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Plot: laborer falls in love with a beautiful girl who might, or might not, be human.

In the hallowed year of 1973 - a banner year for gothic, erotic, and vampire horror, if there ever was one – the European vampire film hit its apex. France, Spain, and Italy churned out some of their most memorable works. While the movement itself had started some three years earlier it didn’t reach critical mass until three years in. East-Europe was never very present in the popular conscious but their contributions to the development of horror aren’t any less important. Russia released the endlessly atmospheric special effects extravaganza Spirit Of Evil (1967), in Czechoslovakia (present-day Czech Republic) director Jaromil Jireš was the man behind the genre-bending coming of age fairytale Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), and in Serbia Đorđe Kadijević directed Лептирица (or The Butterfly, released in the English-speaking world as The She-Butterfly) produced by Radiotelevizija Beograd for TV Belgrade, which premiered on April 15, 1973 to wide consternation and shock. Teachers encouraged their students, young and old, to watch it. When it originally premiered in Skopje, Macedonia one person allegedly expired from sheer fright with all the expected controversy and moral outrage following. Pearl-clutchers of the day accused Kadijević of having made a “terrorist film” while literary critics claimed he had “desecrated” the classic After Ninety Years from Milovan Glišić on which it was based. Hardly the worst legacy for a little Balkan television movie about an hour long.

Đorđe Kadijević was born in 1933 and as a young boy he would see the horrors of World War II firsthand. He lost his father, his home and wandered around Serbia unhoused meeting Partisans and Chetniks along the way. He would grow up to be an art historian and art critic and his experiences during the Second World War would inform his screenwriting and most enduring cinematic works. Kadijević made comedies, period pieces, social realist dramas and everything in between. His film even catched the attention of Josip Broz Tito. He never had any real interest in horror as a genre as he deemed it too commercial. It’s not without a sense of irony then that it was in horror where he ended up contributing the most. He made the first Serbian horror film with The Gifts of My Cousin Mary (1969) and in the English-speaking world he’s forever associated with The Butterfly. Even if he took some artistic liberty with the Milovan Glišić story by changing the ending to something more ambiguous. For his television series Wolf Karadžić (1987-1988) he received the Order of the White Angel for honorably portraying the Orthodox Church during the Serbian Revolution of 1804-1812. Not only that the series was protected as European Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, on the suggestion of Umberto Eco. He also directed A Holy Place (1990), a Yugoslavian remake of Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov classic Soviet horror Spirit Of Evil (1963) that saw Branka Pujić taking over Natalya Varley’s iconic role as the titular witch. Kadijević was awarded the the Sretenje Order by the Republic of Serbia for his contributions to the development of Serbian art and culture. In 2016 he was the first laureate of the Bela Lugosi award at the Dead Lake festival in Palić, Subotica. Most recently, his work in cinema was celebrated at the Odraz Strava film festival on December 16-17 2022 at Hall of the Cultural Center of Belgrade.

After Ninety Years from Milovan Glišić tells the story of Sava Savanović, widely considered to be the first vampire in Serbian folklore. The legend of Savanović was probably inspired by the real-life case of peasant Petar Blagojević who died in 1725 and was believed to be responsible for nine mysterious deaths in the town of Kisiljevo. The crime was chronicled by Austrian administration official Imperial Provisor Ernst Frombald who witnessed his staking, took statements from villagers and called him Peter Plogojowitz in his reports. In Balkan folklore Blagojević was one of the earliest and most sensationalist examples of vampire hysteria. After Ninety Years was first published in 1880 preceding Bram Stoker’s Dracula (who’s main subject was inspired by 15th-century Wallachian voivode Vlad Drăculea or Vlad the Impaler) by some 17 years. Savanović also turned up in Fear and His Servant from Mirjana Novaković. Suffice to say, Sava Savanović is deeply engrained in Balkan popular culture. When The Butterfly premiered in 1973 it appeared more than ninety years after After Ninety Years first saw publication. Interestingly, in 2010 a feud of sorts broke out between two cities on opposing sides of the Povlen mountain when Zarožje and Valjevo claimed it as their own. Valjevo wanted to use it as their touristic mascot whereas Zarožje considered it theirs because of their connection to Milovan Glišić.

