Cinema/TV, Dracula, Film Notes

Your Daily Dracula – Walter Brandi as Count Kernassy, L’ultima preda del vampiro/The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960)

Your Daily Dracula – Walter Brandi as Count Kernassy, L’ultima preda del vampiro/The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960)

‘I want you to know that I’ve had enough of these strange mysteries.’

You have to admire the pitch of writer-director Piero Regnoli’s cheesecake gothic – bad weather (a wind machine) and an offscreen bridge-wrecking flood mean that a busload of exotic dancers ignore the don’t-go-to-the-castle warnings of a few Eastern European loiterers and impose on the hospitality of Count Gabor Kernassy (Brandi), a melancholy aristo in a loud dressing gown who is castlebound because it’s his duty to make sure his lookalike vampire ancestor (also Brandi) doesn’t cause too much trouble.  Which, of course, he does – prompting ancestor and descendant to scrap over who cops off with Vera (Lyla Rocco).  The Lucy role goes to Katia (Maria Giovannini), who is bitten and buried, then resurrects as a tastefully nude vampire vixen – until she’s staked and gore runs in black and white down her bare legs in a transgressive bit that pushes the boundaries of taste.

Its plot kernel, of responsibilities to the monstrous ancestor, might derive from William Cameron Menzies, in which Richard Carlson has to stick around his Scots castle being gloomy because one of his relatives is a long-lived mutant frog.  The premise might have been pitched as a nudie movie – this came along a few months after the very similar L’amante del vampiro and more models would fetch up in castles in the likes of Il Boia Scarlatto and Il mostro dell’opera – and the 79 minute running time still manages to include several shimmy sequences set up by lines like ‘Hey Lucas, look at that table — I wonder if they’d let me do my high-kick specialty on it’ and ‘Vera, we have to rehearse the samba.’  The dubbed track is full of howlers like this … ‘I don’t understand why we have to stay in our rooms all night.  What kind of strange and mysterious character is this Count anyway?’ … ‘Her story is a very sad one. Her life was unhappy, as was her death.’  … ‘Why did she have to disobey orders and wander through the castle like that?’ … ‘He didn’t have the courage to pierce the heart of a member of his own family even if he wasn’t human.’

The vampire stuff is all third-hand, notionally inspired by Hammer but looking back to Universal.  It’s perhaps a twist that the weird servants – housekeeper Miss Balasz (Tilde Damiani) and groundsman Zoltan (Antonio Nicos) – turn out to be benevolent, devoted to the good Kernassy rather than the wicked one.  Brandi, who alternated playing heroes and horrors in a run of Italian gothics, gets to do both here, but the film is oddly timid in its use of the twin gambit – where’s the scene where the vampire Count poses as his harmless descendant to get close to a victim … or tries to evade a stake-wielding mob by letting his human relative fall into the clutches of vampire hunters?  Indeed, it seems fairly feeble of the villain to bite only one of the showgirls when there are five in the film.  Its thinner and less gothic than comparable films by Renato Polselli (L’amante del vampiro) and Roberto Mauri (La strage dei vampiri).  But somehow it’s rather sweet.


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