Filmed in super-grainy black and white on set of a lesser Christopher Lee Dracula movie. Mostly it’s not the behind-the-scenes type footage I’d expected, but the actors of that film in character, either rehearsing or performing their scenes shot from a different angle. Scenes are even edited in order corresponding to the Dracula story. We often see the production lighting, and sometimes catch the crew and camera peering from the sidelines, as if haunting the characters from another era.

No sync sound until the end – instead it ranges from symphonic music to low doom-strings to bird sounds and construction noise to ambient loops. In the last few minutes, Christopher Lee explains then reads Dracula’s death scene from the novel.

The synopsis states that this film is “a sly political allegory about generalissimo Francisco Franco” but I’d like to hear some support. IMDB says “Cuadecuc” is Catalan for “worm tail.”

Rosenbaum:

Recalling without imitating such classics as Nosferatu and Vampyr, the film uses high-contrast cinematography to evoke the dissolution and decay that strikes viewers who see those films today in fading prints. It all adds up to a kind of poetic alchemy in which Portabella converts one of the world’s worst horror films into one of the most beautiful movies ever made about anything. (It’s characteristic of his artistic integrity that he refused to allow Cuadecuc-Vampir to be used as an extra on a Count Dracula DVD.)


Acció Santos (1973)

It’s odd that the other short on this disc is Play Back, which I’ve watched before, because this one could very easily share the same title. Carles Santos (composer of Cuadecuc Vampir and the composer/star of Play Back) performs a Chopin piece in the first half, then listens to a tape recording of his performance in the second. The part that turns this from a typical conceptual piece into a weirdly frustrating one is when he plugs in headphones, leaving us in silence for the last four minutes of the film.

Feels like it wants to be Mulholland Drive-ish, as young beautiful Elle Fanning arrives in the L.A. fashion business and experiences nightmarish visions before she’s eaten alive by her competitors. Dialogue delivered in weirdly silent rooms – I was expecting more keyboardy soundscapes, and maybe that would’ve helped get me on the wavelength of cool horror and deep mystery the movie seemed to think we were on together.

Elle is the Fanning from Super 8 and The Boxtrolls (older sister Dakota is the Fanning from Night Moves, War of the Worlds and Coraline). She arrives in town with her photographer friend, Karl Glusman from Love – another lethargic, sex-minded movie I had to struggle to keep from turning off. Elle meets makeup artist Jena Malone (the girl Donnie Darko likes) and a couple of evil models, gets work with famous photog Jack, and avoids her awful landlord (a miscast Keanu Reeves).

M. Sicinski:

Neon Demon is an inert object, mostly comprised of color-saturated tableaux and walking-dead, anti-psychological “performances” … Much like Matthew Barney’s films, The Neon Demon delivers in chunks and slabs, but never seems cognizant of cinema as a time-based art.

T. Robinson for The Dissolve:

Amirpour has said she was inspired in part by the way wearing a chador made her feel like a bat, and that mental image becomes clear in a moment where The Girl leaps, and looks both like she’s spreading her wings and like she’s wearing a superhero’s cape.

That image (and the girl “floating” down sidewalks on a skateboard) and some lovely widescreen cinematography, slow posing and cool rock music are mainly what we’ve got here. Sure there’s a story: Arash’s slick car is repossessed by local drug dealer because of dude’s hopeless drug-addict dad, then when the dealer is murdered by a wandering vampire, Arash finds himself in an unexpected position of power. The story is almost beside the point though, as the movie drifts along on atmosphere and mood – not a horror mood really, but a derivative Jarmusch aloofness which would be more valuable had he not made his own vampire movie the year before.

Matt Lynch:

Doesn’t really do anything else besides be gorgeous, occasionally letting its pieces click together into something thoughtful like the way she finds her moral boundaries blurring as she interacts with different people. It’s funny and beautiful and mostly disorganized and definitely overlong, but as stylish mood pieces go you could do a lot worse.

Amirpour is Iranian but this was shot in California. The local prostitute was Mozhan Marnò (star of The Stoning of Soraya M.), the girl was Sheila Vand of Argo, and Arash just appeared in another Iranian horror film, Under the Shadow.

Stories don’t just lead into each other like in The Saragossa Manuscript – they melt and morph into each other, thanks to codirector Evan Johnson’s digital manipulations, which don’t replace Maddin’s usual bag of tricks, but join the choppy editing and texture fetish and everything else. Some of his early movies had somnambulist rhythms, but this one is ecstatic from start to finish.

