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January 20th, 2019

This film is mainly famous for featuring Bela Lugosi in a Draculaesque role. His costume is much like the one he wears in Dracula (1931) and he inhabits a ruined castle, but he is called Count Mora and has a daughter called Luna. The plot seemed like vampire cliches galore at first - a victim found dead with two pin-prick bite marks on his neck, lost travellers scoffing at the superstitious locals in a tavern, villagers who refuse to go out after dark, flitting bats, etc. But this is in fact all a set-up for the big reveal - that the supposed 'vampires' aren't really vampires at all, but actors hired in an attempt to flush out the entirely human murderer of the first victim. I was left at the end of the film with an uneasy sense that this twist hadn't fully made sense in retrospect, in that there had been some scenes when the actors were fully in character as vampires when they hadn't needed to be for the purposes of their deception. But I'd have to watch it again to be absolutely sure of that. There were also very definitely some loose ends, such as the fact that Bela's character goes through the entire film with a gun-shot wound to his head which is never explained, or that considerable screen time is spent introducing the lost (and apparently British) couple who end up in the local tavern, suggesting that they are going to be major characters, but after that scene we never see them again. At least some of this is probably explained by the fact that what survives now is a cut version of the original film, though. Meanwhile, what we get is very much worth watching, both before and after the twist. Before it comes, the atmosphere created around the two vampire characters is sheer 1930s Gothic poetry - we get misty graveyards, spider-webs, Gothic ruins and some very effective creepiness from Caroll Borland's Luna as she glides through the darkness and stares through windows. And afterwards we are treated to the wondrous spectacle of Bela, now out of character, swishing his cloak with self-satisfaction at his own performance and proclaiming "Did you watch me? I gave all of me! I was greater than any REAL vampire!" It's a fascinating insight into how iconic his performance as Dracula had evidently already become that it might work as a subject for this kind of meta-reference.

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Serial killer movies just ain't my bag, and I only watched this because we were ushered into a premiere screening of it during the Brașov Dracula Congress which I attended in October, without being told what we were going to see. I have seen the original film a million years ago (though not any of the intervening sequels), and as far as I can tell this one was trying to be a clever, modern, self-aware take on it while actually really being not all that different from it at all. It was marketed as being about women fighting back, and indeed Jamie Lee Curtis' character (Laurie Strode) is well-developed and well-acted, while the film ends with her, her daughter and her granddaughter managing to reconcile their differences and defeat Michael Myers after multiple men have died in the attempt. But we're still shown flash-backs into Michael Myers' childhood which include his sister sitting naked in front of her dressing table brushing her hair, before being murdered by him and ending up on the floor as a Sexy Corpse. There are a couple of references to chess-sets early on, presumably to help establish Myers and Strode as deadly opponents, and some stuff about how Myers' prison psychiatrist has become obsessed with him as an object of study to the point of enabling his crimes. But fundamentally, the plot boils down to a lot of people dying, usually shortly after scenes which have portrayed them as stupid or assholes - another big hoary old trope strongly rooted in the original Halloween. I mean, don't get me wrong - I'm well aware that the Gothic vampire and ghost stories I love best are absolutely packed full of tropes as well, often reflecting the same kind of conservative bent. But a few soaring ruins, dark supernatural beings or pagan shenanigans make all the difference for me. If you liked the original Halloween, and / or the wider serial killer genre, you'll probably like this film - but all I really got out of it was a reminder of why I don't.

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