Tag Archives: vampires

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Interview with Ana Lily Amirpour

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Format: Cinema

Release date: 22 May 2015

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour

Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Moshan Marno, Dominic Rains

Iran, USA 2014

100 mins

After enchanting festival audiences around the world, Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour’s acclaimed debut feature A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night finally comes to UK screens. Shot in gorgeous black and white, this Farsi-language tale about a chador-wearing skateboarding vampire drifting in the desperate world of Bad City creates a seductive, singular world out of an eclectic mix of influences that include comics, David Lynch and Italian Western music.

Virginie Sélavy talked to Amirpour at the London Film Festival in October 2014, where they discussed places of the mind, the magic of music and the loneliness of humans.

Virginie Sélavy: You’ve described your film as an Iranian vampire Western. The first two elements are fairly clear, but in what way do you see it as a Western?

Ana Lily Amirpour: I think it’s definitely the music that was such a defining characteristic. The musical spine throughout the whole film was Federale’s awesome Ennio Morricone-esque music. I think there is that slow-cooking construction that a Western does as well, but it’s more the music.

Why did you choose to shoot in America but in the Farsi language?

I don’t think a film is the real world, a film is a world of the mind of a person. David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is supposedly in LA, but it’s the LA of his mind. So I think this is a dark fairy tale and it’s a place of my mind. I’m part Iranian and part American and born in England, and it’s like a soup of so many things. What’s so awesome about the film is that it doesn’t have any loyalty to the real world and it doesn’t have to. It’s like a dream, it’s just consistent to itself.

You grew up in California.

I had my period there, yeah. [laughs]

So where did you spend most of your childhood and adolescence?

I think where you have your puberty and period is a big part of it. I was in Miami before that, but I was just a kid. When I hit puberty I was in Bakersfield, in California – there’s this redneck desert, farming, malls, I was going to a mall, I wore short cowboy boots, and there’s also all the Mexican gangs, and all the Mexican girls that I was mixed up with because I was brown, the cholas, the gang girls with lipstick, they’d push me and all that [laughs].

It’s interesting that you grew up in America and that the Iranian part of your identity is a place of the mind for you.

It’s a weird thing about Iranian culture. We’re one of those cultures like Italian or Jewish, we have very strong families, aggressively imposing families, in an awesome way. So I always had my Iranian-ness in that way, my grand-mother and my aunt and everybody, and the dinners and the noises and everything. But I never had the place itself. There was a weird thing that happened when I made this film. It became this imaginary limbo. I felt like I was making my own country in a way. Here’s the rules, and here’s the citizens, and now is the place and everyone can come and visit, and if you like it, stay… Other people in the film were similar. Arash [Marandi] was in Germany, his family lived there, and Dominic [Rains] went to Texas and Sheila [Vand] was born in California, very similar to me. I think everybody liked how it was like getting to have a place that was Iranian. Because even when I went to Iran I didn’t feel like it was my country… It’s something else. But I am Iranian. What am I? [laughs]

I liked the chador for the vampire because it’s very visual, but it’s also very interesting because it is a piece of clothing that has become a symbol for the oppression of women and in your film it becomes a superhero cape.

And a brilliant disguise. No one is going to expect it from her. For me it was just because I put one on – I had one as a prop in a movie and put it on for the first time. It felt like a stingray, I instantly felt like a creature. It moves, and it’s made of a different kind of fabric, it’s very soft and it catches the wind, and it’s beautiful. And I just felt like a badass. And then I thought, this would be an Iranian vampire, this is it, it’s this girl. And the whole idea for the film started with this character. I don’t even like black in my movies. But it’s black and I just pictured it against white, and so it had to be a black and white movie. And the whole thing about whether, like you said, it’s something that symbolizes oppression for women, I think somebody who is Muslim maybe wouldn’t feel that way. You feel that way because that’s what you are bringing. I do like flipping the script, but it’s about something else. In this world, with all these people and all these countries and all these places, we come up with systems on how to exist as people, the clothes people wear, the bumper stickers on the cars, saying ‘This is who I am’, ‘This is what I believe’. But with all of us, if you start peeling it back like an onion there’s weird, weirdo, weird shit inside all of us. And if you get into the inside, and see the weird shit, usually it calls to question the system that’s on the outside, and that’s what I find interesting.

I like the fact that there’s so little dialogue in the film.

