Austrian state of Styria was once home to jazz musician Wolfgang Muthspiel and
disappointing former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was also where the vampire
Carmilla Karnstein haunted her victims in J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic classic.
The fictional Communist era Hungarian hamlet of Styria will also fall prey the undead
seductress. It is a shift that works rather well, adding an additional layer of
menace to Mauricio Chernovetzky & Mark Devendorf’s The Curse of Styria (trailer here), which screens
during the seventeenth edition of Dances With Films.
terrible happened to Laura Hill’s’ mother at an early age, but her art
historian father refuses to speak of it. It is just her and him now, but he is
mostly wrapped up in his work. Dr. Hill has dragged her to a remote Hungarian
castle to remove a series of culturally significant murals. However, the clock
is ticking. As a symbol of class exploitation and imperialism, the government
will soon demolish the creaky old fortress, regardless of what national
treasures it might contain. As Dr. Hill races to finish his work, his
government liaison, General Spiegel, regularly drops by to be unhelpful and
day, Mme. Hill witnesses a young woman flee Spiegel’s custody, following a car
accident and an altercation. That would be Carmilla. She will also start
visiting the castle frequently, but only at night. Initially, Lara is delighted
to have a companion, but Carmilla exerts an unhealthy influence over her,
physically and mentally. There seems to be a lot of that going around, given
the recent wave of suicides amongst Styria’s teenage girls.
previous adaptations, Styria does not
leeringly exploit Carmilla’s lesbian
overtones. Instead, Chernovetzky & Devendorf concentrate first and foremost
on atmosphere, which is not such a bad strategy for a supernatural film. The
late 1980s Communist setting also heightens the foreboding vibe. Granted, they
could have just moved the story a few feet over the Slovenian border, but that
might have complicated the viewing experience with inadvertent Balkan baggage.
actor Jacek Lenartowicz (seen briefly in Wajda’s masterwork, Katyn) is gleefully evil as
Spiegel, clearly portraying a self-aware agent of oppression, who realizes his
time may soon be up. Always reliable, Stephen Rea is consistently credible as the
concerned but deeply flawed father, especially compared to the sort of clueless
parents typically encountered in horror movies. Unfortunately, Eleanor
Tomlinson is a bit colorless as Laura Hill, but it is easy to believe her
self-destructive slightly goth-ish teen would be highly susceptible to Carmilla’s
supernatural overtures. Likewise, Julia Pietrucha is certainly no Ingrid Pitt,
but she conveys a respectable air of danger.
In truth, Styria
is better described as a gothic film than a horror or vampire movie.
Grzegorz Bartoszewicz’s cinematography is appropriately moody. Likewise, the
evocative work of production designer Jim Dow and art director Ian Dow is somewhat
in the Hammer period tradition, but more austere. Smarter and more refined than
most genre films, but bloodier than BBC productions of Wilkie Collins, The Curse of Styria is recommended for literate
vampire fans when it screens Sunday night (6/1) at this year’s Dances With
Labels: Carmilla, DWF '14, Stephen Rea, Vampire films