EL CONDE
(***)-VITO CARLI

"...gets more points for its ambition than its actual execution."

A Biting Satirical Historical Horror Film

(102623) Vampires seem to be hot again, and El Conde is part of an ongoing vampire revival in the media. This film is one of the trilogy of recent films that were released this year featuring vampires (The other two were Renfield and Last Voyage of Demeter), and itís by far the artiest and the most satisfying one. Also, a new remake of Nosferatu is coming up (perhaps this year) by Robert Eggers, the talented director of The Witch and the The Lighthouse. Coming later will be Feed which is based on the Irish version of the vampire legend and a streaming remake of Salemís Lot.

Also, comic fans might have also noticed that Marvel has been featuring their version of Dracula
regularly in the Blade comic, and Marv Wolfman is writing a What If? issue revolving around Tomb of
Dracula asking what would happen if Dracula turned Blade into a total vampire. In addition,
Dracula is appearing in the Vampirella mini-series the Unholy, and there is also the current Skybound
series of comics that will adapt classic Universal Monster films, and the first one (you guessed it) revolves around Dracula and itís called Universal Monsters: Dracula. Plus, Dark Horse is putting out Mortal Terror, a re-imagining of the original Dracula novel.

The unusual new black and white Indy film that recently landed on the Netflix top 10 list called El Conde
which is Spanish for ďthe countĒ is also about vampires. This fascinating film was made by Pablo Larraine
who is best known for directing two slickly effective big budget bio-pic's which served as showcases for
the fine acting skills of its two female actors playing well known historical figures (Natalie Portman as
Jackie in 2016 and Kristin Stewart as Prince Diana in Spencer in 2021). Lesser known but just as
impressive was Larraineís Neruda (2016) which featured Luis Genco as the late, great Chilean poet (he
was also immortalized in the Italian film Il Postino). Lorraineís new film is also quasi historical but there
is a twist.

El Conde can be seen as being part of a recent trend in both literature and film which mashes together
real history with the horror genre. Other examples include
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Pride and
Prejudice and Zombies, and Ring Shout which adds demonic KKK members to the basic plot of Birth of a
Nation and many others. They may sound terrible, but these films and books were better than you
might think. The novels were sometimes interesting because they frequently parodied the style of the
classics they were emulating.

The film was warmly received at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival where it received a Golden
Lion nomination, and it also won an award at the same festival for best screenplay. El Conte was
released on September 15, 2023, four days after the 50th anniversary of the coup díťtat that brought
Pinochet to power in 1973.

El Conde is an atmospheric and oddly compelling film that uses a real historical figure as the center of a
fictional supernatural narrative. The basic premise is that Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet is an
immortal vampire who has been around for hundreds of years creating terror through the ages. In the
film he is shown being present at important historical events such as the French Revolution and the
Reign of Terror

The approach taken to create historically grounded horror reminded me a bit of the vampire Lestat
novels and Interview with a Vampire film by Neil Jordan or the flashbacks in the Angel TV series which
also often took place in the same time periods.

For those who arenít history buffs Pioche was a terrible US backed dictator who deposed the
democratically elected Salvador Allende. He was known for his wanton brutality and the high body
count during his reign. Over 3000 people were killed in his country in his country and his savagery
rivaled that of Vlad Tepes. There are scenes in the film that recreate the real-life scenes of dozens of
bodies of his victims he had killed being thrown into deep pits.

The film uses the horror format as a means of social commentary from a leftist standpoint and it
repeatedly draws parallels between vampires that kill the poor for blood with the right-wing politicians
that brutalizes the working class particularly the torture loving graduates of the US run School of
Americas. The film implies that real life dictators and politicians might be worse than fictional vampires.

The film is narrated by a familiar and sinister voice (hint she is a vampire version of a well-known female
right-wing politician) who fills us in Pinochleís back story. But when we move to the present-day
Pinochet who has faked his death many times, He has become bored with life and wants to permanently
shuffle off the mortal coil. While his family squabble over the inheritance, he begins an affair with his
comely young accountant, Carmen (she also is a nun) played by Paula Luchsinger, and his wife (who was
never turned unto a vamp) is surprisingly not too concerned or upset. Maybe they have a political
marriage.

Unfortunately, the film is rather uneven. It starts with some of the most effective visual scenes including
Pinocheís first flight as a vampire (he actually looks more like heís gliding), his betrayal of King Louis, and
even the beheading of Marie Antoinette (Pinoche sneaks back later and licks the blood off the
guillotine).

But there are some talky and rather boring sequences in the middle of the film that develop the plot,
but fail to engage this viewer, but the film does liven up a bit later. I hope that this unique hybrid film
finds an audience, but I fear that it might be too bloody for some art film aficionados and too slow
moving for traditional horror fans.
.
El Conte is more of a horrific art film than a pure horror or traditional vampire film and with its gently
poetic shots of vampire flight and its gorgeous black and white cinematography it has more in common
with Wim Wenderís Wings of Desire than Bram Stokerís Dracula. Itís much more serious, adult, and
ambitious than most vampire films.

In the end, this is a fine but not great blending of horror, dark comedy and that gets more points for its
ambition than its actual execution. It should please genre fans looking for something that looks new and
original, but Iím not sure how long viewers will remember the actual story or movie.
 

Written & Directed by:    Pablo Larraine
Starring:    Jamie Vadel, Gloria Munchmeyer, Alfredo Castro
Released:    09/15/23 (USA-wide)
Length:    110 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for strong violence and gore, some
 graphic nudity, rape, language and some sexual
 content
Available On:    Streaming on Netflix, in English and Spanish with
 English subtitles

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Come to the next session of the Monthly Poetry Show on the first Saturday of every month at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 7-9 at 3324 South Halsted hosted by Vittorio Carli.
 

EL CONDE 2023 Fabula
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Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.

 

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