The White Reindeer/Valkoinen peura (1952)

The White Reindeer (1952)‘Some graveyard soil…the balls of ten bull moose…’

A free-spirited young woman marries a reindeer herder in their small, Lapland village. Frustrated and lonely due to his long absences from home, she goes to the local wise man, hoping that he can concoct a love potion that will make her irresistible to all men. However, the ceremony also awakens her own supernatural powers…

Unique and striking horror fable from Finland that combines elements of shape-shifting, vampirism and witchcraft into a highly unusual brew. Shot on location in Lapland, it was the first Finnish film to be shown at the Cannes film festival, winning a Special Jury Prize and belatedly picked up a Golden Globe award in 1956 for Best Foreign Film.

Wilful young orphan Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen) marries reindeer herder Aslak (Kalervo Nissilä) after a short courtship and settles down to married life in their remote Lapland village. Unfortunately, his work with the animals means long episodes of separation, and it’s pretty clear she’s not satisfied with him anyway, exchanging flirtatious glances with another man while he’s still at home. When he leaves on another expedition, she’s straight off to the local wise man Tsalkku-Nilla (Arvo Lehesmaa), asking for a love potion that will attract other men like bees to a honey pot. Lehman is happy to oblige but, during the spell-casting, he realises that Kuosmanen is a witch herself.

The White Reindeer (1952)


Undaunted by this revelation, Kuosmanen sets out to follow the wise man’s instructions; which involves killing the first living thing that she meets on the way home. This turns out to be the white fawn that Nissilä gave her as a present when they were newlyweds. But, no matter, she takes it with her to the ‘stone god’, a pillar of black rock crowned with a reindeer’s skull and makes the sacrifice. The spell is successful, but it turns her into a supernatural creature. Seemingly unchanged, she returns to the village to resume her everyday life but now she can shape-shift at will into a white reindeer. The fabulous animal lures men from their campsites into the snowy wastes, where she changes form again, this time into a vampire to finish off her prey.

This is probably the only film based around the beliefs of the Sámi people, often referred to as Laplanders in the English-speaking world, although some find this term offensive. They live in the Northern regions of the Scandinavian countries and the Kola Penisula, which is a part of Russia. The film opens with a prologue; a young mother (played by Kuosmanen, again) being found in the snow with a young baby. One old belief is that a vampire is a soul that reincarnates in a newborn when the original body dies young or violently. Spiritual significance is also given to unusual land formations, known as sieidis, which are often used as places of sacrifice. This finds realisation in the film as the ‘stone god’ which is surrounded by antlers, sticking out of the snow like small, broken trees.

The White Reindeer (1952)

 

 

 

Director Blomberg and star Kuosmanen were married at the time and wrote the film together. Aarne Tarkas was initially slated to direct, but cinematographer Blomberg replaced him. Whatever the reason for that, it proved to be a wise decision. Blomberg was primarily a documentary filmmaker and his approach to the everyday scenes of life in the village ground the film’s more fantastical elements in concrete reality. It’s even possible that some shots were taken from his previous short ‘With The Reindeer’ (1947). His matter of fact approach also scores with the settings, allowing the camera to linger on long takes of the bleak, snowy wastes, beautiful yet barren, almost like timeless postcards from another world.

Much of the film is dialogue-free, and there was probably no facility to record synchronised sound in certain locations as some of the action is accompanied only by the haunting score of Einar Englund. Rather than be a drawback, however, this emphasises a dream-like quality, which sits in stark contrast to the more realistic scenes of village life. Blomberg also tips his hat to FW Murnau with a shot of Kuosmanen’s shadow moving across her cabin floor. Framed by window bars in the shape of a cross, it brings back memories of Max Schreck’s dark form ascending the stairs in the final scenes of ‘Nosferatu’ (1922).

The White Reindeer (1952)

 


The film does have a few flaws, though, some probably caused by practical difficulties. The most notable is that Kuosmanen’s reindeer lures her victims repeatedly to the same location. Also, some moments of action are delivered via a quick cut to their consequences, so we don’t see what happened, just the aftermath. Kuosmanen’s transformations to the reindeer are also rendered similarly, although the absence of SFX is probably a good thing. Blomberg’s film is going for the subtle, rather than the explicit. Run time is only 68 minutes, which makes for a refreshingly lean presentation but a little effort to create significant supporting characters would have been nice.

But the success of an enterprise like this falls mainly on the shoulders of the leading actor. After all, she is rarely off-screen. This is Pirita’s story, from first to last. Thankfully, Kuosmanen is terrific, delivering a powerhouse performance as she deteriorates from a joyful, exuberant woman into a haunted, almost fragile, wraith, but one still driven by her overwhelming physical appetites. The correlation of sex and vampirism is an old as Bram Stoker’s original novel, and it had lost none of its potency in the half-century in between, Kuosmanen expertly suggesting the frustrations and needs that drive her character and decision making.

A very unusual setting, combined with some stunning visuals and an excellent central performance make this one well worth seeking out.

Blood of The Virgins/Sangre de vírgenes (1967)

Blood of The Virgins/Sangre de vírgenes (1967)‘It’s supposed to be empty, but people see things.’

