The most unusual thing about this 1973 Italian horror movie is how close it is in plot, period setting and locale to Hammer’s vampire films at a time when Eurohorror was striking out in different directions. The story owes a great deal to Scars of Dracula – with brothers going in succession to Castle Dracula, though here they’re twins both played by Mark Damon. Its sexier elements echo Countess Dracula and the Karnstein pictures, replacing Dracula with the Count’s widow, Countess Dolingen de Vries. Dropping the other fetish boot after her title role in Lady Frankenstein, this Countess Dracula is played by Rosalba Neri, aka Sandra Bey, who looks rather like a Horrible Sexy Emily Blunt. She’s not the most expressive of screen sirens, but that might have been the idea.
The oddest plot frill is that the Draculas are the latest possessors of the Ring of the Nibelung, a setting for a big red gemstone from outer space that has Marvel Comics zapping powers and has been owned by many tyrants. Gambling-debt-ridden, Poe-quoting, slicked-back lothario Franz Schiller (Damon, looking like Ralph Bates in Taste the Blood of Dracula) gets to Transylvania first, intent on exploiting the ring for himself. He beds the Countess, who turns into a giant nature film clip bat in close-up during sex, and is turned into a huge-fanged vampire (perhaps possessed by Dracula). Sincere, bouffant-haired archaeologist Karl (Damon, looking like Ralph Bates in Lust for a Vampire) wants to turn the ring over to a museum and is partnered by a girl from the village (Francesca Davila) who finds a protective amulet (sacred to Pazuzu, then a famous demon thanks to The Exorcist) which can counter the Ring’s power (Franz left the amulet under his pillow at the inn).
A prophecy has it that at a particular moon, five virgins will be lured to the castle for sacrifice, just as the Countess and the bad brother are about to be married (though the good brother is impersonating his twin at the time) in a Black Mass involving hooded Satanists. It has a kerfuffle of climactic action, with stripping, beheading, zapping, hand-chopping and staking – plus the rampage of a bald vampire goon with wonky fangs (Ciro Pappas). The coda, obviously influenced by the shock twists of the Count Yorga films, overeggs things by springing three surprise reversals in succession: one character suddenly shows fangs and reverses the happy ending; a sinister loiterer (Gengher Gatti) a lot like those lurking fringe figures (Klove or the Man in Black) attendant on Hammer vampires grabs the big red ring and perhaps gains super powers; and a hand reaches out from a grave to grasp that Pazuzu trinket (which hasn’t exactly protected anyone).
It features a measure of continental weirdness, like the presence of Esmeralda Barros as ‘the zombie’, the Countess’s jealous lesbian minion, and a more lingering bathing-in-blood sequence than you’d find in Countess Dracula (with added trippy effects). A sequence of multiple virgin sacrifice repeats the image of blood spurting on naked breasts as if the filmmakers had been told it was a BBFC no-no and therefore assumed it must be sexy/provocative (after the second or third bottle of tomato sauce is dribbled on tits it gets a bit dull, actually). Directed by Luigi Batzella (as Paolo Solvay) and produced by Ralph Zucker (who also co-wrote the ‘original story’ ‘The Brides of Countess Dracula’ with Ian Danby). It also has zoom-happy, overfond-of-facial-close-ups-from-below-the-chin cinematography by Aristide Massacesi/Joe D’Amato (billed here as Michael Holloway), a strange euro-lounge score by Vasily Kojucharov, and a lot of melodramatic glowering.