Trailers
From Hell.com

The Playgirls and the Vampire

by Glenn Erickson Mar 12, 2024

It’s vintage, it’s trashy, it’s Italian. Bellissima!  A vampire prowls in a castle, but all emphasis goes to cheesecake coverage of the five sexy showgirls he wants to bite, one of whom is the reincarnation of his original victim. By modern terms the ‘just for adults’ horror content is tame, a little silly, maybe endearing. The fangs are big on both a vampire count and a spirited vampire bride — who may be the screen’s first nude vampire. The handsome restored print has both the original Italian soundtrack and the English-language dub, plus three additional title sequences.


The Playgirls and the Vampire
Blu-ray
Vinegar Syndrome
1960 / B&W / 1:66 widescreen / 81 min. / L’ultima preda del vampiro / Street Date March 26, 2024 / Available from Vinegar Syndrome / 42.08
Starring: Walter Brandi, Lyla Rocco, Maria Giovannini, Alfredo Rizzo, Marisa Quattrini, Leonardo Botta, Antoine Nicos, Corinne Fontaine.
Cinematography: Aldo Greci
Set Designer: Giuseppe Ranieri
Film Editor: Mario Arditti
Original Music: Aldo Piga
Written Screenplay by Piero Regnoli
Executive Producer: Richard Gordon
Produced by Tiziano Longo
Directed by
Piero Regnoli

We remember seeing a 1960s San Bernardino newspaper ad for The Playgirls and the Vampire at an ‘adult theater’ that may still have been offering some form of burlesque. Before the years of semi-serious genre study, we had no idea what movies like this were or where they came from. Only French and Italian film magazines had the lowdown on 101 exotic horror pictures of the 1960s, shows we knew we’d never see here.

Decades later, the DVD explosion brought forth dozens of beautifully photographed Giallos uncut in their original languages, but a whole range of earlier Italo gothic fantasies arrived only fitfully. The Overlook Encyclopedia of Horror helped us identify pictures we knew only as film stills or old ads. Original titles and variant running times were listed. One inviting thriller, illustrated with an image of a snarling, topless female vampire, was identified as L’ultima preda del vampiro: “The Last Prey of the Vampire.”

We first saw the Italian show in a vintage DVD from Image Entertainment’s ‘EuroShock Collection.’  The print on view was the English-language dub version, The Playgirls and the Vampire, licensed directly from its original importer, producer Richard Gordon (The Haunted Strangler,  Devil Doll). The full frame transfer wasn’t too bad, and the liner notes were by Tim Lucas. This new Blu-ray restores the film to its original length and original language, giving us hope that even more glossy restorations of ‘minor’ Italo shock movies may be on the way.

 

Of the Italo vampire romps seemingly inspired by  (Horror of) Dracula, so far we’ve been given fine HD discs of  L’amante del vampiro (The Vampire and the Ballerina) and  Il Mostra dell’Opera (The Monster of the Opera). All use the hoary formula of theater or dance troups menaced in the dark, with a focus on scantily-clad starlets. The color film  Il Boia Scarlatto substitutes a sadist for a vampire, but maintains the babes-in-baby doll-pajamas conceit. The sexy scenes in L’ultima Preda were mostly for export; Italian censors ix-nayed director Piero Regnoil’s brief bits of partial nudity. According to audio commentator Mark Thompson Ashworth, the English censors were far more restrictive. Prints that circulated several years later were shorn by almost 20 minutes.

A bus containing a dance troupe is stranded due to flooding and a bridge washout. They end up asking for shelter from Count Gabor Kernassy (Walter Brandi of L’amante del vampiro). He allows them to stay only after he sees the beautiful dancer Vera (Lyla Rocco) — she’s the spitting image of Margherita Karnassy, one of his ancestors from the 18th century. Karnassy and his maid find rooms for the troupe, with the only caveat being that they stay in those rooms after lights-out. Looking for a shower (!) the spirited Katia (Maria Giovaninni) apparently falls to her death. She’s buried on the grounds. Vera and Gabor begin a strange relationship. Introduced to the portrait of Margherita, Vera all but excalims her sudden love for the Count; he asks for her understanding but recommends she flee the castle at the first opportunity.