A beautiful young woman marries the man favoured by her parents, even though she is in love with a mysterious stranger. On her wedding night, the lover reveals himself to be a vampire and attacks the newlyweds. Many years later, a stranded group of tourists take shelter in the remote lodge where it all took place…

Want to see an Argentinian vampire movie? Well, here’s your chance. Buenos Aires-born writer-director Emilio Vieyra gives us his take on the undead two years before he delivered the naughty horror/science-fiction shenanigans of the ‘The Curious Dr Humpp’ (1969). Does he bring anything new, or notable, to the lore or cinematic history of bloodsucking fiends from the grave? Not really, no. Unless you count the seagull.

Beautiful blonde Ofelia (Susana Beltrán) is happily in love with older man, Gustavo (Walter Kliche). However, he refuses to meet her parents and they are keen for her to marry a man they have chosen. She reluctantly complies, but married life gets off to a shaky start when Kliche arrives uninvited in the bedroom on the crucial night, bringing his living dead vibe and pointy teeth. I guess no amount of guidance counselling is going to sort that one out.

Blood of The Virgins/Sangre de vírgenes (1967)

‘It’s a stone cold groove, man.’

Fast forward an unspecified number of years, and we’re straight into a seven-minute montage of some bright young things fooling about at a ski resort. It looks more like some kind of tourist board advert than the introduction of the main protagonists in a feature film. There’s no dialogue or synchronised sound, just groovy music and some very questionable camera angles, and the sequence seems to go on forever. The couples snog, drink, fool around on the slopes and drink some more at a party where one of the girls takes her top off. No judgement here, but aren’t ‘Virgins’ mentioned in the film’s title? It hardly seems as if these young ladies are following an abstemious lifestyle!

In fact, there’s not even any signposting that these are going to be our main characters. None of them is even referred to by name until about half an hour of the movie has passed! And that’s only when the girls go missing, and the guys are calling for them. In that spirit, I believe that their nerdy tour guide is played by Orestes Trucco because the IMDb lists him in the film’s credits as ‘Man of group with beard’. All told, it’s not exactly a textbook way to set up your principals and engage audience sympathy for their plight. None of them has any recognisable character traits or back story either. There’s the handsome one, Raul (Rolo Puente), his girlfriend Laura (Gloria Prat), and then there are their friends who might just as well be designated as ‘generic vampire fodder.’

Blood of The Virgins/Sangre de vírgenes (1967)

‘I’m sorry, dear, I appear to have missed your neck again…’

Trucco’s silly tour guide is present to provide some vague comedy relief (he trips over a couple of times), so it’s no surprise when the group’s van runs out of petrol in the ass-end of nowhere. Of course, it’s the middle of the night, the wolves are howling, the weather’s a bit iffy, and the only nearby shelter is the abandoned old lodge where ‘people see things.’ Arriving there, they find food and drink apparently prepared by the zombie-like servant who no-one sees but Puente. After everyone is drugged, Kliche drops by for a midnight snack, but Puente has wandered off. He runs into Beltrán which provides the director with ample excuse to give us a lengthy sex scene starring her naked breasts. When Puente wakes the next morning, the girls are missing and all a search turns up is one of Prat’s shoes.

Heading to town to report the matter to Comisario Martinez (played by director Vieyra), they get stuck behind another car, which turns out to be driven by the strange servant with Kliche appearing briefly in the back seat. Where is he supposed to be going? I have absolutely no idea. Maybe he likes going out for a drive in the morning? I don’t mind that all this takes place in the daytime; the notion that vampires are destroyed by sunlight is almost entirely a modern one, traditional folklore suggesting mostly that the undead appeared by night because that was their preference. Other mythical creatures were said to be affected by the light, however, so it’s not hard to see how this became a common trope in our modern take on the legend. In the context of this film, though, the sequence is entirely pointless.

Blood of The Virgins/Sangre de vírgenes (1967)

🎵 Me and my shadow…🎶

There are some other puzzling aspects to the development of the story as well. At one stage, Puente is called to police headquarters because they have detained someone as a suspect in the disappearance of the girls. When he gets there, he finds the station surrounded by an angry mob. There has been no indication that the case is even public knowledge, let alone that it has inspired a crowd to seek vigilante justice. The rabble-rousers beat the suspect to within an inch of his life (I thought he’d been detained?), but it doesn’t matter because we never find out who he is and he never appears in the film again. When Prat suddenly turns up at Puente’s door (I guess she escaped?), she’s put straight to bed, and he calls a doctor. Kliche turns up instead, impersonating a medical man, and gives her an injection of something or other. Why he does this is a complete mystery.

It’s also a curious choice to introduce a new major character with barely half an hour of the film remaining. Tito (Ricardo Bauleo) is Prat’s brother and, despite being only in his early twenties, I assumed that he was going to bring some special skills or knowledge to the table, but no, he’s just a regular dude. Why the climactic scenes feature him as Kliche’s main antagonist, instead of Puente who we might reasonably have come to regard as the film’s hero, is just another in a long line of questions that will probably never be answered. The most obvious of these is: what’s with the seagull? The constant cutting to scarlet-tinted shots of a seabird in flight is a bit of a head-scratcher. Ok, I get that the colour represents blood, but what has a seagull got to do with it? If anything, shouldn’t it be a bat? Perhaps vampire mythology in Argentina is a little different from everywhere else in the world.

