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I've already written up the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival which I attended in July in its own right (LJ / DW), but deliberately saved reviewing the films I had seen there until I'd written up a large back-log of earlier viewings first. Now, their time has come.

13. Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974), dir. Brian Clemens

This was screened a part of the Hammer Scream Queens night, so we'd had the pleasure of Caroline Munro chatting and laughing with fellow Hammer stars before the screening (though they didn't stay for the film itself). I've seen it before (LJ / DW) and was a bit lukewarm about it, but then again I'd only seen it on a tablet on an aeroplane, so it seemed sensible to take the opportunity to see it properly on a big screen, especially since the cost of doing so was already included in my festival ticket. I'm afraid I remained lukewarm, though. It's not terrible, and I enjoyed the same qualities in it as I mentioned in my previous review, but it just doesn't set me on fire. I don't think the director can have been very good at getting much character out of his actors, as I know Caroline Munro is capable of delivering better than she does in this, and I find Horst Janson as Captain Kronos weirdly flat as well. Also, there are strange unexplained details in it - like, which 'imperial army' is Kronos supposed to have been in? And who is the blindfolded woman banging her tankard on the table in the inn where he is attacked? I'm not against unexplained details per se - they can leave doors open for fascinating speculation and creative responses on the viewer's part. But in a story which feels a bit lacklustre in the first place, they are more likely to feel full of irritating unresolved threads.

14. Interview With The Vampire (1994), dir. Neil Jordan

This one was much more exciting. The book meant a lot to me when I first read it, I think around the age of 13, and I saw the film when it came out - but by then I'd read all too many bad Vampire Chronicles sequels, had forgotten that the first one was Actually Good and I think wasn't in a very receptive frame of mind. Since then, though, time has passed, and I've also seen Byzantium (2012: LJ / DW), which is excellent, by the same producer / director team, and in some ways picks up and plays around with things from Interview (vampires telling their life stories, an intensive same-sex vampire pairing, breaking codified vampire rules, killing using a sharpened thumb-nail (real or silver)). So this time I went ready to work with the film, and absorb what was good about it. Turns out that's a lot! It is a good book, and the film is about the best possible film which could have been made of it.

Fresh out of two days of intensive academic discussions, and still with all the insights from Murray Leeder's book on horror film criticism which I mentioned in my review of Targets (LJ / DW) buzzing around my head, I spent a lot of time noticing how it drew attention to the uncanniness of its own recorded performance and used it to reflect back on the story. One example of this was how the performances in the Théâtre des Vampires are framed to make the viewer of the film complicit in what's happening on the stage, just as the in-story Parisian audience are. There are plenty of close-up shots of the show of course, granting the cinema audience privileged insights into the true nature of the show, just as Louis and Claudia's enhanced vampire senses allow them to have from their seats. But also many audience-point-of-view shots, which place the cinema audience alongside the in-story theatre audience, reminding us that we are there to enjoy horrors vicariously and raising the unsettling question of how exploitative and harmful our own gaze might be. The scenes of Louis visiting a cinema in the 1930s to see a sunrise also inevitably remind us of the unreality of projected images (which, unlike the real sun, cannot harm him), and of course we were particularly primed to thrill at the weirdness of that thanks to sitting in the very same cinema as him (as I wrote about in my account of the festival as a whole: LJ / DW).

Similar value arises out of Daniel (the kid in the framing narrative) with his tape recordings. Disembodied recorded voices are inherently uncanny, but the tapes are more than just a device for carrying the narrative with a bit of bonus uncanniness thrown in. Daniel says explicitly in the opening scene with Louis that he collects lives on his tapes, which makes him a kind of vampire himself, while the tapes grant the voices captured on them a kind of immortality - but trapped in a repeated narrative without agency or free will. Lestat draws direct attention to this at the end of the film when he sticks one of the tapes in the car cassette player and scoffs at how Louis is still whining and he has had to listen to it for centuries, like Louis is just repeating the same anxieties over and over again, never breaking free.

Visually, it's stunning. It had a huge budget for a film of this kind - something Stephen Woolley talked a bit about in the Q&A afterwards, saying similar things to Neil Jordan on the Wikipedia page about the opportunities this opened up for them. One was to go right ahead and have no less than three blazing infernos over the course of the film - the plantation, the New Orleans town house and the Théâtre des Vampires - because why the hell not? I particularly enjoyed the archaeological layers which you see under the Théâtre des Vampires, which is a deconsecrated church at ground level, but has what are evidently older structures underneath it, including what looks like a Roman columbarium deep below where the vampires sleep. It lent them the right air of having been there for centuries as I've just finished arguing that similar Classical allusions do in Dracula, and also made me think of 'The Mystery of the Campagna' by Anne Crawford, which I read in a short story collection last year (LJ / DW) and in which the vampire is a Roman woman living in a catacomb below a vineyard in the Campagna.

As for the lead performances, I think an antipathy towards Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise for being waaay too mainstream and teenage pin-uppy was part of my reason for being dismissive of this film in the 1990s, but I can now set that aside and admit that they are absolutely excellent, capturing both of their characters absolutely pitch-perfectly. Tom Cruise especially deserves a lot of credit both for setting Lestat up as arrogant and hedonistic in the first place, and for then gradually revealing how little he actually knows what he is doing as the story develops. I also don't think I appreciated back in the '90s how daring the homoerotic subtext of their relationship was. It's not that I didn't see it - it is pretty plain, especially at the point when Lestat explicitly makes Claudia into a vampire so that Louis won't leave him. But social media didn't exist back then, and I think I lived in a bit of a subcultural bubble where I didn't realise how much of a gamble it was to put that in a mainstream film - or the related stuff about Claudia becoming a woman in a child's body. Seen through the filter of vampirism, that all seemed fine to me, but I don't think I realised at that time how literally other people are capable of taking that sort of material, and was consequently more surprised viewing it now that it ever got made.

Seeing this again has pushed The Company of Wolves more or less to the top of my watch-list, as it too is by the same producer-director team responsible for both this and Byzantium, besides using a script developed from one of her own short stories by Angela Carter and being generally critically-acclaimed. It is trying to get myself into a position where I have cleared my back-log of film reviews, and can be at leisure of an evening and think to myself "Hmm, I fancy watching a film - how about The Company of Wolves?" that is really driving me to try to catch up on all my reviewing this bank holiday weekend.

15. Dracula (1958), dir. Terence Fisher

This was screened after Interview With The Vampire, and formed the grand climax of IVFAF as a whole. I have seen it dozens of times, and indeed reviewed it no less than six times on this journal already - yikes! (Previous reviews best accessed from my post listing all the Christopher Lee films I have seen: LJ / DW.) But there is always more to say, especially after several days of intensive thinking about vampires. For a start, I don't think I'd have noticed how it plays around with and draws attention to the uncanniness of the recorded voice if I hadn't seen it soon after reading Murray Leeder's book and straight after watching Interview With The Vampire. But it certainly does, when we see Peter Cushing at his phonograph, wincing at his own now-painful memo to "check final arrangements with Harker", and then Geoffrey Bayldon coming in all baffled because "Well, sir, to tell you the truth, when I was outside I thought I heard you... talking to someone."

