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Plot: newly wed couple fall under the spell of vampire in remote castle

If Roberto Mauri’s The Slaughter Of the Vampires is famous for anything, it’s for making the Italian gothic horror profitable. Riccardo Freda’s and Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1957) established the horror genre domestically and Renato Polselli’s The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) acted as the catalyst for the first wave of Italian gothic horrors. It was however The Slaughter Of the Vampire that did for the gothic horror what Pietro Francisci’s The Labors Of Hercules (1958) had done for the peplum at the end of the prior decade. Not only is The Slaughter Of the Vampires a beautifully photographed and atmospheric gothic horror feature, it also is graced by the presence of the elegant and patrician Graziella Granata. Granata is frequently bursting at the seams and she’s the standard to which all feature female vampires will be measured.

Granata debuted in The Pirate and the Slave Girl (1959) opposite of Lex Barker and Chelo Alonso. From that point onward she became a regular in comedy (Fernandel and otherwise), swashbucklers and peplum with the occassional venture into other genres. The Slaughter Of the Vampires is the only horror in ravenhaired Granata’s body of work and memorable for no other reason that she gets to wear very flattering dresses and corsets and that she goes from the obligatory damsel-in-distress to the fang-sprouting antagonist in a matter of a few scenes. Also at hand are prolific actor Walter Brandi – who was a vampire himself in The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) – and future pulp directors Alfredo Rizzo and Luigi Batzella. Batzella would find fame by helming the delirious erotic gothic horror throwbacks The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973), The Reincarnation Of Isabel (1973) and Nude For Satan (1974). Rizzo on the other hand directed nothing of peculiar interest outside of providing stock footage for two very dubious Eurociné features in the next two decades.

In Vienna, Austria in the 19th century newlywed marquis Wolfgang (Walter Brandi, as Walter Brandy) and his marchioness Louise (Graziella Granata) acquire a spacious castle. Unbeknownst to them lying in wait interred in one of the coffins deep within the castle’s wine-cellar is a vampire (Dieter Eppler). In their new abode the couple is looked after by maid Corinne (Gena Gimmy) as well as two housekeepers (Alfredo Rizzo and Edda Ferronao) living on the estate with their young daughter Resy (Maretta Procaccini). To commemorate the occasion of having come in possession of such luxurious estate the couple decide to throw a house-warming party. At the party Louise performs a piano piece she has written for the christening of the castle. She and her friend Teresa (Carla Foscari) ostensibly attract everybody’s attention until a mysterious stranger, unknown to hosts and guests alike, makes his entrance and asks Louise to dance. The mysterious stranger is in fact the vampire hidden in the wine-cellar and who has found his sole purpose in making Louise his living companion, regardless of the cost. As Louise and Corinne both fall under the vampire’s spell Wolfgang sees no other solution than to call on the services of expert in the occult and part-time vampire hunter Dr. Nietzsche (Luigi Batzella, as Paolo Solvay) to exterminate the supreme vampyric evil.

Graced by both breathtaking photography and lush location shooting in and around tenth century Castle d’Aquino in Monte San Giovanni Campano in Lazio The Slaughter Of the Vampires certainly looks better than its kitschy plot would suggest. What it also has in the positively bra-busting Graziella Granata is a gainly leading lady, and later vampire bride, that few have been able to match since. Indeed, Granata exudes a sense of sophistication and aristocracy that could measure itself with the finest of Hammer Films ladies. Graziella owns, despite being dubbed in the international English version, every scene she in – and oozes with sensuality long before she sprouts fangs. The Slaughter Of the Vampire sizzles with eroticism, whether it is in the form of bared shoulders or heaving bosoms in tightly-fitting bodices and dresses. Coming from a more innocent time The Slaughter Of the Vampires is completely bereft of nudity and blood, even though both The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and Castle Of Blood (1964) would have some of its female cast briefly shed clothing. Dieter Eppler’s concrete coiffed vampire, who for hitherto unexplained reasons will remain unnamed, on the other hand looks somewhat as a mix of Ed Wood stock actor Criswell and Paul Naschy.

