Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Playgirls and the Vampire - review

DVDDirector: Piero Regnoli

Release Date: 1960*

Contains spoilers

Playgirls and the vampire is, from what I can gather, one of those films which you buy and take your chance on how heavily edited it is. The running times can vary from 66 minutes (the heavily cut US version) to 83 minutes. The running time on the Salvation Films release is 80 minutes.

The film has a flimsy storyline, which we will look at shortly, coupled with some camp acting. However it does have the occasionally excellent visual, though those are few and far between. The main reason for watching the movie, however, is due to the fact that it is one of the earliest vampire sexploitation movies. Given its release date it is astounding just how much lingerie is on view, not to mention a striptease (down to bra and panties) and a (very brief) boob shot. Somehow, however, I find difficulty in seeing why the DVD still carries an 18 certificate in the UK, and perhaps the certificate has more to do with the extras than the film.

Gothic openingThe opening shot of the film is one of those visuals I mentioned. Lingering for a moment upon a window in a dungeon, the camera pans around until we see a beautifully carved sarcophagus. The lid shifts and a hand feels its way out. It is an iconic scene, unfortunately rarely repeated.

The story, such as it is, is that a bus with a travelling striptease troupe, made up of Vera (Lyla Rocco), Katia (Maria Giovannini) and three others, plus their manager, Lucas (Alfredo Rizzo) and driver/piano player Frank, is travelling down the road having skipped out on a hotel without paying. The road is blocked by a landslide and so, despite warnings, they follow another road to a castle.

The gate is locked but Vera seems to know how to open it and they walk up to the castle door to ask for hospitality. They are warned away by the strange groundskeeper (Antoine Nicos) whom we later discover is called Zoltan. This is interesting as the name would be later used as the name of Dracula’s dog in the film “Dracula’s Dog” (1978). The dour housekeeper (Tilde Damiani) tells them that hospitality is not given but allows them entry as the final decision is not hers.

In the entrance hall Vera, who is acting very strangely, walks over to a cigarette box and gets a smoke, Lucas wondering how she knew they were there. The Count Kernassy (Walter Brandi) enters and tells them that they cannot stay and then, on spotting Vera, changes his mind but tells them that they must follow the “regulations”. These consist of, once retiring to bed, not leaving their rooms (no matter what they hear) and not wandering the castle at night.

Katia does not heed the advice and, after borrowing Vera’s coat, goes looking for a shower. On her travels she sees something, unseen to us, which causes her to scream and flee. The next day she is found dead outside the castle, the assumption is that she fell from a window. Overnight bad weather has knocked the bridge out and thus they troupe cannot leave, nor can the authorities be informed of her death so she is buried in the grounds.

Vera finds a portrait of Margherita Kernassy, who looks very much like her, and the Count informs her that the reason he let them stay was the likeness. He tells her that he always felt that she would come to the castle but that she must leave. Something to note here is that the dubbed dialogue clearly states that Margherita died in 1785, but the date of death below the portrait is clearly 1782!

That night Vera walks through the grounds to discover that Katia’s corpse has been dug up, leaving an empty grave. She sees the Count but he backs away from her.

experimenting on the undeadThe next day she tries to find the Count and finds a laboratory and, on a slab, Katia’s corpse. The Count calms her hysteria and tells her that he is researching a cure for an evil that causes blood drinking to maintain life (he doesn’t mention the word vampire) and tells her that Katia died because she was wearing Vera’s coat. He then asks her to help him, though that help mainly consists of trusting him and staying silent about what she has seen, and she agrees as he is obviously sincere!

ooh, what big fangs you haveNight falls and Lucas is in bed, having finished reading his girly magazine! The door opens and the naked Katia walks into his room, she bears fangs and he passes out. The others run to his room and shake him awake, it is not clear whether Katia actually attacked him or not.

Later Vera sees her door handle being turned and, despite being told by the Count on numerous occasions not to leave her room or even open her door (even if she hears his voice) she goes and investigates. She opens up a secret passage and is faced with the Count, who bears fangs and bites her. She awakens with the Housekeeper next to her mopping her brow. It is explained that she has been with her all night as she has been feverish. The others are out for a walk.

However, when Vera checks herself in the mirror she sees the puncture wounds in her neck and so she quickly packs. As she tries to leave she walks straight into the vampire. However the Count walks in and they fight. It is clear now (though to be honest it had been clear for awhile) that the vampire is an identical ancestor of the mortal Count. We also discover that Margherita was the vampire’s wife. The Count is knocked out and Vera is picked up by the vampire. Katia challenges him but is instructed to take care of the Count.

stakedThe vampire takes Vera to the dungeon and puts her in his wife’s sarcophagus but Katia appears and tells him that he doesn’t need her as she is not his wife and she has replaced his wife. She tries to kill Vera but the vampire attacks her and, taking a burning torch, stakes her. The Count enters the room and fights with the vampire. He pulls a curtain and sunlight enters the room driving the vampire back, who then accidentally impales himself.

animated agingThe death scene of the vampire has to be specifically mentioned as he rapidly ages and then vanishes but this is all done through drawn stills.

The ending sees everyone now being nice (Zoltan actually gives Vera flowers) and Vera getting on the bus to a voice-over of the Count explaining that he has affairs to settle and then he’ll sell the castle and go find her.

As you can tell the storyline is thin, the characterisation appalling and to make things worse the acting is poor, Brandi is so wooden that he was in danger of being felled and shipped off to a furniture factory! The idea that he was looking for a cure for his ancestor was interesting but not really explored and the aging sequence as the vampire died was jut plain laughable.

This film is worthwhile watching as a historical curio and for its camp appeal, but for very few other reasons. 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here. *Note imdb list this film as 1962 but the DVD clearly states 1960.


Charles said...

Here's a link to a screenplay for a full length feature film that happens to have some vampires in it. However, it's actually more about taking control of our own lives.
"Unless men learn to master themselves, they will always be at the mercy of others."
Taking the Cure is available HERE.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks for that Charles, I'll be sure to have a look