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Plot: American actress inherits time-worn castle in Transylvania.

Gebissen wird nur nachts - das Happening der Vampire (or Biting is Only Done at Night - the Happening of the Vampires, released in Italy as ½ Litro di Rosso per il Conto Dracula or ½ Liter of Red For Count Dracula and abbreviated for the international market to simply The Vampire Happening) is the most beautiful sort of trainwreck. Not the stillborn magnum opus of a tortured (and creatively stifled) genius or the mad vision of a misunderstood savant butchered by bovine and hare-brained studio execs. No, The Vampire Happening is something better. Something wild. A misguided vanity project willed into existence through sheer cynicism and nepotism by a delusional (and, allegedly, full-blown alcoholic) producer as a platform to consolidate the fledging career of his much younger trophy wife and to launch her to international superstardom. Alas, history would decide otherwise. For a supposed horror comedy it’s shorn of both scares and laughs. Thankfully there’s acres of skin. Before Nai Bonet’s Nocturna (1979) killed both disco and the 1970s vampire spoof there was The Vampire Happening.

To truly understand how The Vampire Happening came to be and went so disastrously wrong we need to look at who produced it and the sort of people he consorted with. The culprit? Pier Andrea Caminnecci. Caminnecci was an actor who in mainland Europe orbited around both Jesús Franco in Spain and Adrian Hoven in Germany. As an actor Caminnecci was in Franco’s Succubus (1968) as well as Hoven’s In the Castle of Bloody Lust (1968), both of which he also associate produced. During the production of Succubus (1968) Caminnecci had an affair with French model Janine Reynaud that probably goes a way into explaning why he associate produced the Red Lips duology Two Undercover Angels (1968) and Kiss Me Monster (1969). On the set of Kiss Me Monster (1969) Reynaud met actor Michel Lemoine, a year later the two were married and would remain so for the next 12 years. In 1969 fate would sent petite Swedish beauty Pia Degermark his way. The fact that Degermark managed to stumble into an acting career is just as unlikely as jetset figure Pier A. Caminnecci being considered a legitimate and respected film producer. Love is the strangest of drugs and before long the two were engaged in a stormy romance that resulted in their civic and legal union. What better way to celebrate putting a ring on Sweden’s hottest export than to envision her own movie feature and starring vehicle? And so it was that Caminnecci set up an international production and assembled a motley crew of British, German, and Spanish talent in front and behind the camera. Somehow, some way in 1970 cameras rolled and principal photography on The Vampire Happening commenced in Austria. All of which is as good a time as any to see who was involved.

Described as alternatively an “adult vampire film” and “a satyrical horror comedy” it was helmed by British cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis. During the previous decade Francis was associated with Amicus and Hammer for which he filmed, among others, The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), The Skull (1965), and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968). In 1970 Francis was recovering from Trog (1970) that had landed at cineplexes with a disappointing thud. Not only was it the swansong for Depression-era Hollywood leading lady Joan Crawford (who was drunk off her head all the way through, and who could blame her?) but also the one that Francis regrets directing. Following the unlikely box office success of Jean Rollin’s The Rape Of the Vampire (1968) and The Nude Vampire (1970) the sexy Euro-vamp craze was in full swing. Caminnecci had instructed writers August Rieger and Karl-Heinz Hummel to concoct something halfway funny in the vein of the Roman Polanski gothic horror spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Rieger had over a decade’s experience writing and producing. In that capacity he was responsible for penning lovably bovine brainfarts as the Franz Josef Gottlieb Schlager-Komödie Wenn die tollen Tanten kommen (1970), the Franz Antel comedy The Hostess Exceeds All Bounds (1970) (headlined by the always enjoyable Teri Tordai) and the slightly insane The Exorcist (1973) ripoff Magdalena, Possessed by the Devil (1974). None of which stopped Rieger from getting his Rollin on and including a subplot borrowed from Théophile Gautier’s La Morte Amoureuse.