Graziella Granata is perhaps responsible for this movie’s enduring legacy. The Slaughter Of the Vampires, as kitschy and pulpy as it often ends up becoming, is a paean to Granata. Graziella is initially introduced as the virginal ingénue but the prerequisite damsel-in-distress soon turns into a comely seductress that stalks the darkened bowels of the castle to satiate her sanguine hunger. The restrictive and restricting limitations of the genre notwithstanding it’s puzzling that The Slaughter Of the Vampires is Granata’s only horror title. Graziella does so much with so little. An exposed shoulder in a tight-fitting dress, a bit of leg, décolletage so ample and abundant that it makes the average red-blooded male dizzy, and more than enough longing, sultry looks abound. Without shedding even a single article of clothing Graziella manages to steam up whatever scene she appears in. Even when she’s reborn as a vampire cinematographer Ugo Brunelli takes every opportunity to photograph her full feminine form in a dazzling play of light and shadow. In a last desperate bid to thwart the dwellers of the dark Dr. Nietzsche finds Louise fast asleep in her coffin and drives a stake right between her breasts. It’s the sort of production that makes one wonder why Sylvia Sorrente wasn’t cast. Compared to the equally top-heavy María Luisa Rolando, Graziella Granata actually exuded a sense of nobility in spite of her thoroughly Italian corn-fed allure and charm.

The first Golden Age of Italian horror was initially imitative of Hammer Films’ rejuvenation of the horror genre with The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) from director Terence Fisher. Hammer in the fifties modeled itself after the 1930s Universal horror canon and before long Italy would be carving out its own distinct niche in horror. Sweltering with Mediterranean romanticism and bearing enough of a semblance to Bram Stoker’s classic novel The Slaughter Of the Vampires is gothic horror kitsch at its best. It does in shadowy black-and-white cinematography what Gerardo de Leon would do with Blood Of the Vampires (1966) and what Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) and The Dracula Saga (1973) would do a decade later in lurid, bleeding color. It makes the best of what little resources it has by having characters walk endless in and around the castle. Granata and Carla Foscari are memorable thanks to the dresses that are barely able to contain their bountiful bosoms. There are dusty hallways, candlelabras, shadowlit corridors, coffins buried by time and dust and the heart of the production is a tragic doomed love triangle. Granata makes a most formidable vampire bride and the conclusion is not nearly as laughably inept as that of The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960).

The Slaughter Of the Vampires is Hammer Horror all’Italiana and through its rustic charm and perhaps old-fashioned sense of style it beautifully sets the stage for later, more delirious exercises of the genre to come. It sports two directors one who would become famous for his absolutely batshit insane gothic horror throwbacks with Rosalba Neri and Rita Calderoni. Alfredo Rizzo, the less innately talented half of the duo, directed his own addition to the gothic horror pantheon with the well-intended The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (1975), but the only thing Rizzo is remotely remembered for is his loveably dopey Eurowar debacle Heroes Without Glory (1971), graciously plundered for footage by Eurociné for their cut-and-paste feature East Of Berlin (1978) and the proxy-Jess Franco exercise in tedium Oasis Of the Zombies (1982) almost a decade later. Ah, Rizzo always was a better actor than he was a director. The Slaughter Of the Vampires comes from a more innocent and much simpler time when everything was classier. It’s might be a bit strong to call Roberto Mauri’s The Slaughter Of the Vampires an overlooked classic of the genre, but it certainly pushes all the right buttons and has atmosphere in spades.

Plot: daughter avenges the death and dishonor of her bankrupted father

Supreme Sword was a Cantonese period costume wuxia produced at a time when Cantonese cinema was on the way out. The Japanese wuxia of the day were more impressive but they had resources, financial and otherwise, that Supreme Sword did not have access to. Starring leading lady of the day Connie Chan Po-Chu and martial arts pillar Walter Tso Tat-Wah Supreme Sword is a fairly ordinary example of the form and about the only thing that makes it stand out is that it’s fairly bloody for its time. The revenge plot is the oldest in the book but Supreme Sword puts in at least one surprise to make it worthwhile. Supreme Sword is a vehicle for Connie Chan Po-Chu, of the Seven Princesses, and if it weren’t for her presence the production certainly would’ve been rendered a footnote in martial arts history.