Nor would I have realised how much of the film is about locking and unlocking doors if I hadn't heard an excellent paper a couple of days earlier about the Freudian implications of Dracula keeping Jonathan a prisoner in his castle in the novel, controlling his movements by locking doors and then taunting him by unlocking the main castle door only to summon wolves to lurk beyond it. Once that theme is in your mind, though, it feels like more or less the whole film is nothing but a sequence of people locking, unlocking or otherwise manipulating doors in order to exercise power or signify desire:
  • The castle door standing invitingly half-ajar and creaking open when Jonathan first arrives
  • Dracula ostentatiously offering Jonathan the key to the library, but then locking him in his room
  • The unnamed vampire woman unlocking it, and then shutting the library door firmly behind him
  • Dracula slamming the door of the crypt behind him, thus trapping a terrified Jonathan
  • Lucy first locking her bedroom door to ensure she isn't disturbed, and then opening her French windows to admit Dracula
  • Mina, conversely, opening her bedroom door to allow Dracula in from the inside of the house
  • Dracula shutting that door, too, behind him - but this time the camera leaping inside and following what happens within
  • Dracula bursting into the cellar to catch Van Helsing sanctifying his coffin and locking him in so that he has to hammer for Arthur to let him out
Yes, quite a lot, then, when you list it all out like that.

Then there were the things I noticed because of my own work on the novel's Classical references. There's a distinct cluster of these around the theme of tyranny and imperialism, which basically work to construct Dracula as an aggressive imperialist, in turn developing the novel's widely-recognised 'reverse colonisation' narrative. Indeed, we'd had another excellent paper about that, too, at the conference. Being alert to that put me in the right frame of mind to notice how three distinctive elements in the set design for Dracula's library work together: the very throne-like chair, the globe and the zodiac wheel on the floor, visible here from left to right during his fight with the vampire woman:

Dracula set library chair.png

I'd noticed them all individually before, of course, but hadn't fully taken in before that if seen as a set, they relate directly to the theme of imperialistic power, with the throne representing dominion over the earth (globe) and heavens (zodiac). This is then further developed by the quotations on the zodiac wheel itself, which as Wikipedia records are about the earth and the heavens and the power of the gods. The latter, of course, also helps in the construction of vampirisim as an 'unholy cult', as Van Helsing describes it to Arthur, by equating paganism with Satanism - another theme which is also inherent in equations between ancient pagan gods and Dracula drawn in the novel.

Then there were the things I noticed consciously thanks to the excellent quality of the Phoenix cinema's sound system which I don't think I have taken in fully before, like the ticking of a clock which echoes through the hallways when Harker first arrives at Dracula's castle, simultaneously emphasising its emptiness and yet also indicating that someone has been there recently, or the birds singing in the dawn light after Lucy has been staked and thus released from vampirism - a neat symbolic counterpart to Jonathan's observation that "there were no birds singing" as he first approaches the castle. I could also really appreciate things I already knew about but hadn't quite heard with the same distinctness or intensity before, like the marked absence of Christopher Lee's footsteps on the stairs as he shows Jonathan to his room, or the full power of James Bernard's beautiful soundtrack.

And then there were things which I noticed for no immediate cause I can identify, but I guess just because I was highly primed to spot the sorts of things vampire films do by this stage - like realising that the climactic scene in which Peter Cushing spots that the sun has risen in the library and that this gives him power over his opponent is a direct answer to the much earlier scene in Dracula's crypt, when he conversely spots that the sun has set, giving him similar power over Jonathan.

In short, I couldn't have asked for a better demonstration of the well-known principle that you are a different person every time you return to a favoured creative work. Thank goodness!

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November 2020



  • 24 Nov 2020, 09:10
    Ciao caro.
    Ho ascoltato la canzone Domine Salvum Fac su youtube. Ripete la parola Domine due volte dopo che segue Salvum Fac e non capisco oltre. Ma mi sembra che il testo non corrisponda del tutto…
  • 8 Nov 2020, 13:25
    I think just 'not being Trump' proved to be enough!
  • 8 Nov 2020, 12:29
    Yes, that's it. Just having someone in charge who isn't actively making things worse for the world is a big relief.
  • 8 Nov 2020, 11:34
    There are many, many doubts and worries. But still, there is an enormous rock of anguish that has been weighting on my soul since the first days after that monster's election which has now lifted.
  • 8 Nov 2020, 11:32
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