Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday's Cinematic Quickie: Vampires, Italian Style!

Slaughter of The Vampires
Image Entertainment // 1962 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

What’s unspooling at ol’ Cteve’s home theatre on this particular Saturday night? Why, it's Vampires, Italian style!

Here's a real pain in the neck for the bad-movie gang: a badly dubbed Neapolitan horror flick replete with gorgeous female vampires, their heaving bosoms not quite spilling out of their nightgowns. Every aspect of the production screams overwrought melodrama. Yes, this picture has it all: babes with come-hither gazes, Eurotrash vampires, fey aristocrats, and spooky cemeteries – all lifted straight from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the scores of vampire films that preceded this little ditty. But “gothic horror to make your hair stand on end,” as the trailer claims? Nonsense. This is one of the funniest movies ever made. Now inflate a bag of microwaveable popcorn and fetch me a cold, dark beer while I cue this sucker up.

A bit of plot…
An unnamed vampire hides in the wine cellar of an Italian mansion while the nondescript residents enjoy their luxurious lifestyle upstairs. But it’s not the well-stocked selection of vintage clarets that this old Nosferatu is interested in. Oh, no. He's got the hots for the bored babes hanging out at the mansion, especially Louise. She's looking at a life sentence, I mean, marriage, to a nobleman who's about as exciting as a dog’s hind end. It's a sad situation all around. The gals yearn for distraction, some action, just a little satisfaction — anything to take their minds off the dull society dudes with names like Wolfgang and constipated expressions to go with their boring balls (dance parties, that is). Day and night, the guys parade around in evening clothes with puffy shirts, yammering all serious in monotone. No wonder the women are ready to scream — and wrap their ankles around the ass of a randy vampire, if need be.

A solid opening gives us angry villagers with torches and pitchforks, sprinting after a vampire babe in a flowing white gown. They dispatch her within seconds and just as quickly the highlight of the film has passed. From here on, it's all talk, talk, talk, with the occasional vampire seduction (rather chaste, I would add) to enliven the proceedings. A chirpy Theremin (an early type of synthesizer) rises on the soundtrack to mark each of these liaisons, adding unintentional hilarity to all the solemn necking. Movies just don't get much better than this.

Dialogue is absolutely precious, straight from the pages of a paperback romance. Here’s a sample:

“Who can you be that you have this mysterious power over me? Who can you be that you poisoned all the love I bore my husband and made me become your slave?”

Even though the players act with conviction and the gals are red-hot, Slaughter of the Vampires doesn't add up to doodly-squat. While causing convulsive laughter, it slays us with humorous yakety-yak in place of action—typical of inept, pseudo-erotic horror films that cheat an audience by poking around the obvious without working up the courage to stick it in.

Though you've never heard of him, I feel professionally obligated to note that German actor Dieter Eppler (1927-2008) plays the vampire. With his overwrought acting and exaggerated expressions, Dieter comes off like a silent film star stuck in a talkie vampire flick. Regardless, it’s hard to take him too seriously when he's holding a bunch of flowers and acting romantic, or seducing a room full of swooning bachelorettes. Compare his relatively benign makeup in the black & white stills from the picture with the garish, snarling freak featured in the cover art for the DVD release (shown at top). Here, truly, is a marketing campaign that got lost in translation.

The print, like the plot, is all over the place: all scratchy and jumpy one moment, then almost pristine the next. Rice Krispies may have been used to augment the soundtrack, full of snaps, crackles, and pops. Then again, that might be part of the movie’s charm. Who’s gonna invest green money to restore this silly flick?

What’s on the Disc, Steve?
Not much, I’m tellin’ ya. The lone extra is a trailer for the film, presented here under its alternative title Curse of the Blood Ghouls. But a goofy film by any other name…

If you’re looking for quality horror from this period – rich color cinematography, first rate talent and production design, and sexual shenanigans to annoy the censors at that time, pick up something from the Hammer Studios collection. Almost anything with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and their busty coed costars will do. If you need an obscure bit of rubbish for non-stop laughter on bad-movie night, Slaughter of the Vampires is better than a tank of nitrous. Bring it on home.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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