The legendary Yugoslavian vampire film, a completely different and some would say, more authentic take on the vampire mythos. Until copies surfaced a few years ago, it was pretty much unknown outside of the Balkan states, if you enjoy films like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, this is for you.
Leptirica (which roughly translates as 'She Butterfly' though I have also seen it called 'Night Butterfly') by the Croatian born director Djordje Kadijevic was made in the early seventies for the Belgrade television company "Radiotelevizija Beograd". It was as far as I know only ever shown twice on the then Yugoslavian television network - its original 1973 TV broadcast - and again in the eighties (no idea of specific date) - It has never been "officially" shown outside of its country of origin and no "official" DVD release has ever surfaced. I have read somewhere that the original reel is still exists and despite efforts by the director, it still remains in a dusty Belgrade television archive to this day.
Leptirica was the first "Serbian" horror film and was loosely based on the 1880 story "After Ninety Years" by Milovan Glisic. The story revolves around the 19th century Serbian village of "Zaroshje" that is plagued by the vampire "Sava Savanovic" who has been systematically killing anyone who takes charge of the flour mill (situated in the woods outside the village). After four millers have been killed the council elders become desperate as food is rapidly running out.
Meanwhile on the other side of the village a poor young man Strahinja is in love with Radojka (played by the hauntingly beautiful Mirjana Nikolic) the daughter of the local landowner Zivan. After asking Zivan for his daughters hand in marriage and been refused on the grounds of his poverty Strahinja decides to leave the village. On the way he is met by members of the village council who persuade him to take the job of the village miller. Fully expecting him to be dead by the morning the council is astonished to find him still alive and decide to locate and destroy the grave of the vampire Sava Savanovic.
After locating the grave they pierce it with a stake but the soul of the vampire in the form of a butterfly escapes from the coffin before it is sprinkled by the Holy water. The village council assume it is all over and argue that the landowner Zivan is being unreasonable in his refusal to allow his daughter to marry Strahinja and with the blessing of the local priest they kidnap Radojka. After a drunken celebration on the eve of the wedding night everyone except Zivan looks forward to the marriage of the two young lovers the next day - however events take a strange turn...
What I find fascinating about Leptirica is the way it draws upon the folkloric supernatural and mythic narratives of Eastern Europe - reminding us that Bram Stoker early Hollywood and the later Hammer horror films stole/culturally appropriated the vampire legends of Eastern Europe. Rather than draw upon these western forms of vampire and Gothic horror literature and cinema the director Djordje Kadijevic went back to its source and in doing so created something completely original and compelling in the horror genre.
This sense of "Otherness" is reinforced by the haunting musical score by Milan Trickovic and a visual palette of colours and textures that are unfamiliar to western eyes. How much of this was part of the director and cinematographers aesthetic vision and how much of it was down to the technological differences of filming recording and broadcasting in Eastern Europe is unknown but as an avid viewer of "communist" era films and television programmes, this aesthetic difference is very noticeable.
One of the reasons this film is called "the scariest vampire film ever made" is the fact that when the film was first shown in Yugoslavia a man in Macedonia allegedly died of "fright" (this caused the director a whole heap of trouble in the eyes of the then communist authorities and it was even branded a "terrorist" film by some elements of the state run press). It is also a reflection of the impact it had on two generations of Yugoslavian audiences (this was amplified by the relative scarcity of the horror genre in the countries of the Eastern Bloc and USSR compared to say the number of fantasy/folklore and science-fiction films of that period).
I have read a few comments from western audiences who have taken issue with the "scariest vampire film ever" title and not one of them have acknowledged the socio-cultural context in which the film was made.