Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vamp or Not? Leonor


Leonor was a Euro-Horror from 1975, directed by Juan Luis Buñuel. It came to my attention as it is often listed as a vampire movie. Imdb have keywords of “vampire” and “female vampire” for the film and offer the following plot synopsis “A female vampire rises from her crypt every night in search of children as her victims.” Unfortunately that synopsis is far from accurate as we’ll see.

J Gordon Melton mentions it in passing, as a vampire film, in the Vampire Book, unfortunately Melton’s encyclopaedia is riddled with inaccuracies and so you cannot simply take his word for it.

The film itself is based on the story Wake Not the Dead (for a clarification re authorship please see the article about the story) but the fact that it is based on a vampire story does not, in itself, make the film a vampire film if the vampiric elements are expunged.

tending to the dying LeonorThis film begins with two riders attacked by bandits. One of the riders, Richard (Michel Piccoli), fights them and defeats them all – bar two who flee. He is a local Lord and the other rider (José María Caffarel) is a doctor – summoned because Richard’s wife, Leonor (Liv Ullmann), is dying. She has been administered by the castle’s gardener and herbalist Thomas (Antonio Ferrandis) but he has been unsuccessful in reviving her after her accident – she was crushed by her horse. Thomas mistrusts the doctor’s methods – bleeding and then opening her up for surgery.

In her coffinLeonor dies and Richard is besides himself with grief. He has her interned in a sarcophagus – the bones of the former occupant are thrown into a field – and then has the crypt sealed. He does not wait for the priest to offer prayers and, we later discover, no mass is said for her. He then rides into town and speaks to a local man (George Rigaud) informing him that his wife was buried that day and he will marry the man’s daughter, Catherine (Ornella Muti).

he is haunted by her memoryWe see the years pass by, we see that Catherine competes against the memory of the lost Leonor. We see her heavy with child and with a toddler. During this scene we also see Richard get very drunk with friends, one is a trader through whom we hear that the black death is sweeping through Italy. Richard’s drunkenness becomes violent and he smashes the room – and that violence is an outpouring of the grief he still feels. Indeed we see Leonor stalking the drunk Richard – though she is a figment of his imagination.

Ornella Muti as CatherineTime continues to move on, ten years have passed since Leonor died and it seems that Richard and Catherine are happy. But then he sees Leonor again, this time by a river bank, and his grief sends him into a spiral of insanity. Now, the problem here is that it is a little unbelievable to think that Ornella Muti would be unable to distract a man from his grief! Be that as it may. Richard ignores his wife’s bed, though it seems he does feel guilt for the way he treats her.

the madness of griefHe opens up his Leonor’s crypt and sits vigil. At one point it seems that he is trying to open the sarcophagus but he only shifts the lid a little and then stops. Catherine attends the crypt but she cannot make her husband leave the crypt and rejoin the living. Eventually he rides out to a bridge and cries out in his grief.

the mysterious strangerHis grief is heard by a mysterious stranger who asks why his grief is so great when nations have crumbled with less fuss. He suggests that Richard let the dead rest but then suggests she can be brought back but only by Richard, himself, if he wants it enough. They go to the crypt and despite the warnings Richard wishes to be reunited with his lost love. The stranger’s actions are much lessened than the story this was based on.

Leonor back from the deadThe sarcophagus is opened and Leonor appears in a gale. Richard runs in fear but then returns to her. She has no memory of much other than Richard and doesn’t realise how much time has passed. Richard returns home and tells Catherine (whose father has died and been buried whilst Richard was away from his castle) to leave. When she tenderly touches him and asks why, he stabs her, burns her clothes and drops her body down a well.

He brings Leonor back – telling the servants that she is the new mistress. When in the castle she shuts curtains as though the daylight is too bright – this seems lifted from the base story but is quickly forgotten as she wanders the day with impunity. She has Thomas (who recognises her) make a strong perfume for her. Presumably she thinks there is a charnel smell but only mentions that her skin feels odd. She seems reserved towards her husband not matching Richard’s passion.

looming over RichardThen we see her walking out and meeting a girl. She tells the girl a story – a rather macabre one that she says is true and involves cannibalism – and the girl falls asleep. She rips open the girls dress and… we don’t see. All we discover is that the girl is dead and then, later, that 13 children are dead. Following the murder she meets Richard with passion but we do not see whether she just murders the children or feeds off them in some way. Later we see her perched over Richard’s chest – does she feed, we do not know.

The only other things we discover is that the plague is getting closer – obviously plague and vampirism can be linked in some mythologies but the plague was a feature within the film before she was raised from the dead. The mysterious stranger has a red powder that can be used to make a circle to keep her out. She is apparently killed, in the end, when Richard rides them both off the bridge (by that time she has killed his two sons). They land in running water but I didn't think that was done because running water is sometimes used against vampires.

