The success of Hammer's Horror of Dracula kindled a spate of Gothic vampire films in Italy. Mario Bava's Black Sunday tends to obfuscate this lot of knock-offs. Perhaps "knock-off" is a tad harsh. Not all of these productions adhered to a prevailing formula, but 1962's Slaughter of the Vampires (a.k.a. Curse of the Blood Ghouls) doesn't jump at the opportunity to color outside of the lines. In fact, it's essentially a mock-up of the second half of Horror of Dracula. The names have been changed to sidestep copyright infringement, but writer/director Roberto Mauri isn't fooling anyone. "Van Helsing" is beckoned to convalesce a frail, bedridden newlywed who has fallen ill. After noticing bite marks on her neck, he puts two and two together.
Skimming through the user reviews on IMDb, a plurality of genre enthusiasts don't care for Dieter Eppler's turn as the innominate vampire (herein referred to as Totally Not Dracula). I, for one, enjoyed his wild-eyed performance in spite of gaudy make-up and an unflattering characterization. Why did Mauri write his bloodsuckers as languid, lily-livered pantywaists? The opening scene finds Totally Not Dracula and his concubine cowering behind a partition of foliage while a mob of villagers stalks the hillside in the hopes of driving a stake into his heart. Dude, you're a vampire. Sprout bat wings and skedaddle! Even if you can't shapeshift, you should be able to hold your own against an assembly of farmers. Don't act like a little bitch in front of your chick.
All told, Slaughter is a harmless exercise in old-fangled (pun fucking intended) gaiety. It's so simple and conventional, it's hard not to crack a smile every now and then. You could play it on mute at a bustling Halloween party, and most of your guests would be able to follow the plot. I say "most" because I'm taking the plastered tosspots into consideration. Who knows? Maybe you're one of them. If so, behave yourself. You have to get up early in the morning to go to work. If I'm being candid, Mauri is nothing special behind the camera. I wonder how atmospheric this film would be without the nebulous black-and-white cinematography. Regardless of sketchy craftsmanship, Slaughter does boast a convivial Universal vibe. I almost expected to see a shot of a biplane circling the globe before the feature presentation.
Strangely enough, this flick has yet to be released with the original Italian audio track intact. And it's unfortunate, as the dubbing is heinous. It's doubtful that the authentic audio would have made the characters more interesting, though. The impassive dialogue doesn't allow for any personality to illuminate the screen. Eppler is the only actor guaranteed to leave an impression, be it positive or negative. His co-stars barely exist. The ending is underwhelming, and it exhibits a profound lapse in logic. Who can tell me why Wolfgang escorted the gardener's daughter to the wine cellar? If he was hypnotized, he wouldn't have tussled with Totally Not Dracula. But I digress. Slaughter of the Vampires serves its purpose, but if you're hankering for Gothic Italian horror, you'd be better off pulling Black Sunday down from the shelf.
Posted by Dom Coccaro at 9:01 PM