Blood of The Virgins/Sangre de vírgenes (1967)

‘That is the last time I’m sleeping in the wet patch.’

Technically, the film is serviceable enough, but the viewer is left with a distinct impression that little attention was paid to either plot or script. There is no back story to the vampire, who is cut from the familiar Lugosi cloth but inhabits a film more reminiscent of Hammer’s take on the genre (with added breasts). The film runs less than 80 minutes, so there may be an extended, more coherent version out there somewhere, but it’s just as possible this was a quick cash-in where the focus was more on what edgy scenes could be put in the trailer than creating a polished final product.

A very minor slice of international horror that ticks all the usual boxes in all the usual ways while feeling severely undeveloped and more than a little rushed.

El Mundo De Los Vampiros/The World of the Vampires (1961)

El Mundo De Los Vampiros/The World of the Vampires (1961)‘The circle formed by your wives will soon see you reach the cabalistic figure.’

A vampire lord and his disciples snare a young couple on a lonely road. He turns the woman, planning to use her in his vendetta against the descendants of the man who originally killed him…

For many decades, international horror cinema was fixated on the image of the vampire as a handsome, dinner jacketed matinee idol, the legacy of Bela Lugosi’s unforgettable performance as ‘Dracula’ (1931). Plots also tended to follow the Stoker template, with the two beautiful women menaced by the vampire next door and the menfolk hunkering down to protect them. Although this Mexican effort from director Alfonso Corona Blake starts in a different vein, it’s not long before it reverts to type.

Anna (Yolanda Margain) and her husband (Carlos Nieto) find their quiet midnight drive interrupted by the sudden appearance of Count Siergo Subotai (Guillermo Murray) in the middle of the road. Even honking the horn doesn’t just shift him and, after being attacked by the usual rubber bats on strings, the couple finds themselves at the mercy of the Count and his undead legions in his underground lair. He bites Margain, so she is ‘equipped with the eyes of the spirit’ and ‘can see through time and space’. This way she can spy on the activities of the present-day members of the Colman family, the ancestor of whom was the ‘Magus of Transylvania’. He knew the ‘secrets of the alchemists and the language of the stars’ and was responsible for Murray’s death. What are his descendants doing? Why they’re having a few friends round for cocktails, of course.

El Mundo De Los Vampiros/The World of the Vampires (1961)

🎵 Goodbye Norma Jean…🎶

The targeted family are patriarch Senor Colman (José Baviera) and his two beautiful daughters, Leonor (Erna Martha Bauman) and Mirta (Silvia Fournier). Bauman is the ‘one who laughs’ and Fournier is ‘the one who is sad’. In other words, Bauman is the flighty party animal, and Fournier is the innocent good girl. We’ve no real evidence of Bauman’s sins; just a glint in her eye and a twist of her lips, but, hell, that’s enough to condemn her, isn’t it? It’s the hoary old cliche of ‘the madonna and the whore’ held over from Stoker’s original, and very Victorian, novel. So, it’s no surprise when Murray targets Bauman first, and she’s more than willing to entertain his advances. Meanwhile, Margain never appears in the film again, but husband Nieto remains chained to a post in the cave, turning slowly into a werewolf. I think.

It’s shortly after this setup that we discover that Murray is actually a recognised member of local society. He can just pop along to Baviera’s house party if he wants to because he has an invite. So why he needed Margain to check out the situation with her newly acquired psychic abilities first is a complete mystery. His frequent praying to the unseen ‘Astaroth’ is also a bit of a puzzler. Apparently, the recruitment of the last of the Colman family into the ranks of the living dead will afford this unseen demon some kind of transcendence. This will enable Murray to ‘open the door’ and bring about the end of humanity. How and why? It’s never explained.

El Mundo De Los Vampiros/The World of the Vampires (1961)

‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn what you think.’

Now, we’ve already seen Murray go all ‘Lon Chaney’ on a bones and skull pipe organ back in his lair, so it’s no surprise when he’s drawn to Baviera’s party by the piano stylings of guest, and old family friend, Rodolfo Sabre (Mauricio Garcés). Rather conveniently, this cut-price Clark Gable lookalike knows his old, Transylvanian folk tunes, including ones that the peasants believe can summon the dead. This device proves to be the film’s equivalent of Edward Van Sloan catching Lugosi with the mirror in ‘Dracula’ (1931) as Murray is not a fan of this little ditty. Haters gotta hate, I suppose. However, this proves to be the film’s most interesting idea. There didn’t seem any obvious point earlier to Murray’s frenzied keyboard solo when his minions rose from their tombs, but we come to realise that this is how they are controlled: through music. This fresh concept isn’t exploited to any great length, but it does inform the unusual, if not particularly well-executed, climax.

