October 15, 2020
1 Hr., 15 Mins.
t’s a little misleading to call Cuadecuc, vampir (1970), directed by Spanish filmmaker Pere Portabella, a making-of documentary. That’s only about half of what it is — if that — for one thing. And unlike most making-of documentaries, you don’t finish it with a better sense of how the project being spotlit was made. Cuadecuc, vampir was shot as Spanish filmmaker Jesús Franco was making 1970’s Count Dracula, a low-budget but
notably very-faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s original Dracula novel from 1897. Christopher Lee, who had become famous in the late-1950s for playing the count in a succession of Hammer-produced Dracula movies, starred in Franco’s version — they collaborated frequently. Soledad Miranda, Herbert Lom, and Jack Taylor rounded out the rest of the ensemble.
I really like Franco’s adaptation. While sometimes stilted, it’s hypnagogic in an appealing way — Dracula in a dream state. What Portabella has managed to harvest from Franco's work, though, is far more interesting than the film from which he’s mooching off. It’s an inventive amalgam that at once functions as a quasi-home video and an eerie, arty homage to something along the lines of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), which capitalized on the uncanniness of the silent-film medium for the sake of a creepy vampire story before the style went entirely out of vogue.
Cuadecuc, vampir culls various scenes from Count Dracula (usually the most effects-oriented, like a bat attack or a climactic bite); it’s like a remix of the classic narrative, though there are no expected title cards to help guide the story’s movement. Repurposed parts of the finished movie are interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage. Some of it takes you completely out of its world — the opening credits are superimposed over footage of a modern car driving through the wilderness, for instance. But other bits give the film further dimension, whether we’re watching Lee gingerly take out his fake fangs in his dressing room or watching him get blanketed in faux cobwebs as he settles into a coffin just before Franco calls for action. It’s touching to briefly watch Miranda goof around as she’s waiting to shoot a scene: she died tragically in a car crash the year Count Dracula came out, and there is little existing documentation, aside from the movies in which she starred, that gives us a sense of Miranda the person.
There is no audio in Cuadecuc, vampir save for otherworldly ambient music from Carles Santos and an information-driven epilogue that finds Lee noting at length how Dracula’s death is rather anticlimactically written in Stoker’s book. Although the movie encompasses footage from various sources, both fictional and real, Portabella makes it all cohere through a distinctive visual style: Its black and white is so blanched that it looks almost decayed — like all this conceivably could have been made a few decades before and that someone had only recently found the reels. Part of me wishes I could have seen Cuadecuc, vampir without context, without title cards informing me that what I was about to see was a project born from the fruits of Count Dracula. The movie already feels so atemporal, refreshingly nonchalant about the boundaries resting between fiction and reality. What other delights might have sprung from a little more mystery? B+