Friday, February 08, 2013

Get The Picture?

Seeing this simple but well-composed image from Hammer's LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971, which also appeared on the cover of its novelization) earlier today reminded me of a time when every new still to surface from an upcoming horror movie seemed to extend the genre's vocabulary. A new still of Christopher Lee as Dracula, or Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein added on to what was previously known about that series of films. I firmly believe this was one of the secrets of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND's success, and partly why it's so hard for similar magazines of today to equal the power of its zeitgeist. It could be something as simple as a new face screaming, a new slapdash makeup for Frankenstein's monster, a new actor portraying Count Dracula, or an incomprehensible shot from a Mexican monster rally I'd probably never see -- they all conspired to make the genre more vital and fascinating. For me, this sense of perpetually new discovery stopped sometime in the 1980s, but I don't take full responsibility for that. It's not that I lost my love for this stuff, or that horror movies themselves became redundant, but that the Art of the Movie Still itself began to suffer. Most collectors will tell you that lobby card sets from the 1980s are crap. It should be remembered by all filmmakers, active or aspiring, that the best way to generate some genuine excitement about your feature is to take some great still photos while you're in production. If a picture can be worth a thousand words, why can't it sell a thousand tickets?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Loving the Vampire

I watched Jess Franco's FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) tonight via Netflix on my Kindle Fire HD. It turned out to be an unexpectedly wonderful way of watching it, making it a more intimate and book-like experience. It may be the first time I've seen it in French with subtitles, and the soundtrack is alive from beginning to end with the sounds of nature and people; there is a scene where Jack Taylor follows Lina Romay to a public place scattered with empty chairs though we hear a crowd of children and grown-ups milling about, talking and laughing -- but, you see, he only has eyes for her. This is remarkable stuff and something I've never gotten from the English dub.

FEMALE VAMPIRE, aka THE LOVES OF IRINA aka EROTIKILL, is basically the story of four lonely sexual encounters ending in death; it depicts the grief of solitude in the lives of three of its victims before dispatching them, and we are given glimpses in the aftermath assuring us these lost souls are no longer alone. There's very little script, so it unfolds remarkably slowly for a film whose cult only came about in the age of the short attention span. "Elegiac pacing," they call it.

But what is very obvious to me about the film now, seeing it again and knowing when in their story it was filmed chronologically, is that it's the marriage contract between Jess and Lina. This was Lina's first starring role. She knew that Jess was mourning Soledad Miranda, who had portrayed a premonition of this character in VAMPYROS LESBOS, made the same year (1970) she died in an automobile accident at the age of 27. And she literally gives him Soledad and more. She is not only declaring her love but demonstrating it, serving up all she has to give to his eye and camera. And he worships her in return, which is all she asks in order to give him everything. Which is, in effect, a vision of the remainder of his career. The film begins with them meeting, when he is only a camera; she steps out of the misty woods and he gives her a good look up and down, like one forest creature meeting another. She butts him away so the story can be told, and it only ends when the two characters they play, his (a forensic surgeon) searching for hers ("the mouth that kills") for most of the running time, finally meet on the same plane, in the the same room.

And Jess lives.

FEMALE VAMPIRE is also available on Blu-ray and DVD from Redemption Video.