A West German-Yugoslav co-production, Akos von Ratony’s Der Fluch der grunen Augen–the first German vampire movie since Nosferatu, eine Symphonie das Grauens (1922)?–was shot in 1964 and picked up for English-language release by British producer Richard Gordon. The film went out in the US on a double bill with Antonio Bocacci’s Metempsychose (Tomb of Torture), but seems not to have turned up in the United Kingdom for half a decade (it was reviewed in the Monthly Film Bulletin in January 1970, the same month as the third German vampire movie, Harald Reinl’s Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel/The Blood Demon). Though it carries over personnel and some tics from contemporary German Edgar Wallace-derived krimis, the film is influenced equally by traditional Expressionism and the cheaper end of Italian gotico, more Piero Regnoli than Mario Bava.
It opens krimi style with stolid Interpol sleuth Inspector Frank Doren (Adrian Hoven) ogling leggy bar girls while sleazy jazz (by Herbert Jarczyk) plays. Doren is summoned by his deskbound boss to investigate a string of suspicious deaths in a remote community near some picturesque caves, and sets off alone to investigate, discovering that the local authorities are ill-served by a doctor (Carl Mohner) who refuses to diagnose anything but heart failure when confronted with a young woman drained of blood and sporting two puncture marks on her neck and a couple of bumbling comedy constables. More useful information comes from a truculent inn-keeper who mentions that the tourist trade is off because of the murders and ‘nanny’ (Vida Juvan), a pancake-made-up hag who reads palms and witters on at length about the local vampire population and the strange limits of the curse upon them (they can be about their bloody business only after the stroke of midnight and for an hour less a minute).
The local castle is home to the mysterious (and obviously guilty) blood specialist Professor Adelsberg (Wolfgang Preiss, the Mabuse of the 60s), his assistant Karin (Karin Field) and his black butler John (John Kitzmiller, ‘Quarrel’ of DR NO). Maria (Erika Remberg), the dark-haired maid at the inn, is vampirised by a shadowy, long-nailed figure in a scene that seems very explicitly modelled after the finale of Nosferatu, and disappears from her coffin. After a good deal of back-and-forth between the inn, the castle and the caves, Doren is convinced vampires are at work and Karin learns that her boss is the chief bloodsucker when he doesn’t reflect in her hand-mirror (which, in a quote from Dracula, he breaks, ‘in this house, we don’t tolerate vanity’). Preiss’s vampire, who seems a supernatural being but is also a scientist researching blood, borrows a few more licks from Stoker, inviting Doren to stay at his castle (‘you’e the first real detective I’ve met’) where he is menaced in his sleep by the vampiric Maria and another vampire girl (a crucifix saves him and the creature’s screech doesn’t even wake him up). Maria is later found asleep or dead at the bottom of a well, but obstructive villagers prevent Doren sending a sample of her blood–which kills a snake the old woman drips some on–to be analysed. Some of the locals are as instinctively mistrustful of ‘that negro’ as the vampires and seem as often in cahoots with the vampires as in terror of them — sabotaging Doren’s car, starting fights at the wrong time. The torch-bearing mob refuse to enter the caves at night, which means Doren has to go in to rescue the imprisoned Karen by himself.
Though the film works overtime on atmosphere (black candles that flare at a breath from the vampire, passages behind paintings, coffins in caves, flaming torches, shots from the bottom of graves, caped shadows), it is sometimes maddeningly slow and prone to take time outs for long conversations: the supposedly actionful climax stops for a moment so the characters can ponder John’s employment prospects after his master has been staked through the heart. Nevertheless, familiar vampire scenes are given a few new wrinkles: Maria bites Karin in a graveyard, and she shows her new fangs to the town doctor, but Doren applies a potion mixed up by the hag and restores her humanity, though she doesn’t think to fix the torn blouse that gives a good view of her black bra for the rest of the film; a high-tech touch that also evokes Murnau is that Doren is equipped with an infra-red device to help him track the vampire through the dark caves, which is represented by a brief stretch of film negative; and the coup de grace has to be delivered with three mallet-blows to the stake, which gives the vampire a chance to turn into a skeleton in three stages and then explode in a puff of smoke and flame, spontaneously causing his only visible bride to drop dead.
Hrvoj Saric’s monochrome cinematography has a pleasantly rich, contrasty look — much of the film is set at night or in the caves, with stark white flames as light sources and deep shadows.