When her father (Ling Mung) is bankrupted and dishonored by a counterfeiting ring employing loanshark Mr. Ma (Ko Lo-Chuen) and headed by Gold Fist (Lok Gung) he kills himself to save his relatives from further disgrace. His daughter Wang Tsui Ying (Connie Chan Po-Chu) vows revenge. The counterfeiting ring is part of a much larger criminal operation led by The Four Tigers (See Kin, Ng Yan-Chi, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung, and Wah Wan-Fung). In her quest for revenge Wang Tsui Ying makes her acquaintance with master swordsman Fong Tien-Biu (Yuen Siu-Fai) and his student Cheng Wen Chieh (Lam Kam-Tong). The three run into a dirt-poor drifter/beggar by the name of Fang Tien Hung (Walter Tso Tat-Wah) who themselves are in the process of freeing the captive father of his client Liu (Gam Lui). Loyalties are tested when it is revealed that Liu’s father Cheng Chung is none other than Gold Fist.

Connie Chan Po-Chu, one of the Seven Princesses of 1950s/60s Cantonese cinema

The star of Supreme Sword is Connie Chan Po-Chu, who was one of the so-called 'Seven Princesses' of Cantonese cinema all through the fifties and sixties together with Josephine Siao. Chan was the daughter of opera stars Chan Fei Nung and Kung Fan Hung and was trained in Northern and Southern martial arts. Starting acting at an early age Chan appeared in every genre under the sun including, but not limited to, Chinese opera, wuxia, fantasy and even the occassional romance. Chan was a protégé of famous Cantonese opera star Yam Kim-Fai, famous for frequently playing male roles. Connie Chan Po-Chu and Josephine Siao had starred together with the remaining five other Cantonese starlets Petrina Fung Bo-Bo, her older sister Alice Fung So-Po, Wong Oi-Ming, Nancy Sit Ka-Yin, and Sum Chi-Wah in the two-part monochrome epic Seven Princesses (1967), from whence the collective derived its pet name. Connie Chan and Josephine Siao had a great and devoted following with Chan exceeding Siao in sheer volume, some 230 titles, even though her career was considerably shorter. Despite the friendly rivalry Chan and Siao would often star together in various productions.

A bitter rivalry existed between the genre’s two prime studios Shaw Brothers from Hong Kong, China and Motion Picture and General Investments Limited (MP&GI, later and better known as Cathay) from the Republic of Singapore. As Cathay ceased operations in 1970 Cantonese cinema all but collapsed as Mandarin productions became de facto standard at the box office. The ensemble comedy The House of 72 Tenants (1973) was the only Cantonese movie made that year and a rousing success. Golden Harvest, the Hong Kong company formed by exiled Shaw Brothers executives Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho, was in no small part responsible for keeping Cantonese cinema alive. The decline of Cantonese productions forced Chan into early retirement. Connie decided to move to America to further her education but she was encouraged by director Chor Yuen - with whom she had worked frequently in the sixties - to join Shaw Brothers studio and star in his production The Lizard (1972). Following the release of The Lizard in 1972 Connie Chan retired from the entertainment industry completely.

Chan's place was taken by a bright talent called Angela Mao Ying. Mao Ying would continue the pioneering work and pave the way for Michelle Khan (later Yeoh) in the 1980s, who herself was replaced by Cynthia Khan, Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima during the eighties and nineties. In 1999 Chan returned in the record-breaking stage play Sentimental Journey, a story based upon the life of her mentor Yam Kim-Fai, that was a critical success and ran for an impressive 100 performances. In 2003 Chan staged a series of high-profile concerts of beloved films songs and Cantonese opera classics. After the trek had ended Chan appeared in the play Red Boat that ran for 64 performances. Two years later, in 2005, Sentimental Journey was brought back for a six-week revival. Finally, in 2007, Connie was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hong Kong Drama Awards.

