Monday, May 01, 2006

Vamp or Not? Atom Age Vampire

Released in 1960, “Atom Age Vampire” begins with an argument between Pierre (Sergio Fantoni) and Jeanette (Susanne Loret). He is leaving her because she won’t give up her job – never fully explained but I presumed a club singer, though other people have suggested a stripper. Upset, she drives away and crashes, the car bursting into flames. The accident leaves her horribly disfigured on one side of her face. She wishes to kill herself but is persuaded to go secretly to Professor Alberto Levin (Alberto Lupo) by his assistant Monique (Franca Parisi Strahl).

Levin has been working on a way to cure physical disfigurement, primarily to save the victims of Hiroshima. He developed an agent called Derma 25 which produces horrible disfigurement on the skin and has gone on to produce, from it, Derma 28 – this should repair disfigurement but has not been tested on humans. Monique injects herself with Derma 25 and Levin wants to give her radiation treatment, she convinces him to give her Derma 28 and it removes the disfigurement.

They give Jeanette five treatments with Derma 28, to no avail, and then it begins to work, her face returning to how it was before the crash. Levin falls in love with Jeanette, much to the chagrin of Monique, but then the treatment begins to revert. Unfortunately Derma 28 takes months to produce and he can't wait that long, so he realises that he must transplant the gland that naturally produces Derma 28 into Jeanette from another woman and murders Monique for the gland. Unfortunately the treatment, again, does not hold.

He ends up injecting himself with Derma 25, transforming into a hideous beast, in order to murder women to treat Jeanette and then reverting back to normal with radiation treatment. At the same time Jeanette, who does not love Levin, wishes to escape from him and Pierre searches for his missing love.

The film is a mad scientist movie, with more than a touch of Jekyll and Hyde about it, but is it a vampire movie? After all it appears on many a vampire filmography list and has the name vampire in the title.

The film itself is a bit of a mess, the original Italian release was 105 minutes long, but the US release was cut down to 87 minutes and the dubbing is awful. There is so much melodrama in the English voice-overs it almost drips with it. The film is also, unfortunately, fairly boring with little atmospheric build up. But that’s not what we are looking at.

The search for youth is a bit of a vampire sub-genre. Treatments with blood played a role in Nightmare Castle (1965) and bathing in blood to regain youth is the theme of “Countess Dracula” (1970). However key here is the element of blood, but that said many vampire stories have the vampire hungering for substance other than blood. Another element of those other films was the recipient of the treatment knew what they were doing – Jeanette is unaware of the murders in this and would probably be horrified at the thought that women were dying to provide her beauty.

There is mention of vampires in the movie. The police are hunting for a killer known as Seddok – something which killed during the film and that Levin uses as cover for his own monstrous attacks. The police inspector (Ivo Garrani) asks Levin if the killer could be someone arrived on a recent ship from Japan who has been disfigured in the Hiroshima blast, a “vampire of the atomic age” who murders because he wants to recover from his injuries. Levin dismisses the theory as melodramatic – ironic given the melodrama I’ve mentioned that drips from the movie.

The strongest vampire motif is in the opening credits when we see an animated bat that turns into the V from vampire in the title - not a good reason to call this a vampire movie. I can see why this film ends up on vampire lists, but I do not think the elements are strong enough to class this as a vampire movie, personally. Had the treatment involved blood and had Jeanette been complicit in the treatment I might have been tempted otherwise. This film is public domain, however, so you can download it and check for yourself via The Archive. A word of warning, however, that I couldn’t get the download of the large Mpeg 2 file to work - it would crash about 800 megs in, even with a download manager, so I’d aim for a smaller file.

The imdb page for the film is here.

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