The Vourdalak

Set upon by bandits who have stolen his horse and his belongings, the Marquis Jacques Antoine Saturnin d’Urfé, diplomatic envoy of the King of France, wanders the forest seeking shelter; turned away from the first farmhouse he happens upon, he is told instead to find the house of Gorcha; sensing that the countryside seethes with danger and increasing his pace, he hears a voice singing, luring him off the path, then finds a youth who challenges him.

These, it turns out, are the daughter and younger son of Gorcha, Sdenka and Piotr, the latter who conducts him to the home of elder brother Jegor and his highly strung wife Anja, but Gorcha himself is absent, missing almost a week having warned Sdenka that if he should return after more than six days he should not be allowed into the house lest he has become an accursed Vourdalak; the evening church bells marking that very deadline, at that moment Jegor finds his father collapsed and barely breathing, a changed man who is barely more than a corpse.

The Family of the Vourdalak a Gothic novella of 1839 originally published in French by the Russian writer Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy based on the Eastern European folklore of the vourdalak or wurdalak, a supernatural being closely aligned with the vampire or werewolf but whose name is now synonymous with vampire, previously adapted in 1963 as a segment of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (I tre volti della paura, The Three Faces of Fear) and in 1972 by Giogio Ferroni as The Night of the Devils (La notte dei diavoli), The Vourdalak is a new version from French director Adrien Beau who also voices the emaciated Gorcha which embraces its literary and cinematic heritage.

Shot on Super 16mm with a soundtrack which emphasises period instruments, classical guitar and delicate harpsichord, there are throwbacks to silent cinema in the composition and mannerisms, the long shadow of F W Murnau’s Nosferatu inescapable but the natural settings of Werner Herzog’s later version also apparent in the lush locations of the rural south of France, while the pacing and candlelit tableaux are the period costume drama of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon succumbing to a pernicious bloody nightmare.

So desperate to charm the defiantly standoffish Sdenka (Ariane Labed) he is willing to make a fool of himself, in powdered face and finery the Marquis (Kacey Mottet Klein) is a contrast to the superstitious peasant family where Jegor (Grégoire Colin) has assumed the role of patriarch yet refuses the duty put upon him to bar his father from their home, inviting danger for them all, the Marquis the outsider and helpless witness to all, far from the court and with no power to compel his hosts to reason.

The monster in their midst, the grotesque Gorcha a puppet who sits at the dinner table with his family encapsulating this oddity, he is an unnatural but undeniable presence which recalls the corpses drained of energy yet animate of Tobe Hooper’s LifeForce, The Vourdalak a tragedy all the more pronounced in that it is familiar having established the traditions of seductive nocturnal visitations by beloved lost family members which set the template of vampire fiction from Dracula to ‘Salem’s Lot.

The Glasgow Film Festival continues until Sunday 10th March



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