Monday, August 24, 2020

Vampires in Italian Cinema, 1956-1975 – review

Author: Michael Guarneri

First published: 2020

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Demonstrates how and why the transnational figure of the vampire was appropriated by Italian genre filmmakers between 1956 and 1975

Actively engages in the ongoing academic debate about the cultural legitimacy of Italian genre cinema

Covers unpublished film production data (from the Archivio Centrale dello Stato in Rome), original screenplays (from the Biblioteca Luigi Chiarini in Rome), cinematic paratexts and vampire-themed paraliterature (from libraries all over Italy) Outlines the 1945-1985 historical and industrial context of Italian cinema

Positioning itself at the intersection of Italian film history, horror studies and cultural studies, this fascinating book asks why, and how, was the protean, transnational and transmedial figure of the vampire appropriated by Italian cinema practitioners between 1956 and 1975? The book outlines both the 1945-85 industrial context of Italian cinema and the political, economic and sociocultural context of the Italian Republic, from post-war reconstruction to the austerity of the mid-1970s. Using case studies of films by directors such as Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda, it also delves into lesser-known gems of Italian psychotronic cinema from the 1960s and 1970s, like L'amante del vampiro (The Vampire and the Ballerina) and Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel Trecento . . . (The Reincarnation of Isabel).

With original research into hitherto unpublished film production data, censorship data, original screenplays, trade papers, film magazines and vampire-themed paraliterature, the book strongly argues for the cultural legitimacy of Italian film genres like horror, adventure, comedy and erotica, whose study has so far been neglected in favour of the Italian auteur cinema of the 1940s neorealists and their later followers.

The Review: The Italian vampire films count amongst their number some of the great vampire films, looking particularly to Bava’s Black Sunday and Black Sabbath, and so the concept of this monograph, which concentrates on the films during, what might be termed, the Golden Age of Italian cinema was rather exciting to me. It didn’t disappoint.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a vampire reference work without some controversy on the exclusions and inclusions. So I was befuddled with the choice to leave out Fangs of the Living Dead on the basis that, on the domestic release, the vampirism was reduced to a vampire hoax (they are still vampires in the international release) and the Last Man on Earth. However the author did, at least, set out why they were missed – though the reasoning could have been used equally on covered films Ercole contro Moloch and Rome Against Rome, neither of which are vampire films (in my opinion) and the latter of which will be subject to a ‘Vamp or Not?’ article at a later date.

Controversial picks aside, this was most definitely a welcome book. The author guides us through the unique State input into the film industry and the surrounding socio-political positioning and, using this, guides us through the films chosen so that their inception and content and more readily understood. This included the strong grip of Catholicism, the heritage of the fascist period, the breakdown of traditional class positions and the impact of industrialisation/capitalism. There was plenty I was unaware of and it gave a rounded picture of the productions and, in the case of a film like Il cav. Costante Nicosia demoniaco, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza offered context for some of the humour in the film that may have otherwise been lost on a non-Italian viewer (though much still has not aged well).

I was probably most taken by the look at Hanno Cambiato Faccia, a favourite of mine anyway, the author’s exploration added to the film further. I was also glad to discover some films that I hadn’t come across before, particularly Short Night of Glass Dolls.The first Appendix was a nice touch, offering synopsis of three vampire films that had their scripts submitted but were never made.

This did everything I would seek in a reference work; it educated (and cited source, importantly), it enhanced, it caused inner debate and it led to new areas for me to look into. Being an academic tome, it is pricey. However, it is also a necessary book for the shelves of the connoisseur of Italian vampire films. 8 out of 10.

In Hardback @ Amazon US

In Hardback @ Amazon UK


Mike said...

Dear Taliesin, I am the author of the book in question. I would like to thank you for reading my book so carefully and for reviewing it on your blog. I am happy that you enjoyed my book and I am honoured that a vampire expert like you judged it to be a useful resource. Thank you for your remarks about the inclusion/exclusions in the corpus, hopefully we can generate a wider debate about the boundaries of vampire cinema (you are doing a great job with your "Vamp or not?" articles).

I would like to let your readers know that from the UK (and most countries in Western Europe, I think) they can order the hardback edition from Edinburgh University Press's website with a 30% discount by using the code NEW30 (this code works all over the world for the ebook version).

All the very best!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mike, thank you - both for the book and the comment. Hopefully people will be picking this up (I understand that with academic books the author has no control over the price and they are, invariably, expensive) and many thanks for adding the code to the comment ­čśŐ

Later today I'll be putting a review of another film your book prompted me to read (though it wasn't included in those you covered, you mentioned it within the pages), Caltiki.

Best to you too.

Mike said...

Looking forward to read your thoughts on "Caltiki". The film clearly is a derivative work made on a shoestring budget, but it is fast and action-packed, highly entertaining, with a few virtuoso shots.

Thanks again for your review of my book.