Double Feature #14: Showgirls Versus Vampires

The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960)/ The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960)

These two Italian B&W vampire movies couldn't be more alike.  Both involve a troupe of lovely showgirls stranded in a castle with a mysterious vampire lurking about.

I'd love to know the backstory to these two films, as to how such carbon copies came to exist.  The actors, the directors, the writers, and the production companies are all different; yet, somehow, two identical films came to be in 1960.  Enjoy.

The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960)

A bus load of showgirls is traveling to their next gig, when they're stopped by an avalanche blocking the road.  Conveniently, there's a castle right up the road.

The manager, Lucas (Alfredo Rizzo - did I mention this was an Italian film?), has no qualms with banging on the big creepy door to ask for lodging.  Unfortunately, the castle's resident, Count Gabor Kernassy (Walter Brandi) isn't particularly sociable and turns them away.... until Vera steps forward. (insert dramatic music)....

Vera (Lyla Rocco) has been having the strange feeling she's been here before, and when the Count gets a look at her, he's shocked..... (Lucas just looks on confusedly).

He grants them one night - on one condition: they are to stay in their rooms all night.  Under no condition are they to wander the castle.

Lucas the tightwad is grateful for the free lodging; whereas, some of his girls have an uneasy feeling about the place.

Katia (Maria Giovannini) and Vera (Lyla Rocco)
Vera  continues to act funny.  She pulls a cigarette from a drawer, and Lucas wonders how she knew it was there.  It's almost as if she's been here before.

Katia (Maria Giovannini), on the other hand, has the hots for the Count.

Aaaaaand Katia's dead.  She disobeyed the Count's one and only rule, and she paid for it with her life. Frank (Leonardo Botta), the troupe's pianist, speculates that she fell from the castle tower.
Lucas: "This is all we need. As if we didn't have enough headaches.  Why did she have to disobey orders?
Frank: "She wasn't the most intelligent girl I ever met..."

Erika (Erika Dicenta) does a burlesque
The gang learns that the river has flooded over, so they'll have to stay another night in the castle. First an avalanche, now a flood - the area is clearly prone to natural disasters.

They bury Katia, and the funeral is barely over before the girls are practicing for their next performance.  With Frank at the piano, Lucas barking commands, and the girls putting on a their show, it's party time in Kernassy Castle! Katia is a distant memory... and it's been hardly an hour after her death. Anyone even a little concerned her death wasn't an accident?

Vera discovers a painting of Margherita Kernassy, a woman who lived in this castle in the 18th century. The Count says the "resemblance is extraordinary", but I don't think it looks that much like her.

The Count believes Vera is Margherita come again, and begs her to leave before something really, really bad happens.  But Vera is tired of being a sleazy showgirl; The Count has stirred something within her, and she wants to stay.  A passionate embrace ensues.

Vera wanders into the castle basement and finds Katia's body.  This sends Vera into a hysterical fit, but The Count is there to console her and make everything okay.

He explains that he's conducting experiments to rid the world of the plague of vampirism.  He implores Vera to trust him, that he's doing the right thing.

Personally, I'd be a little suspicious if my friend died mysteriously at a stranger's house, and then my dead friend was found in the stranger's basement.  But that's just me.

Frank is convinced they need to get the hell out of there, but Lucas ain't worried.  He's enjoying the free booze, free posh quarters, and is enjoying a little light reading in bed.

But as he drifts off to sleep, a silent figure appears at the doorway...

It's a naked Katia vampire.  A pretty bold scene for a film from 1958 (Note that IMDb has it at 1960, however the opening title screen says '58).  Kudos to Maria Giovannini for daring to bare-all in this film, which would be her last role (she was in six films in the 1950s).

Lucas comically screams like a girl then faints.  When Frank and the showgirls arrive, they think he's just had a nightmare.

Vera learns that the flooding has passed and it's safe for them to leave - The Count beseeches her to get the f--k out.  But she chooses to not tell the others. She hears a strange noise outside her bedroom door and investigates.

Is it that damn hard to just stay in your room at night?  One thing this Count asks.  One thing.