Had to watch this a couple times before I could report in.

Second time through, I noted the order of stories:

How to Take a Bath, with Louis Negin

Submarine: Blasting Jelly and Flapjacks

Starring Negin again with Ukranian Greg Hlady, panicky Alex Bisping, Andre the Giant-reminiscent Kent McQuaid, and mysteriously-appearing woodsman Cesare (Roy Dupuis of Mesrine and Screamers).

M. Sicinski:

Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.

Cowardly Saplingjacks

Cesare sets out to rescue the kidnapped Margo (Clara Furey)

Cave of the Red Wolves

with lead wolf Noel Burton, bladder slapping and boggling puzzlements!

Amnesiac Singing Flowergirl

Margo again, with mysterious necklace woman Marie Brassard (sinister Jackie from Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and patient Pancho (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon)

The Final Derriere

with Sparks, Udo Kier (returning from Keyhole) as a man plagued by bottoms, Master Passion Geraldine Chaplin, and the Lust Specialist (Le Havre star Andre Wilms)

Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine

Quick return.

Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice

With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)

D. Ehrlich:

The Forbidden Room may (or may not) be inventing narratives from thin air, but whatever history these abandoned projects might have had is completely supplanted by the present Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) invents for them. These stories belong to him now. The Forbidden Room may forego the hypnotically autobiographical thrust of recent efforts like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, but it feels no less personal for it.

Mill Seeks Gardener

With shed-sleeper Slimane Dazi and unpredictable runaway Jacques Nolot

Injured Motorcyclist at Bone Hospital

Caroline Dhavernas and Paul Ahmarani

Doctor kidnapped by skeleton insurance defrauders

Lewis Furey (Margo’s father IRL) as The Skull-Faced Man, and Eric Robidoux as the bone doctor’s long-lost brother who is also a bone doctor.

Psychiatrist and madman aboard train

Gregory Hlady again, Romano Orzari again, and Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Florence LaBadie

Florence’s Inner Child

Sienna Mazzone as young Florence with crazy mother Kathia Rock

Parental Neglect / Madness / Murder / Amnesia

Bone Hospital / Insurance Defrauders
Mill / Criminal / Doctor
Volcanic Island / Squid Theft / Submarine / Bath

“I haven’t finished telling you: the forest… the snow… the convict… the birthday”

Woodsman Gathers New Allies

Kyle Gatehouse as Man With Upturned Face, Neil Napier as Man With Stones On His Feet and Victor Turgeon again as Listening Man – these are the same actors who played the Saplingjacks earlier, and again they don’t enter the cave with Cesare.

Margo and Aswang The Vampire

M. D’Angelo:

The Forbidden Room was shot mostly at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, piecemeal, in front of a live audience, following which Maddin and Johnson artfully distressed the digital footage and added priceless intertitles. The project took advantage of whichever actors were available to it on a given day.

Elevator Man Unprepared For Wife’s Birthday Kills His Butler

All-star segment with Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier and Amira Casar (Anatomy of Hell, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).

D. Ehrlich:

[Amalric] gleefully indulges in Maddin’s pure and peerlessly florid sense of melodrama, which here becomes a mechanism for foolhardy and paranoid men to ruin their lives as they attempt to rescue, love, or murder the beautiful women who didn’t ask for their help.

Dead Butler Oedipal Mustache Flashback

Maybe my favorite segment, with Maria de Medeiros (Saddest Music in the World) as the Blind Mother and more mentions of flapjacks.

Ukranian Radio War Drama

With Stranger by the Lake star Christophe Paou as the prisoner

Mustache / Return of the Dead Father

Diplomat Memoirs of Cursed Janus-Head

M. Peranson:

Together, Maddin and Johnson have crafted a formal masterwork jolted by digital after effects, recreating the look of decaying nitrate stock, shape-shifting the image with multiple superimpositions and variegated colour fields (the general look resembling decayed two-strip Technicolor), and compositing swirling transitions that connect (or bury) one film within the other (and the other, and the other). To try and describe “what happens” in The Forbidden Room is both forbidding and beside the point, for the 130-minute film stands more as an interminable, (in)completed object on its own, like the work of one of its main influences, the French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (from whom Maddin and Johnson borrow their technique of parenthetical asides); one comes to understand this object, and what it’s trying to accomplish, only while watching it.