The frustrating thing about this is that it is based on a vampire story – follows it with a degree of accuracy, even – and yet fails to illuminate the vampiric aspects. She may feed on the children, we don’t know. As such I cannot really say it is Vamp or it isn’t – the vital evidence is missing. However it is a film based on a vampire story, for what that is worth.

The imdb page is here.

Interesting Shorts: Wake Not the Dead

[Edited re Comments recieved] This story is often credited to Johann Ludwig Tieck, with a suggestion that it was published around 1800, though it seems that the credit should actually fall to Ernst Benjamin Salomo Raupach who published the story under the title "Leave the dead alone". From Volver a la Magia Radio-Show blog "This story was published in 1823 in the pages of Minerva, a literary magazine in Leipzig. That same year the story was translated from German into English in the first volume of Popular Tales and Romances of the Northern Nations under the title Wake Not the Dead and was wrongly attributed to Johann Ludwig Tieck."

Authorship aside, the story commonly known as 'Wake not the Dead' follows Walter – a Lord – whose wife Brunhilda dies, leaving him heartbroken. The story seen in the film Leonor quite closely follows the original in basic plot. Walter does remarry – Swanhilda – though his first wife was dark haired and the second was blonde, opposite to the film.

The longing for Brunhilda eventually does send him mad with grief and he happens upon a sorcerer. The sorcerer revives Brunhilda for him though his role is more active than in the film and the ritual involves blood. “Upon this the sorcerer poured upon it some blood from out of a human skull, exclaiming at the same time, 'Drink, sleeper, of this warm stream, that thy heart may again beat within thy bosom.'” Brunhilda, when revived, actively seeks the removal of Swanhilda but Walter only sends the second wife away, rather than kill her.

The vampirism is more pronounced and Brunhilda is a creature of the night, “This being done, she cried; ‘Haste, let us away ere the dawn breaks, for my eye is yet too weak to endure the light of day.’” She is not destroyed by sunlight but does avoid it. She feeds from the young, and does kill Walter’s children. She is able to put a person into a deep sleep through the magic power of her breath, in order to aid her feeding. Walter stumbles upon a mysterious herb that counteracts the effect and thus is able to see Brunhilda for what she is – as she feeds from him.

Killing her is tied in with the moon – she is weakened during the dark of the new moon and this is another example of early vampire stories having the vampire gain power from the moon. Walter must pierce her bosom on that night with a dagger and then renounce her.

An interesting vampire story, with some unusual lore – the victim in this, Walter, is entirely to blame as he caused the vampire to rise – and the means of the resurrection was necromancy by a sorcerer who had a morally grey outlook (he neither believed in good or evil).

The story can be found online here.


Anthony Hogg said...

Going by the movie's title and a few common themes, I'm wondering if it was (at least partly) based on Edgar Allen Poe's "Lenore" (1843).

Now, as to authorship, Rob Brautigam of Shroudeater claims that "Wake Not the Dead" wasn't written by Tieck (1773 – 1853), but by "Ernst Benjamin Salomo Raupach as Lasst Die Toten Ruhen, and it was published in 1823, not before".

Reference here.

And here's another article of interest.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Anthony - I'll add a reference into the article re Raupach.

Re Lenore - I think it entirely plausible that the name of Leonor was taken from Poe's work but the substance was certainly taken from Wake Not the Dead.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Further to that - in your second link it does mention that the name Leave the Dead Alone was taken from the vampire ballad by Gottfried August Burger, Lenore (1774) - this could also be a name source for the movie.

Anthony Hogg said...

Hi Taliesin,

After I wrote my comment, I had write a blog entry of my own. Here 'tis!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Again cheers, Anthony, clarification on errors such as these are welcome here and - one hopes - your article will keep the authorship issues known and credit where it is due.

Anthony Hogg said...

I hope so, too!

Crawford's paper certainly looks like it'd make interesting reading, too.

Now, on a completely unrelated not, I was having a re-watch of Hocus Pocus (1993) tonight and I think it'd be ripe for your "Vamp or Not" segement.

Not sure if you've seen or given coverage to it, but if you get around to it, you'll see why.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Suggestion noted - it is a long time since I last watched the film and I remember quite enjoying it.

I'll keeep an eye out and certainly look to covering it.

The Black Count said...

Hey Andy,

Thanks for the review on this. I love Eurohorror as you know, and not just vampire ones, so I'm going to actively hunt this down to watch.

I'll plan on reading this story online as well, as you don't get the opportunity to read many antiquated vampires stories in this day and age, so thanks.

In a way more than Lenore, this story resembles to me 'The Tomb of Ligeia', especially the Corman/Price version...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

no problem, glad the article has inspired you to check it out

Christine said...

Historical settings and woman who comes back from the dead to kill children... hm, sounds reasonably Gothic!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The original story itself is most definitely full of Gothic sensibility