Wednesday, July 6, 2011

La Fille De Dracula (1972)

Luisa Karlstein (Britt Nichols) returns to her ancestral home for a deathbed visit with her mother(?)/grandmother(?) (Carmen Carbonell). Before she dies, the old lady asks Luisa to take a look into "the crypt below the tower", to "see what it is that is killing her", and because the first count who is buried there was a vampire. No, I don't know what that's supposed to be good for either.

Dutifully, Luisa wanders off to the crypt, whereupon a coffin swings open and the first Count Karlstein (Howard Vernon in his most comfy role) - or, following the pre-movie text card, Count Dracula - stares long and hard at the girl and hisses.

Afterwards, Luisa renews(?)/begins(?) a love affair with her cousin(?)/childhood friend(?) Karine (Anne Libert), which results in a bit of sex and some biting with the vampire fangs Luisa grows from time to time.

While that has been going on (though the first murder seems to have taken place before Luisa even arrived), the nude female population of the nearby town has been decimated by a mysterious bloodsucking killer. Like the audience, investigating Inspector Ptuschko (Alberto Dalbes) has no clue what's going on. That doesn't hinder him from being a condescending smartass to everyone, nor from randomly naming people as the killer without having much evidence for his theories. Among the Inspector's suspects is the not-undead Count Karlstein (Daniel White).

The Karlsteins' secretary Jefferson (Jess Franco himself) seems to know what's up with his employers' family, but he needs a bit of time before he goes from incoherent ramblings about the supernatural into vampire hunter mode.

If you don't already enjoy the films of Spanish exploitation auteur and fan of close-ups of female pubic hair Jess Franco, La Fille De Dracula will probably not teach you how to do it, containing as it does all the flaws of a typical early 70s film by the director and not as many of their virtues as one would wish for as one of the uninitiated. Once you have fallen in love with Franco's ways of doing thing like I have, you learn to just ignore his films' idiosyncrasies, go with the flow, and hope for another shot of random, strange beauty.

La Fille isn't making life easy for its viewers. I'm used to Franco's disinterest in narrative subtleties like a dramatic arc, characterisation, or just making plain the relationships between the characters, but even I found myself getting impatient with this particular film from time to time - a real problem given that La Fille, like all of Franco's movies, is paced at a tempo one might call - depending on one's temperament - "languid" or "snail-like". I'm okay with long stretches of movie where nothing at all is happening, as long as they are filled with enough Franco-isms to keep me awake, but it's exactly the scenes containing Franco's special obsessions - lesbian vampire sex, longish cameos by himself, weird artsy night club striptease scenes, long shots of the faces of his actresses or just a reflection the director is fascinated in - that don't seem to have quite the power here they have in the director's other films.

I'm obviously entering a realm here where it becomes difficult to quantify why this particular film's lesbian sex feels less weird and effective as that in Franco's other movies, or why this ultra-lazy (we never witness him actually getting out of his coffin) Howard Vernon vampire is less impressive than the actor's usual performances, or why a long shot of the reflection of a living room in a piano seems not quite as fascinating as usual; "it just feels this way" is the only - and unsatisfactory - explanation I have.

That doesn't mean that La Fille De Dracula is a film completely without merit for the Franco fanatic - we're going to watch anything with the man's name on it in any case - it's just a film that (to me) is not as fascinating and hypnotic as the director's movies can be.


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