Besides his wife Pia the cast was rounded out by American actor Thomas Hunter, German-British screen pillar Ferdy Mayne, and Spanish starlet Beba Novak. Hunter never had much of a career in America but was lucky to find steady employment in the German and Italian shlock circuit from 1966 onward. Mayne had starred in The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), the World War II epic Where Eagles Dare (1968) and Hammer’s glamour romp Vampire Lovers (1970). Novak was perhaps the greatest Eurobabe never to have a career worth mentioning. According to the late Paul Naschy she was slated to star in the unmade second (and largely believed to be fabricated) El Hombre Lobo episode The Nights of the Wolf Man (1968) and the thriller The Vertigo of Crime (1970). For the remainder of cast and crew he pooled talent and resources from Adrian Hoven and his Aquila Film Enterprises. The Vampire Happening derives most of its production value from Burg Kreuzenstein in Korneuburg and Burg Liechtenstein in Maria Enzersdorf in Lower Austria, both of which feature prominently. Also not unimportant is that Pia Degermark’s wardrobe was designed post-war German fashion icon Uli Richter. In one of life’s great ironies Degermark spents at least half the movie getting out of her clothes rather than showing them off and when she isn’t getting naked she’s fighting off bad special effects and even hokier dubbing. Res ipsa loquitur, The Vampire Happening had disaster written all over it and was destined for infamy. It premiered in Germany on June 4, 1971 and was subsequently laughed out of theatres by critics and audiences alike. Caminnecci never produced anything again.

American actress Betty Williams has returned to her ancestral home in Transylvania to finalize the details of her uncle's inheritance. She plans to sell off Rabenstein Castle once she has properly inspected the property. Williams is really Elisabeth von Rabenstein (Pia Degermark). Her administrator/butler Josef (Yvor Murillo, as Ivor Murillo) nearly scares himself half to death when he first lays eyes upon Elisabeth. Having regained his composure Josef informs her that she bears a striking resemblance to her long-dead great-grandmother Clarimonde Catani (Pia Degermark) who he once served and whose portrait (topless, of course) is the centerpiece of the royal suite. Clarimonde, Josef explains, was found dead (naked, of course) one night with two peculiar bite marks adorning her neck. The official explanation from authorities was that she was killed by a rabid fox but superstitious locals claim she was bitten by a vampire. You see, Josef’s confusion is understandable. Elisabeth is a dead ringer Clarimonde, except that she’s blonde and vivacious and Clarimonde was ravenhaired and pallid. That night Clarimonde visits Elisabeth in a dream and this awakens the voice of blood in Elisabeth and she feels destiny beckoning. She takes to seducing pious brother Martin (Joachim Kemmer) from the nearby seminary. The following night Elisabeth manages to draw Martin into the castle only to discover that her great-grandmother is in fact very much alive. Clarimonde, of course, feeds on poor Martin.

At Martin’s funeral strapping boarding schoolteacher Jens Larsen (Thomas Hunter) strikes her fancy. As Elisabeth drags Jens in between her sheets Josef takes to defending the castle from the undead scourge, specifically that of Clarimonde. Hijinks ensue when the undead Martin rises from the grave in search of warm blood. At the boardingschool students Gabrielle (Lyvia Bauer) and Kirsten (Daria Damar) enjoying nothing more than pulling practical jokes on their teacher fraulein Niessen (Ingrid van Bergen). Martin recognizes a snack when she sees one and vampirizes one of the girls while keeping the other one from breakfast. Confusion arises when Clarimonde dons a blonde wig and Elisabeth dons a black one and both head for the Ochsenstein ball organised by family partriarch Count Bernhard (Raoul Retzer) to which the younger von Rabenstein was invited. At the ball, or happening rather, esteemed and honored guest Count Dracula (Ferdy Mayne, as Ferdie Mayne) is expected to make his arrival by helicopter. In the costume department Elisabeth and Clarimonde agree to exchange costumes and trade their respective lives with the promise to live happily ever after. Shenanigans of just about every variety ensue and before long the masked ball is beset by a torch – and pitchfork-wielding mob of angry villagers tired of constant vampire attacks and the attendant mayhem. Josef, mistaking Clarimonde for Elisabeth, stuffs her in her Mercedes and sends her off to Hollywood. More hijinks ensue when Jens repeatedly fails to stake Clarimonde (who he still believes is Elisabeth). As the real Elisabeth runs towards them at their airport Jens and Josef realize they sent Clarimonde off to Hollywood.

