After the better-known El Saga de los Draculas (The Dracula Saga, 1971) and La Orgia Nocturna de los Vampiros (The Vampires Night Orgy, 1972), then-prolific Argentine-born Spanish director Leon Klimovsky made one more vampire effort, El Extraño Amor de los Vampiros (aka The Strange Love of the Vampires, La Noche de los Vampiros and Night of the Walking Dead). So obscure it doesn’t quite make it into many reference books except as a phantom alternate title for La Orgia, El Extraño Amor continues Klimovsky’s recycling efforts, poaching wholesale from sources classic (‘Carmilla’, Dracula, Vampyr) and modern (The Kiss of the Vampire, Dance of the Vampires, Jonathan) while offering an Iberian take on the imaginary Mittel Europa of the traditional vampire film. More interesting and ambiguous than his pulpy Paul Naschy vehicles (La noche de Walpurgis/Shadow of the Werewolf, 1970, El doctor Jekyll y el hombre lobo/Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf, 1971, La Rebelión de las muertas/Vengeance of the Zombies, 1972), Klimovsky’s vampire films are also slower and somehow less endearing.
The credit sequence fails to establish Victorian atmosphere with fuzzy guitar chords and solarised images of snarling vampires. We are introduced to terminally ill heroine, Catherine (Emma Cohen), whose sister Mariam (Amparo Climente) has just died of suspicious anemia. Fright-haired vampire women lurk in the local graveyard but the sceptical doctor (Lorenzo Robledo) has no patience with Mariam’s stern, superstitious father (Manuel Pereiro) who wants to make sure his daughter stays dead with a traditional staking and is annoyed when her grave proves empty. Above the village is an abandoned castle, where legend has it Count Rudolph von Winberg was turned into a vampire by the daughter of a passing nobleman (Dracula?) he allowed to spend the night.
New-made vampire Mariam tries to get back into her home a la I tre volti della paura, but is repulsed by a cross scratched into a window pane by a diamond ring. Count Rudolph (Carlos Ballesteros), distinguished and grey-haired, shows up after a bogus carriage accident (an incident from ‘Carmilla’) and persuades Catherine to let him stay at her family home. The vampire makes the usual table conversation about blood and wine (his lusts stirred by a cut on the girl’s hand, which prompts a return of the electric guitar chords to the light classical score). The Count does the expected bedroom-creeping only to hold back from biting Catherine as much from a sudden sympathy as repulsion from her crucifix necklace, and disappears mysteriously before dawn.
Fascinated by the well-mannered vampire, who isn’t totally corrupted by his condition, the gloomy Catherine is drawn to the ruins of the castle. Eventually, she accepts an invitation to a celebration of the one night every ten years when vampires rise en masse. Arriving at the castle, Catherine is pounced upon a la Jonathan Harker by three vampirettes, one of whom is her sister, only to be saved not by the Count but his traditional hunchbacked minion. A Plague of the Zombies-style mass rising from graves leads to fanged zombies lurching about and the wholesale kidnap of peasants to serve as party favours at a celebration modelled on the ones in Kiss of the Vampire and Dance of the Vampires. In its corruption and torture of unwilling guests, the set-piece also vaguely prefigures the goings-on of Salo.
Glimpsed during the blow-out are snarling, bloodthirsty vampire monks (a touch of enthusiastic anticlericalism), dowagers, musicians, lotharios, ghouls and vixens, all in rotted finery. When her dull (and unfiathful) clod of a boyfriend is siezed by the bloodsuckers, Catherine refuses to speak up for him, and he gets hung upside-down and killed by the laughing throng. The Count takes Catherine into a Kubrickian all-white room and persuades her that vampires are a persecuted minority given a hard time by puritanical busybodies, whereupon she takes off her cross and lets him get her topless for a kiss; she wakes up the next day and checks her neck in the mirror, only to find she hasn’t been bitten.
In the corpse-strewn aftermath of the vampire orgy, the father, the doctor (now less sceptical) and a pedlar who has travelled the world (and thus picked up useful vampire-destroying tricks) lead a familiar ‘let’s tear down the castle’ mob to raid the graveyard. This Romero-style brigade of repressive thugs (‘we must rid ourselves of this abomination forever’) burn bodies and employ the distinctive method of vampire-killing favoured here, driving big iron nails through foreheads (a gruesome effect accomplished apparently with realistic wax masks). However, at sunset, delivering the anti-authoritarian kick typical of horror films c. 1974, Miriam kills her bullying, intolerant father.
Meanwhile, Catherine (in a bit from The Vampire Lovers) distracts (with nude advances) and kills the butler (Rafael Herrnandez) who was supposed to protect her from her lover. The Count comes to Catherine again, intent on making her his immortal bride; she is just about to let him fang her when – in a genuinely surprising if contrived twist — she dies of her original illness, prompting the heartbroken Count to sit on a rock and wait for sunrise as a piano theme swells. Like the equally suicidal Blacula, he is destroyed by daylight, disappearing a tad comically inside his cape.
Besides Klimovsky’s vampire romanticism, the film has other familiar Spanish horror traits: very large fake fangs, chunkily nude peasant maids, high-flown dialogue mangled in the dubbing, plenty of slow zooms, mixed classical and rock themes. In trying to redress the balance of good and evil in standard vampire pictures, it tips over into the sentimental, with kitschy primary school halloween décor (silver paper stars, balloons) and a vampire hero whose big-heartedness verges on the weedy. As in many Hammer Films, society is divided into lusty servants (feckless, funny, sympathetic), sexless bourgeois patriarchs (oppressive, humourless, deadening), and romantic, emotional aristocrats (loving, liberating, melancholy). A slight shift of sympathy away from the bourgeois ostensibly valorised by Hammer towards the obviously glamorous aristos picks up what was already implicit in the likes of The Brides of Dracula or Vampire Circus. I’ve only seen this in dreadful transfers – I suspect a decent release would elevate its reputation.