Peranson’s writeup is from the Toronto Film Festival, after which nine minutes got removed from the movie. Since nobody at the festivals was able to exhaustively account for all the stories within stories, it’s impossible to track down what got lost. It seems, though, that any lost footage (and more) can be seen in the Seances.

Andreas Apergis and his fiancee Sophia Desmarais (Curling)

Night Auction Doppelganger

featuring LUG-LUG, hideous impulse incarnate!

Stealing Mother’s Laudanum

Charlotte Rampling as Amalric’s Mother, Ariane Labed (Attenberg, Alps) as his girlfriend.

Maddin (in an essential Cinema Scope interview) on the film’s 2+ hour length:

We could have easily had a 75-minute version … but viewers that like it, we wanted to feel like we’d broken their brains, really left a physical impression on them, left them exhausted. Hopefully exhilarated and exhausted, in a good way. We wanted “too much” to still be insufficient … it would be nice if it came out in one endless ribbon, that, like John Ashbery’s poetry, you just snip off for a beginning and an end, and just ask the audience how much they want.

Dead Father / Elevator Birthday Murder Plot / Margo and Aswang / Woodsmen
Red Wolves are Dead, Rescue is Cancelled
Submarine / The Forbidden Room / Book of Climaxes

Bath.

Fortunately Polanski has more kinda-horror movies so I can continue the spree of his films which I started last Shocktober. Made between Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, this one’s not quite up to their level. The lighting and composition are extremely lovely, but this aims to be a horror-comedy, and the editing’s too slow for comedy or action. It helps that when shots go on way too long Polanski will sometimes speed up the film, but he refuses to cut away for so long that sometimes I wonder if he doesn’t know what editing’s for. This approach would work well for the slow-burn dread of Rosemary’s, and I’ll bet viewers who watched this goofball movie at the time were ill-prepared for what would come next.

Polanski and Sharon Tate:

Our lead comedy duo is Professor Abronsius (the excellent Jack MacGowran of The Exorcist and Age of Consent) and his dim assistant Alfred (Polanski). They’re hunting vampires, hanging out at an inn where Alf lusts after hot innkeeper’s daughter Sharon Tate (of Eye of the Devil) and the locals downplay vampire activity, even denying there’s a castle nearby, which is of course home to dramatically well-dressed Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne of Pirates and Frightmare) and his handsome son Herbert (Iain Quarrier of Cul-de-sac), who are planning an attack on the town. The bumbling interlopers rescue the kidnapped Sharon and escape, but too late, as she has been turned and attacks Polanski in the back seat while the professor drives off. Great closing narration: “That night, fleeing from Transylvania, Professor Abronsius never guessed he was carrying away with him the very evil he had wished to destroy. Thanks to him, this evil would at last be able to spread across the world.”

Our heroes:

Count and son:

Also featuring innkeeper Alfie Bass (a ghost in The Bespoke Overcoat), his wife Jessie Robins (known to play characters named Fat Woman, Large Woman and Bertha), maid Fiona Lewis, who I just saw in Dr. Phibes Rises Again, and as the count’s hunchback, boxing champ Terry Downes.

Trying to blend in:

“I dreamed you murdered me.”

Bizarre movie. Stumbly, natural dialogue. Inexplicable character behavior and barely-explained story. Trippy dissolves and music make you feel like the whole movie is a dream sequence. I can’t tell if it’s artistic, indulgent, or (probably) both.

Love this shot of saxophonist behind lamp, making it appear that he’s hitting a giant bong, a visual metaphor for this movie:

George Meda (director Gunn) meets Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones, star of Night of the Living Dead), and according to plot descriptions I’ve read elsewhere, turns him into a vampire, but I thought Hess was a vamp all along and that after trying to kill him with an ancient dagger, George shoots himself to death. The shooting works out for Hess, who drinks George’s blood then throws him in the wine cellar.

George suicide:

Ganja:

George’s widow (unbeknownst to her) Ganja (Marlene Clark of Switchblade Sisters) arrives later and makes herself right at home, seducing Hess and being abusive to his butler Archie (Leonard Jackson, title star of Super Spook). Soon they get married (does she have to prove to anyone that her previous husband died?), he stabs her with the knife and they’re vampires together, and now I get it, the knife turns people into vampires? Some sex and blood and nudity later, I think Hess gets a religious mania and maybe kills himself, leaving queen vampire Ganja to find new beaus and victims.

