Created by writers Renzo Barbieri and Giuseppe Pederiali and artist Birago Balzano, Zora la Vampira first appeared in Italian comics in 1972; she was one of many sexy/horror characters who appeared in the wake of Barbarella and Vampirella – including Lucifera, Jacula, Sukia and Yra, distantly echoed by Marvel’s Lilith (Daughter of Dracula) and Satana (sister of the Son of Satan?) and DC’s Batman villain Nocturna. Originally drawn to look like Catherine Deneuve, that Zora was originally Zora Pabst, a 19th century noblewoman possessed by the soul of Dracula who has adventures around the world, throughout time and in outer space … but mostly posed pin-up style for the covers. Her original series ended in 1985, but there have been revivals.
In 2000, many years before their take on the much more highly-regarded Italian comic icon Diabolik, Marco and Antonio Manetti wrote and directed this extremely loose adaptation – it’s further from the source than the Halle Berry version of Catwoman is from any comics version of the character. It opens – rather like Blood for Dracula – with Count Dracula (Toni Bertorelli) tiring of Romanian blood and watching the juicy dancers on an Italian TV show, then insisting that his minion (Raffaele Vannoli) arrange that he be smuggled by truck to Ostia, where he stalks among Italian rappers, hip-hoppers, lowlifes, and junkies. This Zora (Micaela Ramazzotti) is a graffiti artist who specialises in writing her own name on walls but attracts his attention.
Though he spends most of the film in a traditional Lugosi-Lee Dracula outfit, with a particularly stiff collar, the Count gets a minor make-over to become a godfather-type gangster … then shows up for his wedding to Zora in gold robes that look like they come from a Sergio Paradjanov reboot of the Fu Manchu series. While Dracula has won over most of the counterculture types – including a revolutionary cell – the fun-hating cops run by Commissioner Lombardi (Carlo Verdone) and a stern priest (Ivo Garrani) shows up at the ceremony and machine-gun the couple at the altar, which means that Zora the Human dies and Dracula takes the grieving Blacula route by walking out into the sunshine to combust.
A particularly odd aspect of the film is that Zora only becomes a vampire at the very end – and even then we don’t see her come to life, show fangs, or indeed do anything very much. A few bits and pieces of Stoker are tipped in – one of the junkies eats flies like an incipient Renfield and Dracula creates three sexy vampire minions (one is Selen, who was in the 1994 Italian porn version of Dracula).
Bertorelli’s Dracula isn’t quite ridiculous enough to be a comic character but doesn’t register as a serious take either – and, even setting aside the fact that he’s a mediaeval monster and she’s a turn-of-the-millennium chick, the age mismatch between the romantic leads feels a bit cringemaking. It heavily features Italian hip-hop music and clothing fashions circa 2000, which are few audiences’ idea of a good time. At one point, Zora hallucinates that a banner of Che Guevara speaks to her.