It’s weird because I noticed that I have an aversion to it, and yet I talk a lot. When I was a kid my dad called me ‘Chatterbox’, and I had that New Year’s resolution many years to talk less and listen more, and then there’s this stuff, which is really self-indulgent. I love Sergio Leone and I love David Lynch, and I feel they do similar things with the soundscape and the sound design and the music. If you really think of it as a character in itself you have to create space for it. In Once upon a Time in the West Leone was playing that music when Claudia Cardinale was coming on the train in that sequence when she arrives in town. He had that epic piece already made and he was playing it for her to move to the music, so if you make films that way you’re thinking of it like a character and you make space for it. I also love Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue, I could listen to it all the time, and Woody Allen’s films, they talk all the time, it’s a different thing, it works well, but not in my own films so far. Actors were like, ‘I want to fucking say some lines,’ because they want to talk, they don’t want to just stand there. But what you don’t realise is that the less you’re saying the more you’re saying.

THe lack of dialogue makes the film more powerful. In the case of Sheila Vand in particular, if she was talking more, she would be less menacing.

She was always such a creature. I’m very close with her. She’s hypnotic, I can just stare at her face, stare at her eyes, infinitely. And there’s a sadness and a lonely, aching dissatisfaction to her that I find extremely charming and beautiful and self-destructive. The biggest thing was that, it’s supernatural, it’s not human, and she is a human, so my only concern was, ‘you’re a creature, no matter what, at all times, in all scenes’. So we were watching cobra videos on YouTube, and they follow your hand and imitate the movement, and looking at the tension of it too because they can strike fast.

The film seems to have a very melancholy view of human relationships, and it seems to show how those two isolated characters slowly learn to trust each other. Is that what you wanted to put in the film?

That’s my favourite part, when you say stuff like that, it’s the most interesting time for me. I love what people say about the film. My relationship to my film is like my relationship to my reflection in the mirror, like how others look at you. Yeah I have loneliness, and being a person is so singular and lonely in a way, fundamentally. And also when you’re making stuff you go even more into your little mind tunnels. I think I just want magic and meaningful connections and intimacy and it’s so hard, and life can be so automated. And it’s terrifying. That’s why I love music because it’s that and it’s instantly that. And it’s really special when it happens with other people because that’s really rare. But music does give me this feeling of freedom and comfort.

For that lovely scene of the first intimate moment between Arash and The Girl, when he comes up behind her in her room as she plays a record, you chose ‘Death’ by White Lies. Why that particular song?

It’s a really great song. I heard it when I was living in Germany the year before I made the film. It has this vintage nostalgia, it’s a new song but it has this feeling of synth-pop from the 80s. It just felt like the feeling of falling in love but in an adolescent way, it has a high school love feeling, it’s this innocent John Hughes kind of feeling. That’s what they are to me, those two. Because it’s so dumb in a way to fall in love, it’s two people who have no clue who each other are, so it’s that dumb, sweet, nostalgic love.

Why the title?

It’s so weird because I made a short film that was called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, it was five minutes long, in black and white. It was after I put that chador on and I thought of that character. I thought it’d be so cool to have her in a park and some man starts following her, through the streets, into a building and then into an apartment, and then right when he enters into the apartment she turns around and eats him. I was telling Sina [Sayyah], my producer, and I was explaining ‘and there’s this girl, and she walks home alone at night’, and then I was, ‘that’s it, that’s the title’.

The secondary characters are very interesting, there is something very rich about them. This is particularly true of Atti, the prostitute, because it is hinted that there are many things in her past, and it feels like she could be the main character of another film.

I feel like that about all of them, they are all the main characters in their own films. And they all had extremely detailed back stories, every single one of them. Atti watched her mother kill her father when she was 14 years old. She has a very intense and long story that ended her the way she is. But she is also a pragmatic, sensible, tough type of hero. I feel like it’s hard to ruffle her feathers. I love the pimp so much too, he is a fetish of mine.


The character was based on Ninja from Die Antwoord, the South African rap-rave duo. I’m a huge fan and I love Ninja, and I modelled Saeed a lot after him. I knew he was going to be this scary gangster because he looks so intense, so I made Dominic watch Friends because Saeed loves the show and Russ is his favourite character, and six weeks after the shooting he was still watching Friends. It was just to bring it down and make it sweet because it’s impossible, if you look like that you’re going to be taken a certain way.

The two women characters, the Girl and Atti, seem to know more than the male characters, they seem more aware of the forces that move them, whereas the male characters seem more confused about what is happening around them.

Yeah, I would say that’s interesting. The girls are cleverer. I read one time that the men seem more open and vulnerable, and the women are more closed-up and hard to read. I think both are astute observations. I feel that they’re also lonely. It was the one common thing that they all had, stages of it becoming crusty, a loneliness that becomes so stiff it’s really difficult to change.

