Upyr (1997): vampires take over the Russian mafia

Upyr (Упырь, 1997) is a very peculiar example of the post-Soviet Russian crime cinema, because apart from picturing the world of organised crime, blooming after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Upyr is also a vampire film (‘upyr’ is an indigenously Russian word for a vampire).

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The opening credits already tell the viewer a lot about socio-political background of the film

In Upyr the underground meets the underworld, as vampires are taking the lead of the Russian Mafia. The film is a dark, socially conscious tale set in the post-Soviet urban landscapes, with the brilliant soundtrack by Russian alternative rock band Tequilajazzz adding another spice to the overall taste of the 1990s.

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Two professional vampire hunters go to a provincial Russian town on a work assignment. They have a modern gadget to detect vampires, however, prefer to use the good old wooden stake to kill them. While in the loo, the older and more experienced hunter is attacked, and his younger partner has no choice but pierce the poor devil’s chest. Now left on his own, the Hunter (a sort of Slavic Blade) sets out to find and destroy Upyr – the infernal bloodsucking creature that keeps the town’s criminal force on a tight leash by converting gangsters into ones of his kind.

The film is very laconic in presenting its vampires-metaphors – neither they sleep in coffins, nor do they have fangs or wear capes

Laconic vampires-metaphors – neither they sleep in coffins, nor do they have fangs

Needless to mention, the town and its inhabitants incarnate the Zeitgeist of the 1990s Russia. The streets are desolate, factories are abandoned, libraries are closed and police is corrupt. Gangsters, except for the blood thirst, are busy with quite ordinary gangster activities, such as playing pool, handling guns and racketing. They even have a torture specialist among themselves (also a vampire), who in one of the sequences is putting a man, who crossed the gang up, to a sophisticated ear torture.

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Even if you are not a big fan of crime films, vampires and Russian 1990s art, the finale of the film won’t  disappoint you. The confrontation between the Hunter and Upyr has a very Tarkovskian feel to it, channelling the fear of (national?) identity loss in a visually eloquent way.

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