Indeed, this is quite a mixed bag in terms of quality. Garcés finds he needs to start shaving his hands the morning after he is bitten by Bauman while asleep, bringing to mind the ongoing transformation of the imprisoned Nietes in the cave. This mash-up of vampire and werewolf lore is a little confusing and completely underdeveloped. It could have been a nod to the relationship between Lugosi and lycanthrope Matt Willis in ‘Return of the Vampire’ (1943). What it does do is endow Garcés with heightened perceptions and, in a quiet and highly effective moment later in the film, he hears a spider walking. Director Blake also manages some excellent and creepy shot compositions, and the interiors of Murray’s ruined house are well realised. Although he really needs to hire some domestic help. He also has a pit of spikes like the one favoured by Francis Lederer in ‘The Return of Dracula’ (1958) which is a nice feature to include the brochure if he ever thinks of selling up and moving back to the old country.

El Mundo De Los Vampiros/The World of the Vampires (1961)

‘Please, Miss, can I go to the toilet?’

Unfortunately, there’s a lot to stack against the film’s better elements. For a start, there’s Murray. He is adequate as the vampire Count most of the time, but there’s more than one moment where he chews the scenery rather than remaining controlled. The somewhat exaggerated costume doesn’t assist with the character’s credibility either. Similarly, his legions of the undead are desperately unconvincing; extras draped in bedsheets and wearing masks that wouldn’t look out of place at a children’s Halloween party. But the ladies can take some essential makeup and lifestyle tips away with them afterwards if nothing else. Being turned into a vampire gives you an instantaneous new hairdo, plumps those lashes and makes you a real killer in the boudoir.

There’s also a hilariously corny exchange during the party scene where one unnamed woman confides to another that Murray is that nobleman who lives nearby; you know, ‘in the ruined house next to the cemetery’. The SFX are all of the basic stop/start the camera variety, but there is an amazing shot where we see Bauman’s tiny head on the top of a rubber bat. Yes, it’s completely ridiculous, but it’s oddly disturbing too!

El Mundo De Los Vampiros/The World of the Vampires (1961)

‘He might live in a house by the cemetery, but I saw him first!’

Director Blake took this experience with the undead into ‘Santo vs. the Vampire Women’ (1962) and tag-teamed with the great man again on ‘Santo In The Wax Museum’ (1963). Fournier had her own bout with the ‘Man in the Silver Mask’ in ‘Santo vs. the Villain of the Ring’ (1968) but it’s Bauman who has the more interesting subsequent credits. She played Countess Eugenia Frankenhausen in ‘El vampiro sangriento’ (1962) and Brunhilda Frankenhausen in ‘The Invasion of the Vampires’ (1964). She was also the President of Venus in ‘Los astronautas’ (1964). Much later on, she had an uncredited bit in the semi-porno ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978) starring John Carradine.

There is little to make this stand out from the legion of Lugosi ‘Dracula’ imitators that haunted the big screen in the decades after he first came down the stairs at Castle Dracula. However, there are a few moments of note and a couple of interesting ideas that make it worth checking out if you’re a denizen of the dark, international byways of vintage horror cinema.

The Return of Dracula/The Fantastic Disappearing Man (1958)

The Return of Dracula (1958)‘The flesh is only an illusion. The heart beats only when it is drunk with blood.’

Fleeing from vampire hunters, Count Dracula crosses the ocean to the United States, taking the identity of an exiled painter. ingratiating himself with the murdered man’s relatives, he begins planning a new reign of terror, but his pursuers are not far behind…

There’s little doubt that this modest b-picture from United Artists was rushed into theatres after Britain’s Hammer Studios hit box office gold with their new version of ‘Dracula’ (1958) a few months earlier. After all, this was the first time an American studio had revisited the character since John Carradine turned to dust in ‘House of Dracula’ (1945), the last of Universal’s Classic Monster Cycle. If you ignore the time he tangled with Abbott and Costello, of course!

Here the Count turns up in the person of Prague-born actor Francis Lederer, who vanishes from his cemetery crib somewhere in Europe just before our wannabe Van Helsing (John Wengraf) turns up with his stake, a cross and the forces of law and order. A quick spot of ‘light lunch’ on the train, and our toothsome hero is appearing out of thin air at a train station in small town USA. He’s met by Greta Granstedt and her family, who believe him to be her cousin Bellac Gordal. They haven’t seen him in many years (which is handy) and he’s also had the foresight not to label any of his luggage as belonging to ‘Count Alucard’ so his deception is a complete success!

The Return of Dracula (1958)

‘This will stop you biting your nails…’

What follows is a predictable series of developments from screenwriter Pat Fielder. Lederer shows more than a fatherly interest in daughter of the house Norma Eberhardt while blind brunette Virginia Vincent serves him as a quick appetiser. The complacent Granstedt accepts Lederer’s reclusive behaviour with indulgent smiles, while baking apple pie in her kitchen and gently scolding irritating young brat Jimmy Baird.

