29 March, 2008

Leon Klimovsky's THE DRACULA SAGA (1972)

Born in Argentina, Leon Klimovsky (1906-1996) became one of the prime practitioners of Spanish horror, directing the Godfather of the genre, Paul Naschy, in the breakthrough hit LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (1970), followed by VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972) and other key Spanish horror titles of the early to mid 1970s. Taking a break from his films featuring Naschy, LA SAGA DE LOS DRACULA is his visually surreal, wacky take on the legend of Count Dracula. Klimovsky, who worked as a dentist for 15 years in his homeland before turning to directing, also wrote film and music criticism in his native country and started Argentina's first cinema club, which featured showings of classic and art cinema. Klimovsky wanted to direct avant-garde films, but things would turn out diffently as he became a professional director of numerous popular genre films in Argentina and eventually in Spain.

Turning out over 75 films in a thirty year career including crime dramas like the 1956 MIEDO (scripted by Jess Franco), Eurowesterns like 1964's BILLY THE KID (with future Jess Franco star Jack Taylor) and war movies, Giugno '44 - Sbarcheremo in Normandia (1968) (as Henry Mankiewicz) ... aka Commando Attack
... aka Junio 44: desembarcaremos en Normandía (Spain), more westerns, Hombre vino a matar, Un (1968), until finally managing to ignite the Spanish horror boom at age 64, Klimovsky proved a reliable workhorse and was sometimes used as an in-name-only quota-director for Spanish-Italian coproductions (A FEW DOLLARS FOR DJANGO; HANDS UP DEADMAN, YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!). I once asked the star of UN HOMBRE VINO A MATAR, actor Richard Wyler, what Klimovsky was like to work with, he simply stated that Klimovsky was "a nice man." A generic reply, but probably an accurate one.

Count Dracula suffers a fate worse than death at the climax of LA SAGA DE LOS DRACULA. Narciso Ibanez Menta is impressive in the role. Born in Spain, he moved to Argentina to become that country's first and foremost horror movie icon. Like Leon Klimovsky he would leave to become involved in Spanish genre cinema. He would also appear in Klimovsky's ultra-bizarre science fiction item ODIO MI CUERPO/I HATE MY BODY (1974).

Leon Klimovsky's screwy, sexy and utterly delightful take on the legend of Count Dracula has finally made its way to a quality US DVD release.

Filmed as Spain in 1972 as LA SAGA DE LOS DRACULA, it features the titan of Argentinian fantasy, Naricso Ibanez Menta (MASTER OF HORROR), who makes a striking vampire king and looks very much like the way Count Dracula is initially described in the original Bram Stoker novel. The film's plot strays significantly and imaginatively from the novel, however. This time the focus in on the Count's granddaughter (Tina Sainz) who arrives in Transylvania with her dangerously bored husband (Tony Isbert), who quickly falls prey to the fetching local vampire women. Upon arriving at Castle Vlad the elegant, slightly grotesque Count greets the couple with his buxom brides (Helga Line, Maria Kosti) on display.

What the granddaughter doesn't realize is that it's all part of a carefully calculated plot to continue the bloodline of the vampire clan. As predatory gypsies hover outside the castle becomes a labyrinth of delirious horrors typified by grotesque mutant lad locked in the tower, the deformed Cyclops who feeds on local stragglers and is the result of the degenerate lineage. New blood is desperately needed. And blood will flow in the final scenes when the new mother goes on a rampage with an axe.

Scored with Bach harpsichord interludes and Daniel J. White compositions familiar from Jess Franco films (THE GIRL FROM RIO, BLOOD OF FU MANCHU) the film has a distinctive sound. Klimovsky's brisk staging of the Ionesco-esque screenplay (credited to "Lazarus Kaplan", actually Emilio Martinez Lazoro), the elaborately detailed, period settings of Andres, place it somewhere in the middle of post-modern vampire fare, amidst such 1960s and 70s parodies as THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (the highpoint) and THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING (a lowpoint). It's worth watching if only to compare with two other significant 1972 vampire films from Spanish directors, Javier Aguirre's Paul Naschy vehicle COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE and Jess Franco's LA FILLE DE DRACULA. They all present radically different approaches to the subject matter and totally unique looking Count Draculas. Deploying unusual camera filters, wide-angle lenses and unique creatures like the giant vampire bat seen in the dream sequence at the beginning of the film, Klimovsky shows he can be equally stylish.

One might not approve of what LA SAGA DE LOS DRACULA ultimately delivers, but it does deliver. The new BCI-DEIMOS SE presents a vividly colorful open matte print from the vaults of Victory Films, with a very welcome Spanish language option with easy to read English subtitles. The film plays much better in Spanish than it does with it's rather foolish sounding English dubbing track. The High Definition image is always sharp, bursting with crimsons and primary hues. The print is uncut and if the Fullscreen 4X3 presentation sometimes results in an awkward composition one must remember that the film was shot open-matte and intended to be exhibited theatrically in various matted projections. Thanks to Spanish horror expert Mirek Lipinski for that information.

The bottom line is that the film, transferred from the original negative, looks very good and this presentation highlights how a good DP (Francisco Sanchez), careful direction, and a good element can enable a fresh evaluation.

Alternate clothed sequences for the original Spanish release, the Spanish credit sequence, additional footage and trailers for other BCI discs are included as Special Features.


(c) Robert Monell, 2008


Sartana said...

I love his Horror movies but the SWs signed by him are very bad. Enzo Castellari directed a big part of A Few Dollars for Django. Do you know who is responsible for the others?
Take care!

Robert Monell said...

Welcome to the blog, Sartana. I know that Bergonzelli actually directed HANDS UP DEADMAN: YOU'RE UNDER ARREST! which was signed by Kilmov; and Marino Girolami directed several KLimov signed films, including REV COLT.