Serbia, the 19th century. Zarožje is a village on the slopes of the Povlen mountain in the valley of the Rogačica river in the municipality of Bajina Bašta. The village is set up as a zadruga (a family-based agricultural cooperative) where everybody lives in close harmony with nature and by the laws ordained by Protestant doctrine. The commune is governed by an assembly of elders and the local presbyterian priest (Tanasaije Uzunović). One morning the exsanguinated body of reclusive flour miller Vule (Toma Kuruzović) is found by geriatric peasant Ćebo (Bogoljub Petrović, as Boban Petrović). It is said that the mill is haunted by Sava Savanović and he kills whoever stays the night there. While Ćebo attributes the murder to the folkloric vampire village elder Villein (Branko Petković) fears that the unfortunate incident is the harbinger for an imminent famine. The entire town is beguiled by the ravishing beauty and elegance of ginger shepherdess Radojka (Mirjana Nikolić). Young farmhand Strahinja (Petar Božović) is madly in love with the ginger wonder (not surprising as her name means “well-disposed, happy, joyful, glad”) and in the meadows he declares his love for her. Strahinja wants them to be together and ask her hand in marriage.

Radojka has been raised by cranky landowner and farmer Živan (Slobodan Perović). Živan wants nothing more than Strahinja to leave Radojka alone – and he rebukes his request. The two young lovers are desperate to be together and if he can’t have Radojka than he’ll travel to Posavina to find employment and start anew. While the constantly drunk councilmen argue among each other about the veracity of the Savanović legend they all agree that first order of business is finding a new miller. They figure that installing Strahinja at the mill will solve two immediate problems: the famine will be staved off and they’ll retain Živan as an ally. They travel to the neighbouring village where they seek an audience with Mirjana Mirjanić who’s as deaf as a door post and half senile but also old enough to remember where Sava was buried. The councilmen dig up the grave and stake the contents of the coffin. Strahinja survives his night at the mill and is deemed the savior of the village. The villagers celebrate by throwing a rescue party to steal Radojka from Živan’s farm and prepare the couple’s wedding. That night Strahinja sneaks into Radojka’s dwelling and when he undresses her he comes to a deeply shocking discovery about the girl’s real parentage.

If anything The Butterfly made a star out of Mirjana Nikolić as well as its iconic watermill. Mirjana Nikolić had debuted in Whole Life Within A Year (1967) and was a rising star due to her role in the romantic comedy Father by Force (1969). While she had worked with Đorđe Kadijević the year before on the historic drama The Colonel’s Wife (1972) history would remember The Butterfly as her breakout role to an international career. That international career didn’t seem to extend beyond the British co-produced wartime drama England Made Me (1973) from the 1953 Graham Greene novel of the same name. For the most of her career Nikolić would remain in Serbia. Filming for The Butterfly happened on location in the village of Zelinje (in the province of Zvornik, in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the watermill (“the mill of fear” the locals affectionately call it, supposedly) remains at its original location some 3 km (1.9 mi) from the Bajina Bašta-Valjevo road in the valley of the Rogačica river. It has since become something of a tourist attraction. The mill collapsed in 2012, but was reconstructed by December 2018. Four years later, in December 2022, it was completely renovated and while its doors remain open, it isn’t presently operational. No doubt The Butterfly brought in decades’ worth of tourism to Zelinje and Serbia.

East-European horror has an atmosphere that really can’t be felt anywhere else. It’s rustic, glacially paced and has the pastoral environs and that thick dream atmosphere usually associated with France, it’s also very primal in the way Spanish horror is, and strangely religious like something you’d expect out of Latin America. Spirit Of Evil (1967), Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), and this are some prime examples of the form. The Butterfly is historic for being one of the finest vampire horror films to come from the former Yugoslavia. It’s historical importance and cultural significance can’t possibly be understated. Moreso, in 2019 Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) digitally restored and remastered it premiering (whether this was on their main channel RTS1 or their more cultural/educational RTS2 is unclear) it for an entire new generation. On a sidenote, it’s also interesting is that it arrived in 1973, the absolute nexus of gothic horror in Europe. For most Western viewers it wouldn’t be until Polish gothic The Wolf (1983) before East-Europe would rise to horror prominence again. Even half a century later The Butterfly remains an undiluted classic and an incredible achievement from the unlikeliest of places.

Plot: aristocratic vampire and his aides terrorize sleepy Filipino village.

