Sunday, November 14, 2010

Uncle was a Vampire – review

Director: Steno

Release date: 1959

Contains spoilers

Oh dear, just a year after performing in the magnificent Horror of Dracula, Christopher Lee then reprises the vampire in this Italian spoof known domestically as Tempi duri per I Vampiri.

Now the caveat… I say oh dear, but the version I have watched is the dubbed English language version (with Lee himself dubbed as the Italian’s filmed without sound) that is cut by 13 minutes, rather than the Italian domestic version. Thus I might be doing the actual film some injustice with the review – but I am convinced it will be only the smallest injustice.

posting the vampire
The film begins with a horse-drawn hearse leaving a castle. At the train station a big steamer trunk is being sent freight and the man sending it insists that they take care with it and, as the contents are sensitive to sunlight, it isn’t opened. He speaks to the occupant, for it does contain the Baron Roderico Da Frankurten (Christopher Lee), and says that his nephew and the Italian castle do seem to be the last hope. With his job done the servant kills himself off-screen.

Kai Fischer as Lellina
Said nephew is the Baron Osvaldo Lambertenghi (Renato Rascel) and he stands at a balcony watching his young, pretty gardener Lellina (Kai Fischer) before being summoned into a room full of men in suits. It quickly becomes clear that most of the men represent a hotel chain, who are buying his castle for 80 Million Lire. Also present is the tax man, whom he owes 80 Million to. By the end of the scene he has no castle and no money – but the new owners of the castle offer him a job.

meeting Uncle
The job is as a bell-hop and Osvaldo’s fall from grace is complete, or so he thinks, until Lellina comes over and says that the hotel Director has told her that she is fired – despite her family tending the gardens for generations. She also has a letter for Osvaldo – it is from his uncle, whom he assumes is rich, he’ll be there at mignight and his steamer trunk has arrived. Round midnight a German professor (Franco Scandurra) turns up, tired and wanting a room and mistaken by Osvaldo as his uncle. You’d think the professor would turn out to be a vampire hunter but actually he is just a tired professor whom Osvaldo keeps bugging, later, to translate some German text. Uncle doesn’t show and Osvaldo returns to his room – it is there that he finally meets his uncle.

fear the coat-hanger
Roderico asks about the crypt, but it has been turned into a bar, and says he is thirsty. He ends up prowling the castle whilst Osvaldo finds uncle’s coffin and journal, realising that he is a vampire. He goes to the professor, wakes him and asks him to translate the text. At this point he discovers that vampires fear the cross, garlic, the cock crow and they must be staked. We see the efficiency of cross shapes when a coat-hanger vaguely shaped like a cross causes Roderico to fall from a window ledge and land unconscious in the grounds.

missed opportunity
When the cock crows he awakens and heads into the castle, but Osvaldo can’t find him. Eventually Osvaldo realises that he must have taken up residence in the crypt, inside a secret panelled sarcophagus that is used as the bar. Osvaldo goes to try and stake him, finds himself interrupted and eventually misses his opportunity. Uncle knows he knows.

all the victims love him
Here we get a load of new lore, very much crow-barred in so as to work within the film's own logic. Roderico bites his nephew – passing the curse on and, as Osvaldo becomes a vampire, the 400 year old Roderico becomes mortal and goes off to die. Osvaldo bites most of the women in the castle – except for Lellina, whose rooms he protected with garlic – and the next morning they are all in love with him.

the classic Lee look
As a living vampire, he only becomes a vampire at midnight and a mortal by day, with no memory of his actions. However, the 42 victims all leave their husbands/boyfriends as they love only him – so we get a sequence of bedroom farce (with no bedrooms) involving multiple characters. The final new piece of lore is that true love will cure him and, when cured, the curse will pass back to Roderico – resurrecting him.

I struggled through this, and the humour didn’t hit the mark for me I’m afraid. Lee’s role was little more than an extended cameo and all in all I was underwhelmed. 3 out of 10. The imdb page is here.



Zahir Blue said...

I remember enjoying this, but then that might have been my mood at the time.

Elgart said...

Christopher Lee is amazing. One of the greatest actors who is absolutely successful in playing the vampire role.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

chris lee is amazing - this film, unfortunately, not so