 

One dancer dead yet Vera wanders about at night alone. Vera sees Gabor behaving very weirdly near Katia’s now-empty grave. She then finds Gabor’s secret lab, where Katia’s body lies on a morgue table. Then come the vampire encounters. The troupe manager Lucas (Alfredo Rizzo) is interrupted reading girly magazines by a nude-silhouetted female figure, who turns out to be Katia, now a seductive vampiress. Vera thinks she’s being attacked by Gabor, but that’s not exactly what’s going on. When she awakes and finds marks on her throat, her hasty escape is blocked by the ‘vampire’ Gabor. He’s in the process of laying Vera to rest in Margherita’s old sepulcher when Katia intervenes, incensed that the vampire has a new favorite. Jealousy apparently exists among vampire brides.

L’ultima preda del vampiro is not a particularly polished picture, some very good mystery lighting aside. Piero Regnoli’s screenplay is frequently embarrassing in its awkwardness, even in its original Italian. Most of the dialogue is either people describing things we can see for ourselves, or inanities from the troupe’s five professional dancers. It soon becomes clear that the vampire business is secondary, a commercial pretext to justify scenes in which the pretty actresses undress and stand around in filmy nightgowns.

When an eerie castle needs exploring at night, a showgirl will simply throw on a light coat over her nightie. The actresses play the girls as immature and foolish, perhaps to make sense of a script that requires them to ignore the obvious threat to their lives. Immediately after the funeral, one of the dancers interrupts a rehearsal to perform an ad hoc striptease. Lucas says that’s what they do to release the tension!  (the manager, not Tim Lucas.)

 

The romantic subplot is lumbered with some of the most maladroit dialogue we’ve ever heard. When Vera is ‘introduced’ to the portrait of her ancient lookalike, she launches into a crazy monologue about Gabor: “There is something in you that gives strength and confidence.” Her dialogue then continues — she’s previously seen the world as ‘an ugly place of worms.’  This unsolicited babble apparently goes straight to Gabor’s aristocratic heart.

But that’s nothing compared to the crazy scene in which Vera catches Gabor in his secret mad lab, doing who-knows-what with Katia’s disinterred body. Vera is really incensed, and demands an instant explanation. That cues Gabor to launch into a three-minute tirade of evasive gobbledygook. Gabor says he’ll explain everything, but instead goes off in flowery tangents that end with a request that she just trust him. Oh, and could she not tell anybody about his, uh, little secret with Katia’s body?  Vera thinks that’s just swell — Gabor squirming evasions have made her love him even more. They share a passionate kiss, not five feet from a grave-robbed corpse.

 

It doesn’t help that actress Lyla Rocco’s performance is series of uncomprehending stares, broken only by exaggerated shock, or poorly motivated, insipid smiles. When first told that they’re trapped in the castle and are being asked to stay in their rooms, Rocco’s Vera steps forward, stops on her mark, thinks a bit more, and then asks, “You mean we can’t leave here even if we wanted to?”

The actress playing Katia, Maria Giovannini, steals the show by being given the only interesting role, the dancer transformed into a nude nighttime vampire. Very dark lighting makes this possible; Katia’s encounter with Lucas is seen in silhouette with just a few blips of actual nudity on view. She taunts Lucas as she closes in on him; we don’t see what happens next. Later on, the nude Katia appears momentarily in a fairly brightly-lit room. Cameraman Aldo Greci pulls off a really tough lighting setup, somehow throwing a rogue shadow that puts most of her body into darkness. We’re not sure how it was done. Giovannini’s Katia is definitely adults-only stuff for the year 1960. Filming alternate ‘safe’ scenes was apparently not part of the Italian producer’s game plan.

The story isn’t exactly complex. Neither Lucas and the troupe’s bus driver seem to be interested in the constant girly parade in their presence. Baron Kernassy’s servants are each allowed a moment or two of ‘red herring’ suspicion.
Gabor is secretly researching a cure for vampirism in his secret lab. As the setting is contemporary, no gothic aura accumulates, even with frequent ‘corridor wandering’ scenes. The show doesn’t depict the troupe’s forced isolation from the outside world — we never see any evidence of rain, let alone flooding or a washed-out bridge.