The soundtrack to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is available from Death Waltz.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer:

Rigor Mortis: Interview with Juno Mak

Rigor Mortis
Rigor Mortis

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 April 2015

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Juno Mak

Writers: Philip Yung, Jill Leung, Juno Mak

Cast: Chin Siu-ho, Anthony Chan, Kara Hui

Hong Kong 2013

101 mins

Cantopop star, record producer, Hong Kong fashion designer, actor and writer: the multifaceted Juno Mak makes his directorial debut with Rigor Mortis, an elegant dramatic horror film that’s both a melancholic story of bereavement and a sombre love letter to Ricky Lau’s hopping vampire classic Mr. Vampire (1985).

Mark Player talks to Juno Mak about reuniting the cast of Mr. Vampire, working with J-horror icon Takashi Shimizu and, of course, hopping vampires.

Mark Player: You first began your career in the music industry before branching out into acting. What made you then decide to transition to directing?

Juno Mak: I never went to university; I started working when I was 18. Fortunately, I got signed under Universal Music and when I was 17, I spent a year in Japan doing all sorts of training – signing, dancing and speaking Japanese. Then I started working as a singer. But to me, I guess, throughout all these years, composing a melody, singing a song, or producing music, writing a script, being an actor, or being a director and a producer all goes back to being creative. It’s just a different way to express creativity; sometimes through music, sometimes through visuals.

Even before Rigor Mortis you seemed keen to start to writing scripts for films, for instance, Revenge: A Love Story (2010), which you also starred in.

Revenge: A Love Story was a great experience. I was very lucky because that was my first script and I wrote it without knowing whether it would be made into a film or not. There wasn’t such a genre in the market at that moment, so I just wrote it out of curiosity. Luckily we found a producer and investor who were interested in such an extreme, depressed, heavy genre film. It was done with a very low budget and we shot only for 19 days, I believe. Being able to make Revenge: A Love Story was very surprising for me, as was the film festival circuit after we finished production. We got invited to the Moscow International Film Festival. That was my first time attending a film festival and we were fortunate to get the Screenplay Award; the director, Wong Ching-po, won Best Director as well. We also attended the Puchon International Film Festival in South Korea and won another award for Best Actor. Soon I was approached by different producers. They were looking to do a sequel to Revenge: A Love Story, which was difficult for me because I’ve never really believed in doing sequels. Other producers asked me what kind of genre I would like to explore if I could write something of my own will,? That’s when I brought up the hopping vampire (jiangshi) genre, which was very popular during the 1980s but has been gone for almost 30 years. They were willing to let me explore this genre and that’s how Rigor Mortis started.

Rigor Mortis explicitly references – and even subverts – tropes from that Golden Age of jiangshi films you just mentioned, specifically the Mr. Vampire series. It’s very self-referential and very… meta, let’s say. Where did the idea for this approach come from?

At first, it’s about my childhood. I grew up in Vancouver and Mr. Vampire played a big part in my childhood. Renting it on VHS, I watched it so many times that I guess it just got stuck in my mind. I am very familiar with the hopping vampire genre and when I was approached to create Rigor Mortis, I started giving it a lot of thought again. I don’t believe Rigor Mortis is a remake of Mr. Vampire. Since the original film was so popular and great, I didn’t think it was necessary to do one. Approaching this genre, I felt that I had to have a different point of view. Mr. Vampire is more of a comical horror type of film and Rigor Mortis became a heavier, more humane type of film. But by reuniting the original cast of Mr. Vampire, I believe that there’s a certain homage. Sadly, some of the main actors from the film have passed away and others have retired.

Yes, I noticed that you pay tribute to those that have passed in the end credits (Ricky Hui and Lam Ching-ying). But you did manage to reunite actors Chin Siu-ho, Anthony Chan, Richard Ng and Billy Lau from Mr. Vampire. How did it feel to work with these childhood heroes?

It was beautiful. Again, I don’t believe in remaking such a classic, but by reuniting the cast, I felt I got a cast that was much older and more experienced. Most of them are now over 50, and seeing the wrinkles on their faces was just so beautiful. I wanted to make the film about people who have entered a certain age and are quite confused or uncertain about the future. They are broken, basically.

Chin Siu-ho plays a washed-up version of himself, and is also suicidal and mentally disturbed. What was his reaction when you first gave him the script?

We had worked together before. He played a role in Revenge: A Love Story, and that’s how I first met him. He’s always been an action figure, even in the original Mr. Vampire. So when I told him the idea for Rigor Mortis, it was a huge challenge for him because I’m not in for the action, or the stunts; I was more into the idea of him as this fictional character. He lives very happily with his family, so the whole depressive, washed-up side of him is my fictional point of view.