Supreme Sword was produced by Walter Tso Tat-Wah for Wenhua Film Company. Tso was a star in his own right. Tso had a career spanning seven decades and got his start in the industry in the mid-1930s when he worked for Grandview Film Company Limited as an assistant director to Chiu Shu-San, Moon Kwan Man-Ching and Tang Xiao-Dan. From there he worked his way up the ladder to production manager in 1949, all while staying active as an actor through out. In 1946 Walter Tso Tat-Wah and his sister Tso Yee-man, who The New York Times famously called the “Mary Pickford of China” at the time, were the stars of Yau Kiu Films Company, the company co-founded by his brother in law and Toishan native You-Chuck Moy. Yau Kiu Films Company was a state-of-the-art 48 thousand square feet studio compound in Kowloon City near the Hau Wong Temple where Sai Kwong and National studios were also housed, making it the mini-Hollywood of Hong Kong. Tragedy struck on November 20, 1948 when Tso Yee-man, the creative force behind the studio, suddenly passed away at the young age of 30 due to complications arising from pneumonia. In an interesting strategic alliance Moy married Susan Shaw, the only daughter of Shaw & Sons Studios mogul Runde Shaw, in March 1949, mere months after the passing of his wife Tso Yee-man.

As one of the major movie studios in Hong Kong in the late 1940s and early 1950s Yau Kiu produced a modest 16 features and filmed 13 others. In 1952 the Mandarin section of Yau Kiu studio burnt down when a short circuit took place in one of the movie sets. From that point forward production was halted at Yau Kiu but other production companies still used the facilities. Walter Tso Tat-Wah not only was a shareholder in Yau Kiu studio but also owned the Palace Theatre (皇宮戲院) in Pak Ho Street in Sham Shui Po which opened in 1953. Tso had to sell his Palace Theatre as well as a number of other properties to pay off his gambling debts, one of his known vices. The most successful production for Yau Kiu was The Seven Swords and the Thirteen Heroes (1967). Yau Kiu was absorbed by Great Wall Movie Enterprise (now part of Sil-Metropole Organization), the leader of Mandarin films in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2001 the properties underwent re-development and it has since become the home to HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity and the Stone House Family Gardens. Yau Kiu was overshadowed by Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest from 1970 onward. Walter Tso Tat-Wah was a veteran from in excess of 700 films and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Hong Kong Film Critics Association in 2001 and was given the Professional Achievement Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2003.

Walter Tso Tat-Wah was one of the biggest stars at Wenhua Film Company, famous for his roles of Leung Foon, the head disciple of Wong Fei Hung in the four-part Wong Fei-Hung series (1956-1958) that started with Wong Fei-Hung at a Boxing Match (1956) and Wong Fei-Hung's Fight in He'nan (1957) and concluded with How Wong Fei-Hung and Wife Eradicated the Three Rascals (1958) and How Wong Fei-Hung Stormed Phoenix Hill (1958) as well as for his role of Lung Kim Fei from the Buddha’s Palm (1964) series. The directorial duties were given to Ling Yun, a material arts veteran who had worked with Tso earlier on the Buddha’s Palm (1964) series and with Chan on the The Sword of the Palace (1963) trilogy, the two Young and Furious (1966) films as well as the Jade in the Red Dust (1966) trilogy. The screenplay was written by Sze-To On, a prolific writer in Cantonese and Mandarin cinema with credits in a variety of genres dating as far as back as the mid-fifties. Although he was a specialist in the martial arts and wuxia genres Sze-To On also wrote the screenplay to Erotic Ghost Story II (1991) an adult feature that capitalized on the success of Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) franchise, which was on to its third episode by that point. Assistant direction on Supreme Sword was done by Chan’s long-time paramour Law Kei.

The fight choreography isn’t quite as acrobatic as would become the norm thanks to Shaw Brothers’ “second wave” wuxia from the second half of the sixties onward. The sword-wielding avenger is a classic figure of Asian cinema and Connie Chan Po-Chu’s portrayal of the vengeful Wang Tsui Ying might not surpass Lady Snowblood (1973) in terms of on-screen carnage and bloodshed, although it doesn’t shy away from severing extremities and spatters of blood, both are equal as far as intensity is concerned. Supreme Sword is one of the transitional titles between the earlier, more rustic wuxia and the more acrobatic variety that would come to dominate the seventies. While the two Lady Snowblood (1973) movies with Meiko Kaji are retroactively more remembered (not only because they were far more bloodier, but also because they were remade in 2003-2004 by a certain American director as the two-part Kill Bill feature) Supreme Sword is not any less impressive. Especially considering that it came from a considerably smaller studio. If there’s one title to start exploring the massive repertoire of Connie Chan Po-Chu Supreme Sword is an excellent startingpoint. Although truthfully the two-part Seven Princesses (1967) epic is where any such journey should really begin.