You Know What I Vant

The Vourdalak

by Hope Madden

There is nothing in this world that cannot be undone by obedience and patriarchy.

Also, I just watched the maddest film about vampires—Adrien Beau’s The Vourdalak, based on Tolstoy’s 19th century tale that inspired Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. In Beau’s hands, a darkly comic sensibility wraps around themes of oppression—classism, sexism, homophobia—to charge the old vampire lore with something wizened and weary about who becomes victims and why.

Fancy pants Marquis Jacques Antoine Saturnin d’Urfé (Kacey Mottet Klein, the picture of entitled cowardice in his powdered wig and pointy shoes)—a nobleman from the court of the King of France—finds himself lost in a formidable wood somewhere out Serbia way. His host has been murdered by marauding Turks. His only hope is that the primitive family in this rustic little farmhouse can offer him aid.

But the Marquis has arrived at quite a moment. The patriarch is gone to fight the Turks. He said he would return within six days, but if he returned any later than that, the family was not to let him in the house because he would no longer be their father. The Marquis has arrived on Day 6.

Klein’s comic delivery meets deadpan reaction from Ariane Labed (The Lobster, Flux Gourmet) playing the host’s lovely if melancholic daughter, Sdenka. The performances create a fascinating pairing, Klein instinctively enriching his character arc with their onscreen chemistry.

Vassili Schneider injects the film with aching tenderness that gives the horror a powerful sadness, even though there’s no denying The Vourdalak’s comedic sensibility.

Beau’s film delivers stagy fun that’s utterly hypnotic, using dance, melodrama, even  puppets as well as more traditional genre imagery to spin a bizarre and captivating horror.

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