Friday, July 04, 2014

I vampiri / The Vampires

Gianna Maria Canale as Giselle Du Grand
Lust of the Vampire. IT 1956. D: Riccardo Freda. Story: Piero Regnoli, Rijk Sijstrom. SC: Riccardo Freda, Piero Regnoli, Rijk Sijstrom. DP: Mario Bava. ED: Roberto Cinquini. AD+cost: Beni Montresor. M: Roman Vlad. C: Gianna Maria Canale (Giselle Du Grand e la duchessa Marguerite Du Grand), Carlo D'Angelo (l'ispettore Santel), Dario Michaelis (Pierre Valentin), Wandisa Guida (Laurette Robert), Antoine Belpêtré (dottor Julien De Grand), Riccardo Freda (un medico). P: Ermanno Donati, Luigi Carpentieri per Athena Cinematografica, Titanus. 35 mm. 85'. B&w. From: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna
    Black and white in CinemaScope.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 4 July 2014

Gary Morris (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "The first real Italian horror film, which even predates Hammer's horror series, takes place in an imaginary contemporary Paris created at Titanus's studios in Rome by the brilliant set designer Beni Montresor. In disagreement with the producers, Freda abandoned the production, which was finished by Mario Bava, the film's director of photography (who is apparently responsible for the 'thriller' interludes). I vampiri shows the key elements of both directors' approach to horror in a surprisingly effective way: Freda's obsession with the conflict between so-called normality made of conformism-progress-science and the irresistible attraction of transgression and sensuality; his vision of fleeting nature, beauty and physical integrity, and the desperate desire to maintain them; and, on the other, Bava's creation of fantastic worlds made of unrivaled visual intensity and details, chiaroscuro landscapes that emerge more from the director's magnificent control of the shot than from the psychology of the characters." Gary Morris, Universi in collisione: gli horror di Freda, in Riccardo Freda, edited by Stefano Della Casa and Emanuela Martini, Bergamo Film Meeting 1993(Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

Riccardo Freda in an interview by Stefano Della Casa (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "I've always liked being the first to make a film. I vampiri came about in an odd way. We were at Donati and Carpentieri's studio thinking of a story to film, and I threw out the idea of making a horror film. They asked me if I had something ready. I said no but that I could in a day's time. And so I showed up with the story; I didn't have it written but recorded on tape. I even made sounds, like a door creaking; it was a lot of fun. They called Lombardo who immediately accepted it. Perhaps it was one of his more generous moments, helped by the fact that I didn't want any particular actor (except Canale), I was willing to do it in about ten days as long as the cameraman was Bava and the set designer Beni Montresor. I made one mistake: I made it under my Italian name, and Italians only accept fettuccine from their countrymen. Thereafter, I never made the same mistake, and everyone else copied me." Interview by Stefano Della Casa, in Riccardo Freda, edited by Stefano Della Casa and Emanuela Martini, Bergamo Film Meeting 1993 (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: Not a vampire film in the Dracula tradition, this is a horror story about the quest for eternal youth. Young women of a certain blood type become victims of the vampiristic thirst for new life elixir.

Except for Gianna Maria Canale the performances seem stale and tired. The art direction and the costumes of Ben Montresor are fine, though, and Roman Vlad creates a score in late 1920s mode.

Riccardo Freda has an innate talent for horror and the macabre, as is evident in the Venice lead chamber torture sequence in Il cavaliere misterioso. Whoever directed most of the latter part of the movie - Freda or Mario Bava: as soon as we enter the crypt and the secret passages in I vampiri there is an enhanced intensity. Full intensity is attained in the reception and the slow dance, bringing back memories of "the last ball in 1925". (The film is set in the present day of 1956).

I was thinking about L'Année dernière à Marienbad, Les Yeux sans visage, and Peeping Tom, all of which Freda and Bava anticipate here.

There is strange poetry in the sequences of the polyphon metal record [Olavi Schalin, Matti Piuhola], the fellow journalist intruding via grapevine, Gisella shooting the intruder who has discovered her macabre secret, the fountain of youth, the agony of the most recent young female victim, the revelation of the family motto "Conquisto l'inferno", and the instant ageing of the contessa. The visual effect of ageing is well conceived.

A fine print.

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