We’re told that Castle Kernassy is a combination of 2 or three Rome-adjacent locations, with what looks like a cheap set for the hidden mad lab in the basement. The carved sepulchers in the crypt are quite good. The lighting is good enough, but the production may have been suffered a bum lens one night, as about 20 seconds’ worth of shots have serious focus problems.

Special effects?  Le ragazze sexy, naturalmente. Fai attenzione!

Unusually large vampire teeth are worn by both Katia and the vampire ancestor; they look bold in stills, but lack the subtlety of Hammer’s stylish incisor fangs. The only technical element that lets the picture down are the sound effects. A potentially spooky opening in the crypt delays the music score in favor of eerie noises. But barking dogs and a cock crowing?  If it’s dawn, why is the vampire coming out of his tomb?  And where are these noisy dogs coming from?  What’s next to disturb vampire Kernassy, car alarms going off?   We later hear the sound of bats in the dungeon. They sound exactly like that of an ordinary squeaky toy, the kind that dogs play with.

The film now seems adult only in its mildly exploitative costuming. The good advertising for the European releases stressed Hammer-like dynamic poster artwork, whereas the U.S. posters announced the cheap thrills to be had.    The producers made sure to spend plenty of screen time giving lonely guys in the audience something to ogle … to the degree that censorship allowed.

The finale actually does use a genuine special disintegration effect, accomplished with wholly unconvincing animation. Silly as it is, it somehow doesn’t disappoint — we’re not really expecting anything sophisticated.

We give Walter Brandi high marks for stamina. More than once, he picks Lyla Rocco up from the floor and carries her about, even up flights of stairs. With the story wrapped up, L’ultima preda continues for six full minutes, so one of the surviving playgirls can sort out her love life. Two ‘menacing’ characters are now revealed to be benign

 


 

Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray presents The Playgirls and the Vampire in the best way possible. Pushing ‘play’ give the viewer the original L’ultima preda del vampiro, with a choice of original Italian audio or Richard Gordon’s English dub with newly-translated subtitles. The excellent restoration was made from a 4K scan. The clean B&W image has excellent contrast.

The main extra is an interview-lecture with Mark Thompson Ashworth, an actor, writer and dialogue coach. He strikes an good balance between hard information on the film and his amusement with the genre in general. He accepts the film as a down-market ‘Girly Vampire Movie’ without acting superior to it or its makers. Ashworth knows the film’s entire release history. He doesn’t have the highest opinion of director Piero Regnoli, who previously worked as a film critic for the Vatican. We learn that L’ultima preda was cut by a full 14 minutes for England … which would pare the horror content down to nothing. The illustrated lecture format is in this case preferable to a full audio commentary, as the 25 minutes tell us more than we need to know about the picture.

 

Also included is an exploitative U.S. trailer with loud music and ‘shocking!’ text titles. Two complete additional main title sequences for the U.S. and France are present, plus a shorter main title piece for a second English-language version said to be for TV syndication.

The reversible sleeve artwork for the disc is repeated on a stiff slipcase. Both designs are from foreign posters. We’re also shown advertising art indicating that original double-feature mate chosen for The Playgirls and the Vampire’s by its U.S. distributor Fanfare Films was Victor Trivas’ West German horror film Die Nackte und der Satan, aka The Head.  L’ultima preda del vampiro is indeed trashy, exploitative and plenty klunky in the script and performance departments … but it’s a lot of fun too.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


The Playgirls and the Vampire
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good +/- (strictly low-rent, but great fun)
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent Italian Mono with English subtitles + English dub
Supplements:
Striptease Gothic (26 min) – a conversation with Mark Thompson Ashworth
Alternate opening title sequences:
The Playgirls and the Vampire
Curse of the Vampire
Des filles pour un vampire
Original trailer
Still gallery.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
March 9, 2024
(7095vamp)
CINESAVANT

Visit CineSavant’s Main Column Page
Glenn Erickson answers most reader mail:
cinesavant@gmail.com

Text © Copyright 2024 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

3 2 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chuck Shillingford

It’s very much of a really cheesy exploitation vampire film but a LOT of fun as well. Thanks so much Glenn

1
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x