If all of that sounds familiar, that’s because it does. Even by 1971 standards The Vampire Happening is a pastiche rife with clichés and painfully aware of the conventions of the genre it’s spoofing. If you condense and merge Amando de Ossorio‘s Malenka, the Vampire’s Niece (1969) and Mario Bava’s The Mask Of Satan (1960) into one this is what you’ll get. There’s the pretty funny castle tour segment that kind of recalls The Devil’s Nightmare (1971). The entire thing is enlivened by a dash of pretty innocuous Italian schoolgirl comedy that Silvia Dionisio wouldn’t be out of place in. The rest is lifted from The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). This one has it all: styrofoam boulders and rocks that would have looked questionable a decade earlier, skeletons on literal strings, a Dracula throwing the “devil” horns and car with the license plate “VM-1PR”. According to Radio Transylvania one Dr. Frankenstein works at the local bloodbank. Prescient of what direction gothic horror was going to take The Vampire Happening lays on the sexual innuendo and double entendres thick with things like boob-shaped pudding, peculiar moss growth on tree barks and rampant phallic imagery. Then there’s the fourth wall breaking glances at the camera. At one point a character says, “I’m getting completely mixed-up” before throwing an understanding glance at the viewer, continuing “I’ll bet you are, too.” The score from Jerry van Rooyen alternates between mock Bond and standard gothic horror fare. Some Bruno Nicolai or Nico Fidenco would have worked wonders here. This has bare-arsed monks, bare-breasted schoolgirls, and Edwige Fenech or Barbara Capell are nowhere to be seen. The tone is German, the style Italian, and the execution British. Thankfully 25-year-old Pia Degermark is naked. A lot.

This, of course, raises the question: who was Pia Degermark? In the grand scheme of things and even in the pantheon of Scandinavian starlets of the 1970s, she’s but a footnote. Pia Degermark was born in Stockholm on 24 August 1949 to affluent rural family that afforded her a privileged but sheltered upbringing among society’s higher echelons. Her grandfather Rudolf Degermark had made his fortune in wholesale and as a member of the Swedish jetset she attended Sigtunaskolan boarding school in Sigtuna, Stockholm. It wouldn’t be until 1980 when Sigtunaskolan merged with Sigtunastiftelsens Humanistiska Läroverk to become Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL). Notable SSHL alumni include former prime minister Olof Palme and current current King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf. Pia was discovered dancing with Swedish Crown Prince Carl Gustav at a society ball when a newspaper photograph fell on the desk of director Bo Widerberg. He instantly cast her in the title role of his Elvira Madigan (1967). Legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman heavily opposed Widerberg's choice describing Degermark as someone who could, "neither walk, neither stand nor speak."

That Bergman was accurate in his observation would be putting it very, very charitably. For her performance in Widerberg’s film she won a Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress and was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category Most Promising Newcomer – Female as well as a nomination at the British Academy Film Awards for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles. History would note that Degermark weighed but 28 kilograms when she came to pick her award in Cannes. Pia was beautiful. Pia was going places. There was no question about it but she was no Helga Liné, Candace Glendenning, or Soledad Miranda. She wasn’t even a Birte Tove, Yutte Stensgaard, or Leena Skoog. To say that she wasn’t up to scratch would be putting it very, very mildly. After graduating Degermark consolidated her early success with A Brief Station (1969) and The Looking Glass War (1970), the big screen adaptation of the John le Carré thriller. Pia suffered from anorexia since childhood and was battling with it still. In 1970 Pier Andrea Caminnecci cast Degermark and a romance between the two blossomed. By the time The Vampire Happening rolled into cinemas and grindhouses the two were married. What better way to show off your mid-twenties trophy wife than to have her cavort around naked in a horror comedy?