Of course Eberhardt gets her head turned by the tall, dark stranger and becomes increasingly frustrated with insensitive boyfriend Ray Stricklyn, who drives an open top jalopy and probably plays on the high school football team. Yes, all the clichés of 1950s American life are here but it’s noticeable how little they affect the story, which could just as easily be taking place in Victorian London or 19th Century Europe. Still, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time the Vampire King appeared in the modern day and it does avoid any clumsy attempts to ‘update’ the legend, such as demonstrated in Hammer’s unfortunate ‘Dracula A.D.1972’ (1972). The one concession the film does makes to its contemporary setting is to have two high school teenagers as the hero and heroine, but this sign of the genre’s future is not as groundbreaking as it might have been. Eberhardt was 29 at the time of shooting and Stricklyn was 30!

What we get instead is a fairly unambitious, minor project but not one without points of interest and some things to enjoy. For a start, there are the performances. Lederer is a very persuasive Count, oozing an oily, old world charm that softens the stateliness of Lugosi’s portrayal and the removed, noble bearing of Lee. Lederer is a vampire who has moved with the times, learnt how to blend in and hide in plain sight. Perhaps he’s a little too refined to be an impoverished artist, but his conduct and behaviour attract little suspicion at first. He’s likeable, if a little remote. Although only boasting a brief movie career, Eberhardt holds her own in their scenes together, which is crucial to maintain audience investment in her fate. The other players, particularly the suave Wengraf, also provide solid support.

The film’s other main virtue is the Hollywood hills. Although it seems unlikely as a venue for such a tale, the bleak landscapes and abandoned mine workings prove to be an unusual and engaging backdrop. Director Paul Landres also exhibits some nifty camera moves, and conjures a notable scene where we’re not sure if Eberhardt is dreaming of Dracula or getting bitten (and I’m still not entirely sure!) The SFX are small scale but efficient and it’s nice to see a vampire making a kill in the form of a large white dog, instead of as a plastic bat on a wobbly string. However, some of the ‘day for night’ shooting is a little unconvincing and we do briefly catch a glimpse of Lederer’s shadow on the ground.

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Smoking in bed was a dangerous habit…

The main flaw is the lack of originality and there are also some moments that strain credibility. Wengraf is an agent of the ‘European Police Authority’ (whatever that is!) and one flash of his badge seems to be sufficient to get everyone in authority believing in the undead almost without question.

Additionally, the family crypt containing Lederer’s new bride is surprisingly spacious and, by the looks of it, has a very efficient cleaning crew. Finally, Eberhardt finds all of Lederer’s canvases are blank when he’s supposed to have been out painting all day. Apart from one that shows her lying in her coffin! It doesn’t make any real sense and it’s a pretty cheap shot, but I guess it looked good in the trailer.

Overall this is only a rather modest and mildly diverting picture, but it is anchored by an excellent central performance and a decent supporting cast.

Cave of the Living Dead/Night of the Vampires/Der Fluch Der Grünen Augen (1964)

Cave of the Living Dead (1964)‘I’m working as secretary to the professor up at the castle.’

A police detective is sent to a remote town where half a dozen young women have met mysterious deaths over the previous six months. These events have all been accompanied by unexplained power cuts, and, as the detective reaches the edge of town, his car dies and all the lights go out…

There’s little joy to be had from this tedious and perfunctory black and white co-production between West Germany and Yugoslavia, unless you want to play a game of ‘count the cliché’. For a start we have ruggedly handsome, top detective Adrian Hoven, whose about to enjoy a well-earned holiday when he’s shanghaied into ‘one more case’ by his bad-tempered boss. Packed off ‘undercover’ to the town in question, he’s rescued from his automobile mishap by blonde hottie Karin Field, who has spent the last few weeks temping for Professor Wolfgang Preiss at the local castle (every town should have one). Most of her duties have involving catalogue his experiments with blood, so nothing suspicious there, then.

Taking a room at the local inn (which doesn’t seem to have a barroom or any customers), he’s woken by the local constabulary the next morning when Maria the maid (Erika Remberg) is found dead in the room next door. These policemen obviously aren’t too quick on the uptake; in fact, they are almost played as the comic relief, but that’s as half-hearted as the rest of this sorry enterprise. Misunderstandings are averted when Hoven reveals his true identity, thus rendering the whole ‘undercover’ business completely redundant within the first ten minutes of the film.

But onto the case! The local sawbones (Carl Mohner) reckons the death is ‘another case of heart failure’ and when Hoven points out the bloody bite marks on the girl’s neck, he dismisses them as ‘scratches.’ Not surprisingly, when the corpse disappears, everyone else tells Hoven that vampires are to blame and even where he can find them! So with half an hour gone, there’s no detecting left for him to do and the script has played all its cards.

Cave of the Living Dead (1964)

‘What do you mean it doesn’t look like bunny rabbit?’

From there, we get a trip to local witch Vida Juvan who has a charm that can turn a vampire back to human, Remberg takes a deep breath when she wakes up as a member of the undead, and more of those pesky power cuts which are never explained. We guess they’re supposed to be supernatural because even Hoven’s battery-powered torch fails when he gets to town!

