Thursday, August 11, 2016

L'amante del vampiro (1960)

... aka: Dancer and the Vampire, The
... aka: Die Geliebte des Vampirs (The Beloved Vampire)
... aka: La maitresse du vampire (Mistress of the Vampire)
... aka: Vampire and the Ballerina, The
... aka: Vampire's Lover, The

Directed by:
Renato Polselli

The first Italian genre film of the sound era was a pretty good Gothic horror called I VAMPIRI (1957), which was co-directed by Riccardo Freda and an uncredited Mario Bava and finally made it to the U.S. under the new title The Devil's Commandment in 1963. It took a few years after I vampiri's release for Gothic horror to really catch on in Italy but, once it did, it really took off and by the end of the 60s over three dozen Gothic horrors had been produced there. 1960 alone saw the release of no less than five. The most famous was Bava's international hit BLACK SUNDAY (1960), which became the benchmark for this cycle and was the first to get a U.S. release in 1961. Actually filmed before Sunday and also before ATOM AGE VAMPIRE, The Playgirls and the Vampire and the French / Italian co-production Mill of the Stone Women (all 1960), was The Vampire and the Ballerina (originally L'amante del vampiro / “The Vampire's Lover”), which was in Italian theaters three months before any of the others.

In a small village, young women are being attacked and drained of blood by an ugly-looking vampire; leading to an anemic illness and then death. Near where the attacks have all taken place, a group of ballerinas are training for an upcoming show. Lead dancers Luisa (the sexy Hélène Rémy) and Francesca (Tina Gloriani), along with Francesca's fiance Luca (Isarco Ravaioli), end up getting lost out in the woods. With a thunderstorm fast approach they stumble upon the thought-to-be-abandoned Damian Castle and duck inside. Much to their surprise, they're greeted by mysterious Countess Alda (María Luisa Rolando), who's dressed in gowns from another century and claims she has no use for the outside world or the people in it. Still, she offers up her visitors some tea, served up by her equally strange butler Herman (Walter Brandi), and a place to stay until the rain stops. The Countess makes a seductive aside to Luca that she'd really like him to visit her again later on without the girls, while Luisa finds herself getting snatched up and bitten by the vampire. Not remembering what had happened to her, Luisa eventually joins her two friends and heads back home.

The bite from this particular vampire releases some kind of substance into a victim's bloodstream that makes them uncontrollably drawn to the bloodsucker. Now under its spell, Luisa becomes cold and distant to her friends and leaves her bedroom window open for nocturnal visits from the vampire; getting weaker and weaker with each feeding. Meanwhile, Luca finds the voluptuous Countess' offer too hard to pass up and sneaks back over to the castle. There, she tells him that she's being held prisoner by Herman, who only poses as a servant around guests but is actually really in charge of things. It turns out that she and Herman have had a strange symbiotic relationship the past 400 years. She needs to feed off of him to retain her youth and beauty, turning him into a monster every time she does. He then has to turn around and feed off of beautiful young female victims to not only return human form but also provide the Countess with the blood she needs.

This is pretty silly at times but fun all the same and surprisingly well done from a visual standpoint. There's excellent cinematography from Angelo Baistrocchi, some wonderful shooting locations and impressive expressionistic sets and lighting. One of the best moments is when our heroine explores the castle on her own with doors closing behind her as she makes her way down into catacombs; finally discovering the vampire's hidden crypt. The film also provides a few interesting spins on standard vampire mythology, including the master vampire hunting down and staking his own undead victims when they return as vampires because he wants all the power. Another sequence shot from the POV of a living “corpse” inside a coffin looking up at the trees during her own funeral procession rips off a famous bit from Dreyer's Vampyr (1932).

You may be asking yourself: Why ballerinas of all things? Pretty simple. It's just a convenient excuse to film lots of pretty young women frolicking around in one piece leotards as they show off their pantyhose-covered legs and asses cavorting around, doing stretches and performing their routines. Evening apparel seems to consist almost entirely of sheer, short, flimsy little nighties. The director seems especially fond of turning this into one big leg show. The troupe's musical director Giorgio (“John Turner” / Gino Turini) even gets the idea to turn the production into a vampire-themed ballet, which results in a hilarious dance sequence with strong lesbian undertones. These undertones are also pretty prevalent between the two lead female “friends” in other scenes.

This was the very first screenplay credit for the extremely prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, who co-wrote with director Polselli and Giuseppe Pellegrini and also served as assistant director. Polselli made numerous other genre films including the extremely obscure The Monster of the Opera (1964), Delirium (1972), The Reincarnation of Isabel (1972), The Truth According to Satan (1972) and Mania (1974).

While an English-dubbed version was prepped by United Artists to play theaters in the US, that version has never been made commercially available here. In fact, this has never seen the light of day on VHS or DVD here period, though MGM offers an English-subtitled version on Amazon Prime.

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