It took me quite a while to get him to open up about his feelings and how he could be more emotionally naked in front of the camera. He’s very healthy and very into sports, and he’s very happy with his family. So I had to make him look depressed as quickly as possible because we only had about three weeks of pre-production. I feel really sorry about it now, but we basically had to torture him to make him very depressive. We consulted three different doctors on the fastest way to break down a person and they all came up with the same solution, which was to not let him sleep. So during pre-production, we had to break up his sleep every two hours. We’d call him and have him stay on the phone for at least 10 minutes before he could get back to sleep, and then we would call him again two hours later. He also went on a diet so the whole process was definitely a torture. But it turned him into what he looks like in Rigor Mortis within three weeks. It was a cold-hearted decision, but he understood.

There’s a scene right near the start of the film when he is unpacking old film costumes that his character has kept over the years. Were they the genuine article?

Some, yes. Some I had to remake because they didn’t keep a lot of the costumes from the original Mr. Vampire. So some of them were the originals and others were the result of my own interpretation from the films I remembered seeing him in as a child. When it came to the hopping vampire, we ended up doing a whole new costume design.

Because horror films tend to be very transnational in their appeal, was it a case of trying to strike a balance between, on the one hand, making a film that was rooted in Chinese folklore and, on the other, making something that a modern international horror audience aren’t going to scoff at or find a bit silly? There’s certainly a lot less hopping in Rigor Mortis than in Mr. Vampire.

I believe it’s definitely more towards the drama side as opposed to the horror side. I didn’t make this film intentionally to be horror. I’m not really into the blood, the gore, or making you jump in your seat. There are moments like that in Rigor Mortis but those are not my main concern. My main concern is about this group of people. For example, I wanted to see how Nina Paw’s character [the widow who wants to resurrect her dead husband in the film] transforms from a really friendly person into a really evil one. Even with Anthony Chan’s character, you can see they are all about the fear of losing, or not knowing what to do about their lives. So definitely Rigor Mortis is about drama and these lost souls instead of just horror thrills.

Having said that, you co-produced the film with Japanese horror cinema veteran Takashi Shimizu, perhaps most famous for Ju-on: The Grudge (2002) and its various permutations. How did he get involved, and what did he bring to the project?

Takashi Shimizu got on board right after I finished shooting the film, so as a producer he joined us pretty late. He worked mostly on the post-production with me. I met him in Japan. I guess the reason he was interested in the project is that the hopping vampire genre plays a big part in Japanese pop culture as well, so people there recognise it too. With Ju-on, he has become a popular name in the horror genre, but deep down I believe he tends to want to work on a more character-driven story that’s heavy on drama. So when he read the script for Rigor Mortis, he saw the elements in it that are more than just thrills, blood and gore. I believe he’s always wanted to make films that are more than just horror. And of course with his experience and insights, he assisted me with things like sound design, the colour tone and the CGI.

So, I guess Rigor Mortis is a revival or sorts for jiangshi films?

The genre has been gone for a long time. It used to be a very commercial and popular genre in Hong Kong. Why did it disappear? That was my main question when I was working on the script. When we were in post-production, we got the announcement from the Venice Film Festival that the film had been selected to play there. That was a big triumph for the team because it had been a very long shoot. We had shot for 70 days, and post-production was almost a year. We never really expected it, and from there the film had a life of its own. It went from Venice to Toronto, then to Tokyo and Taiwan, and then it came back to Hong Kong for the premiere. I guess what connects this film to the audience is more than just the hopping vampire genre, it’s also the characters, the love among these older people. I guess it’s a very universal topic. Of course, at the same time it has a sort of mythical essence to it that got people’s attention.

The film is incredibly stylish and features a lot of special effects sequences. Was this daunting, considering that you were directing for the first time?

Yes… I guess it was like a mission, or a goal for me to achieve. During pre-production, that’s what I wanted, even with the minor details. We’ve seen at lot of hopping vampires from those original films and we absolutely understand the way they hop, but is there another way that we could show it? For our film, we put the hopping vampire in a water tank because I really wanted that slow-motion effect for his clothing and the way he moves. It was a very difficult moment, and because no one had ever done something like that in Hong Kong cinema before, we had to design and build our own tank. But since you can’t really hop in water, we had to use eight wires and four scuba divers to push the stuntman forward in order to present that hopping visual. That’s just one example, but there are lots of minor details like this throughout the whole film. The concern I had as a first-time director was that I wanted people to tell the difference between this film and the other hopping vampire films that came before it. I had plenty of ideas for the visuals and, fortunately, my producers were very patient with me. It was an experiment for all of us because a lot of the things that I wanted to do hadn’t been done before in the Hong Kong film industry. So I am very grateful for having such a great team.

