Leptirica (1973)


Leptirica Review

Leptirica is a 1973 Serbian horror film directed by Djordje Kadijevic and starring Mirjana Nikolic and Petar Bozovic. It is the country’s classic horror film and it truly is terrific.

Strahinja wants to marry Radojka, but her father refuses the proposal. Afterwards, he along with the other peasants goes in search for the legendary vampire by the name of Sava Savanovic because he, they believe, has been killing their millers during night. The story is excellent here with all of the plot points being satisfying and well executed. The opening is so creepy and sets the mood perfectly whereas the ending is unforgettable.

I loved the use of grandma and she is an excellent plot device resulting in a couple of more memorable moments. The characters are all so realistically portrayed here and the movie is always grounded and believable. Strahinja is very good and of course Radojka is great.

Leptirica has an absolutely amazing atmosphere which is genuinely creepy and at times even frightening. I loved the score in this film and found it to be really good, but the use of sound effects is superb and only further accompanies the endless feeling of unease, felt from beginning to end. All of the scenes, including the quieter ones, have an inherent creepiness factor to them and the filmmakers always let you know that something bad is going to happen.

The imagery is excellent and the film is very well shot with some good camera angles. I loved the village here as it wonderfully transports you back in time and is so memorable. The effects are good as well and I loved how this movie is professional despite its very limited budget. The creature design is so authentic and original, but definitely incredibly creepy. The atmosphere is brilliant and the movie is so well paced with never a rushed or boring moment.

There are only a couple of flaws here. First is the acting which is polarizing. It is at times very good with some actors doing a good job, but others not so much. The dialogue also has some weaker lines and I found the scene where they see the butterfly for the first time really problematic. They couldn’t possibly know what it is and if they knew, the filmmakers didn’t explain that well to the audience.

But other parts of the script I loved as they are so well executed and the film is just immensely entertaining and so engaging to follow. The mill is put to great use here along with the vampire’s grave which is the most intriguing part of the storyline. The dialogue is also really good for the most part with a couple of instantly memorable and fun lines. Djordje Kadijevic did a wonderful job as a director here as the movie is great mostly because of him. He had a vision and he made this movie on such a professional level that it is so admirable having in mind its budgetary limitations. Leptirica has a couple of really fantastic scenes with some being even artistic in the way they’re filmed and executed. The highlights for me, apart from the ending and beginning, have to be the introduction of grandma, the grave digging scene and all of those scenes with peasants arguing about the vampire.

Yes, the one thing that really surprised me here is its humor. Not only is it largely present in a horror film, but it is also phenomenal. I laughed many times and that I did not expect and I really appreciated it. The way the peasants spoke is funny, but some of their lines were so funny and frequently hilarious. But the humor is never forced as it is genuine and realistic as the whole movie is. The film is also unpredictable, really well constructed and always phenomenally paced and immensely intriguing and entertaining. I wish it was longer, but the running time of an hour is still wonderfully put to use with not a single wasted or abrupt scene.

The film is always creepy and atmospheric and despite not being truly scary, it is definitely unnerving with a couple of scenes being extremely powerful in execution. It definitely left a lasting impression on me and the more I think about the film, the more I like it and the more I appreciate it. It wonderfully put to use a great old village and Serbian vampire folklore, leaving us with a timeless creepy story that only gets better with time. I am frustrated with the status of this film. It should be considered a classic of Serbian cinema, but is unfortunately just a cult film that has never received a larger audience and bigger appreciation that it truly deserves. It is to me a very good film that is one of the better films of that year and one of the more interesting and more unique horror pictures I’ve seen.

Leptirica is a gem of a film. It has such a unique ominous atmosphere filled with creepy sound effects and excellent creature design. It has realistic characters, a very well crafted and always intriguing story, an unexpected use of humor which is so good and it has such a creepy, frightening and wonderfully realized atmosphere making you feel unease. It is a well made, very well shot and wonderfully directed movie and it is to me a Serbian classic that unfortunately never attracted the audience and praise that it clearly deserves.

My Rating – 4.5

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