Wednesday, August 19, 2009

León Klimovsky's Night of the Walking Dead (1977)

Argentinian-born filmmaker León Klimovsky made eight films with Paul Naschy, ne Jacinto Molina Álvarez, for which he is probably best known. The Werewolf's Shadow (1971), the giallo with Erika Blanc, A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1974), and the surreal The People Who Own the Dark (1979) are just a few of the highlights of these two's collaboration. Klimovsky also has made a number of Westerns and War films. In 1973, Klimovsky made one of my personal favorites, with Jack Taylor and Helga Liné, entitled The Vampires' Night Orgy, which didn't really have an orgy but a busload of tourists who visit a very strange country town. One of Klimovsky's last films was another stab at the heart of vampires in the country without Naschy, Blanc, Taylor, or Liné entitled Night of the Walking Dead (1977).
Pretty young maiden Marian is dead. Alas, her younger sister, Catherine, is withering away as well and does not have much longer before she joins her sister. The new town doctor at the local tavern pounds a jug of wine and he's off to the burial. The doc should have pounded a barrel of vino, because the locals are tripping him out. You people are truly barbarians, the doc says. You are new here and do not know our customs. This must be done. A wooden stake is driven through young Marian's corpse and she is buried. As night falls, the locals in a hurry barricade their doors and hide inside, while strings of garlic hang above the threshold. A fog rolls into the cemetery, well after night has fallen, and Marian's corpse is dug up and the stake removed. Marian rises from the grave and is escorted from the cemetery by a sinister pair.
Pretty young maiden Marian is pretty much forgotten for the remainder of Night of the Walking Dead, although she makes a Danny Glickish appearance at Catherine's window one evening. Klimovsky continues the Hammer atmospherics, as in a fantastic scene where the doc is treated to the view outside the window of the tavern, where an old castle sits. "It's empty," says the barkeep. "We've been there several times." Catherine becomes the focus of the story and with her illness, she refuses to eat and is withering away. Around the halfway mark of Night of the Walking Dead, Catherine, alone in the house while her parents are away, is visited by a noble stranger seeking shelter for the evening. The stranger is Count Rudolf, and being a Count in a vampire movie pretty much means that the stranger is a vampire. The Count is totally enchanted by Catherine's beauty, and he spends the night in her home and comes calling for her later from the castle. The final third is the union of the Count and Catherine amongst the backdrop of a vampire party at the castle, where the legend of the vampires is explained, tied to the English-language title. Visually, vampire parties are pretty cool in cinema, and Klimovsky creates a sombre palate, going for surreal touches and dreamy images. By 1977, this plot line was pretty tired in vampire cinema but culturally, the Sexual Revolution was in swing, baby, so some of the ladies could get out of their corsets and fall out of their tops for moviegoers. Peppered liberally throughout Night of the Walking Dead are the ladies topless, often with willing suitors, who are quite eager to touch these new breasts and give them a squeeze. Even Count Rudolph, after he conveys his tragic circumstances and love for Catherine, goes not for her neck first but for the top of her negligee. I don't remember whether he even went for her neck. I enjoyed Night of the Walking Dead as much as I enjoyed The Vampires' Night Orgy. When I stopped to think about it, I've seen well over ten of Klimovsky's films and I rarely ask myself if he is a favorite. More than likely, it is because Klimovsky's cinema is strictly bound by the conventions of the genre, and a genre-producer, or star like Naschy, would be grateful to have him at the helm. Films like Walking Dead, Vampires' Night, and The People Who Own the Dark show Klimovsky stepping out, even if just slightly, of the conventions and it is welcomed. Klimovsky might be a crafty artisan of cinema but often, maybe subtly, he is also an artful craftsman of images. Often neglected and overshadowed, Klimovsky's cinema deserves wider praise and obscurities like Night of the Walking Dead deserve viewings by curious fans.


Mr.LargePackage said...

This is why I never go to orgies at castles. Damn vampires. And that is large and in charge.

Hans A. said...

Yeah, you were missed at the last one. My copy of the Nine Gates keeps getting stolen at the things.

Mr.LargePackage said...

Do you have the Telfer copy? If so, watch out for Lena Olin. I just bought the Fargas copy dirt cheap. Johnny Depp said there was some mild fire damage. He is a trustworthy guy, and that is large and in charge.