Atom Age Vampire: A Celebration of 1960 Review
ATOM AGE VAMPIRE was a film that haunted me as a youngster. It seemed a very modern nightmare, a science fiction variation on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A well-meaning doctor who willingly turned himself into a monster to both prove his theories and possess the woman of his obsessive desire. The dark, oppressive atmosphere, seedy locations, and dream-like transformations made many appearances in my own dreams. After local New York stations stopped showing horror films on a weekly basis, I didn’t see it for many years.
I was not an early adopter of DVDs, but joined the ranks when I bought my second Windows PC (I had an Amiga originally, used mostly for video work.) Since it has two DVD drives, I picked up a couple of cheap DVDs, figuring “what the heck, why not?” One of them was ATOM AGE VAMPIRE.
Did it hold up after all those years? Well, yes and no. It’s still an atmospheric little B&W flick, but it’s also pretty cheesey. However, that’s not a damning flaw, to me — but I have to admit it’s not nearly as good as I remembered.
ATOM AGE VAMPIRE was a 1960 Italian production originally titled Seddok, l’erede di Satana, which means something along the lines of Seddok, the Heir (or Inheritor) of Satan. Directed and co-written (with the award winning Alberto Bevilacqua [EYE OF THE CAT]) by film and TV veteran Anton Guilio Majano, it was not released in a big way in the U.S. until 1963. (By Topaz Film Corporation, though IMDB says there was a 1961 release by Manson Distributing Corporation, which seems to have specialized in importing Italian films.)
It must have made it into TV syndication packages pretty quickly, because I first saw it around 1969-70.
The film features generally good low-key photography by Aldo Giordani (MY NAME IS TRINITY), which becomes strikingly chiaroscuro in some of the “horror” scenes. That points to one of the film’s problems; it suffers from some slight inconsistencies of style and pacing. Some of the material, such as the exposition and soap opera-ish scenes fall flat or appear rushed. It’s clear that certain sequences received more time and attention than others. This of course is not at all unusual in modestly budgeted films.
It’s hard to judge the writing and acting, as ATOM AGE VAMPIRE film is a dubbed film. I happen to be one of those ‘philistines’ who actually prefers dubbed horror/sci-fi imports, as I see them as dreams transcribed onto celluloid, and reading is inimical to dreaming — I hold them to be different aesthetic and cognitive processes.
Perhaps more importantly, dubbed is how I saw these films in my youth and nostalgia is an important factor in my enjoyment of them. As Italian films of this period were nearly always post-synched, English dubbing probably detracts little from their cinematic values.
AAV’s credits list Richard McNamara as “Director of English Language Version” (McNamara, according to IMDB. was a US solider who stayed in Italy, and became an actor mainly doing dubbing work, eventually becoming a dubbing director).
“English Dialog” is credited to John Hart (not the Lone Ranger actor). To some extent, they are responsible for the story line (which may be slightly different from the original) and the occasionally awkward phrasing.
Nevertheless, I suspect the dialog and acting were always florid and theatrical. There’s quite a lot of hysterical energy underlying most of the performances, which can be quite entertaining in its own right. Everyone seems to feel everything so intensely.
Alberto Lupo is quite good as the brilliant but obsessive Dr. Levin, and Susanne Loret is well cast as disfigured exoctic dancer Jeanette Moreneau. Roberto Berta is effective as the doctor’s loyal, mute servant Sacha, and Ivo Garrani underplays everyone as the slightly humorous police investigator.
The transformations I mentioned before still retain that odd, dream-like quality. They seem to use an unusual mix of lap dissolves and animated changes to the make-up, and possibly some skip-frame printing. This imparts an unrealistic and slightly queasy-feeling kinesthetic to the healing of the dancer’s scars — and especially the monster transmorgifications.
The rationale for said transformations is interesting. The doctor discovers he finds killing to obtain the glands he needs to cure the object of his experiments disfigurement too much against his professed essential nature — and fears to be identified and caught. He feels that if he uses his mutagenic ‘Derma 25’ to become a monster, he will be capable of any monstrous act, without regret. (A somewhat medieval view for a man of science.)
As we see, what it really does is release his inner brute, strips away his thin veneer of compassion and civilization. Like Stevenson’s Hyde is often portrayed, Levin’s other self is vaguely ape-like savage, cunning and furtive. He’s the Id set loose, and as always in films of this era, once freed he will eventually prove dominant.
Many have carped that ATOM AGE VAMPIRE features no vampire (despite the animated bat of the titles), but the monster is indeed engaged in a vampiric activity: stealing the vital essences of young women. And the fact that Dr. Levin’s formula was originally created to cure radiation burns places it firmly in the atom age.
Others hold that it’s a rip-off of EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959), a charge with some merit. However, one could argue that both films owe something to 1956’s I, VAMPRI (THE DEVIL’S COMMANDMENT).
The DVD I viewed (a DVD Alpha video of the now public domain film) runs about 69 minutes, though it’s listed as 87 minutes on the box. I believe this is a TV print, and it’s definitely missing some footage from the TV run time. Possibly a little as a minute, as 70-72 mins. was sufficent for most time slots back then. I’m sure the strip-tease sequence in the trailer never made it to US Television.
However, there’s a fragmentary shot of Dr. Levin sitting at his desk, and it may have been a cut transformation scene, as it precedes the first ‘outside’ murder. I seem to recall more action with the Atom Age Vampire itself in its broadcast TV days, and the trailer appears to support this notion.
Though possibly, a larger focus on the murder monster and less emphasis on angst-ridden soap could easily be an artifact of the rather better film I built in my memory. For what are half-remembered horrors but fuel for the dream machine?
ATOM AGE VAMPIRE (Seddok, l’erede di Satana, 1960)
Starring Alberto Lupo, Susanne Loret, Sergio Fantoni, Franca Parisi, Andrea Scotti
Directed by Anton Giulio Majano
Screenplay by Anton Giulio Majano, Alberto Bevilacqua, Gino De Santis, Piero Monviso
Format: Black & White, DVD, NTSC
Region: Region 1
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Running Time: Listed as 87 minutes, timed at slightly more than 69 minutes.
No Extras on the Alpha Video Disc.