Friday 3 August 2007

The Wurdalak

Now that I have mentioned the Italian director Mario Bava (1914-1980) in a recent post, I might add a few words about his film adaptation of Aleksey Tolstoy's (Алексей Константинович Толстой, a cousin of Leo Tolstoy, 1817-1875) story La famille du Vourdalak (Family of the Vourdalak). Bava's adaptation is the middle story in an anthology film of three stories (or three faces of fear, as the title goes): I tre volti delta paura (1963). Like in Tolstoy's story, a nobleman called d'Urfé (in Tolstoy's story he is a marquis, in the film a count called Vladimir d'Urfé) who in 1759 ends up in a Serbian village at a time when Gorcha, the father of a family, has been away to fight a Turkish criminal, Alibek. Gorcha (played by Boris Karloff) has warned his family that if he does not return within five days (in Tolstoy's story: ten days), he will have become a wurdalak (or vourdalak), i.e. a vampire.

Tolstoy draws heavily on his knowledge of the vampire cases of the 18th century in his story, and Bava adds extra touches from later authors. As film critic Tim Lucas points out in his commentary on a recent DVD release, the adaptation actually incorporates elements from a short story by Guy de Maupassant, and from Bram Stoker's Dracula. Consequently, although this film is often regarded as one of the films closest to the actual vampire cases, it is in fact inspired more by literary conventions and inventions than by historical fact. Furthermore, Bava himself adds his own sense of colour, style and athmosphere to create a unique vampire film.

As for the ending, Bava opted for d'Urfé joining his beloved Sdenka, even though she had become a wurdalak, and consequently becoming a member of the family of the wurdalak. In the American version called Black Sabbath, a different ending was decided on, that was more in the vein of Tolstoy's, where d'Urfé survives to tell the story in Vienna in 1815.

Boris Karloff also starred in another film that will be of interest to anyone interested in the Magia Posthuma, Isle of the Dead produced by Val Lewton in 1945. The theme of this film is pretty unusual, as it is inspired by the Greek belief in vrykolakas. I may return to it in a future post.

This blog is definitely not about vampire cinema, but I find it relevant to deal with those instances where fictional vampires - from literature or cinema - have a particular relevance for the study or understanding of the subject of Magia Posthuma. That is why I will at times write about films like Leptirića or I tre volti della paura.

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