Too many sidetracks, like George telling a horrible story then ending up drunk in a tree, introducing Hess’s son who is then never seen again, and an energetic preacher. But it gets credit for having a completely different feel than other vampire movies I’ve seen, even the similarly dreamy (but far more sleek and story-driven) The Hunger. Gunn was a playwright and screenwriter, also made a never-released wife-swapping movie and a barely-released soap-opera satire. Spike Lee is a fan, remade this as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus last year.

Checked out Tony Scott’s The Hunger for the first time in lovely HD, then watched his brother Ridley’s Alien on blu-ray the same night for a SCOTtober double-feature.


The Hunger (1983)

Cool looking movie with Nic Roegian editing – and I noticed this before listening to Tony Scott’s commentary, where he admits to being Roeg-obsessed. Scott worked in commercials, and brings their slick-as-snails visuals to a noirish vampire flick, opening with a Bahuaus video intercut with agitated lab monkeys. If that sounds like something that might not fly with the public, it apparently didn’t.

The eternally-youthful Catherine Deneuve is a centuries-old vampire living with true love David Bowie. Bowie seems like perfect casting for a vampire movie, but something goes wrong and he starts rapidly growing older (it’s perverse to hide Bowie under age-makeup), trying at the last minute to get help from blood specialist Susan Sarandon, and eating a neighbor kid (soap star Beth Ehlers) in a panic.

Aged Bowie:

Master vampire Deneuve is used to this sort of thing, stashes Bowie in the attic with the other aged corpses of former lovers, and begins seducing Sarandon. But Dr. Susan is too self-aware for vampire life, kills herself, and the zombie lovers rise up to destroy Catherine.

No fangs – our vampires use ankh-shaped knives to bleed their victims. A bit too many slow-motion doves flying but mostly the style works in the movie’s favor. Not according to Ebert, who called it “agonizingly bad” but enjoyed the sex scene. Played out-of-competition at Cannes, where Bowie’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence was competing with L’Argent, The King of Comedy and Nostalghia.

Scott later directed two episodes of the 1990’s anthology horror series The Hunger, hosted by Bowie. Enjoyed seeing Dan Hedaya as a cop but I missed Willem Dafoe’s cameo. Sarandon’s lab coworker Rufus Collins had previous vampire-film experience in Warhol’s Batman Dracula, and her other coworker Cliff De Young starred in Pulse and Dr. Giggles. Writer Whitley Streiber explored werewolves in Wolfen and aliens in Communion.


Alien (1979)

Has that Star Trek: The Motion Picture tendency to slowly bask in its models and space effects. The creature puppets weren’t as dodgy-looking as I remember them (though there’s such a bad edit right before Ian Holm’s disembodied head starts talking).

Spaceship control room looks like a sound booth with Christmas lights:

After watching this and Prometheus on blu-ray within a couple months of each other, I don’t get why people think there needs to be more connection between the two – one seems to be referencing the other pretty clearly to me.

There’s this thing:

And this guy:

And dudes who touch things they should not be touching:

And an android who does not appear to have everyone’s best interests at heart (his orders end with “crew expendable”).

You don’t think of Tom Skerritt as being the first-billed star of Alien, but I guess Weaver was an unknown at the time (or they didn’t want to telegraph who will survive from the opening credits). Veronica Cartwright had been in Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake the year before. Harry Dean Stanton doesn’t do much horror but Wise Blood and Fire Walk With Me might count. Yaphet Kotto starred in Larry Cohen’s Bone and lived through Freddy’s Dead. And John Hurt has appeared in Hellboy, Only Lovers Left Alive, and something called The Ghoul.

Arthouse crapola.

And I don’t say that lightly. I didn’t much enjoy Serra’s Cervantes movie Honor de Cavelleria, so wouldn’t have high hopes for his Casanova-meets-Dracula movie either, except that it made the cover of Cinema Scope issue 56 and ever since Profit Motive, a CS cover recommendation is sacred to me.

Did Casanova even meet Dracula? I don’t know for sure, because either the movie or my video copy of it (possibly the same thing, since Serra shot Honor de Cavelleria on DV) was too dim and low-res to make out most details. But surely Casanova was a character in the movie – and it’s a good thing I read his Wikipedia before watching this or I would’ve got even less out of the movie. He published a book about his escape from prison (Story of My Flight) and an epic posthumous autobiography (Story of My Life), so that’s where this movie’s title comes from, though as far as I can tell he doesn’t die in it. Dracula may be a character in the movie (the Dracula novel was written a hundred years after Casanova’s death, but Dracula is immortal so I’ll forgive this). He isn’t named, but he bites a woman’s neck, and there’s a bunch of neck biting in the last half hour, either killing or vampiring the three women and/or Casanova’s friend Sancho Panza.

