The Playgirls and the Vampire: A Celebration of 1960 Retrospective
Made in Italy as L’Ultima Preda Del Vampire (“The Last Prey of the Vampire”), THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE was picked up for American distribution and dubbed by Richard Gordon (THE HAUNTED STRANGLER, ATOMIC SUBMARINE), then released in the U.S. in 1963. The American version, 7 minutes shorter than the Italian original, was released as an “adults only” picture with a poster suggesting that it might be a “nudie cutie” feature, though patrons expecting plentiful pulchritude doubtlessly felt cheated. There is a female vampire in it who prowls a castle in the buff looking for victims, but her body is repeatedly obscured by shadows and camera angles.
THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE was the creation of Piero Regnoli, who previously had co-written I, VAMPIRI (American title: THE DEVIL’S COMMANDMENT, 1956) with Riccardo Freda. , I, VAMPIRI had kicked off the Continental horror boom after decades without any Italian horror films being made; it set the basic tropes of mixing scares and sexuality that Italian horror cinema would explore throughout the 1960s. Regnoli wrote and directed THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, but though he remained a prolific screenwriter, he only directed a few more features before his death in 2001. (SAMSON IN KING SOLOMON’S MINE and SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN THIEVES were two of them).
The playgirls of the title are not playgirls at all, but rather showgirls who are being bused to their next engagement when the driver learns that a storm has rendered the road impassable. The driver takes a fork in the road and winds up at the castle of Count Gabor Kernassy (Walter Brandi). They ask to stay the night and Kernassy takes little interest until he sees Vera (Lyla Rocco), who looks to be the reincarnation of Margerhita, the woman with whom his ancestor had fallen in love.
Regnoli’s most effective horror moment comes at the very beginning when he borrows Tod Browning’s famous shot of a vampire’s hand emerging from an opened coffin, here restaged with a stone sepulcher. The vampire in the crypt is Kernassy’s look-alike ancestor who seeks fresh blood to sustain his immortality. Kernassy warns the troupe not wander about the castle at night, but the next morning the body of Katia (Maria Giovannini) is found dead on the lawn, apparently having fallen out of the window.
Lack of originality is one of the main problems that plagues THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE. Unlike Freda, whose films explored perverse sexuality such as necrophilia and sadism, Regnoli offers only showgirls lounging around in negligees, teddies, and stiletto heels. Additionally, there is minimal characterization (the three other showgirls are given no real personalities) and minimal plot as well.
Though the viewer can’t take THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE seriously, the film is not played for laughs either (the closest it gets is when one of the showgirls spots a long table and wonders aloud, “I wonder if they will let me do my high-kick specialty on it.” The manager (Alfredo Rizzo) is portrayed as a lech who goes to bed, not with one of his girls, but with a copy of a girlie magazine. He explains to the housekeeper that the girls “have been very upset,” and that practicing their routines is “the only way to make them stop worrying about it.”
However, worry doesn’t really enter into the equation very much. Vera seems barely upset over Katia’s death. When the next night she discovers that Katia’s grave is empty, she remains unconcerned. Instead, she develops an attraction to Kernassy, who has a laboratory in his basement and explains he is researching a creature that sustains itself with blood, /again Vera expresses little concern – not even a question or two about how safe things might be.
Despite its short length, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE is plodding and mediocre. On the plus side, it is very atmospherically photographed by Aldo Greci. The film also offers two nice scenes at the climax. In one, the now vampiric Katia comes toward the camera to claim a victim, only to be staked by her male vampire (Brandi in a dual role) counterpart. The other notable scene is the male vampire’s staking, which leads to a dissolve of images as the 200-year-old vampire crumbles to a skeleton and then fades away. Rather than employing make-up, this appears to have been done with a series of drawings that dissolve to show the progression of the dissolution.
Though handsome, Brandi is a rather stiff and unimpressive actor, who also starred in two Italian vampire films this year, the other being THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA. He later appeared in the similar but more entertaining BLOODY PIT OF HORROR, in which a troupe of models come to a castle only to become victimized by an over-the-top Mickey Hargitay as the Crimson Executioner – a livelier film that only points up all the more THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE’s shortcomings.
For television, the film was re-titled THE CURSE OF THE VAMPIRE, and has also been released under a myriad of alternate titles including DESIRES OF THE VAMPIRE, DAUGHTERS OF THE VAMPIRE, and THE VAMPIRE’S LAST VICTIM. For genre completists, the Gordon-dubbed version is available on DVD from Image Entertainment.
THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (L’Ultima Preda Del Vampire [“The Last Prey of the Vampire”], 1960). Written and directed by Piero Regnoli. Cast: Walter Brandi, Lyla Rocco, Maria Giovannini, Alfred Rizzo, Marisa Quattrini, Leonardo Botta, Antoine Nicos, Corinne Fontaine, TIlde Damiani, Eirka Dicenta, Enrico Salvatore.