There’s also a completely pointless subplot about Thomas the Deaf One (Emmerich Schrenk), a local thug who steals a infra-red device from Hoven’s car. Our hero gets it back after a fight, but it has no significant role to play in events anyway. The initial attack on Maria in her room actually has a couple of creepy and effective shots, until you notice the reflection of the vampire’s hands in the opening windows. Maybe the director was subverting the form? No, the chief vampire definitely casts no reflection later on…

The Italian horrors of the period may not have always had the tightest or most coherent of scripts, but they nearly always looked great and managed to conjure a genuinely unsettling atmosphere from gothic locations and interiors. Beyond a couple of impressive caves, this efforts manages little in that department either, being delivered in the flat, disinterested style of a director who seemingly couldn’t wait to get onto the next setup and then break for lunch. Even the climax of the film is dusted off in less than two minutes flat!

Hoven had moved behind the camera by the end of the decade, doing uncredited direction on cult hit ‘Mark of the Devil’ (1970) before taking full credit for semi-sequel ’Hexen Geschéindet Und Zu Tode Gequalt (1973).

This isn’t a terrible film by any means. It’s competently crafted and performed, even if the script is a little sloppy. But it’s hard to get invested in such an incredibly generic, undistinguished, run of the mill production.

Onna Kyùketsuki/The Woman Vampire/The Lady Vampire (1959)

Onna Kyùketsuki (1959)‘What’s this about castles and monsters?’

A young reporter is late for his fiancée’s birthday party when his cab seemingly hits a woman in the road, but there is no trace of her body afterwards. Later, the party is crashed by the long-lost wife of his prospective father-in-law. She disappeared 20 years earlier, but doesn’t look a day older than when she vanished…

The Far East isn’t exactly famous for its vampire mythology. Cinematic excursions have been few and far between; with the cute hopping undead in Hong Kong comedy horrors like ‘Mr. Vampire’ (1985) and Japan’s alien bloodsucker ‘Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell’ (1968). But that nation had already given us a touch of the Nosferatu with this production starring Shigeru Amachi as a wannabe Count Dracula. Typically, it doesn’t stray too far from the Bram Stoker template with our undead hero twirling a mean cape and holing up in his own castle in the mountains. And that verb is pretty accurate as the mighty edifice is completely underground!  This is convenient both for his repair and maintenance bills, and for the movie’s budget.

So what’s it all about then? Well, early on, we find out that Amachi kidnapped Yòko Mihara two decades before by drugging her with the cunning combination of a smelly flower and his landscape painting skills. lt’s all because she’s descended from his old squeeze, the Princess Katsu, who apparently came to grief at the hands of some rampaging hordes, whose very brief appearance obviously comes courtesy of another movie. This historical flashback mostly takes place on a darkened set dressed with a few odd items from the prop department. So when Mihara escapes, he’ll stop at a nothing to get her back.

Apart from the lack of budget (which isn’t too much of a problem at first), it’s the film’s somewhat nonsensical mythology that seems to be its main failing. Amachi is petrified of moonlight (rather than the sun!) but, instead of killing him, it triggers his transformation into a demented bloodsucker! Kind of like a werewolf really. But extended exposure to lunar rays turns him into an old man sporting some kind of white afro frightwig! Additionally, his reflection appears in mirrors, and he keeps his ex-wives as statues, each frozen in place by a gold crucifix, which doesn’t bother him at all! It’s a little confusing, to say the least.

Onna Kyùketsuki (1959)

🎵I’ve got chills down multiplyin’ and I’m losing control…’🎶

Certain aspects of the production are quite professional. Takoshi Wada makes for a likeable hero, Akira Nakamura does a good job as the old man who finds his young wife mysteriously restored to him, and Amachi is decent as the villain. However, the presence of his ‘familiars’ is probably a mistake; his dwarf assistant being so incompetent that he can’t even draw a pair of curtains properly. But there’s some good shot composition and camera movement, and proceedings aren’t burdened with any cheesy SFX.

The problems really come home to roost in the film’s concluding scenes. There’s been an early warning with an episode in a café, where the action is ineptly staged, and a split-second nip from Amachi’s fangs is enough to deliver instant death! But worse is to come. At the climax, we find out that he’s the worst movie swordsman of all time, as he and Wada lurch drunkenly around the set, trying desperately not to hurt each other. The paved floor moves beneath their feet in the way that stones don’t normally tend to do, and we can hear the echo of their footfalls on what sound suspiciously like a wooden stage. The resolution comes courtesy of an accident to a minor character, who only shows up in the film for the last 15 minutes! The whole sequence looks like nothing so much as an amateur stage production.

Director Nobuo Nakagawa was actually a veteran film director with a career in the Japanese industry stretching back over a quarter of a century to the early 1930s. He’d recently delivered a couple of well-regarded supernatural pictures, ‘The Ghost of Yotsuya’ (1959) and ‘The Ghost of Kasane’ (1957) both of which featured several of the same cast members appearing here. But he was extremely prolific, turning out an average of four pictures a year at this point, so perhaps it’s no great surprise that the quality of the projects was a little variable.

A picture that never really comes to life, thanks to a muddled screenplay, financial constraints and a desperately shoddy finish.

Thirst (1979)

Thirst (1979)‘An ancient evil is now a modern industry.’

