Friday, August 25, 2006

The Vampire Happening – review

DVDDirected by: Freddie Francis

Release Date: 1971

Contains spoilers

This film had the aim, it seems, not to scare but to amuse and to titillate. After all how many serious vampire movies are going to feature a cuckoo clock with a skull in it (okay there probably are serious films with that) and a heroine who doesn’t believe in vampires yet drives a car with the number plate “VM-1PR”? As for the titillation, well the heroine spends an awful amount of time either wearing very slinky dresses or in various states of undress.

The film begins with said heroine, Betty Williams (Pia Degermark), arriving at a castle. She is an American actress and the castle has been left to her by her uncle.

The butler, Josef (Ivor Murillo), is shocked at her arrival as she is the very image of Clarimonde Catani, Betty’s Great Grandmother who is also played by Degermark. The main difference between the two is that Clarimonde was brunette and Betty is blonde. Clarimonde was somewhat of a scarlet woman in her time and then was found dead, naked with two teeth marks on her neck. The official explanation was that she was killed by a rabid fox, but many believe she was killed by a vampire.

Martin as a vampireBetty decides to seduce a local monk, Martin (Joachim Kemmer), and when she meets him she is wearing a brunette wig. She invites him to the castle but before he arrives opens up Clarimonde’s locked coffin, in which Clarimonde is perfectly preserved. Martin becomes the vampire’s first victim – official cause of death bitten by a rabid fox (incidentally I mentioned the brunette wig as this explains why Martin believed the brunette vampire was Betty).

The rest of the film is a series of mistaken identity between the vampire and her great granddaughter, both wearing different coloured wigs, with a mighty large slice of bedroom farce involving school teacher Larsen (Thomas Hunter) who has become Betty’s lover.

We also have comedy moments with Josef trying to slay the vampire, in a performance that comes across as a sub-Professor Abronsius from “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967) and a brief vampire rising and hunting comedy moment with Martin.

The trouble is, the comedy just isn’t funny. As an example, in a line that the Carry On producers would have rejected, Betty asks Larsen “What if I turned out to be a vampire?” Larsen grabs her and quips “Then I’d drive my stake into you, you little devil.”

quite a classy bite shotThe vampire rules are fairly standard. Stake through the heart and sunlight are deadly. A silver cross or garlic repels. Throwing into a deep lake is also a solution.

At one point Josef hunts Clarimonde whilst wearing the helmet from a suit of armour, thus affording neck protection. Clarimonde still tries, and fails, to bite the butler. I also noticed that Clarimonde had extensive fillings in her teeth, during a close up bite shot, and found the idea somewhat anachronistic.

The film takes a turn to the bizarre when Betty goes to a party at a nearby castle, with Clarimonde hitching a ride in the boot as the party is a convention for vampires. This entire portion of the film is another rip-off of “The Fearless Vampire Killers” with Larsen and Josef disguising themselves to infiltrate and rescue Betty.

the vampire's helicopterI say it is bizarre as it features the guest of honour, Dracula, who arrives by helicopter, piloted by a vampire gangster, that has a bat emblazoned on the side. Dracula, whose motto is “death to the living”, was Clarimonde’s lover and questions her about her having the worst kind of sex, “Human sex.” Clarimonde simply states that it is better than bloodsucking.

In order that they might save Betty, Josef is instructed by Larsen to put the main castle clock back. Thus the vampires will get caught out by the sun. It is actually Clarimonde who rescues her Great Granddaughter, because she is family. In another case of mistaken identity the men think that Betty has been vampirised and, rather than stake her, they ship her (or should I say Clairmonde) home to LA.

It is here that the film ends, having raised nary a titter. The film is bizarre but very unfunny and I’m only going to give it 2 out of 10. However, you can find out for yourself as the Count Gore De Vol introduced version is available for free download from the archive.

The imdb page is here.

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