Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
The cinematic spirit of the Scala lives on in Buenos Aires, fittingly similar to the undead celebrated in the recent season at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba). Combining élan with opportunism, Ciclo: ¡Vampiros! is programmed to catch a little heat off the dying embers of the Twilight series, and the featured revival, Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 film Near Dark, provides a high-concept analogue to Bella and Edward’s romance. Images redolent of Richard Prince’s ‘Cowboys’ series and a lean script by Eric Red keep the surface moving, but underneath it’s as hollow as the booming Tangerine Dream synthesizer score.
Still, this po-faced side of the decade feels contemporary, at least in contrast to the dubious charms of the ’80s horror comedy. Vamp, directed by screenwriter Richard Wenk, is an amiable shambles a world away from the streamlined vehicles he’s crafted for Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone over the last decade, although the testosterone level remains roughly the same given its premise: frat-boy blowhards in a strip club full of vampires. Its cult status largely rests on a bizarre turn from Grace Jones in Keith Haring body paint mode.
The early canon is present and correct: Browning’s Dracula, Dreyer’s Vampyr and Murnau’s Nosferatu, the last with live music, but the emphasis is on the post-war revival with rare gems from Mexico, Spain and Italy. The selections from Britain’s Hammer studio include the uncharacteristically low-key Lust for a Vampire and the more vibrant Twins of Evil, two thirds of a trilogy based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla. In spite of scripts by Tudor Gates replete with psychedelic flourishes, the films lack the counter-cultural frisson of the new art-house horror of the ’70s.
One such hybrid is Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974), directed by Paul Morrissey with a pleasingly eccentric cast. Not particularly afraid of sunlight and with only a slight aversion to religious symbols, Udo Kier’s Dracula is an invalid with the manners of a picky vegetarian. Arriving in Italy, he inveigles his way into the home of an aristocratic family in decline, where his hopes of devouring the Marchese’s daughters are scotched by Joe Dallesandro’s handyman, a Marxist hustler who denounces him as “a religious pervert from the Middle Ages”.
A number of films from this period explore the trend for the elision of horror and erotica, although the notorious Jesus Franco is represented by Count Dracula (1970), a relatively straightforward adaptation, and one of the last times Christopher Lee would assume the role. Films that mark the decline of a genre cycle inevitably have an air of précis about them, and Franco’s gift for idiosyncratic collage is particularly suited to this end. Here his reliance on sustained close-ups in lieu of drama or suspense translates into drawn-out contemplation of the faces of Lee or the sepulchral Soledad Miranda.
For the past few years, Malba Cine has been delighting cinephiles and midnight movie aficionados alike, and ¡Vampiros! is just the latest in a long line that includes the sci- themed Distopias and three instalments of Generacion VHS, a paean to the ’80s productions of Dino De Laurentiis and Golan-Globus. Often curated by rare film collectors, they present an eloquent argument for the well-considered retrospective. And there’s always the unalloyed pleasure of watching a decades-old print – frames striated with black lines, colours leached out to shades of cyan or, in this case rather aptly, crimson.