Saturday, January 13, 2007

Vamp or Not? Web of the Spider


This was director Antonio Margheriti’s remake of his own film “La Danza Macabra” (1964) which, unfortunately, I have not seen. The DVD print of the film is fairly damn muggy – to the point that distance shots often look less like celluloid and more like an impressionists painting. To a degree it adds to the atmosphere, in a bizarre way, but the film really could do with a clean up.

We begin by seeing a man wandering through a crypt, torch in hand, searching for a grave, which he opens and then screams. It is actually quite a long, atmospheric scene especially as the man is Edgar Allan Poe and is played by Klaus Kinski. The film cuts to the room in which Poe relays his latest tale of terror to an enthralled audience. An American journalist, Alan Foster (Anthony Francoisa), has entered the building and speaks to Poe when the tale is over.

Klaus Kinski as Edgar Allan PoeFoster has come to England in order that he might interview Poe and Poe confides that he, like Foster, is a journalist. His tales are real but, of course, Foster is sceptical. One of the audience, Lord Blackwood (Enrico Osterman) challenges Foster, betting £100 that Foster cannot spend a night alone in his castle. All who tried have not returned. Foster refuses the bet but only because he does not have the money and so, with the level of the wager lowered to £10, Blackwood and Poe take Foster to the castle. To Poe he is a new protagonist for a tale of terror.

The next section of the film sees Margheriti ramping up the atmosphere with light and shadow, strange howls in the night, a particularly grating soundtrack and strange spinning camera angles. During this Foster seems to see a couple dancing, his watch and the castle clock both stop (coincidence he thinks) and various portraits catch his eye.

Suddenly he discovers that he is not alone, when he meets Karin Field as JuliaElisabeth (Michèle Mercier), Blackwood’s sister. She takes Foster upstairs, where the castle is in better repair and it quickly becomes apparent that they are attracted to each other. We then meet Julia (Karin Field) and there is, obviously, some issue between the two women that, eventually, causes Elisabeth to storm out.

Having spent some time alone, Michèle Mercier as ElisabethFoster notices the handle of the door turning. He pulls out the pistol that Blackwood gave him but it is Elisabeth come back to him. They quickly fall into bed but many of the things Elisabeth says sound strange to us as the audience. She tells Foster that he makes her feel alive and that she is destined to remain in the castle. At one point Elisabeth stops talking and she, momentarily, appears to be dead.

We see Julia with another man, William (Silvano Tranquilli). He tells Julia to leave Elisabeth alone but she says Herbert (Raf Baldassarre) must be informed. Foster and Elisabeth are on the bed when Herbert rushes in. She cries “Not him” and he stabs Elisabeth. Foster gives chase and shoots the man, who falls and then his body vanishes. Returning to Elisabeth she has vanished also but he hears her disembodied voice.

He searches the castle and meets another man, Peter Carsten as Dr CarmusDr Carmus (Peter Carsten), whose name he knows. Carmus was a doctor and metaphysician who vanished, presumed dead. There is exposition here about the three states of life: body, spirit and senses and Carmus gears us up to a haunting. He then takes Foster to show him and Foster gets a night of tragedy replayed in a typical ghost story way. Foster is shown a party for William and Elisabeth, after he returns from his travels and the tale of Elisabeth’s infidelity with Herbert. Herbert murdering William, Julia murdering Herbert, Elisabeth murdering Julia (and presumably committing suicide, as we don’t explicitly see that).

Herbert goes for Carmus' neckThis is now, most definitely, a ghost story, but the box tells us they are vampiric ghosts and the next replays we see adds weight to their vampire status. We see what happened to Carmus as he investigated the house. We see his trip to the crypt and how he saw, in waves of mist, a skeleton reform – not normal ghostly behaviour. We see how Herbert stabbed him but then he appears to bite the neck – vampiric tendency.

Julia bites the brideNext we see the replay of the visit, at Blackwood’s invitation, of newly weds and Julia definitely biting the neck of the woman as Carmus stabs the husband. Suddenly the newly weds, Carmus, Julia, William and Herbert are after Foster. At one point in the crypt they tell him that, “blood is the life” and “Your blood is our life”. We have most definitely moved into a vampire tale.

Foster’s only hope of survival is Elisabeth, who should want his blood but has fallen in love with him. We discover that on the same night each year these vampiric ghosts must feed on blood to assure their return the next year.

The film has lots of atmosphere but at times feels a little ham-fisted. There are way too many very close up shots that are meant to bring a feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia, I suspect, but are more a product of when the film was made. That said the film has a clever premise that hooks you in, even if some of Camus’ exposition seems a little made up on the fly and not thought through. Kinski is on marvellous form as Poe but his role is at cameo level.

I’d love to see the original of this, and will keep my eyes out for it, especially as it stars the iconic Barbara Steele. As for the vampire status, well it does merge the vampire genre with the general ghost story genre but it is definitely a vampire movie, there are no fangs but there is a return from the dead, a corporeal aspect and a need (and desire) for blood to maintain their half-life. It is also clear that the victims of the vampiric ghosts return as vampiric ghosts themselves, but unlike standard vampire stories, they are trapped within the grounds of the house and their time amongst the living seems tied to specific dates.

The imdb page is here.

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