Monday, 7 April 2008

Il Cav. Costante Nicosia demoniaco, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza / Dracula in the Provinces

Il Cavaliere Costante Nicosia (Lando Buzzanca) just about has it all: a beautiful wife, Mariu (Sylva Koscina) and mistress, Liu (Christa Linder) and a profitable business, Italy's largest toothpaste manufactory. Mariu and the business came together – by marrying Mariu Costante inherited the factory from her father; clearly nobody thought that Mariu might venture into the world of business in her own right nor ever assume anything other than decorative and familial roles. Perhaps the risk of contamination was too great; as proof, we can look at the example of Wanda Torsello (Francesca Romana Coluzzi), the militant communist union organiser.

Costante's good fortune in turn highlights the other dominant aspect of his make up: all manner of superstitious quasi religious, pre-capitalist beliefs, ranging from having a hunchback on the company payroll so that he can rub the man's hump for luck to getting the homely looking – and thus, by the logic of the genre, assuredly still virginal – live-in maid to urinate on the pieces of broken mirror as a means of counteracting the seven years bad luck it would otherwise bring.


“Dinner in Transylvania's always in the nude,” explains Dragalescu...


The Brides of Dragalescu close in


Costante falls asleep with one of the women...

The aforementioned contamination, meanwhile, could be considered a dominant theme of the film, emerging at just the point when Costante's luck runs out as, following a business trip to Romania and a half-remembered evening with Count Dragalescu (John Steiner) that begian with the count's three vampire brides but ended with the two men waking up in bed together, Costante comes to suspect that he has be infected with homosexuality.


Then awakens besides


Dragalescu!






Back in Brianza and finding himself gazing longingly at the buttocks of the company basketball team as they shower, Costante goes to see Dr Paluzzi (Rossano Brazzi) for advice:

“As I was saying about my cousin [...] he found himself in bed with the man who was his host.”

“Naturally”

“No doctor, it isn't natural at all. This person isn't that kind of person. Well, anyway, he drank something. As a matter of fact I don't know what, but a whole bottle. He fell asleep smashed out of his skull. He didn't know what he was doing. That's the real truth of it doctor, that is the catch! He didn't know if he...”

“If he was penetrated or not.”

“I didn't want to put it that way exactly. Anyway, from that moment he gets these funny sensations any time he sees a naked man. He's afraid of becoming, he's afraid of turning into a...”

“Queer?”

“No”

“What do you mean no, well then exactly what is he afraid he's turning into?”

“A queer”

“Naturally”

“How can you say naturally! He isn't that kind of person, you understand! The man is happily married, a very influential person, financially secure. He has a mistress.”

Etc:

“After your return from Romania, have you been to bed with a woman?”

“Me? Why do you want to know? I thought we were talking about my cousin. No I don't think he's been to bed with anyone because he's feeling miserable. He's probably afraid to go to bed with anyone in case his you-know-what doesn't work any more.”

“Ah yes, that's natural. But he shouldn't worry about it. Talk to your, em, cousin and reassure him. [...] The fact is that one doesn't turn into a homosexual like that in only two hours.”

“Yes, that's what I told him too, but the jerk he wouldn't listen.”

“But you said he was having an affair on the side. That's great: he should go straight to her, do what comes naturally. I guarantee he'll feel better right away unless... unless he's unable to perform. Then we know that on that night you described in such detail he was ...”

“Deflowered”

“Naturally”

“Oh...”

When Liu then accidentally cuts herself and Costante sucks the blood out the wound less it result in an infection another truth thus begins to dawn: he has become a vampire.

Whether this is better or worse depends, of course, on if this condition has taken is a distinctly masculine oral-sadistic or more worryingly polymorphously perverse form.

Or, in less Freudian terms, is Costante a heterosexual vampire or not?

This 1975 comedy forms a natural companion piece to The Eroticist, a satirical fantasy-comedy one-two that showcase Lucio Fulci's versatility and the evident rapport he had with leading man Lando Buzzanca.