And you know the Gothic trope: a women in a nightgown roaming through darkened halls of a castle.  It's imagery central to the genre.  Unfortunately, this goes on quite a bit; if your attention span is like mine, your mind will wander as aimlessly as Vera through the castle.  Eventually, she runs into The Vampire who's just a pale version of The Count with fangs.

But there's a twist.  The Count arrives and attempts to save Vera.  So, the Vampire is not The Count, but rather his undead twin!

The Vampire easily beats the shit out of his mortal clone, and takes fainted Vera to the castle dungeon.

On his merry way, he encounters naked vampire Katia.  I love how she still doesn't have any clothes. There are some remarkably well-placed shadows which conceal Giovannini's naughty bits. (For another film featuring a female vampire who never wears any clothing, see Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (1985).  Mathilda May is great, but Giovannini did the nude vampire shtick first.)

Naked vampire Katia is jealous of Vera whom The Vampire thinks is 18th century Margherita Kernassy. A vampire can only stand so much backtalk from his bitches, so he shoves a torch through her heart.  Goodbye naked vampire Katia.

It's The Count to the rescue!  He pulls down a curtain, exposing The Vampire to the sunlight, and then pushes him onto a wall spike, where he shrivels into a grotesque corpse.  Take note of the amazing effects above.

Note to vampires: It's probably best to not have a lair with curtains and wall spikes.  That's inviting disaster.  May as well just have a handy glass of holy water in the room as well.

In the end, everyone's happy.  Lucas, Frank, and the showgirls are back on the bus to the next gig. Vera is aboard, but she knows The Count is selling his estate and will join her later.  It's a perfect ending for everyone..... except Katia, of course, who died.

All in all, a fun little film full of surprises.  I was amazed by the moments of sleaze I didn't think would be in a flick from 1958. And as far as late-night creepshows are concerned, this had all the ingredients.  No complaints - Gilligan recommends.

The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960)

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is essentially the same movie.  Everyone involved in the production is different, but the movie's the same.  Once again, we have a group of showgirls who are guests in a scary gothic castle.

And, as before, the girls practice their routine with piano accompaniment.  This film is literally wall-to-wall black leotards.

Unlike the first feature, which only had a couple scenes of the girls doing their shtick, this one is padded with numerous.  Not that I'm complaining - the gals are stunning.

The vampire backstory is a bit different than before, with this one having a vampire baroness (Maria Luisa Lombardo) who delivers epic levels of cleavage throughout,

The films most erotic moment comes when the vampire pays a visit to the ballerina Luisa (Hélène Remy) who writhes orgiastically in bed.

This film doesn't reach the erotic levels of Playgirls which featured a naked Katia vampire, but it still delivers plenty of eye candy.

When Luisa swoons during their recital, we are treated to an A-Frame.  If you're not familiar with the trope, have no fear - it's been covered a few times on Retrospace.  Also note that a less direct A-Frame was used in Playgirls when the naked Katia vampire confronts the Count.

The vampire baroness is super hot, but her vampire hubby is pretty lame.  She wants out.

As you can see, he's no Christopher Lee.  He's not even a Frank Langella. The vampire's name is Herman for God's sake. However, I will say that certain scenes, which feature the vampire (Walter Brandi) lurking mysteriously, are incredibly evocative.  The film exudes a gothic flair bar none, and its depictions of the shadowy menacing vampire are as good as even the best Hammer flick.

That being said, when going "full vampire", it leaves something to be desired...

Ummm.  Yeah.

 Francesca (Tina Gloriani) has just been terrorized by this sorry looking vampire.  She was saved in the nick of time, but she won't be the last to fall victim to the vampire.

Aaaaand more showgirl rehearsals.

All in all, it's just not as compelling as Playgirls and the Vampire. The story moves a bit slower, there's not the comedy of Lucas, who provided a contrasting levity in the previous movie.  And there's no nudity (although, I am told that you'll find some if you're quick with the pause button). Plus, the story is a bit more convoluted and disjointed.

That being said, you can't beat the gothic atmosphere.  The cinematography of the castle is stunning, and the creativity of the shots are something to behold.  I'd recommend it, but with less enthusiasm as the previous flick.

1 comment:

  1. I'm willing to bet good money that these two films, and Blood Pit of Horror, were the inspiration for SCTV's parody Dr. Tongue's House of Stewardess in 3-D.