Monday, 29 September 2008

I VAMPIRI/The Devil's Commandment/Lust of the Vampire (1956)

I think it is worth saying a bit about Italian popular cinema. The Italians have never really been that good at creating genres - with the exception of the peplum movies which started with the silent Maciste films and continued with the films featuring Hercules and countless other muscle bound heroes during the late Fifties and early Sixties - but they sure are good at imitation and they weren't slow to jump aboard the Fifties horror revival, the post-Bond spy craze and the Westerns. The directors of this films are for the most part forgettable but certain stars did arise and autuerist critics and fans were right to champion the works of directors like Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda, Antonio Margheriti, Sergio Leone, Vittorio Cottafavi, Sergio Corbucci and later Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I think the case has pretty well been made for Bava, Argento and, above all Sergio Leone. The others remain, for me, interesting. Most have made some really good films (I am particularly fond of some of Corbucci's westerns) but more often than not they are praised for having managed to make crap look palatable. A cult seems to form around any director who specialises in horror films, especially if they are gory. Fulci is one such director. Despite the adoration he received from his fans he blatantly lacked the ability to tell a coherent story. I also find Riccardo Freda problematic. His reputation seems to have started with THE TERROR OF DR.HICHCOK, which starred Barbara Steele, has always seemed wildly over-rated to me. I think that the film's admirers are really getting their rocks off on Miss Steele and the necrophiliac plot rather that the quality of the film. I don't think that the film even looks that good - certainly not as good as its semi-sequel THE SPECTRE which is usually regarded as inferior. Which brings us to I VAMPIRI which is credited to Freda although it was completed by Mario Bava. It is a historically important film as it was the first Italian horror film of the sound era and one that encompassed elements of Italian giallo and gothic cinema. It is an interesting film but for the most part not really a very good one. The plot concerns the murder of young girls to provide blood for a noble woman (played by Gianna Maria Canale) who lives in a huge gothic castle on the outskirts of Paris (???) and, my goodness, is it wordy. Talk, talk, talk, with endless scenes where guys in raincoats stand around talking. Only in the last real does the film really come alive as the gendarmes led by the reporter hero (why is this man in such a bad temper all the time?) search the castle. The final unmasking of the vampire is similar to the climax of Hammer's later COUNTESS DRACULA. What makes these scenes come to life is a combination of the impressive sets (obviously a left-over from some historical epic) and Bava's excellent camerawork which fully exploits the gothic atmosphere. Rating **

1 comment:

Cerpts said...

You know, I have to say that I never could get into I VAMPIRI. I bought the dvd for the reasons you mentioned (it's historical importance in the Italian horror genre) but I can't actually swear that I finished watching it. Either way, I don't remember a thing about it. It's one of those films which I'm planning to watch again one of these days. But your review clues me in on the probable reasons why I found it such heavy going.