Another element to the film’s style that shouldn’t be overlooked is the apartment block that the whole story takes place in. Was it a real location?

It was based on an actual place. We went location scouting and looked at a lot of housing compounds in Hong Kong, and that was fascinating to me. However, there were technical issues to consider and although these places looked interesting, there wouldn’t be a lot of space for the camera, lighting or the wire rigs. So we had to build our own corridor and all the apartments along it. I guess what you see in the film is about 20% real housing compound and about 80% on set.

What’s next for you? Are you looking to continue directing?

It’s kind of funny, in a sense. When travelling with the film to festivals, I was approached to do a Rigor Mortis sequel. That’s when I realised that I don’t have much more that I want to express in this genre. I want to move on to a different genre, so I have started work on a new script that has nothing to do with Rigor Mortis, or ghosts, or vampires; it’s more of an epic crime thriller. The first cut we did of Rigor Mortis was three hours long and had a lot more character development and extra scenes. I got many people asking if they could see this longer cut. At a certain point it became a pressure for me because I felt like I needed to take a break from it. I may revisit it later, after directing some other films, and maybe I’ll get a different perspective on it. The script I’m working on now is going to be a long shoot. The scale, the budget, the cast, the story, the shooting days, and the technical difficulties I think will be 10 times heavier than Rigor Mortis, so that’s my main focus at the moment. The working title for it is Sons of the Neon Night.

Interview by Mark Player

Watch the trailer:

Welles’s Lost Draculas

Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane

Orson Welles arrived in Hollywood in 1939 having negotiated a two-picture deal as producer-director-writer-actor with George Schaefer of RKO Pictures. Drawing on an entourage of colleagues from New York theatre and radio, he established Mercury Productions as a filmmaking entity. Before embarking on Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Welles developed other properties: Nicholas Blake’s just-published anti-fascist thriller The Smiler With a Knife (1939), Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902) and Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Like the Conrad, Dracula was a novel Welles had already done for the Mercury Theatre on the Air radio series (July 11, 1938). A script was prepared (by Welles, Herman Mankiewicz and, uncredited, John Houseman), sets were designed, the film cast, and ‘tests’ – the extent of which have never been revealed – shot, but the project was dropped.

The reasons for the abandonment of Count Dracula remain obscure. It has been speculated that RKO were nervous about Welles’s stated intention to film most of the story with a first-person camera, adopting the viewpoints of the various characters as Stoker does in his might-have-been fictional history. Houseman, in his memoir Run-Through (1972), alleges that Welles’s enthusiasm for this device was at least partly due to the fact that it would keep the fearless vampire slayers – Harker, Van Helsing, Quincey, Holmwood – mostly off screen, while Dracula, the object of their attention, would always be in view. Houseman, long estranged from Welles at the time of writing, needlessly adds that Welles would have played Dracula. He toyed with the idea of playing Harker as well, before deciding William Alland could do it if kept to the shadows and occasionally dubbed by Welles. The rapidly changing political situation in Europe, already forcing the Roosevelt administration to reassess its policies about vampirism and the very real Count Dracula, may have prompted certain factions to bring pressure to bear on RKO that such a film was ‘inadvisable’ for 1940.

In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, published in This is Orson Welles (1992) but held well before Francis Ford Coppola’s controversial Dracula (1979), Welles said: ‘Dracula would make a marvellous movie. In fact, nobody has ever made it; they’ve never paid any attention to the book, which is the most hair-raising, marvellous book in the world. It’s told by four people, and must be done with four narrations, as we did on the radio. There’s one scene in London where he throws a heavy bag into the corner of a cellar and it’s full of screaming babies! They can go that far out now.’

Throughout Welles’s career, Dracula remained an idée fixe. The Welles-Mankiewicz script was RKO property and the studio resisted Welles’s offer to buy it back. They set their asking price at the notional but substantial sum accountants reckoned had been lost on the double debacle of Ambersons and the unfinished South American project, It’s All True.

When Schaefer, Welles’s patron, was removed from his position as Vice-President in Charge of Production and replaced by Charles Koerner, there was serious talk of putting the script into production through producer Val Lewton’s unit, which had established a reputation for low-budget supernatural dramas with Cat People (1942). Lewton got as far as having DeWitt Bodeen and then Curt Siodmak take runs at further drafts, scaling the script down to fit a strait-jacket budget. Jacques Tourneur was attached to direct, though editor Mark Robson was considered when Tourneur was promoted to A Pictures. Stock players were assigned supporting roles: Tom Conway (Dr Seward), Kent Smith (Jonathan Harker), Henry Daniell (Van Helsing), Jean Brooks (Lucy), Alan Napier (Arthur Holmwood), Skelton Knaggs (Renfield), Elizabeth Russell (Countess Marya Dolingen), Sir Lancelot (a calypso-singing coachman). Simone Simon, star of Cat People, was set for Mina, very much the focus of Lewton’s take on the story, but the project fell through because RKO were unable to secure their first and only choice of star, Boris Karloff, who was committed to Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway.

