Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Vampire and the Ballerina – review

Directed by: Renato Polselli

First Released: 1960

Contains spoilers

This was one of the earlier Italian vampire flicks and certainly was early in its mixing of sexploitation and the gothic artform. In this case the sexploitation took the form of several dance numbers where leotard and fishnet wearing ladies gyrated in a ballet/jazz fusion… and no bad thing I say.

Things, however, begin with farmers and the farm girl Brigitte goes out to get some water. Of course it is dark and spooky. At the ford, as she gathers her water. She hears the dogs beginning to bark at something. Scared, she heads through the woods, we see a shadow and then a cloaked figure following her. She is grabbed and she screams.

The menfolk go looking for her and discover her passed out on the forest floor. They take her to the nearest domicile, owned by the Professor (Pier Ugo Gragnani) and the doctor is called for. The doctor doesn’t think much of the vampire rumour, nor does the professor, but the farmers maintain that she is the third attack that year – interestingly they all took place on a full moon. The professor’s house guests seem very interested however, they are a ballet troop.

We meet at this point Louisa (Hélène Rémy) and her beau Giorgio (Gino Turini). She teases another dancer, Francesca (Tina Gloriani) with regards her feeling for a certain Luca (Isarco Ravaioli). The next day the dancers get the Professor to tell them stories about vampires. He says that many years before there were ‘unholy men’ who were punished by an angel and doomed to eat flesh and drink blood. They were impervious to all except the stake, the cross and sunlight. Those who were bitten would be consumed as though the monster was a drug for them and, when dead, they would become a vampire.

Its fairly standard lore – bar the angel aspect. Following the tale we get some ballet/jazz fusion dancing… just to keep us titillated and then Luca arrives at the house. He has asked the troop to the house and the Professor is his uncle. In her home Brigitte seems weak as she lies in her bed but, when all leave she obviously anticipates the arrival of the vampire.

The next day the troop and Luca go for a picnic. Luca gets Francesca alone and asks her to marry him. She runs off with Louisa in order that she might tell her friend the news. The rest of the troop see a funeral go past. Cutting to the funeral we see the coffin has a window plate at the head and that it contains Brigitte. As it is carried her eyes open and one cannot help but think of the similar scene in Vampyr. When the coffin is lowered her eyes close again until they flicker back open just in time for us to see the Earth fall upon the window from her perspective. Perhaps the scene isn’t as powerful as it should be, nor as surrealistically fantastic as the scene from the earlier film, but it is still an excellent scene and unexpected when you first view it.

It looks as though it might rain so Luca goes to find the two girls. Despite his pathfinding they become lost and end up at the abandoned castle known as the Castle of the Damned. Okay if it has a name like that don’t go in to shelter… oh they did… Okay if the abandoned castle turns out not to be abandoned then… oh what the heck, you know the script. It is occupied, in this case by the Countess Ogda (María Luisa Rolando) and her servant Herman (Walter Brandi). Yes they are vampires and yes our foolhardy shelter seekers are in big trouble.

The first to be got is Louisa. She has a quick snoop whilst the Countess and Herman are off somewhere. She is grabbed by a hideous something and carried off. The hideous thing – who happens to be Herman, I’ll explain why in a second – bites her and suddenly her demeanour changes and she seems excited. When she gets back to the others she is acting a mite strange. As the three leave Ogda tells Luca that she wants to see him again, alone.

Now a couple of interesting things happen from here on in and the first involves a coach that passes by the three and heads to the cemetery. It is driven by Herman and he is looking for Brigitte. Her coffin is disinterred and empty and she stands there all fangs. Herman makes her promises of eternal life together and asks her to get back in the coffin. She does so and he stakes her. Herman is not going to litter the countryside with vampires it seems and is more than a little paranoid about losing his power base.

Which leads us to our second neat little aspect. Ogda was a countess in life but in undeath Herman is in charge, it seems, and she begs Luca to save her from him. She does not feed from mortal man, however, but from Herman. He feeds and becomes young, she feeds and turns him into the hideous creature. At this point she can’t stand him and though he dominates her it appears that he wants to please her (in a disturbed and controlling way). It is a fascinating dynamic that could have borne further scrutiny.

So that leaves us with poor old Francesca. The Professor doesn’t listen to superstition. Luca’s acting oddly (as he really fancies the bossomy Countess) and Louisa is acting like a deranged skank whore and not like the friend she was a few days before. Just as well that Francesca has taken to wearing her crucifix or she might become as lost as her friends…

The film does what it does quite well. The story is fairly obvious but there are nice unusual moments, like the symbiotic love/hate relationship between the two vampires. It is not the most gothic example of Italian Gothic cinema but it carries a nice atmosphere that keeps your interest. Just as you think that interest might be waning the film throws in a ballet/jazz fusion number to pique your interest (or it piqued mine at least, nothing like a bossomy girl gyrating her hips to get the old pique in a twist!)

The photography is rather nice. The acting… well most of the ballet troop were not picked because they were world beating actresses, I’m sure, and the dubbing doesn’t help us dissect the primaries' acting abilities too much. Without being disrespectful to María Luisa Rolando, the role of Ogda was made for Barbara Steele and thus it feels a shame that she is not in that role.

All in all this is interesting and thus skirts above average. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

Years and years ago I saw this film (still have it on VHS somewhere) and was mighty impressed. There is something wonderfully gothic and intriguing about good Italian vampire flicks. This one included. For one thing, they don't stint on combining the erotic with the evil. Although frankly feeling like a European Horror version of Beach Blanket Bingo in some ways, methinks this movie works very well indeed.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Zahir, good to hear from you.

I'd say the score I gave it was fair but, all told, I was quite taken by the film... As I mentioned, it was begging for Barbara SSteele to be in it though!

House of Karnstein said...

Director Polselli was one strange cat indeed. Don't miss his other sixties Italian b&w horror Vampire of the Opera, which features head vampire with a pitchfork torturing
ladies in a kind of vampiric Hell. Overall, it's a touch better than the Vampire and the Ballerina, imo.
I'm also a sucker for these old Italian vampers. :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Yes, Vampire of the Opera is one I'm keeping my eye out for. :)