Monday, 9 September 2013

Leptirica (1973) Djordje Kadijevic

I'm most fond of delving into the output of countries less well represented in the international community of fear, I find sometimes a most pleasant dislocation even before approaching the nuts and bolts of story and scares. But alas, sometimes I find myself caught out as a less than ideal audience, or even just straight up disappointed. Such is the case here, with apparently Yugoslavia's first ever horror film. Leptirica to be fair starts rather well, an old miller sleeps for the night as the wheels turn, but soon eyes rise from the dark. Long, hairy fingers, fearsome fangs, attack and bloodied neck in flour. It's a fine scene in the vampire as monstrosity tradition, and an ideal set up. Who will step up to the job, face the beast and provide a small village with their vital flour? Why, it's the sort of endeavour that could make a hero of a poor young man and win him the dainty hand of the local rich man's daughter! 

Things do not go as you might expect. While some kudos are I suppose merited for a film avoiding the traditional structure of such a tale, Leptirica fails to replace it with something more interesting. There's a first night for young hero, Strahinja, who survives the ghoul and is hailed by the villagers, but rather than continue his job and thus have the film space out portions of fear, most time is spent with the local council, a gathering of witless capering drunks whose behaviour does little to compel or amuse. So the plot moves too slowly for a film of a mere 63 minutes, and there's unfortunate near dead time. Strahinja remains a colorless, vaguely unlikeable figure throughout, and the human antagonist, rich man Zivan, is similarly uninspiring. The only tension really comes from daughter Radojka, an ethereal lady of long fair hair and subtle but definite air of the sensually ominous, her presence captivates, her scenes drawing the interest through to the end. The end returns to the promise of the opening, a mad whirling and fairly unsettling affair, the lack of explanation leaves things a little open to interpretation but the visceral effects satisfy. Too little too late though. 

This did fulfil my basic desire to spend time in a place almost entirely unknown to me, but without much in the way of an effective horror experience I can't say as it was all that good of a time. I suspect older Serbs and those in general more familiar with the source literature and culture may still be impressed by this, but I am not they. Still worth investigating for horror historians and perhaps for those that just plain like to watch obscurities, but expectations are best kept low and the latter group should probably just skip to director Djordje Kadijevic's later, superior and more obscure piece Sveto Mesto. Toodles! 

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