While inspired by the success of such groundbreaking Hammer films as Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, Italian horror cinema soon surpassed the traditional British Gothic in terms of visual excess, decadent imagery, and baroque atmosphere. Dealing more directly with themes thought too taboo by 'polite' English society, the Italian supernatural tradition interwove genuinely disturbing fables of spectral revenge, occult menace, and superstition with surprisingly thoughtful psychological subtexts. In early, classic Italian horror cinema the struggle between guilt and lust is just as often accompanied by the more direct and sensationalistic conflict between the flesh and spirit. This is often seen in Freda and Bava, with the physical specters/violence of their disturbing tales reinforcing/reflecting the fragmented psychological states of Byronic anti-heroes and fem fatales. The contradictory struggle between past and present, good and bad, in the traditional Italian Gothic is invested with an increased level of nightmarish intensity and style. While not in the class of the above gentleman, lacking their aesthetic ingenuity, director Roberto Mauri was clearly capable of merging lush horrific imagery with emotionally intensive plots, coaxing both terror and romance from his funeral imagery. In Slaughter of the Vampires, he crafted a lush poem to the supernatural. Presented in a restored edition from Dark Sky Films, this is an engaging, occasionally inspired period fable of fear and fantasy, finding subversive beauty in the very darkness that terrifies us.

Injecting a somewhat predictable story with feverish imagery and dreamlike pacing, Slaughter of the Vampires was just one in a cycle of 'spooky' 1960s vampire films that followed Bava's Mask of Satan (also including The Vampire and the Ballerina and The Playgirls and the Vampire). While not as successful either commercially or artistically as Bava's ode to folklore, these cinematic potboilers served up gloriously doomed settings and undeniably haunting sepulcher moods -- albeit with high traces of camp. Starring Walter Brandi (a staple of these films), this involving entry in the undead sweepstakes injects an otherwise moody tale of terror with humor and surprisingly potent sexual innuendo. In a simplistic if involving plot, a young middle class couple Wolfgang (Walter Brandi) and Louise Graziella Granata) find themselves stalked by an amorous vampire (Dieter Eppler). Inhabiting a wine cellar of Wolfgang's castle, Dieter sweeps down on the young couple's lives with mesmerizing charm and deadly malignance. One night he crashes a party at the castle, wherein he dances with the unsuspecting heroine, and begins his devious courtship. Infecting her with his bite and sinister influence, she soon becomes embroiled in a desperate battle for her life and soul. Similar in narrative progression to Dracula (both the novel and (1931) movie), with traces of the ever popular Carmilla (J. S. LeFanu), which itself inspired several other European vampire films, the story even introduces a Van Helsing type adversary, Dr. Nietzche (Luigi Batzella/Poalo Solvay). An orgy of dream-like action follows as Nietzche and Wolfgang fight to preserve the innocence of Lousie and defeat the evil stalker.

If not as intelligent or thematically rich as the best Italian nightmares, the film is easily as gorgeous. Sporting a Baroque sense of dark beauty, finding implied eroticism and emotional liberation in dark byways of the human heart, Marui's fearful fable is a collage of wonderfully photographed crypts, rambling familial estates, and occult hunger. An impressive contribution to the field of suggestive horror, this love note to 'period' horror is sensationalistic and dramatic, devoting an admirable amount of time to characterization and tone. The vampires may be seen as either simplistic monsters or symbolic representations of death, the after-life, and occultism. But they are also indicative of the very real, pertinent struggles between human beings with themselves, each other, and the constant threat of the unknown. The rich, layered metaphors in this film -- which itself can be simply enjoyed as a well made, atmospheric horror show -- enhance both the visual and emotional aspects of the story. Cobwebs, howling winds, dark corners, rotting exteriors, and crumbling corridors -- these are more than eye decrepit eye candy, they are the physical means by which the director mirrors (and lends further emotional power/symbolic resonance to) the emotional states of the characters. Imagery is admittedly more important than narrative in this dark poem. Mauri's directorial style makes excellent use of dancing shadows, flickering winds, and the pale tone of undead skin. The melodramatic surroundings are simply gorgeous, complete with convincing period dress and sumptuous locations. A satisfying contribution to the Italian vampire cycle of films, Slaughter of the Vampires is successful as both a pulp thriller and a serious drama.

Cinematographer Ugo Brunelli brings director Mauri's surreal vision to evocative life in glorious black-and-white photography. A polished transfer allows us to appreciate the camera work (and the overall quality of the compositions) as they were intended. Featured in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture is superior to Image's release. While some grain and interference remain, this print lacks any significant flaws or distortion. Audio in 2.0 Mono is sterling, presenting the audio with wonderful clarity. No hissing or other distortions are noticeable.

Extras are short if appreciated. First off is Actor Dieter Eppler: Interview With the Vampire, an informative discussion wherein he discusses his life, career, and films. Including how he came to get the part (quite by accident), the castle between Naples and Rome where they shot, and the challenges of working with producers that often didn't honor their financial obligations. This piece manages to convey his personality -- easy going while commenting on various aspects of the experience of making the movie, interspaced with shots from the film. An entertaining vintage Theatrical Trailer is next (referring to the film as Curse of the Blood Ghouls) followed, finally, by an extensive Stills Gallery (23 images). Put this remarkable presentation of one of Italian Gothic's under-sang triumphs in the stocking of someone you'd like to bite!

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Dark Sky
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review