up and mistakes him for the priest they are waiting for (Touz).

Meryl in her coffinIn the morning, having met a housekeeper who informs him that a young girl was attacked the night before, he is met by the Sheriff (Lembit Ulfsak) who tells him that the girl was actually murdered and was called Meryl. The Sheriff asks how he knew the girl, something Ivan denies, but it is because she asked – before dying – that the new priest say three nightly masses for her. Ivan is trapped in his lie and has to pray for her for three nights in the gothic monstrosity of a church. He also discovers that Meryl was the sheriff’s daughter.

Mr PatchThe film fairly much follows the pattern of the ’67 Viy now, with Ivan sitting vigil and the corpse coming alive – each night its powers becoming stronger it seems. However, how the corpse behaves is different. On the first night the corpse only seems to twitch a finger and open an eye before she transforms into a flock of bats that chase Ivan through the church. The attack stops as the cock crows and bats, of course, have had a strong vampire resonance ever since Stoker. The following day he is told by Mr Patch – the wheelchair bound brother of the previous priest – that *they* fear light, a circle drawn with chalk will protect Ivan and he must pray.

Meryl flyingThe next night a rather drunk Ivan does pray for the girl who rises from her coffin, her long nailed hand dripping with water as the coffin fills with liquid, she then flies around the church. In fear Ivan draws a circle and it does indeed stop the girl from getting to him. She tells him to look at her and says that she will take his blood and steal his soul. Of course the reference to taking his blood is very vampiric.

breaching the circleIvan knocks over his bottle of whisky and the liquid spills over his chalk and breaks the circle, this lets her push through a rip in the mystical barrier - revealing an almost demonic face. Luckily the cock crows, heralding morning. Ivan’s hair has turned white with fear but a video he set up sees him fighting against nothing. He does try and escape from the town, on the second night he stole a bicycle, to no effect, and the third night he steals a boat but the river just meanders back to town. That last night he discovers that the cock has been cooked for him (it was accidentally run over) and we realise that no one believes he is the priest but they rely on him as they all fear the girl.

repelled by the crossHis circle on the final night is actually three circles and her attack is much fiercer. She sets the circle on fire and also the home in which Mr Patch lives (as it is his prayers and faith that are helping Ivan). The circle breaks down and Mr Patch is injured but he is able to whisper about the crucifix. It seems, somehow, Ivan heard the old man and, holding it up to Meryl, the cross actually holds her back for a moment.

destroyed by the sunHis victory comes, however, when a hole is broken into the roof of the church allowing the sun to flood in. It burns Meryl, who not knowing it was daybreak (as the cock did not crow), is not in her coffin. Being held back by the cross and burning in the sun are both straight from the vampire handbook, as it were. In this version there is no summoning of the creature Viy.

Valeri Nikolayev as IvanYes this falls into the vampiric area. Like Viy (1967), it is probably not instantly recognisable as such. The Strigoi vii and mort motif is still in place (though, like the earlier film, not directly referred to) but the suggestion of taking his blood, the term mortuus vivus, the holding back of her with the cross and the destruction in sunlight actually make for a stronger case than the earlier film. The film is not as good as the 1967 version, not by a long shot, but does have some nicely gothic scenes and is better than the score and comments on imdb would suggest.

The imdb page is here.

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