‘El Conde’: Count Pinochet the Vampire!
Caption: via Netflix

Academy Award-nominated Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Neruda, Jackie, No, Spencer) and his longtime collaborator writer Guillermo Calderón have just released their new film El Conde (The Count). It’s a robust, bawdy, very funny, slightly over-the-top reimagining of Chile’s brutal dictator August Pinochet as a vampire. Unfortunately, much of the film is rooted in fact!

Augusto Pinochet was a Chilean soldier who rose through the ranks to be appointed Commander-in-Chief by democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973. Pinochet betrayed Allende, having him murdered in the U.S.-backed coup later that year. Pinochet ordered the torture and deaths of thousands of progressive students and workers. He then amassed a huge fortune through corruption and outright theft of the country’s resources, businesses, and industries.

With the aid and support of the U.S., Pinochet stayed in power from 1973 to 1990, running a consistently brutal, repressive, dictatorial regime. The U.S. government at times appeared critical of Pinochet in public. But behind the scenes, a series of American State Departments, beginning with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, provided resources, training, and support to keep Pinochet in power, just as they supported neighboring Argentina’s Dirty War against its own population at about the same time.

El Conde takes just a little bit of license tracing Pinochet’s pre-Chilean vampiric past. Early Pinochet is depicted as a royalist soldier who delighted in killing 18th-century French revolutionaries, just as he would later revel in killing workers and students seeking social justice reforms in 20th-century Chile. After this brief origins story, the film centers on Pinochet’s later life ennui. It is brilliantly, and not without a bit of irony, narrated by Stella Gonet.

The dictator (played by Jaime Vadell) is not conflicted with all his murders and theft. He just seems to have tired blood. So he repeatedly sets out in quest for new victims. The sight of vampire Pinochet hunting his prey, stiffly flying over stunning Patagonian scenery, highlighted by Ed Lachman’s breathtaking black and white cinematography is both comical and horrific.

His five ne’er-do-well adult children gather around him in Patagonia to fight about their inheritance and how they can succeed in his corruption. In the aggregate, they are portrayed as malevolent and slow-witted as they squabble and grovel over whatever stolen wealth they can seize.

Pinochet is aided by his vicious butler, White Russian Fyodor (Alfredo Castro), who delights in having murdered countless Reds during the Russian Revolution. Pinochet and Fyodor take turns vulgarly insulting Madame Pinochet, who begs them to bite her so she can attain eternal life. Pinochet’s wife Lucía Hiriart actually was an eager participant in the family corruptions, embezzling huge sums, money laundering, and illegally seizing public and private property to sell for her benefit.

The only hope of ending this reign of avarice and terror is Carmen, an exorcist young nun (Paula Luchsinger), sent by the Church. Of course, in the process of doing “God’s work,” she was instructed to reroute as much as possible of Pinochet’s ill-gotten gains into the coffers of the Roman Catholic Church. Will she be able to remove Pinochet’s demonic possession and steal that wealth for the Church? Will the Pinochet children or the mother succeed in getting what they want from the vampiric dictator? Will Pinochet outlive them all to continue his unsavory rampage? Who will bite whom?

Pablo Larraín has mined his country’s tragic experience with fascism to remind us of the horrors of right-wing rule. As it veers from fright to comedy, from hyperbole to fact, we are constantly asked to measure how far right-wing rule actually is from vampirism.

El Conde is available live streaming on Netflix. The preview can be viewed here.


Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for many years. He taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU.