Friday, August 28, 2020

Vamp or Not? Rome Against Rome

This Giuseppe Vari directed film from 1964, titled domestically Roma Contro Roma but also titled War of the Zombies, came into view due to being mentioned in the Vampires in Italian Cinema, 1956-1975 (in which the analysis of the film’s socio-political messaging is worth reading). In it the film is said to have “a plot centred on political conspirators worshipping a vampire goddess.” Sounds pretty up our street and the Blackhorse Entertainment DVD blurb also says, “A zombified soldier rising from his coffin, Nosferatu style, is one of the macabre highlights.” The use of zombie might give us pause for thought, but mention of Nosferatu is always good. As this is a ‘Vamp or Not?’ you can tell that this isn’t so simple.

the crone

After starting with a raid on Roman legions, in order to steal a treasure, we see a crone leading a group of deformed peasants on to the battlefield to steal the Roman bodies. The film then turns to the Roman Senate, who are more concerned with the missing treasure, it seems. They decide against sending reinforcements and instead send a single centurion to investigate, his name – Gaius (Ettore Manni). He is warned about their worship of a Goddess – when we see her depicted, she is modelled as a cyclops.

John Drew Barrymore as Aderbad

Meanwhile we have met the leader of the cult of the Goddess, Aderbad (John Drew Barrymore). He is a mage and it is to him that the bodies of the Romans are brought – this is the crux of the ‘Vamp or Not?’ and so I’ll return to what he does with them in a second. Essentially Gaius gets there, falls for a slave girl named Rhama (Evelyn Stewart, Hercules in the Haunted World), is betrayed by the Roman governor (and his scheming, string pulling wife) who are working with Aderbad, finds that he is immune to being turned by the Goddess and ultimately saves the day.

rising like Nosferatu

So, what is this ritual being done with the dead. It isn’t all that clear but it does seem like Aderbad conducts a blood ritual – sipping the corpses’ blood – and having the Goddess raise them as undead. But are they vampire? Well there is absolutely no indication that they are vampires. We see some frozen, awaiting activation. Others are in their graves. When called forth they fight with the skills they had as mortal men and they cannot die (as they have died once before). What is strange is that some seem spectral (though they can still hit their opponents). The one rising like Nosferatu is the one we see being turned, rising stiff bodied from the sarcophagus he was placed in. However, there is no other connection and no suggestion that they consume blood/flesh/energy.

the statue in the cave

I said they cannot be killed – this isn’t entirely true. They cannot be killed in combat but Gaius could destroy them if he could destroy the jewelled eye of the Goddess statue that is able to cast a gaze around the cave it rests in and connects the spiritual force of the Goddess with the raised dead. Sever the connection the puppets fall and so the blood consumption by her priest is to link the puppet to her and not a sustenance issue. We also, just to mention, get a voodoo moment with a doll of Gaius that, if stabbed, will kill him. However, when used it incapacitates him but doesn’t end his life.

spectral army

The print I watched wasn’t the best and it was, unfortunately, the dubbed version and so there is always the chance that the cut missed some aspects around the Goddess that are relevant to a ‘Vamp or Not?’ and still in an Italian print of the film. However, as the film stands, despite the use of blood in the raising ritual this is not a vampire film. We have restless dead who are puppets of the Goddess – but neither they, not the Goddess show overt vampiric tendencies and the raised soldiers are essentially more zombie-like despite their spectral appearance at times. Not Vamp.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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