In 1944, RKO sold the Welles-Mankiewicz script, along with a parcel of set designs, to 20th Century Fox. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck offered Welles the role of Dracula, promising Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland for Mina and Lucy, suggesting Tyrone Power (Jonathan), George Sanders (Arthur), John Carradine (Quincey) and Laird Cregar (Van Helsing). This Dracula would have been a follow-up to Fox’s successful Welles-Fontaine Jane Eyre (1943) and Welles might have committed if Zanuck had again assigned weak-willed Robert Stevenson, allowing Welles to direct in everything but credit. However, on a project this ‘important’, Zanuck would consider only two directors; John Ford had no interest – sparing us John Wayne, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond and John Agar as brawling, boozing fearless vampire slayers – so it inevitably fell to Henry King, a specialist in molasses-slow historical subjects like Lloyd’s of London (1936) and Brigham Young (1940). King, a plodder who had a brief flash of genius in a few later films with Gregory Peck, had his own, highly developed, chocolate-box style and gravitas, and was not a congenial director for Welles, whose mercurial temperament was unsuited to methods he considered conservative and dreary. The film still might have been made, since Welles was as ever in need of money, but Zanuck went cold on Dracula at the end of the War when the Count was moving into his Italian exile.

Fox wound up backing Prince of Foxes (1949), directed by King, with Power and Welles topping the cast, shot on location in Europe. A lavish bore, enlivened briefly by Welles’s committed Cesare Borgia, this suggests what the Zanuck Dracula might have been like. Welles used much of his earnings from the long shoot to pour into film projects made in bits and pieces over several years: the completed Othello (1952), the unfinished Don Quixote (begun 1955) and, rarely mentioned until now, yet another Dracula. El conde Dr&#224cula, a French-Italian-Mexican-American-Irish-Liechtensteinian-British-Yugoslav-Moroccan-Iranian co-production, was shot in snippets, the earliest dating from 1949, the latest from 1972.

Each major part was taken by several actors, or single actors over a span of years. In the controversial edit supervised by the Spaniard Jesus Franco – a second-unit director on Welles’s Chimes at Midnight (1966) – and premiered at Cannes in 1997, the cast is as follows: Akim Tamiroff (Van Helsing), Micheál MacLiammóir (Jonathan), Paola Mori (Mina), Michael Redgrave (Arthur), Patty McCormick (Lucy), Hilton Edwards (Dr Seward), Mischa Auer (Renfield). The vampire brides are played by Jeanne Moreau, Suzanne Cloutier and Katina Paxinou, shot in different years on different continents. There is no sight of Francisco Reiguera, Welles’s Quixote, cast as a skeletal Dracula, and the Count is present only as a substantial shadow voiced (as are several other characters) by Welles himself. Much of the film runs silent, and a crucial framing story, explaining the multi-narrator device, was either never filmed or shot and lost. Jonathan’s panicky exploration of his castle prison, filled with steam like the Turkish bath in Othello, is the most remarkable, purely Expressionist scene Welles ever shot. But the final ascent to Castle Dracula, with Tamiroff dodging patently papier-mâché falling boulders and wobbly zooms into and out of stray details hardly seems the work of anyone other than a fumbling amateur.

In no sense ‘a real film’, El conde Dr&#224cula is a scrapbook of images from the novel and Welles’s imagination. He told Henry Jaglom that he considered the project a private exercise, to keep the subject in his mind, a series of sketches for a painting he would execute later. As Francis Coppola would in 1977, while his multi-million-dollar Dracula was bogged down in production problems in Romania, Welles often made comparisons with the Sistine Chapel.

In 1973, Welles assembled some El conde Dr&#224cula footage, along with documentary material about the real Count Dracula and the scandals that followed his true death in 1959: the alleged, much-disputed will that deeded much of his vast fortune to English housewife Vivian Nicholson, who claimed she had encountered Dracula while on a school holiday in the early ’50s; the autobiography Clifford Irving sold for a record-breaking advance in 1971, only to have the book exposed as an arrant fake written by Irving in collaboration with Fred Saberhagen; the squabbles among sundry vampire elders, notably Baron Meinster and Princess Asa Vajda, as to who should claim the Count’s unofficial title as ruler of their kind, King of the Cats. Welles called this playful, essay-like film – constructed around the skeleton of footage shot by Calvin Floyd for his own documentary, In Search of Dracula (1971) – When Are You Going to Finish el conde Dr&#224cula? , though it was exhibited in most territories as D is for Dracula. On the evening Premier Ceauşescu withdrew the Romanian Cavalry needed for Coppola’s assault on Castle Dracula in order to pursue the vampire banditti of the Transylvania Movement in the next valley, Francis Ford Coppola held a private screening of D is for Dracula and cabled Welles that there was a curse on anyone who dared invoke the dread name.

