Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The first wave of classic Euro-horror pictures began in 1956 with Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava's I Vampiri and ended in 1966 or so, when Barbara Steele made her last B&W horror appearance. The best efforts by Freda, Bava and Antonio Margheriti often abandoned conventional narrative devices to concentrate on macabre visuals, establishing new cinematic territory at a stylistic remove from American horrors and the Technicolored Hammer films. Freda's The Horrible Dr. Hichcock subsists on moody, fetishistic scenes of the iconic Ms. Steele drifting down creepy tunnels and wringing her hands in dismay; the appeal of Margheriti's The Long Hair of Death resides in nightmarish, dreamlike images of rape and revenge. Even when its story makes no sense, the lush gothic atmosphere of Giorgio Ferroni's Mill of the Stone Women generates an exotic delirium that's specifically continental.
Of course, the Europeans made artless films as well. Less than a year after claiming he would never again play Dracula, Christopher Lee appeared in an Italian comedy called Tempi duri per i vampiri (My Uncle the Vampire). Renato Polselli and Piero Regnoli's copycat that trapped exotic dancers and fashion models in castles infested with vampires. The actor Walter Brandi held lead roles in both of those films as well as La strage dei vampiri (Slaughter of the Vampires), an even less original pastiche of established vampire lore.
A vampire (Dieter Eppler) narrowly escapes when irate villagers stake his vampire bride; he then takes up residence in the wine cellar of Wolfgang (Walter Brandi) and makes an uninvited appearance at a formal party. The vampire soon has Wolfgang's beautiful bride Louise (Graziella Granata) under his spell. Dr. Nietzsche (Luigi Batzella, a.k.a. Paolo Solvay) gives Wolfgang the bad news that vampires appear to be the culprit.
Slaughter of the Vampires is a generally uninspiring and generic vampire tale with liberal script borrowings from Hammer's Horror of Dracula. The unnamed vampire count loses his current mate, in this case, abandoning her to a vengeful mob. He hides within the home of his next victim, the bosomy Louise, and threatens the child of a servant. Louise and others are being vampirized, but calm hero Wolfgang confides only in a trusted doctor friend, a definite cognate for Stoker's Van Helsing character. The story plods to its final showdown with few surprises along the way. Dieter Eppler's manic vampire interrupts an evening party to introduce himself to Louise, but little if anything happens to distinguish the picture.
According to Mr. Eppler's interview on the disc, the largely Italian production was a typical fly-by-night affair. Contracts meant nothing: Eppler was never paid for his services and the producer's grand plans for future collaborations were empty promises. Eppler's agent advised the actor to simply check into a good hotel, charge his meals to the production and enjoy the job while he could.
Beyond the presence of acceptable actors and the hiring of a genuine castle for a main set, Slaughter of the Vampires has little going for it. Roberto Mauri copies a number of Terence Fisher's camera angles but shows no particular affinity for the genre; the lighting never really stands out either. There's little attempt to build the visual textures associated with the better Euro-horror of the time.
Slaughter of the Vampires enjoys a fairly positive fan reputation. It was also imported as Curse of the Blood Ghouls, a title befitting the film's energetic vampire attacks. The vampires wear joke-shop plastic fangs and low-cut gowns are the rule for both female vampires and the quivering victims. Little blood is on view. After neglecting to provide interesting characterizations, the film's drawn-out conclusion asks us to pity the poor lonesome Wolfgang. Perhaps he'll take better care of his next wife.
The Dark Sky DVD label has released a number of excellent discs of films remastered for HiDef cable viewing but Slaughter of the Vampires lacks the extra clarity of their earlier cult hits, like The Flesh Eaters. The enhanced widescreen presentation reproduces the film's English-language export version, seven minutes longer than the print that reached American screens. The dubbing job is particularly weak on incidental voices, recycling the same weak mob walla in the opening chase scene. A hyped trailer is included, along with a still gallery.
Actor Dieter Eppler talks about his experiences as a German film actor in Interview with the Vampire, a featurette padded with clips from the movie. Mr. Eppler naturally preferred working on the West German Krimi thrillers, with their variety of character parts.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Slaughter of the Vampires rates:
Movie: Fair +
Video: Good -
Sound: Good -
Supplements: Interview with actor Dieter Eppler, trailer, still gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 5, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2006 Glenn Erickson
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