Kulay dugo ang gabi (The Night Is the Color of Blood or Blood Is the Color of Night, Google Translate insists on the former, the cult blogosphere at large on the latter. Regardless, it was released internationally as The Blood Drinkers and, for a later reissue, The Vampire People) influenced by Universal horror films and the Hammer horrors of the day and, more importantly perhaps, is historic for being "the first color horror picture produced in the Philippines.” It was based on a serial komik (which one is a mystery to us at this point) from Hiwaga Komiks by Rico Bello Omagap and illustrator Jim Fernandez. Directed by Gerardo de León, produced by the Filipino Roger Corman, Cirio H. Santiago with his Premiere Productions in association with AM Productions for Hemisphere Pictures; The Blood Drinkers is a pompous partially in color gothic horror with that undeniable Southeast Asian flavour and an all-star cast including Ronald Remy, Amalia Fuentes, and Celia Rodriguez. The Blood Drinkers might very well be the first Filipino vampire horror and is alternatively delightfully old-fashioned or completely campy. Before the Blood Island saga brought Filipino madness to grindhouses around the world, there was The Blood Drinkers.

Gerardo “Gerry” Ilagan de León (or Gerardo de León) was a medical doctor who left the profession to start acting in 1934. After appearing in front of the camera for eight pictures he decided he was more at home behind it when he took up directing in 1939. During World War II de León produced a spate of anti-American propaganda films in alliance with the occupying Japanese forces. For this he was arrested, imprisoned, charged with treason, and sentenced to be executed by government officials. He was exonerated at the last minute when exculpatory evidence that he had aided the Filipino resistance surfaced. De Léon had directed Terror Is a Man (1959) - a fairly conservative (and semi-faithful) big screen adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island Of Dr. Moreau – just five years earlier. Not only did de León give the Philippines its first multi-part vampire epic, together with his erstwhile protégé Eddie Romero he contributed to the Blood Island saga by directing Brides of Blood (1968) and Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1969) for Hemisphere Pictures. His career spanned an impressive four decades before grinding to a halt in 1976. He was the most awarded director in Filipino history winning seven FAMAS Awards (three of them consecutively) from 1952 to 1971. In 1982 he was posthumously bestowed the title of National Artist by the Order of National Artists of the Philippines for his contributions to the development of Philippine art. His enduring legacy and cultural importance was reflected when the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in association with the Philippine Postal Corporation ran a limited line of commemorative stamps in 2013.

Ronald Remy would later play Dr. Lorca in de León’s Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968). He was nominated for a FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) Award for Best Actor but lost to Joseph Estrada (who would form the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation or Mowelfund in 1974 as well as the Metro Manila Film Festival in 1975 and would later serve as the Mayor of Manila and as the 13th president of the Philippines from 1998 to 2001). Remy would later turn to directing himself. Likewise was Amalia Fuentes nominated for a FAMAS Award for Best Actress for her Barbare Steele-esque double role but lost to Marlene Daudén. Fuentes was dubbed the "Queen of Philippine Movies" and the “Elizabeth Taylor of the Philippines” by fans and critics alike and starred in over 130 films. In the '60s Asia Magazine crowned her “Asia’s Most Beautiful Actress” and in 1964 she became the first-ever Filipina ambassador for Lux bath soap. All through the 1960s to the end of the 1970s she wrote, produced, starred (and sometimes directed) in the films she made with her own production company AM (Amalia Muhlach) Productions. She also served as a member of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and was one of the highest paid actresses of her generation. Celia Rodriguez on the other hand did win a FAMAS Award for Best Supporting Actress. Implacable pulp pillar Vic Díaz lends only his voice this time around and was last seen around these parts in Naked Fist (1981) and Raw Force (1982). Consider this the Filipino The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) or The Monster of the Opera (1964) and a precursor to Spain’s Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), replete with all the heaving bosoms and religious overtones you’d want. Not strange then that this won FAMAS Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.