Jonathan Gates

This is an extract from Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard by Kim Newman. First published in Video Watchdog No 23, May-July 1994.


Sam Hawken is Selene from Underworld

Underworld: Evolution

Born in Texas, author Sam Hawken now resides in Washington D.C. He was a historian before becoming a novelist who favours gritty realism with a cinematic slant. His debut, The Dead Woman of Juárez, was inspired by the alarming number of female homicides on the Mexican border. His second book, Tequilla Sunset (Serpents Tail) heads into gangland territory, with murderous consequences. Below, Sam Hawken explains why his filmic creature alter ego is Selene from Underworld. Eithne Farry

When I first got the request to pick a ‘creature’ alter ego, my initial reaction was, ‘Huh? What?’ but then I got to thinking about it one particular creature came to mind. Not only that, but it was a creature that would seem not to fit me at all. The creature is a vampire. And a woman. Her name is Selene.

You probably know this already, but Selene was the heroine in three of the four Underworld movies. She was quick and strong and determined and more than a little of a romantic. She also had very little in common with the traditional view of vampires. This was no Eastern European noble seducing women in the night and turning them into sex slaves, but a bona fide ass-kicking machine with no equal in the toughness department. And it didn’t hurt that she was extremely easy on the eyes.

After The Dead Woman of Juárez, my first book, came out, I was asked a lot of questions about ‘manly man’ topics like boxing and, on more than one occasion, I was taken to task for not including enough women in the story. What would those people say if I told them that Selene was my alter ego? That I was feminism in a catsuit, handy with guns and blades and absolutely ruthless? You gotta wonder.

I don’t harbour any secret ambitions to swap genders or species in real life, but if left to my own imaginary devices I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to step into Selene’s butt-stomping combat boots. I’d hunt werewolves with a fiery passion and I’d hone myself into a living weapon. Nobody would want to get on my bad side, because I would put them away in a heartbeat. I’d look darned good doing it, too. Watch out, (under)world.

Sam Hawken

Film4 FrightFest 2011 part 3: Sexual politics and low-key vampires

The Woman

Film4 FrightFest

25-29 August 2011, Empire, London

FrightFest website

At this year’s Film4 FrightFest, the obvious big hitters were not necessarily the most rewarding. The festival opened with the Guillermo del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which has his habitual mix of real-life childhood trauma and fantasy world, although the two levels of alternate realities don’t blend as well as in his own Cronos or Pan’s Labyrinth. A young girl moves to Rhode Island to live with her father and his new girlfriend in the 19th-century house they are restoring. Boredom and curiosity lead her to discover the mansion’s hidden basement, and loneliness makes her open a bolted door she should never have opened, releasing frightening creatures from an archaic world. There are some excellent atmospheric and frightening moments; references to Arthur Machen are tantalising, and the creatures are great, but those elements lack depth and resonance, and the ending seems like a feebly convenient resolution of the problematic family situation.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is released in the UK on October 7 by StudioCanal.

Anticipation was high for Lucky McKee’s controversial The Woman, the story of an American family who take in a feral woman found in the woods by the despotic father, Chris Cleek, while he is out hunting. He chains her up in a shed and tells his family that they have to ‘civilise’ her, giving them tasks to care for her, in the same way that they have to look after their dogs, as he says. It is not long before the dubiously worthy motivation gives way to vicious abuse and the dark secrets of the family are revealed. Although it is a compelling film in some ways, it’s not as deep as it thinks it is, and certainly doesn’t give any insight into abuse or the coercion of women into submission by men, despite its director’s avowed aims (as explained in the Q&A that followed the screening). It is a film in which all of the female characters are subjected to abuse by men, and it seems to suggest that there’s essentially nothing they can do about it. The Woman is a great character who exudes ferocious power, but she’s chained up for most of the film. Belle Cleek has been battered into subservience, and although daughter Peggy is the only one who attempts resistance, she is pretty much powerless. The final revenge is far too short and simplistic to be satisfying or meaningful and just seems like a cynical excuse to show nasty violence against women for most of the film’s running time. This is made worse by the fact that in the last quarter of the film, Cleek turns into such a cartoonish caricature that the end sequence feels completely unconvincing.

