At first glance, Slaughter of the Vampires may seem like a simplistic, mildly titillating gothic romp in the vein (ha) of the early Hammer-era Dracula series, done on even less money. Although that summary isn?t entirely inaccurate, it doesn?t describe the earnest and genuine efforts by writer-director Roberto Mauri to create moody, baroque atmosphere, complete with genuine castle locations and plenty of heaving bosoms, using very limited resources (except for the bosoms). For what it is, it succeeds. Now, thanks to a classy DVD release from Dark Sky Films, its modest charms receive a much-needed polish.
After an ill-fitting prologue in which a faceless vampire escapes the standard throng of pitchfork & torch-bearing villagers by ditching his willowy bride (who sports the vampire version of Billy Bob teeth), the story settles into what is best described as Dracula Lite - distilling Bram Stoker?s tale down to its most basic plot elements (even more simplified than the classic 1931 version), and altering the names and locations to create a kind of generic European potpourri: in place of Jonathan and Mina, we have chaste newlyweds Wolfgang (Walter Brandi) and Louise (mad-hot Graziella Granata) settling into their creepy new castle digs in some unspecified Germanic locale. Their dull-as-toast housewarming shindig is briefly crashed by a sullen, nameless stranger (Dieter Eppler) who, unbeknownst to them, has been squatting in their wine cellar... in a coffin, of course. The stranger also possesses remarkable mesmeric powers: by merely joining him in a modest waltz, Louise instantly transforms into his love-slave and self-heating blood bank.
As Louise?s inevitable swooning spells set in, Wolfgang heeds the advice of the baffled local physician and heads for Vienna to enlist the aid of eccentric scientist Dr. Van Hel... oops, wrong movie. He enlists the aid of gloomy scientist Dr. Nietzsche (not to be confused with the famous philosopher, who was also gloomy, but knew very little about vampires). Unfortunately, given the inefficiency of late-19th-century transportation, the men fail to return to the castle in time to prevent Louise?s transformation from living to undead. Bummer.
Nevertheless, Louise is still quite active... and sexier than ever, it seems, since vampires needn?t concern themselves with dressing warmly while romping through dank castle corridors. This leads to lots of excellent scenes of Granata jiggling about in a gauzy negligee (for which I commend the director?s artistic vision). Of course, our villain can?t eat just one (can you blame him?), so he satisfies his between-meal snack urges with the cute housekeeper. The forces of good and not-so-good finally collide, albeit gently and with minimal fuss... which makes the title sort of an overstatement. Still, there?s lots of neat stuff to look at, even if there?s not much ?slaughter? going on.
Although not the first release of this modest horror outing on DVD, Dark Sky?s presentation is respectful and thorough, restoring previously cut footage (including some fairly risqué stuff for the period) and the correct 1.85 aspect ratio (widescreen compatible), with crisp reproduction of the high-contrast black & white cinematography. Minor print flaws are present in the form of a few jumpy edits and a bleary shot or two, but this is undoubtedly the best this film has looked since it hit theaters 45 years ago. The digital mono track is serviceable, if a bit over-cranked in spots - particularly during music cues - and the English-dubbed dialogue (sadly, the only version available) is well-synchronized, but for the most part only the female voice actors manage to convey genuine emotion.
Supplemental material leads off with the candid ?Interview with the Vampire,? in which Dieter Eppler reflects amusedly on the project (for which he and his co-stars were never paid, due to the collapse of the film?s finances) and reminisces about a successful career across the screens and stages of Europe. It continues with a typically lurid U.S. theatrical trailer, and a small but interesting gallery of lobby cards and ad mats for the various international release versions of the film (the French promo art is particularly striking), as well as some excerpts from what looks like a fotoromanzo adaptation (a photo-based comic book style quite popular in Europe).
Like the film itself, the DVD adds up to a nicely wrapped package, even if there?s not exactly a ton of cool stuff inside. Still, fans of sexed-up vampire cinema will probably want to add this to their collection, if only for Granata?s wildly sensual appeal, predating Hammer Films? hormonally-charged, busty bloodsuckers by nearly a decade.