Karl Marx and Frederick Engels used imagery of bloodsucking vampires in their writing to describe the parasitic ruling class. The new Chilean satirical film El Conde (The Count), directed by Pablo Larraín, goes further.
It portrays one of history’s most despicable ruling class warriors, Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell), as a literal fanged vampire.
The Pinochet of this film has been around for 250 years. After witnessing the execution of French queen Marie Antoinette during the 18th century French Revolution, he sets about trying to stamp out revolts across the world.
The concept of immortal beings that perpetually go around crushing working class dissent is a terrifying one.
But is this vampire version of Pinochet scarier than the man who ordered the execution and torture of tens of thousands of those he considered his political opponents?
Pinochet as a vampire is not some all-powerful figure. He’s shown as a pathetic, greed-obsessed monster—and the filmmakers make sure you have no sympathy for him.
After faking his death, following a judge’s assessment he was fit to stand trial for his crimes in 2006, Pinochet goes into hiding with his wife Lucia (Gloria Munchmeyer).
But he quickly tires of life without finery or power and begins to starve himself of blood so he can die. In some ways this depiction of Pinochet as an endlessly suffering miserable figure is a small act of cathartic revenge by the creators of this film.
And it’s even more cheering for the viewer to think of an alternate reality play out where Pinochet is alive to see ordinary people spit on his grave.
The stark black and white cinematography further rams home how bleak the dictator’s life is. His miserable existence worsens when his children hear the news of Pinochet’s imminent death and there are reports of a vampire tearing out women’s hearts and rushing to his side.
But his five children aren’t there to say goodbye to their father. They’re there to collect their inheritance, even hiring an accountant and exorcist to help sort through his accounts and purify his soul.
The plot twists and turns, weaving real-life events with fantasy. It’s all narrated by a very familiar voice. That’s Pinochet’s fellow ruling class warrior and real life friend—Margaret Thatcher.
That Thatcher is also one of the blood-sucking undead and may live to this day is just one of a slew of jokes buried within the film.
The narrative is rooted in the message that this film is trying to send, which is that the monsters of history do not die easily and that their legacy lives on. And, of course, this is true today in Chile, where the horrors of the Pinochet dictatorship can still shape much of politics.
In 2021, Jose Antonio Kast, who once said he would have tea with Pinochet, was only narrowly beaten in Chile’s presidential elections.
Yet there is a problem with making Pinochet into a vampire, and it’s that it sends a message that his legacy and others like him cannot be killed off completely. Unfortunately this idea is reinforced by the film’s ending.
El Conde is a good film. But it would have been even better if it had shown not only the vampires but the gravediggers who have the power to end their reign of terror.
Watch El Conde now on NetflixOriginal post