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I VAMPIRI (1956) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, Italy, movies with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2010 by goregirl

Wikipedia notes 1956’s I Vampiri as the first horror genre film to be released in Italy since the silent era. The film was dually directed by Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda. When Freda walked off the set mid-production, Bava, who was the cinematographer on the film, completed it. I have only seen two other films from Freda; The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock and The Ghost, both respectable outings starring the great Barbara Steele. I’m not trying to compare the two directors, but it was Bava’s name that impelled me to rent this one. I’ve seen almost all of Bava’s horror entries and count him amongst my favourite genre directors. Some of his masterpieces are Kill Baby Kill, Black Sunday, and Blood and Black Lace, just to name a few. This one was more restrained than Bava’s future entries but you can definitely see his style coming through. This isn’t a fangs and cape bloodsucker flick. It leans towards the Elizabeth Báthory mystique, the countess accused of torturing and killing 100’s of women and bathing in their blood to retain her youth. It only leans there though; so don’t get excited about body counts and torture chambers!

Young women in Paris have been found drained of blood and reporter Pierre Lantin is doing his own investigation much to the local police detective’s chagrin. He discovers a female student who may have some information but goes missing before he is able to question her in depth. Pierre follows a suspicious man back to his apartment. He believes he recognizes the man from a picture that is one of the few clues they have on the case. Later he takes the police to what he believes is the same dwelling. When the police knock on the door a different man answers leading to yet another dead end. The cops are tired of Pierre nosing around and his boss is tired of his investigation going nowhere. He is ordered by his boss to cease the investigation and cover a story for the social pages on the return of the Duchess du Grand’s niece Giselle. Giselle has a hankering for the reporter but Pierre detests the aristocratic family due to a sorted past involving his father. Pierre soon discovers there is more than just socializing going on in the du Grand’s creepy family castle.

There is no denying the films beauty. Its gothic groove and great looking black and white photography is easy on the eyes. The film is chalked full of nifty sets and set pieces. The ancient du Grand family castle tucked in a shadowy forest with its hidden passageway, elaborate family crypt and its huge cavernous greeting room full of peculiar carvings has a crumbling charm. The films visual style was definitely its best asset. Even for a film from 1956 it does lack in the horror and effects department. It is acknowledged that women are being found drained of blood but we only see one cadaver in a lake early in the film. In fact, only one character that I can recall even dies on screen. The films best effect by far, and the only one really, is Giselle’s transformation which did look quite impressive, particularly for the time. There is some great mood and atmosphere throughout but it does get hindered slightly by the lackluster characterization of Pierre Lantin. There was a little too much focus on reporter Lantin, played by Dario Michaelis. The character didn’t really grab me and his dialog is
dull and lifeless. The films best character, Giselle du Grand played by Gianna Maria Canale didn’t get as much screen time as I would have liked. I thought there was more story to tell where this character was concerned. Also notable is junky Joseph Signoret played by Paul Muller who kidnaps the women for a fix. He gets very little screen time but is quite memorable when he does show up. The films mad scientist who we learn was put through school by the Duchess doesn’t get all that much screen time and isn’t nearly mad enough. I wouldn’t say the character was uninteresting; I just wanted him to be a little more obsessive. He is even the voice of reason occasionally but of course bends easily to the Duchess will. I can’t really rag on the story itself, it was quite entertaining, I just wish they made it more about the du Grand’s and less about Pierre Lantin.

I Vampiri definitely has its charms, but to be honest there are several other films from the era that I find a lot more entertaining. The film could have used some bigger personalities and some livelier characterizations. A few more “horror moments” would have also served it well. This said, the film does look good and is a decent little offering with some fun moments. Recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 3/5

Directed By: Riccardo Freda & Mario Bava

Starring: Gianna Maria Canale, Carlo D’Angelo, Dario Michaelis, Wandisa Guida, Angelo Galassi, Renato Tontini, Charles Fawcett, Gisella Mancinotti, Miranda Campa, Antoine Balpêtré, Paul Muller