A brotherhood of vampires kidnap a successful young businesswoman because she is the direct descendant of the notorious Countess Elizabeth Bathory. At first she refuses to embrace her deadly heritage, but they isolate her at their secret facility and try to persuade her otherwise…

Unusual Australian cocktail of blood sucking and science fiction that never really develops beyond its intriguing initial premise, which was quite original for the time. These vampires have adapted to the modern world, running an isolated ‘Blood Farm’ to ensure a constant supply via live donors, and testing the quality scientifically to ensure they only get the finest vintages. This cutting edge approach is combined with a suitable reverence for tradition, with organised rituals and an obsession with their unholy lineage. This last matter is actually a little bit of a problem here as the real life Elizabeth Bathory was most definitely not a vampire, despite Ingrid Pitt’s appearance as the character in the misleadingly titled ‘Countess Dracula’ (1970). Instead, she merely bathed in the blood of virgins in an effort to retain her youth. Which is obviously far more reasonable.

Although this isn’t an insurmountable problem, it does highlight the film’s main weakness: the script. The whole story revolves around the brotherhood’s efforts to turn Chantal Contouri to the dark side, but we never really find out why. There’s some references to ‘reuniting two great houses’ but that’s as far as it goes, and if the original intention was to bring Dracula into the mix, it never happens. So there seems little motivation behind events, and the underdeveloped characters are simply one note ciphers. These include British actor David Hemmings as the strangely sympathetic lead scientist and U.S. ‘rent a villain’ Henry Silva, who appeared memorably in mainstream hits like ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (1962) and ‘Oceans Eleven’ (1960). He was also pretty much a fixture on the cult movie circuit, thanks to films like ‘Alligator’ (1980), ‘Bronx Warriors’ (1983) and the disastrous ‘Megaforce’ (1982). There were also many TV roles in shows such as the original 1960s version of ‘The Outer Limits’, ‘Mission: Impossible’, ‘Buck Rogers In The 25th Century’ and ‘Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea’.

Thirst (1979)

Do you come here often?’

The film actually does have some good points, with the scenes of the ‘blood cows’ lining up to make their regular donations being particularly effective. There’s also a very good performance from Shirley Cameron as the sadistic head nurse who is determined to break Contouri’s resistance by any means necessary.

Unfortunately, events play out in a rather unconvincing manner, and there’s not much of a climax. Even with a couple of crude shocks and some bloody scenes, the whole thing has the feel of something made for television, rather than the big screen. There’s also a terrible stunt double in a helicopter sequence, which is so silly that it’s more comedic than horrifying.

After a long career in Australia, director Ron Hardy packed his bags for Hollywood in the 1990s where he ended up working extensively in television, helming episodes of ‘The X-Files’, ‘Supernatural’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ (the new incarnation) and ‘Doll House.’ He also brought us ‘Nick Fury: Agent of Shield’ (1988), the TV movie that featured David Hasselhoff as the title character, long behalf he joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the person of Samuel L Jackson.

A passable horror with a few interesting ideas, but with characters that lack depth and a story that’s never fully developed.

Crypt of The Vampire (La Cripta e L’incubo) (1964)

Crypt of The Vampire (1964)‘A hundred years, two hundred, three hundred…what are they? A blink of eternity’s eyelid.’

200 years ago, a member of the aristocratic Karnstein family was executed for practising witchcraft, cursing the family as she died. Now, relatives are being murdered and Count Karnstein is afraid that his daughter has been possessed by the witch. However, it look more like the work of a vampire…

An impressive skill with European languages led Hammer star Christopher Lee to numerous horror projects on the continent in the 1960s. Here, he plays the worried Count, calling in drippy historian Friedrich Klauss to research the family curse and find the witch’s portrait. The picture will prove once and for all whether his high-strung daughter (Adriana Ambesi) has blood on her hands or not.

Unfortunately, instead of keeping his mind on the job, Klauss becomes romantically interested in Ambesi. It’s not just a bad move because she might be a killer, but because she’s obviously far more interested in stranger Pier Anna Quaglia, who is suddenly dumped on their doorstep by her mother after a coach accident. There’s also naughty goings on in the master bedchamber as Lee is fooling around with his young blonde housekeeper, and, if that’s not enough to be going along with, there’s a sinister beggar, and a servant practising strange rites in the cellar.

Crypt of The Vampire (1964)

‘He complained about the lack of free wi-fi…’

Potentially, this is an interesting mix, especially as  the story owes a lot to J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s literary classic ‘Carmilla’ (1872). That tale reached the screen rather more famously a few years later as ‘The Vampire Lovers’ (1970); one of Hammer studio’s best films. This production isn’t in the same league, however. The main issue is a draggy middle section, and the lack of any sense of style imbued by director Camillo Mastrocinque.

It’s good that Lee is not as peripheral to the drama as in some of his films around the time, but he’s still off-screen too long. He does get to loop his own dialogue though, something that didn’t always happen on similar projects of the period, leading to some disappointing voice work by other actors.

