Vampir, Cuadecuc [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th November 2017).
The Film

During the shooting of Jess Franco's adaptation of Count Dracula – touted by the production as the most faithful adaptation but falling short even though it did allow star Christopher Lee to interpret the Count in a manner truer to the novel – Catalan experimental filmmaker Pere Portabella was on the set covering the shoot; but, rather than compiling the footage into a standard making of, he created Vampir, Cuadecuc, a shuffling of footage avant-garde enough to suggest what Franco himself might have preferred in an adaptation and filmic storytelling in general as his subsequent films – particularly Vampyros Lesbos, ostensibly an adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula's Guest" but actually a psychedelic inversion of the Stoker novel – would reveal. To the rhythms of jazz, lush orchestral pieces, atonal instrumentations, and musique concrete, alternate angles of scene in production as captured from Portabella's camera as well as behind the scenes preparation (including the application of make-up and spun-sugar cobwebs), the actors (including Lee) mugging for the camera, and the presence of more lighting instruments and crew than one expects to find on a Franco film (actually the later ones, since the Harry Alan Towers and earlier productions were low budget but more conventionally crewed). The film also reveals the more baroque architectural features of the location used for the interior of Van Helsing's asylum than seen in the film (since a different exterior is used), the artifice of some sets built at the Estudios Cinematográficos Balcázar, more impressive views of Queen Isabella's Segovia Castle used for the interiors of Castle Dracula (the exteriors were second unit footage of a French castle), and more coverage of the third bride played by Emma Cohen (Horror Rises from the Tomb) than one sees in the finished cut. The only spoken audio on the track comes at the end as Lee discusses Dracula's death as depicted in the book and reads the relevant paragraph. The titles (newly created but directly translated from the original ones) erroneously cite the film as a Hammer production while the El Proceso might be a Welles in-joke while disguising the production from publicity or it may just be left over from the earlier Towers/Franco/Lee/DP Merino collaboration The Bloody Judge, the Spanish title of which was El proceso de las brujas. Viewers who have purchased the Severin Films Blu-ray of Count Dracula who regard Vampir, Cuadecuc as a supplement to the Franco film are well-served by that release while viewers who regard the Portabella work as an experimental film unto itself will want to pick up Second Run's Blu-ray.


Long unavailable apart from grey market offerings, Vampir, Cuadecuc became available simultaneously in France and Spain in an English-friendly twenty-two film, seven DVD complete works sets of the director's works (from boutique labels Blaq Out and Intermedio, respectively). The French Vampir, Cuadecuc disc (with its two short films Play Back and Acció Santos) was also released separately by Blaq Out. Stateside, the film became officially available as an extra on Severin Films' Blu-ray of Franco's Count Dracula utilizing a 1080i master with 4% speedup at 66:15 (making one wonder if the film was shot at 25fps for European television or at least mastered in 1080i50). Second Run's all-region Blu-ray features a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC 1.40:1 pillarboxed widescreen transfer running 69:00 at 24-frames-per-second. The Second Run encode is finer but the contrast and detail are certainly restricted to the use of out-dated black and white 16mm film stock pushed to the limits in processing.


The sole audio track is an LPCM 2.0 mono track that consists or orchestral and avant-garde music for the most part until Christopher Lee provides a reading of Dracula's death from the Stoker novel. There are no subtitles.


While Vampir, Cuadecuc supplemented Severin's Blu-ray of Count Dracula, it is here supported by supplements of its own, starting with an interview with director Pere Portabella (29:52) who discusses the more conventional narrative form of his earlier films and his interest in deconstruction - although not along the lines of the nouvelle vague - and establishing his own rules for cinema that he wanted to apply on his "vision" of a Hollywood genre film, and the opportunity that came when his wife heard of Franco's and Towers' plan to shoot a version of Dracula in Barcelona. He then recalls his meetings with Franco who was amenable and Towers, who took a financial interest in the idea of dual productions until Portabella told him about his intention to shoot in silent 16mm B&W with a skeleton crew. He recalls his initial intention to shoot the film on 16mm sound negative and then apply push-processing only for the lab supervisor to refuse for fear of losing his job (the practice has become more common among experimental filmmakers subsequently) only for the technician to then send him some outdated 16mm Kodak stock for free. He then discusses his approach to the film as an attempt to transform the spectator into a participant in the creation of images before moving on to some detail about his collaboration with jazz musician Carles Santos on the score which included original music, archival recordings, and even the use of musical instruments to simulate sound effects. An appreciation by BFI curator William Fowler (19:36) provides some background context to Portabella's contentious relationship with the Franco regime after making the controversial Viridiana with Luis Buñuel and the confiscation of his passport when Vampir, Cuadecuc screened in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. In discussing how the Franco film was pitched as a more faithful adaptation, Fowler suggests that the more fragmented Portabella film is even more faithful to the novel's structure. While the disc sadly does not include the second collaboration between Portabella and actor Lee (and bride actress Mestre) titled Umbracle, the two more recently short films included are of relevance in that 2003's "La Tempesta" (5:46) utilizes a similar kind of high-contrast black and white photography for its subject matter of bodies and faces underneath a torrent of water, while 2006's "No at No" (3:24) features a musical performances by Santos. The enclosed booklet by featuring a new essay on the film by journalist Stanley Schtinter is another "appreciation" of the film, likening the cinematic industry's vampirization of the literary source to General Franco's vampirization of Spanish culture, and Catalanian Portabella's film as a criticism and protest.


Viewers who have purchased the Severin Films Blu-ray of Count Dracula who regard Vampir, Cuadecuc as a supplement to the Franco film are well-served by that release while viewers who regard the Portabella work as an experimental film unto itself will want to pick up Second Run's Blu-ray.


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