By Kristin Battestella
With ample undead times and places, ghoulish girls, bloodsuckers of all varieties, gothic glitz, and horror humor – what’s not to love about classic vampire films of decades yore?
Daughters of Darkness – This 1971 Elizabeth Bathory suave and swanky Euro bend starring John Karlen (Willie from Dark Shadows getting it on!) and Delphine Seyrig (The Day of the Jackal) gets right to the saucy, up close, wet, near soft core action and full frontal nudity. Aristocratic family secrets, deceptions, kinky newlyweds, and suggested lesbian jealousies add to the traditional vampire staples – from unexplained perpetual youth, lookalike ancestors, and a reflection-less countess with a beautiful, mysteriously bound ward to straight razor cuts on the neck, fear of running water, and no trace of blood at the scene of the crime. Toss in meddling, aged bellhops, astute old cops, the local morbid curiosity, and a bevy of babes – namely Danielle Oulette and Andrea Rau – and the murders, violence, and homoerotic twists are complete. The cars are seriously cool, too, as are the symbolic fashions, flashy frocks, and colorful velvet décor. The perfect Ostend Hotel and other European locales more than make up for the tacky but sassy and fitting music, and the nice mix of accents on the English dialogue adds more foreign flair to kinky descriptions of medieval torture – nipple pinchers, hot tongs, and all that. Red lighting and blue tinted photography add to the creepy jump scares and frights, but this isn’t horror per se, rather something more voluptuous in mood. It’s a little dark and tough to see at the end and confuses some of its own vampire lore but stick with the uncut 100-minute DVD version with the added features and commentaries if you’re in the mood for then-updated, now period gothic vamps with a feminine twist. Remember, the key to beauty is “A very strict diet and lots of sleep.”
Fright Night – Writer and Director Tom Holland (Child’s Play) crafts a fun, self-referential midnight movie in this 1985 mix of traditional vampire lore and suburban charm. Film within a film winks and other horror homages both apparent and wonderfully subtle anchor the still bemusing eighties music and fashion styles along with assorted vampire effects, transformations, beasties, and bloodies. Although there is a little too much slow, must stop, and awe at our effects camera shots dragging some of the action pace, the combination of shoulder pad sassy and creature feature bloodsuckers works thanks to suave Chris Sarandon (Dog Day Afternoon), Cushing-esque Roddy McDowell (Planet of the Apes), and cute next door couple William Ragsdale (Herman’s Head) and Amanda Bearse (Married…with Children). A great, creepy house completes the old meets eighties setting, and there are some boobs and sexy innuendos to match. While some may dislike the humorous, dated designs – it’s amazing how becoming a vampire lengthens your hair and increases your bust! – this near perfect blend of modern wit and vampire suspense is tough to beat. A Must see.
The Norliss Tapes – Dark Shadows show runner Dan Curtis directed this moody and atmospheric 1973 TV movie, and the now old cassette tapes, typewriters, telephones, and dated technology add further fears and retro style to the sweet trolley cars and isolated California estates. Perhaps Roy Thinnes’ (The Invaders, Falcon Crest) brooding speculations and narrations would be unnecessary today – we’d just stick in a “one week earlier” title card – but the titular amateur detective is likeable and adds personality. Likewise, looking good Angie Dickinson (Rio Bravo, Police Woman) provides an honest and fearful portrayal amid the weird sculptures, dreary rain, and barking dogs. Eerie, fast, and furious action overcomes the slow, mysterious start thanks to resurrected husbands, Egyptian relics, and sudden disappearances – even if undead vampire make up is some freaky gray muck and dark car photography is somewhat tough to see. The flashback investigation and framing tape device take some liberties as well, with the point of view moving from victim to cops and place to place. Though the audience is quickly invested once the creepy corpses and blood drained bodies confound the police, this format adds an interesting level of unreliability. Did these things actually happen as the viewer is being told or is there a fiction spin to the tale? Indeed, I would have liked to see this continue, perhaps as several telefilms investigating various real world paranormal and not as a full series as intended. It’s only 82 minutes, has no subtitles, and there’s precious little information available online, but this is an intense, well acted, scary little show.
The Velvet Vampire – This 1971 western-esque tale produced by Roger Corman (The Pit and the Pendulum) and directed by Stephanie Rothman (The Student Nurses) gets right to the pretty gals in colorful, boobalicious frocks being attacked by vampires – or so the audience is led to believe. There’s humor amid the cast as well, from the jerky Michael Blodgett ( Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and his airheaded wife Sherry Miles (Making It) to cranky desert folk and the mysteriously pale and bloodstone-wearing Celeste Yarnall (Beast of Blood) who befriends our insipid couple. Although the desolate locales are perfect in creepy and isolated, the strung out tone or vapid, stoned acting hampers the sexual tension triumvirate already afoot. I could do without the naked slow motion running, however, and while this is blessedly not an unnecessarily gory bloodbath; some viewers will dislike the artsy before bloody approach. Fortunately, the undead spins and equal opportunity skin, sex, snakes, boobs, bubble baths, and dune buggies keep the obvious dialogue decidedly tongue in cheek. After all, a mere hat in the desert does wonders for our titular gal! The sensuality, mirrors, and vampire voyeurism are also well done – even if it takes both too long for the intrepid couple to put the macabre clues together and too little for the relationship dynamics to switch around so fast in this short 80 minutes. The mix of classical music, blues, and almost whimsical driving montages set off the fine desert filmmaking, red symbolism, scary abandoned mines, and wispy dreamscapes, but the picture seems a little flat and dark even amid the arid daylight scenery. Of course, that might just be the Cheesy Flicks DVD release, and my Netflix rental, skipped, too. Sure, this one is a little rough around the edges, but this is also a sophisticated, modern, and unique twist on the sexy seventies vampire vibe.