After an unspecified time abroad local member of nobility (and landowner) Doña Marissa (Mary Walter) has returned to her native Philippines to arrange a heart transplant for her daughter Katrina (Amalia Fuentes). Since she was only able to take one daughter abroad she left her identical twin sister Charito (Amalia Fuentes) in care of poor peasants Elias (Paquito Salcedo) and Losela (Felisa Salcedo). During her time away Marissa has fallen in with the vampire cult led by Katrina’s bald physician (and lover) Dr. Marco (Ronald Remy) who will oversee the procedure. Marissa has promised Marco to arrange a suitable donor for Katrina’s procedure. Who a better candidate for said transplant than her estranged twin sister Charito? Marco is madly in love with the ailing Katrina but this does not stop his assistant Tanya (Celia Rodriguez) from vying for his affections. The arrival of Dr. Marco and his entourage (including the hunchback Gordo and a midget, both mute) coincide with a spate of exsanguinations of nubile village maidens in the surrounding jungle. Charito is courted by the suave and metropolitan Victor de la Cruz (Eddie Fernandez) while her best friend Ruben (Renato Robles) has an unrequited love for her. When her foster parents are brutally slain in a nocturnal vampire assault Doña Marissa offers to take Charito in now that she’s functionally a warden of the state. Thanks to her social and political sway Marissa is able to obfuscate, inveigle, and deceive local authorities. Only the pious village priest (Andres Benitez, with the voice of Vic Díaz) is able to see through the aristocrats’ deception and recognize the situation for what it truly is. Will the priest’s belief and the combined power of Charito’s friends be enough to withstand and ward off the vampyric threat that has consumed their sleepy peasant village?

In age-old gothic horror tradition The Blood Drinkers is a morality play on good and evil and a very Catholic one at that. If the heavy-handed narration doesn’t make it clear, the continual religious iconography certainly will (or should). What this most resembles is a very loose retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The main plot recreates most of the key events and each lead character has a book counterpart and is true to their respective arc. Dr. Marco is Count Dracula, Charito and Katrina are Elisabeta and Mina Murray Harker, Victor de la Cruz and Ruben are Jonathan Harker, Tanya and Doña Marissa are R. M. Renfield, and the priest as Professor Abraham Van Helsing. The Living Corpse (1967) from director Khwaja Sarfraz did the unlicensed adaptation thing a lot smoother than de León and Cesar Amigo do here. The Living Corpse (1967) is even more impressive considering it was made in Pakistan. More than anything the color scheme is what ensured this its cinematic longevity. Since color stock was in short supply in the Philippines and thus too expensive to use carelessly The Blood Drinkers was shot alternately in color and black-and-white (later tinted in hues of blue, pink, red, magenta). Not only does this color-coding greatly enhance the atmosphere, it actually has a contextual function. Whenever Marco appears - or whenever the vampires prey on their victims and dread rises - the screen will be painted red (characters will even break the fourth wall and exclaim “It’s all red!”), suspenseful scenes are dyed in blue with pink and magenta appearing for the character scenes in between. There are scenes in color, but they are far and few, and headscratchingly random. A harana ensemble has an entire dedicated color segment for their nightside courtship serenade, a young maiden is exsanguinated in the jungle by Marco but the kill is not in color whereas the immediate aftermath is. It truly boggles the mind. The score from Tito Arevalo is suitably bombastic, portentious, and creaky. Oh yeah, there’s even a rubber bat on a string that the American distributors loved. As always, the original Tagalog version (with subtitles) is preferable but the edited international English-language version is charming in its own dim-witted American way.

Perhaps there’s a point to be made that The Blood Drinkers might be a tad too quirky for some (where else are you going to see a bald vampire wearing cool sunglasses and alternatively dressing in a cape in one scene and in mod-fabulous attire in the other?) and for those who thought The Dracula Saga (1973) wasn’t insane enough or for whom Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969) didn’t have enough family dysfunction and all the attendant melodramatics, this will certainly tide you over. The Blood Drinkers contains some of the biggest names of the First Golden Age of Filipino weird cinema, both in front and behind the camera. If this gives you the occassional The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) vibe, you’re not wrong. While not overtly comical there are several things (the sunglasses, the rubber bat, the bad wigs, the dubbing, et al), whether intended that way or not, that the ensuing six decades have made unintentionally funny. Regardless of the kitsch (again, your mileage on that may vary) The Blood Drinkers stands as a monument of Pinoy cult cinema. It helped usher in an era of prosperity of domestic exploitation cinema and saw its domestic features exported around the world. The Philippines and its exploitation industry became so attractive during the wicked and wild 1970s and the decadent 1980s that the island all but was a second home for American, Italian and other foreign exploitation moguls. Two years later it was graced with the even better spiritual sequel Blood of the Vampires (1966). While Terror Is a Man (1959) was certainly the true pioneer, The Blood Drinkers put the Philippines on the international pulp cinema map – and for that reason alone it has more than earned its place in exploitation history.