Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lilith, a Vampire who Comes Back – review

Director: Gianni Virgadaula

Release date: 2008

Contains spoilers

Originally called Lemuri – Il bacio di Lilith this is an Italian black and white (and at times dyed, including into sepia) silent film. There are some critical issues but mostly it does what it wants to do rather well. The blurb of the DVD suggests that it pays homage to A Fool there Was (1915), which I didn’t overly see bar in a flashback, and even then any connection in my mind was probably more to do with the suggestion in the blurb rather than an overt homage. The blurb also likens this to the works of Jean Rollin though I’d contest any direct correlation.

The vampire type mentioned through the film is the lemur (in the English intertitles and in-film book translations). This is not to be mistaken for the Madagascan primate. The type does not have its own entry in Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology but is given as an alternate name for the Roman Larva. Associated with the Feast of the Lemuria, the Larvae were malevolent household ghosts – which Bane suggests were a “hungry ghost”. From the (English) title of the film you can see that Lilith has also been attached to the lore of the film though she is both a (long dead) character and referenced in respect of the Jewish mythology.

nice imagery
The film begins with images of the Tower of Wolves, a ruin, and tales of attacks by wolves – though some say the attacks are by a vampire who has returned centuries after her death in 1370 (the film is set in 1928). The intertitles suggest that her unpronounceable name is unknown – which makes little sense as the surrounding area has the myth of Lilith Helm (Cinzia Susino). A little word about the intertitles; there were occasional typos through the film but worse was the fact that they (at times) felt like direct translation and therefore clumsy – this is one area where the film struggled. The imagery of the vampire in her coffin, however, was effective and evocative.

Lusilla and Ludwig
We meet the Baron Ludwig Von Reder (Tanino Golino), the last of his line, who has been widowed. We see the memories of his last days with his wife Lusilla (also Cinzia Susino) – whose maiden name was Helm – and the images show a happy couple, she had just planned on them having children, when she collapses, struck down by an unknown disease said to be consuming her, but which the doctor, Ugo Kier (Salvatore Amenta), cannot find the source of. She dies.

Denise Uccello as Astrid
Following this we get to meet some characters. There is the crippled and unscrupulous Balduin (Emanuele Giammusso), the town mayor Gustav (Giacomo Barletta) and his eligible daughter Astrid (Denise Uccello). During a religious procession we meet Father Gerard (Walter Maestosi), the chaste Angela Ruth (Eleonora Morello) and the gypsy fortune teller Siria (Giuliana Accolla).

Emanuele Giammusso as Balduin
Here we have another issue with the film. There is little information online about it (as I write this, there is no IMDb page for instance) but from what I have found this was originally a 17 minute short that has been extended to an 82 minute feature. There is more than one issue with this but for now I’ll mention the superfluous stories. For instance the actions of Balduin, who kidnaps, brutalises and murders Angela and another woman, seems superfluous, they are bits of story not expanded on nor justified within the greater story.

a vampire haunts the land
The core story for us is that a vampire starts haunting both Baron Ludwig and the surrounding lands (kidnapping and killing children); Lusilla is blamed as is Lilith. There seems to be the familial connection between the two women and the baron finds a letter allegedly written by Lilith secreted within a book, which in turn had been hidden by Lusilla.

from the book
The book is the “Book of Vampires” and we read the following from it: “Lemurs. Souls of the dead all ready (sic) mentioned in the Old Testament. Wandering spirits who subsided in Lemuria’s feasts, celebrated in May in Rome whith (sic) purification rituals. At night people would throw animals to them in order to feed them and keep them away from their houses, as lemurs love sucking blood of the living, even from their families, and conduct them to the underworld…” the book goes on to mention Philip Rohr’s Historico-Philosophica de Masticatione Mortuorum.

Lilith at the stake
We get the back history of Lilith from Father Gerard, who spins a tale of a wanton seductress and witch who brewed potions and cast spells from a location near the Tower of Wolves. She was arrested by the inquisition and tortured until she confessed and was then put to death by being burnt at the stake. Her ashes were then scattered. It seems that she fed upon Lusilla – this would fit in with the vampiric ghost as her ashes were scattered – but whether the vampire we see is lusilla or Lilith the film isn’t clear on (not that it matters). As predicted by Siria, the presence of the vampire causes other dead persons (spectral, rather than vampire, one assumes) to appear.

religious procession
I mentioned issues around the running time and it did feel to me that there were aspects that could have been edited down a bit or excised from the film altogether (especially the Balduin parts that seemed superfluous, not only his attacks on women but also his forcibly bringing a peasant girl as a breeder to Baron Ludwig and being sent away). Other parts might have been slightly expanded – for instance Astrid’s attraction to the Baron. Perversely, given this, the ending seemed rushed. However the imagery was wonderful, the filming mostly felt authentic (though there were occasional moments that felt a tad idiosyncratic) and the musical score was evocative, appropriate but could have been edited to the film better in one or two places.

posed in attack mode
The frustrating bit about this is that with accurate and better translated intertitles and some editing this could well have been a classic film. Unfortunately, given the fact that it was recreating a silent film, these elements are absolutely key. That isn’t to say the film is not worthwhile, for such an obscure film that I simply stumbled over it was a revelation. It deserves 7 out of 10 in its current state but some editing work could push it higher.

At the time of writing there was no IMDb page.

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