The Slaughter of the Vampires (La Strage dei vampire, 1962) is a handsomely-made Italian vampire film whose first two-thirds is closely modeled after Hammer Films' seminal Gothic, Horror of Dracula (1958). Energetically directed by screenwriter Roberto Mauri (The Invincible Gladiators, King of Kong Island), it adds little to the genre but is entertaining nonetheless. Dark Sky's all-region presentation is excellent, and includes an "Interview with the Vampire" himself, German actor Dieter Eppler, featured in many krimi films, including Hand of the Gallows, The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse).
Walter Brandi stars as Wolfgang, a happily married man living with wife Louise (Graziella Granata) in a renovated castle, where the unnamed vampire-on-the-lam (Eppler) is hiding out in a wine cellar. Soon after the film begins, Louise falls under the vampire's sexually-charged spell, she wandering the castle grounds in the middle of the night while taken ill and bedridden during the day. The pasty-face vampire also threatens the estate's governess, Corrine (Carla Foscari?), and the young daughter of the castle's groundskeeper.
Distressed by his wife's deteriorating condition, he calls upon the Van Helsing-like Dr. Nietzsche (Luigi Batzella, acting under the name Paolo Solvay), a single-minded vampire hunter.
Following a pre-credits sequence reminiscent of Black Sunday, in which angry villagers ruthlessly destroy the vampire's previous, terrified bride, The Slaughter of the Vampires settles into scenes that simply rework those in the Terence Fisher Dracula with even much of the dialogue the same, such as Nietzche's warnings to Wolfgang that his methods, however odd they might appear, are to be followed to the letter. The lively climax threatens to take the genre into uncharted waters as (mild spoilers ahead) it appears that Wolfgang not only might not survive but that his first victim might be the gardener's young daughter. Wolfgang's tortured, M-like expressions of helplessness suggest a much darker, more downbeat finale than actually materializes.
Still, Mauri's direction is tautly edited, with an impressive number of inventive set-ups and roving camera shots of good locations, and at just 79 minutes interest never flags. The film may be the first to offer a vampire bride whose ample, heaving bosom almost becomes a character in itself (themselves?). Granata's low-cut dresses pre-date what became the standard at Hammer by a half-dozen years. (The hairstyles and make-up on the women are distractingly, anachronistically early-1960s.)
Eppler, who suggests a zombified, unblinking Criswell, has virtually no dialogue but like Christopher Lee's Dracula is impressively athletic and, for his victims, sexually, eruditely irresistible. Eppler's vampire comes off as very Continental, almost Mexican somehow, which may account for the fact that Eppler's voice was dubbed by someone else even for the film's German release, this despite the fact that Eppler was a familiar name in his homeland.
The film is offered in its original English dub only. The looping is okay, neither better nor worse than most imported Italian films of the period. The English script has its share of clunker lines, however; this may be the only straight horror film where a vampire cries, "We'd better make a break for it!"
Video & Audio
The Slaughter of the Vampires is presented in enhanced 16:9 format at 1.77:1 that approximates the original 1.85:1 theatrical release. The title elements, in English, are washed-out with funky contrast, but otherwise the video is first-rate. There's some minor damage here and there, most of it possibly inherent in the original release version. The audio of the English track is notably clean, and optional English subtitles are available.
Supplements include the heretofore mentioned Interview with the Vampire, in 4:3 format with the nearly 80-year-old but much less pasty Eppler amused by the film's longevity while frank about its troubled production (neither he nor some of the other principals were ever paid, and the film's production company, according to Eppler, went broke soon thereafter).
Also included is a still gallery composed mainly of images from an apparent "fotonovel" though none of the captions are legible, even on big screen TVs. A trailer for the film's U.S. release, as the luridly-titled Curse of the Blood-Ghouls (by Pacemaker Films in 1969), rounds out the extras.
The Slaughter of the Vampires is a welcome addition to the growing list of European horror films once available only in awful VHS versions, often bootlegged, but now available is pristine presentations that do them justice.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.