I think Serra is a historian and philosophy scholar and that’s fine but I don’t get his point. The most notable scenes feature Casanova shitting (then wiping himself, sniffing his hand and eating a biscuit) and having sad sex with some girl right before a window breaks. This beat Short Term 12 and Our Sunhi and When Evening Falls on Bucharest and Exhibition and What Now? Remind Me and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears for the top prize at Lav Diaz-led Locarno. Fellini’s Casanova is probably not very similar, but I should watch it soon since I’ve read the whole wikipedia article on the real Casanova in prep for this thing. Peranson mentions “over 440 hours of material,” gah!

Slant describes further:

Split into relatively discrete halves, each possessing its own distinct style, it slips from a bawdy, jovial tale of rumpled courtesans and layabout poets to one fixated fully on doom, immured in shadow-clogged compositions within the ancient, chilly darkness of the Carpathians. .. Positioning each [Casanova/Dracula] as the standard bearer for a specific philosophy, the film functions on a macro level as classical allegory, animating the late-18th-century shift from the rational to the romantic.

Serra, from the Cinema Scope cover story that convinced me to watch this:

Where do the characters find the actual satisfaction for their desire? In the mundane side, in the light side of Casanova, or in the more dark side of Dracula? And in the end it looks like Dracula wins, and people feel more pleasure in the pain, or in the guilty things, and perhaps the film is ultimately about the dark side of our lives. I wanted to make a film about the night, and what happens in the night, when real desires appear.

I live-rifftraxed the screening to my audience of birds. Possibly my copy WAS too dark, making the difference between “glamorously underlit” and “woefully underlit,” but that shouldn’t account for how little I enjoyed the movie compared to the rave critical reviews. At least Cahiers called it “as pretentious as it is insignificant,” and claims “Serra filmed in 1:33 and then reframed it in Scope – result, it’s ugly.”

N. Pinkerton’s review was the most fun to read:

As for the Casanova Meets Dracula setup, it’s something from the Jesús Franco reject pile, though Franco had more of an eye for peasant pulchritude, a better connection for castle rentals, and could do dreamy without drifting into the cataleptic. The movie begs comparisons, practically all of them disparaging – and Serra doesn’t help matters by likening himself in interviews to Pasolini.

Serra:

In the art world you have more freedom, and you can do whatever you want … because there nobody knows anything and there is a great amount of confusion there as to what is good or bad, or what is important or not, so I realized that I feel at home there.

Amusing vampire comedy, directed and starring people from Flight of the Conchords. Shot reality-style (the film crew wore crosses), set mostly in the New Zealand house shared by four vamps: Taika Waititi with a sweet Andy Kaufman smile, fashionable Jemaine Clement, rough ex-nazi Jonathan Brugh and a Nosferatu horror named Peter in the basement. They turn a clueless new guy called Nick, who goes around town bragging he’s a vampire, attracting the vampire hunter who kills Peter. But Nick gets to stay because everyone loves his mortal friend Stu. The great ending twist is that the werewolves (led by Conchord manager Rhys Darby) turn Stu instead, which ends up uniting the two groups.

I actually only started watching it because Edge of Tomorrow was gonna take an hour to copy. Didn’t seem like an amazing comedy, just lightly enjoyable, though admittedly much better than a vampire reality show had any right to be. But Slant and Dissolve gave it masterpiece-level ratings and it made the front cover of Film Comment. And now it’s opening in town, which should teach me to wait a few months before watching new acclaimed indie films.

N. Rabin:

What We Do In The Shadows brilliantly juxtaposes the mundane with the supernatural, where superhuman creatures of the night are subject to the demands of a chore wheel and complain about five years of no one doing the bloody dishes (i.e dishes covered with blood). The movie gets terrific comic mileage out of the contrast between the decked-out ghouls and the ramshackle, go-nowhere town where they do their dark yet tedious bidding.

O. Ivanov:

As we watch the vampires make new friends and become reacquainted with old lovers, the film reveals itself to be a thoughtful and moving treatise on aging gracefully. Confronted with endless cycles of loss and regret, the vampires avoid melancholy by embracing the inexhaustible possibilities of love and friendship that life offers to even its unholiest creations.