Cuadecuc, Vampir uses behind-the-scenes footage of the 1970 film Count Dracula to construct its own experimental, abridged version of Bram Stoker’s novel. Directed by Jesús Franco, Count Dracula stars Christopher Lee, who of course portrayed the Count in a number of films from London’s Hammer Studios. Count Dracula, an international production between Spain, Italy, Germany, and Britain, is not a Hammer film, despite erroneously being referred to as such in the opening credits. Cuadecuc’s director, Pere Portabella, along with collaborator Joan Brasso, shot alongside the crew to document scene setups, on-set rehearsals, and alternate takes in high-contrast black-and-white.
Count Dracula has come to be known as one of the weakest Dracula adaptations to date, having been panned at the time of release and having yet to be reclaimed by the cult film or midnight circuit fanbase. Due to its appeal to the arthouse crowd, its de facto “making of” documentary has a far better reputation. Although relatively obscure, it’s been lingering in the back pages of the new library streaming service, Kanopy. For those of you who use Kanopy (and if your library has access, you really should), Cuadecuc, Vampir cannot come more highly recommended, especially if you want to skip that deep dive down the rabbit hole and get right to the weird.
The film stock used, here, contains contrast and grain that harkens back to the first Dracula adaptation, Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens by F.W. Murnau. The blacks are inky and bottomless and the whites glaring and bold. It’s all movements, shapes, faces, lights, and sets. Purely on a visual level, Cuadecuc ranks as a top-shelf experimental film, containing strong ties to the stylings of predecessors ranging from the German expressionism in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the works of Murnau to Kenneth Anger’s Eaux d’Artifice from 1953 and other such works. This unconventional, cross-generational homage yields both a wonderful work of post-modern horror and also what might be called a neo-silent.
With Cuadecuc, Vampir Portabella depicts the act of representation via the filmmaking process and its relation to the source. Any adaptation involves the interpretation of the cerebral, the images conjured by descriptions and the ideas elicited that have no visual analog. Instead of mimicking, Cuadecuc forms a response to its source material with a cheeky, skeptical approach to literary representation. This combined with brief flashes of humor derived from on-set antics and the wonderful, genre-bending score by Carles Santos allow Cuadecuc to echo the novel while existing completely apart from it, sidestepping the potential failures of faithful adaptation.
In the final, sound portion of the film, Christopher Lee reads a passage from Stoker’s novel before staring into the camera. Someone says “cut” and the screen abruptly goes black. Words, the lifeblood of literature, and images, the lifeblood of film, play out in conjunction with one another. The integrity of Cuadecuc, Vampir as film and Dracula as literature are both stated, here, and the result couldn’t be more eloquent. | Nic Champion