Corrado Farina’s strange 1971 adaptation of Dracula, Hanno Cambiato Faccia, is screening this week at the Barbican, courtesy of Cigarette Burns Cinema. Here are my notes on this fascinating rarity.
‘Dottore’ Alberto Valle (Giuliano Disperati), a mid-level executive at the AAM motor company, is summoned to the 20th floor of the firm’s offices to be told he is due for a promotion … and that he is invited to the remote estate of the ultimate boss, Engineer Giovanni Nosferatu (Adolfo Celi). Made in 1971, Corrado Farina’s film is among the oddest of all adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula – though it takes cues from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and has odd crossovers with its contemporaries in vampire cinema, including H.W. Geissendorffer’s similarly politicised Jonathan (1971) and Hammer’s weirdly modish The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). A political cartoon rather than a horror film, it’s more committed to the creepy than Farina’s later pop art comic book adaptation Baba Yaga. Indeed, this fogbound version of Castle Dracula – a crumbling horror movie location outside but an ultra-moderne all-white lair indoors – is one of the cinema’s most unsettling. Its forested grounds are patrolled by nasty little white cars (1970 Fiat superminis, as it happens) driven by thugs in white jumpsuits and matching crash helmets who have the same malign presence as the automotive pack in Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris.
The hapless Alberto drives to the Nosferatu estate through Eastern European-looking country, with the usual taciturn peasants. A very 1971 reinvention of the figure of the old woman who warns Jonathan Harker against going up to the castle is Laura (Francesca Modigliani), a hippie chick whose free-spiritedness is signified by not wearing a blouse under the coat draped around her shoulders. Despite this distraction, Alberto enters the estate and is greeted by Corinna (Geraldine Hooper), Nosferatu’s androgynous and sinister executive secretary (the actress is most familiar for taking a male role in Deep Red). As in all versions of Harker’s stay at the castle, everything seems ominous … here warning signs include audio adverts for Nosferatu products that are triggered by sitting on a sofa or turning on the shower, and a clinical chamber is stocked with babies who aren’t food for the brides of this Dracula but pledged from birth to his service. In a ledger, Alberto finds his own baby photograph and a prediction written when he was born that he would become the president of AAM.
Celi’s plump, suave Nosferatu of course carries weight from the actor’s role as Largo in Thunderball – prompting me to note the numer of Bond villains who have played Dracula (Christopher Lee, Louis Jourdan) or other arch-vampires (Christopher Walken, Grace Jones, Famke Janssen, Donald Pleasence). The tycoon’s eccentricities include pistol practice with human-shaped targets that groan when hit, and it turns out he has tentacles in every area of life – politics, the church, philosophy and (most of all) advertising. His minions screen black and white commercials (for aerosol LSD) and namecheck Jean-Luc Godard, Herbert Marcuse, Isaac Asimov and Federico Fellini to suggest the extent of his permeation of contemporary culture (Baba Yaga featured a similar crew of namedroppers and another dig at Godard, who had featured a Professor Nosferatu in Alphaville). Alberto, while playing golf in rough terrain, chances upon an abandoned cemetery where the head of a marble Jesus is buried under leaves and Nosferatu’s tomb reveals that he was born in 1801 but has no death date. Intercut seductions feature bloodless but symbolic neck-kissing, which leads to the transformation of acolytes into vampires.
The cinematography by Aiace Parolin (Keoma) has some of the look of Giorgio Ferroni’s slightly later Italian vampire film Le Notte dei diavoli (Night of the Devils) and a few moments even prefigure Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu (which follows this in one of its amendments to Murnau/Stoker’s plot), while Amedeno Tomassi (The House of the Laughing Windows) contributes a haunting, sinister-charming score. The point that rich and powerful people are like vampires isn’t new – Karl Marx said the same thing in so many words (‘Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks’) – but Farina makes it in an unusual way, depicting a gothically corrupt world which now has a certain retro appeal but is still a valid sketch of the way things are.