The main difference between the two films is perhaps that whereas The Eroticist's affinities with the rest of Fulci's work were evident at both the levels of form and content, the balance in Il Cav. Costante Nicosia demoniaco, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza / Dracula in the Provinces shifts somewhat towards the latter, with a more restrained – if still excessive - mise en scène and fewer set-pieces.

Another way of saying this might be to suggest that if The Eroticist was the film of a Surrealist-Marxist, Dracula in the Provinces is the film of a Marxist-Surrealist, premised on the notion that “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks,” to quote Marx, albeit a Marx clearly in more poetic than scientific mood.

Given the to-and-fro of influence between Fulci and Argento, it's worth nothing that the film also features a German shepherd guard dog called Gestapo with a tendency to attack people according to its own distinctive unfathomable logic, two years before Suspiria.

Il Cav. Costante Nicosia demoniaco, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza is essential viewing for anyone working on a comparative study of political and sexual subtexts in the European horror-comedy/satire of the period (alongside Vampire Sterben Nichts, Dance of the Vampires, Hanno cambiato faccia and the Warhol/Morrisey/Margheriti Dracula and Frankenstein pair etc.) or who just enjoys something a bit more immediately thought-provoking than the usual T&A driven Italian comedies of the 1970s.

1 comment:

herman said...

Keith,

Been wanting to get this film for a while. Its still on the shopping list.

Just a little thing I am not sure about the marxist element of the eroticist- yes it could be read that way I suppose, but I am not sure that is what it was trying to be.

The targets could suggest a marxist undertone- ie state and church. And the church was historically a plaything of the right (liberation theology excluded of course), but fulci's "marxism" is less clear.

Especially given the era of the film.

To be honest I have had a tough time placing fulci's political outlook, though undoubtably he is trying to convey a certain something in his movies, whether it is a jaded cynicism, which comes across even in clearly right wing film as much as left or even an anarchism. Probably neither is accurate as a whole- there is definately an axe to grind with power structures.

But when I watch andrea bianchi's burial ground/night of terror I am convinced I can read a marxist subtext, with fulci I just get the impression he doesnt much like hypocrites.

I asked John Morghen a while back about the politics of Zombie Flesh Eaters, trying to get some insight into fulci's politics- I pointed out that since he had worked with Fulci (not on zfe might I add) how he felt about the more reactionary elements of zfe- in particular the portrayal of the superstitious third world (possibly an extension of fulci's superstitious peasants in dont torture the duckling) and referred to lenzi's involvement in the racist cannibal cycle.

JM told me that fulci was no racist and was basically a take the money and run director who would film whatever was popular at the time. I do suspect that morghen was being a tad unfair because of his distaste for the extreme horror films- I get that he finds Lenzi a bit of a Stronzo but was less forthcoming about fulci, except to add that fulci was no racist.

Now why I bring this lot up is the ending of ZFE. To portray the dispossesed as zombies is not a new idea, and it is especially potent given the colonial era origins of zfe- the conquistadors etc. But the final scene shows a zombie hoard marching on new york. Definately not marxist that. That represents the zombies (third world if the metaphor will allow them to be) marching on one of the global financial capitals as something to be repelled.

Surly a marxist would argue that people should take issue with their own state- not that of a distant financial power. So again a bit too muddled thinking to see any clear marxism in fulci.

Maybe I am way off beam on this but from genre entries I see from fulci it is the dishonesty and hypocracy of those he targets that seems to shine through- not that he wants the whole thing overturned . Certainly in the eroticist he is calling church and state on upholding their standards rather than a call for an alternative. Again, I see bianchi's burial ground as a classic of a marxist viewpoint- the decadent ruling class, seducing one another in their mansion- and even made the point of giving the zombies traditional tools of labour.

Again I may be way off beam here, fitting class politics into films that are at the end of the day primarily aimed at catching a mood rather than polemic is pretty tough work. Terry Eagleton would probably do better but I am not sure he would even enjoy Italian genre film.

As always though keith, great blogging and don't forget the mendek scan :)


OH just to add that fulci definately had an eye for the surreal, though I would expect an adherent of surrealism to point out that I have no idea what I am on about there cos surrealism I never quite got.
regards,

herman