In 1989, Lamberto Bava made four mild-mannered horror films for Italian television under the rubric Brivido Giallo. They hit the video rental markets around the world with come-on packaging hailing them as the work of the man who made the Demons films and, in some cases, blatantly misleading titles … Per Sempre became Changeling 2 and La Casa dell’Orco was one of several films tagged Demons 3 (Demons 3: The Ogre, actually). The series opened and closed with efforts in which groups of young people are penned up overnight with a ghost train ride’s worth of clutching monsters – Una Notte nel Cimitero (Graveyard Disturbance) and this vampire movie. At the time, fans were bitterly disappointed with the milquetoast elements but noted the odd imaginative monster design and unusual (if barely-developed) script idea. Somehow, I saw the first three movies when they were first around but it’s taken me until 2021 to bother with A Cena con el Vampiro, which isn’t significantly better or worse than the rest of the run.
In a prologue that takes place before World War One – not that anything on screen suggests period – a group of filmmakers break into a hidden crypt (with lights and cameras). As tends to happen, someone cuts their hand and drips blood onto a desiccated, cloaked skeleton which reforms (via a briefly-seen, rather neat claymation trick) into a Nosferatu-look vampire (George Hilton) who weirdly refuses to brush the cobwebs off his face and clothes for what seems like years. Then, in the 1980s, in an unidentified country, four young hopefuls – singer Rita (Patrizia Pellegrino), actress Sasha (Valeria Milillo), dancer Monica (Yvonne Scio) and stand-up comedian Johnny (Riccardo Rossi) – attend a cattle call audition and are selected to spend a night at the castle of horror filmmaker Jurek, where they have to watch an old movie featuring the vampire from the prologue (it’s a major plot point that the projector screws up before the reel in which it’s explained how he can be killed) before either having or being dinner at midnight.
Jurek (Hilton again), a suave guy in Dracula duds, claims to be four thousand years old and weary of eternal life, so he wants to be killed before dawn by these dolts – though the last crew who failed are stuck in the dungeon with a load of barely-glimpsed ghouls. The screenplay by Baca and Dardano Sacchetti – from a story by another Italian horror veteran Luciano Martino – has one ingenious notion, that much commonly-accepted vampire lore was put out there by Jurek movies – he’s written and directed a couple of Dracula films – as deliberate misinformation. Crosses and garlic don’t affect him and a stake through the heart just makes him puke green bile, though he drops a heavy hint (about Dorian Gray) that sets up the finale but doesn’t really square with his ancient Mesopotamian backstory (I suspect this is a vague nod to Anne Rice, along with the title).
The big problem is tone. This has some grue (Jurek telekinetically rips out the heart of an errant minion) and brief nudity but there’s no final girl because none of the quartet of main characters dies, suggesting it might have been conceived as a broader comedy or rewritten to suit TV standards. Or maybe it still is a comedy, but just not funny enough to get away with it. Gilles (Daniele Aldrovandi), the vampire’s minion, is a lookalike for Igor in Young Frankenstein, and someone refers to him as ‘Marty Feldman’ in case anyone missed the reference. Gilles drags his leg about muttering schtick (dubbed by Nick Alexander, who does a Feldman impersonation) and Johnny keeps up with obnoxious wisecracks even after the supposed horror has started. Many elements would be too broad even for something like Vamp – Jurek is at one point seen off in a bit lifted from Dance of the Vampires only here it’s a VHS cassette stuck in his maw rather than a book … and the climax hinges on a turncoat vampire (Isabel Russinova) being so frightened by a rubber spider that she knocks something over and starts a chain reaction that (temporarily?) destroys the vampire. That Jurek would have got away with it if it weren’t for Johnny the Asshole bringing a joke shop creepy-crawly to dinner.
How many times have you seen this one? The villain is killed – with another flash of animation – and the characters run outside only to run into a blandly smiling normal guy who happens to look exactly like the baddie then run off screaming as Hilton more or less winks at the camera. Hilton, remembered for a run of callous characters in gialli (often the husband trying to drive the wife mad), has a good vampire look but is about on a par with David Niven as a Dracula stand-in. At least the castle is impressive – with an actual location (Sammezzano, near Florence, seen also in Tale of Tales) for the upper chambers (gorgeously decorated) and recycled sets from Graveyard Disturbance as crypts and dungeons.