Friday, July 23, 2010

Comrade Vampire

Another visit to my personal DVD collection yields a Marxist take on Dracula in the 1973 Soviet classic Comrade Vampire:

Another intriguing Soviet-made movie compromised by criminal dubbing. As with many other films from the former Soviet Union,it seems to have escaped into the West with criminal dubbing, leaving it sounding like a seventies porn movie. Which would be fine if it was a seventies porn movie - Confession's of a Collective Sex Commissar perhaps - but this is meant to be a horror film. A horror flick with a novel twist - it's set in Communist Russia. Granted that might not sound much but this is an ideologically sound horror movie with vampires representing nasty capitalist and Nazi elements of society, and the forces of order and good being represented by sound communists and members of the Red Army.

Things begin briskly with a Romanian castle being excavated and, sure enough, vampires are found by the Russian archaeologists. Naturally, before you can say 'Bela Lugosi', they have inadvertently revived them. All pretty routine so far. However, in Moscow a few months later, a power struggle is beginning in the Kremlin and our hero, a young officer in the Red Army, begins to uncover the threads of the mystery with help from a young female Archaeologist. Discovering that some influential party members are never seen in daylight anymore and that they have overnight gained an almost hypnotic power over key members of the state including the prospective new Soviet Leader. Yes the undead leading Russia! Impossible? Well, lets face it, Breshnev was effectively a walking corpse for his last few years in power, as were several of his successors, so it's not that far fetched.

Having uncovered this plot, they encounter an strange old man who, it transpires, was Stalin's vampire hunter. Back in the 1950s he'd wiped out the last of the decadent blood suckers afflicting the revolution. After all, they were all aristocratic landowners with titles like 'Count' and 'Baron', and were clearly exploiting the workers, by, quite literally, bleeding them dry. After taking out the lead vampire in Moscow, the action moves back to the castle, where we find that it had been occupied by the Nazis during the war, and the king vampire inevitably turns out to be a some SS colonel hoping to rebuild the Reich. While more unusual than your average horror flick, the terrible dubbing allied with atrocious editing, renders parts of it highly confusing. Indeed, at one point I wondered if I had missed a bit, or had fallen asleep - I'm sure that there is something more about that Nazi vampire, but most of the explanation appears to be missing. People refer to events I can't recall having happened and characters who seem important inexplicably disappear, one person does turn up later, but as a vampire. Was he always one, or had he been taken over in some deleted scene? Moreover, rumours from Russia claim that there was originally a flashback scene revealing the true fate of the Romanovs - they were staked after the Empress attempted to vampirise Lenin. Apparently, it also showed how Rasputin was assassinated by the Royal family after being revealed as an undercover vampire hunter working for Trotsky.

Sadly, all this contrives to undermine what might be a fantastic film, and it is a great pity that a subtitled restored version has never appeared, in spite of the fall of the Soviet Union surely making the original negatives freely available. Nevertheless, the style and photography is excellent and there are memorable scenes, including a vampire decapitated by a chainsaw. Fascinatingly, crucifixes don't work on the undead in this movie, whereas the hammer and sickle is seen as a symbol of fear by the decadent forces of darkness.



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