Slaughter of the Vampires
Italy | 1962
Directed by Roberto Mauri
Starring
Walter Brandi
Graziella Granata
Dieter Eppler

B&W | 79 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD(R0 - NTSC)
Dark Sky Films
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5
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Rod Barnett
After the huge success of Hammer's Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula the inevitable wave of copycat gothic horror cinema flowed like thick ground fog for nearly two decades. The Italians were quick to jump into the genre and many would say beat the British at their own game. Actor Walter Brandi (Bloody Pit of Horror) starred as the hero in three such films in the early '60s, each with a stereotypical Dracula-styled bloodsucker. Slaughter of the Vampires was the last of the trio and pretty much the least. Like all Gothics this one is slowly paced, relying on atmosphere, moody photography and sexuality rather than cheap shock effects or gore to sustain interest. With some judicious editing it might even have been a good movie.
   
As this tepid Gothic begins it's as if we are being dropped into the middle act of a story already in progress. A caped male vampire (Dieter Eppler) and his female consort are being chased through a provincial town by pitchfork and torch-bearing villagers. They almost elude the mob, but when the female falls behind the sinister male leaves her to be brutally destroyed as he makes his escape. He hides out in the wine cellar of a castle owned by Wolfgang (Brandi) in a coffin that seems to have been prepared for him. The fact that it's never explained how the vampire got the long box into place or how the castle's servants could possibly miss it there behind the wine casks is pretty amusing.
    The next night Wolfgang is having a gala party for his new bride Louise (Graziella Granata) in the ballroom of the castle. The silent vampire rises from the cellar to join the party and exerts his hypnotic influence over Louise, even dancing a waltz with her as he mesmerizes the beautiful lady. Slipping into her bedroom later in the evening, he drinks from her neck as she appears to be experiencing sexual ecstasy. Over the next few days Louise grows weaker, paler and increasingly anemic. Wolfgang sends for the family doctor but after a cursory examination recommends that the worried husband travel to Vienna and speak to Dr. Nietzsche (Luigi Batzella). This ersatz Van Helsing immediately understands the problem and rushes back to the country castle with Wolfgang... Alas, upon their arrival they learn Louise has died. Wolfgang is devastated but is even more stunned when his wife's body disappears before he can even see it. Nietzsche organizes a search of the grounds; during this hunt Louise appears to her husband and puts the bite on his neck. Before she can suck much juice, however, the male vampire interrupts her and the two ghouls run off into the night.
    Informing the castle servants that only fire and the cross can destroy the monsters they face, Dr. Nietzsche sets about finding the vamps' hiding place. Of course he can't locate the coffin behind the wine barrels in the cellar, either, and Louise is ensconced in a secret underground room anyway. It seems that the unnamed male vampire knew about this hidden room but we are never let in on how. Did he at one time own the castle? Did the Italian language version let us in on his name or history?
    While the search goes on Wolfgang is confronted with pretty little maid Corinne, who has also been turned into a vampire. She slithers into bed with him and starts sucking his blood which he seems to enjoy in much the same way as his wife. So with Nietzsche hunting the undead and the Lord of the manor on his way to joining their ranks, all seems lost. Unless they can find that craftily concealed coffin, of course...
    One of the standard complaints about gothic horror films is that they are slow or tedious relying on long passages in which little happens to fill out running times to feature length. While I'll concede that some movies in the genre are overlong, stretching their story a bit too thin the very point of the genre is missed by this critique. A big part of the joy of gothic cinema is its creation of an atmosphere of slight detachment or even lassitude that draws the viewer into the story's other worldly state of mind. Since most Gothics deal with the supernatural creating this slightly detached mood in the audience is the way these tales seek to suspend our disbelief. A feeling of being carried along by beautiful candlelit images accompanied by a haunting symphonic score establishes an otherworldly mood that I find easy to love. Of course, for folks who lack the patience for several minuets of screen time with characters prowling through castle halls or dank catacombs searching for something will quickly become disinterested. Hell! They might even fall asleep!
    But even though I love this type of movie I can't call Slaughter of the Vampires a particularly noteworthy example in the genre. The energetic opening sequence led me to think we might have an above average entry but as soon as the unnamed vampire lies down in his 'hidden' coffin the movie slips into low gear. Nothing wrong with that, but unfortunately the film lacks several touches that create a good gothic cinematic experience. Most of the time the direction is sadly flat, with several emotional moments ruined by either bad coverage or a lack of creativity. Not that the film is devoid of striking imagery but for every well-played shot there are at least two others that are banal or sloppy. One of the best subtle moments has the shadow of a breeze blown curtain throw its diamond pattern across a wall behind Dr. Nietzsche causing a fascinating rippling effect. But only a few minutes later, during the film's climax, a moment that should be filled with tension is destroyed for a lack of close-ups on the actors' faces. This slipshod filmmaking makes the final moments of the story frustrating instead of cathartic, leaving a bad taste overall.
    Also, I have to admit that the film could have easily been shortened by at least 10 minutes with no loss of story or mood. There is too much time wasted throughout, including shots of carriages driving away from locations, pointless repetition of information and repeated trips through the cellar. In a good Gothic this stuff could have added mood but here they're just padding. The English dialog is often laughably bad (a common complaint with these European films), with about half a dozen bizarre non sequitur lines that had me shaking my head. On the plus side, I should mention that the score is a beautiful, lush orchestration that adds a lot to the film's effective moments (even if the main theme is overused). And the ladies of the cast are gorgeous examples of Italian loveliness, displaying their charms tastefully and well. There were one or two moments when I thought Graziella Granata was going to pop out of her nightgown... but her onscreen virtue remains intact. Damned shame, that.

Dark Sky Films' DVD of this PD title is a very nice presentation of the movie. The film is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The image is very good certainly much better than the bootleg TV broadcasts I've recently seen but I think the matte is a little too low. There are several shots that are far too tight on top, distractingly cutting into leering faces. The print used is not perfect, with occasional nicks, lines and other imperfections, but I doubt there are better, easily obtainable source materials. The only audio option is the English dub, presented in 2.0 Mono. The soundtrack is serviceable but as I'm curious about certain story points I wish it were possible to see the film in its Italian version. Extras include a still gallery, the U.S. trailer (with the title Curse of the Blood-Ghouls) and a 12 minute interview with actor Dieter Eppler. Speaking in his native German (with English subtitles), he relates how he came to play the vampire but never managed to get paid other than an initial wad of cash from a producer. 5/07/07
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