Vampir Cuadecuc is a real cinematic oddity. It’s a film directed by Pere Portabella, but it’s both a reimagining of and a making-of documentary about Jess Franco’s Count Dracula. Portabella is a Catalan experimental filmmaker, and the film was made during the last decade of Franco’s regime (unless you count his ghost, which seems to be currently in power), so it has some subtle attacks on his fascist regime. Due to the independence vote being suppressed in Catalonia, it makes this film a timely release.
Portabella shot it in high-contrast black and white, which of course echoes the classic vampire films of the silent era, such as Nosferatu and Vampyr. Basically it’s a mishmash of making-of footage but also Portabella’s own interpretation of Franco’s film, often using different angles to the original. It plays as a version of the Dracula story for the most part, but he breaks down the myth of the vampire and also filmmaking itself. It’s all told in a very fragmented way, and the soundscape from Carles Santos just adds to the uneasy, dreamlike experience of the film.
The film also had a profound impact on Guy Maddin’s work, which he has acknowledged in interviews over the years. You can certainly see a line between this film to the throwback to the silent era films that Maddin makes; similarly, both don’t always work but the results are always interesting. Maddin even did his own take on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. Portabella was even the producer on Buñuel’s return to Spain, Viridiana, which basically forced him into exile again, and you can see the influence of Buñuel’s early films on Portabella’s work as well.
Vampir Cuadecuc is dialogue-free (I would call it silent, but the soundscapes certainly aren’t!) until Christopher Lee, who appeared in this and Franco’s film as Dracula (of course), recites the last few lines of Dracula in his dressing room. He seemed to be having the time of his life during his scenes, but then again he is actor who always brought his best to every film. Portabella has continued making experimental films, but also was simultaneously a Catalonian politician for many years, and this release includes two of his more recent shorts.
The disc is rounded off by newly filmed interviews with Portabella and BFI’s curator William Fowler, and finally a booklet with an essay by journalist Stanley Schtinter.