Can the might of the communist system in 1960s Hungary defeat an Undead vampire? Comrade Drakulich (aka Drakulics Elvtárs) has a bit of fun finding out.
Mária Magyar (Lili Walters) is a pretty, junior-level Hungarian spy detailed to escort hero of the worldwide communist revolution Béla Fábián (Zsolt Nagy) on a tour of his mother country. The idea is to help raise the profile of a countrywide blood drive in aid of the wounded in Vietnam (the North) using the internationally famous veteran as the face of the campaign.
Fábián’s old comrades from the Second World War are now on the verge of being doddering old men but strangely enough he’s still a virile man in his prime. How does he do it, they wonder. Perhaps it’s his globetrotting lifestyle, or the invigorating exposure to Castro, Che Guevara and high idealism that’s kept him so limber. What they haven’t considered is that Béla might be a vampire.
Nor has Hungary’s party boss (and de facto president) János Kádár, who is getting urgent calls from Moscow, where ailing leader Leonid Brezhnev has heard that this Fábián might be the possessor of a secret of longevity. It’s imperative that that secret be secured for Communism, put your best man on the case, Kádár is told… or else…
In Mária goes, much to the consternation of her fellow agent and lover Lázsló (Ervin Nagy). And since Lázsló is insecure about his hold on Mária’s affections – he’s a minute-man lover so he’s right to be – he decides to keep an eye on her while she’s baiting the honey trap.
The plot now in place, Comrade Drakulich now settles down into a series of funny set pieces – Maria and the vampire on a blood drive in a factory, swimming at night in Budapest’s fabulous Széchenyi spa, getting cosy at her place – while Lázsló, always hovering “unseen” nearby, makes a fool of himself in Inspector Clouseau pratfall style.
Popping up periodically while this odd threesome do their thing are three satellite sets of male/female partnerships – Mária and Lázsló’s spy boss and his secretary, party boss Kádár and his personal assistant, and the neighbours who live below Lázsló and Mária, who comment drily on his pitiful love-making technique.
All three couples are minor, but things picks up noticeably whenever any of them is on, their shrugging, dogged dark humour in the face of some new daily absurdity saying more about the communist regime than screeds of words.
As to the vampire, he’s a strangely underwritten character, which is doubly odd when you consider how much screen time Zsolt Nagy has. In fact he’s a bit of a hole at the centre of what has all the makings of a good film.
Béla Lugosi was Hungarian, Transylvania has more often been part of Hungary than not (at the moment most of it is in Romania) and there’s a nice easy link between a bloodsucker and a system that is bleeding a country dry. Plenty to work with, you’d have thought.
But Comrade Drakulich is less interested in communism and vampire lore and more interested in conjuring the look of the time – brown wood, tinned food, strip lighting, boxy cars. The sclerotic one-party state as mood board.
Whatever the Hungarian word for Ostalgia is, it applies here.
Like I say, the real acting here is further down the cast list. Nothing wrong with the stars – Lili Walters is vivacious, Ervin Nagy a bumbling Will Ferrell idiot complete with Anchorman moustache, and Zsolt Nagy, though never menacing, is as sleek, suave and persuasive as an vampire in jeans and bomber jacket can be.
Would the whole thing have been better if it had just been done straight? Maybe. I’m guessing a lot of the comedy is lost in translation.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020