Another plus point is the impressive castle interiors and surrounding landscapes, a common asset of European horror in general. The mystery isn’t without interest as well, and the lingering glances between our pretty young heroines suggests there is rather more going on behind Ambesi’s bedroom door than just a pillow fight and a chat about boys. Klauss just doesn’t get it though, persisting in his lame attempts at asking her out for a curry and a night at the pictures. The hints of lesbian activity are actually quite overt for the time, and perfectly justifiable as one of the pieces of the puzzle that the film presents to the audience. When the resolution arrives courtesy of screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, it’s not the best you’ll ever see but it neatly sidesteps the most predictable outcomes.

Certainly not the best vampire mystery of the time, but a creditable enough effort.

Drakula lstanbul’da/Dracula In lstanbul (1953)

Drakula_Istanbul'da_(1953)‘I read your book on vampires. I think Miss Sadan is a sucker.’

A young lawyer travels to Transylvania to close a business deal with the mysterious aristocrat, Count Dracula, only to find that the local villagers live in fear of him and shun his castle. Later on, after spending a few days enjoying the not so nobleman’s form of hospitality, he finds out why…

Fairly stately and faithful adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic, which offers little new and delivers it on a fairly limited budget. The most obvious shortcoming of this lack of finance is that we see nothing of the Count’s trip from the Carpathians to lstanbul (bravely standing in for Whitby), we only hear of a shipwreck and the mysterious deaths of the crew. Similarly, set dressing is rather minimal, which works fine for the early castle scenes, of course, but is somewhat less effective later on.

The only real departure plot-wise from the novel concerns the heroine, played by Annie Ball. She has a few other credits and there’s no biographical information to suggest otherwise, but obviously her name could have been anglicised in anticipation of a possible release overseas. Here, she is a dancer at a local theatre, engaging in some pretty tame ‘follies’ rather brilliantly sponsored by ‘Minerva Sewing Machinery’! In fact, the Count likes her performances so much that he demands a private show, although this does tend to make him look like a dirty old lech rather than the king of the vampires.

The Count also gets a strange servant in the castle scenes; a weird looking man with bushy facial hair and a huge nose, although exactly who he is supposed to be remains unclear. He’s standing in for Renfield of course but, as he doesn’t make it out of Transylvania, his presence seems rather pointless. The one definite nod to the novel is that the Count (in the person of Atif Kaptan) is a much older man than usual, with white hair (what’s left of it).

Drakula_Istanbul'da_(1953)

The dentist had already left town…

Elsewhere the film has as much in common with F.W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’ (1922) as it does the all-conquering version starring Bela Lugosi as ’Dracula’ (1931). The vamp is interrupted mid-bite by a cock crow, the lid of his coffin replaces itself while he rests inside and a few shots of the lawyer’s approach to the castle are partly shown in negative – all elements of the earlier German classic.

But, despite their mutual – and completely blatant – disregard for copyright law (Stoker doesn’t even appear in the credits here!), there’s no record of this version falling into the same kind of legal swamp that threatened to destroy ‘Nosferatu’ (1922).

Unfortunately, what it has in common with the 1931 version is the theatrical staging and a very laboured pace, not assisted by the 102 minute running time. Kaptan makes very little impression in the title role, the SFX techniques are pretty basic (Dracula’s fangs aren’t even straight!) and the ending is a total anti-climax. The print that I saw also had some rather dodgy English subtitles which leant an unfortunate comedic aspect to proceedings: ‘Doctors are suspicious of brain shivering’,’Therefore, write three emails now and get prepared’, and, referring to the Van Helsing character, ‘He is the best shriek in Turkey and Western Europe’!

A curiosity then, with neither enough money nor talent involved to overcome a suffocating lack of originality. Probably the story behind the making of the film is far more interesting than the film itself.

The Slaughter of The Vampires / Curse of the Blood Ghouls (1962)

The Slaughter of the Vampires (1962)‘He wanted her blood… then he wanted her body.’

A count and his young wife throw a lavish party for all their friends to celebrate the renovation of the medieval castle that is their brand new home. What the estate agent neglected to mention is that there’s a vampire sleeping in their wine cellar and he’s about to wake up.

Despite the title(s), this is an old school Dracula tale with a single, romantic bloodsucker threatening the luminous Graziella Granata while her real life husband Walter Brandi remains perfectly oblivious.

This is an impressively mounted Italian horror with atmospheric black and white photography, resolutely gothic architecture and an overblown soundtrack with appropriately thundering classical piano. Unfortunately, what this riff on Stoker doesn’t have is any ideas of its own. If the author was still around, he might have considered some kind of legal action. There’s little blood and proceedings remain stately and restrained throughout.

The Slaughter of the Vampires (1962)

The vampire had spent far too long in the wine cellar.

The real weakness here is Dieter Eppler’s vampire. It’s not the actor’s fault; although he does lack the necessary magnetism, his performance is derailed by some silly ‘white face’ makeup that makes him look ridiculous, rather than sinister. Story development is predictable and things never get all that exciting. What remains are the wonderful sets, the gothic trappings and the lovely Miss Granata, who exudes beauty and charisma.

The only aspect of the story that is any way memorable comes when it transpires that the gardener’s six year old daughter has the talent of a concert pianist. But that may have had something to do with the English dubbing!