Pollyanna McIntosh gives an amazing performance as The Woman, and it’s frustrating to see such a fantastic actress and a potentially great character so wasted. Angela Bettis, who plays Belle, was the eponymous heroine in May, Lucky McKee’s excellent 2002 debut about an isolated young woman and her painfully misguided attempts at connecting with other people. May was both an original, gruesome, disturbing horror film and a brilliant, sensitive, heart-wrenching study of the central female character, and Bettis’s presence in The Woman only serves to highlight how crude McKee’s new film’s view of women (and men) is in contrast. Some critics have claimed The Woman is a feminist film, which it most definitely is not. It is a frankly dodgy film that feels exploitative. Anyone who has seen May will know that Lucky McKee is not a misogynistic director, but whatever point he was trying to make in The Woman is very badly put across.

The Woman is released in the UK on September 30 by Revolver.

Alarmingly, The Woman was one of two films in the festival that featured disturbingly casual rape scenes. The other was Switzerland’s first ever horror production, Sennentuntschi, a mish-mash of folk tale and TV drama-style small-town shenanigans. It is based on the legend of three shepherds who made a woman out of a broom; she was given life by the Devil to do the domestic chores and sleep with them, but when they abused her she took her revenge and killed them. Roxane Mesquida plays a mysterious, speechless young woman sequestered by three men in an isolated mountain farm, in an echo of the story. Despite her fine performance, it is a plodding, incoherent and quite unpleasant film. The return to the casual misogyny of the 70s and the playing down of rape were also observed by our Electric Sheep correspondent in Venice (read the article). What social attitudes or anxieties this reflects is not entirely clear, but let’s hope it does not herald a return to full-on retrograde sexual politics in cinema.

It was not all unsavoury rape-and-revenge stories though, and over the rest of the weekend the main screen hosted crowd-pleasing horror comedies Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Troll Hunter and Ti West’s The Innkeepers, as well as The Wicker Tree, Robin Hardy’s follow-up to his cult film. Also screened were the eagerly awaited British thrillers Kill List and A Lonely Place to Die, and the fine recession horror movie The Glass Man. The comedies in particular were very successful and hugely enjoyable, playfully subverting the clichés of the genre.

But it was in the Discovery Screen that the richest pickings were to be found. A Horrible Way to Die was an original take on the serial killer genre, seen mostly from the point of view of the former girlfriend of a murderer. After Garrick’s arrest, Sarah is trying to rebuild her life and address her problems, attending AA meetings, where she meets a sensitive young man. When Garrick is released, the film intercuts flashbacks of Sarah and Garrick’s lives together before she found out the truth about him with his journey down to the town Sarah now lives in, and her tentative new romance. Shot in an impressionistic, elliptical style, the film paints a nuanced picture, evoking the tenderness and love Sarah and Garrick shared, making her realisation of his betrayal all the more horrifying. A well-observed, evocative, heartbreaking story, it never feels sensational despite moments of violence, and develops slowly but compellingly, until all the pieces of the puzzle sickeningly fall into place.

Midnight Son, a vampire movie with a melancholy indie feel, was the other standout film in the Discovery Screen. Jacob is a night security guard with a skin condition that prevents him from going in the sun and who starts experiencing physical changes after he blacks out at work. He meets Mary, a girl who sells cigarettes and sweets outside a bar. They are attracted to each other, but Jacob’s deteriorating condition and Mary’s drug habit conspire to keep them apart. In addition, Jacob starts getting troubling flashbacks of a young woman who was found dead in the underground car park at work. The film uses the vampire motif to evoke the tenderness, heartache and destructiveness of two outsiders’ tormented love. Like Let the Right One In, it is sweet and creepy in just the right amounts. The moody feel, the hazy look and a low-key soundtrack all combine beautifully to conjure Jacob’s strangely detached, dreamlike life in a shadowy, oddly empty LA.

The Devil’s Business starts as a tense, tightly scripted character-driven drama with some excellent performances from Billy Clarke as a hitman (delivering a particularly spellbinding monologue early on in the film) and Jonathan Hansler as his chillingly evil victim Kist. It then shifts into supernatural territory, which seems somewhat superfluous and does not fully work with the rest of the story. As in Kill List, it is the rounded characters and dramatic tension that work best in the film, not the tacked-on occult element. Also worth a mention is My Sucky Teen Romance, the third feature directed by the incredibly driven 18-year-old Emily Hagins. Lovable and knowingly silly, this nerdy teen horror comedy has bucket loads of charm and marks Hagins as one to watch.

Virginie Sélavy