As is so often the case things like these act as a harbinger of things to come. At least for some. Ferdy Mayne would turn up in Val Guest's amiable sex comedy Au Pair Girls (1972) (with Me Me Lai) and the Stanley Kubrick historical drama Barry Lyndon (1975) among many others. Director Freddie Francis would continue his career as a cinematographer working with the likes of David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and Edward Zwick on The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), Cape Fear (1991) and the UK version of All Saints 'Never Ever' music video. Pier Andrea Caminnecci no longer was the flamboyant playboy and his hard-drinking, philandering lifestyle started to catch up with him. When he failed to procure 900,000 kroner to pay Pia’s father for their villa is said to have led to their seperation. After two years the marriage was dissolved as Pia Degermark filed for divorce. Having failed in business and embarrassed the family Caminnecci could no longer lay claim on the considerable Siemens empire. Degermark remarried, became addicted to amphetamines, and fell into drug abuse eventually ending in fraud, litigation, and homelessness. Everything culminated when Degermark served 14 months in Färingsöanstalten state prison for a slew of charges including gross fraud, drug offenses, and violence against a public servant. She eventually recovered and wrote her autobiography Gud räknar kvinnors tårar (or God Counts Women’s Tears) in 2006 and was the subject of the Tanja Stern book She Only Played One Summer: The story of Pia Degermark in 2017. As the legend goes, Pia is alleged to have said, “Sooner or later someone will make a film of my life. My story is too good to be forgotten.” If you insist on seeing what Germany contributed to the gothic horror that year you’re far better off with The Horrible Sexy Vampire (1971).

Plot: laborer falls in love with a beautiful girl who might, or might not, be human.

In the hallowed year of 1973 - a banner year for gothic, erotic, and vampire horror, if there ever was one – the European vampire film hit its apex. France, Spain, and Italy churned out some of their most memorable works. While the movement itself had started some three years earlier it didn’t reach critical mass until three years in. East-Europe was never very present in the popular conscious but their contributions to the development of horror aren’t any less important. Russia released the endlessly atmospheric special effects extravaganza Spirit Of Evil (1967), in Czechoslovakia (present-day Czech Republic) director Jaromil Jireš was the man behind the genre-bending coming of age fairytale Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), and in Serbia Đorđe Kadijević directed Лептирица (or The Butterfly, released in the English-speaking world as The She-Butterfly) produced by Radiotelevizija Beograd for TV Belgrade, which premiered on April 15, 1973 to wide consternation and shock. Teachers encouraged their students, young and old, to watch it. When it originally premiered in Skopje, Macedonia one person allegedly expired from sheer fright with all the expected controversy and moral outrage following. Pearl-clutchers of the day accused Kadijević of having made a “terrorist film” while literary critics claimed he had “desecrated” the classic After Ninety Years from Milovan Glišić on which it was based. Hardly the worst legacy for a little Balkan television movie about an hour long.

Đorđe Kadijević was born in 1933 and as a young boy he would see the horrors of World War II firsthand. He lost his father, his home and wandered around Serbia unhoused meeting Partisans and Chetniks along the way. He would grow up to be an art historian and art critic and his experiences during the Second World War would inform his screenwriting and most enduring cinematic works. Kadijević made comedies, period pieces, social realist dramas and everything in between. His film even catched the attention of Josip Broz Tito. He never had any real interest in horror as a genre as he deemed it too commercial. It’s not without a sense of irony then that it was in horror where he ended up contributing the most. He made the first Serbian horror film with The Gifts of My Cousin Mary (1969) and in the English-speaking world he’s forever associated with The Butterfly. Even if he took some artistic liberty with the Milovan Glišić story by changing the ending to something more ambiguous. For his television series Wolf Karadžić (1987-1988) he received the Order of the White Angel for honorably portraying the Orthodox Church during the Serbian Revolution of 1804-1812. Not only that the series was protected as European Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, on the suggestion of Umberto Eco. He also directed A Holy Place (1990), a Yugoslavian remake of Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov classic Soviet horror Spirit Of Evil (1963) that saw Branka Pujić taking over Natalya Varley’s iconic role as the titular witch. Kadijević was awarded the the Sretenje Order by the Republic of Serbia for his contributions to the development of Serbian art and culture. In 2016 he was the first laureate of the Bela Lugosi award at the Dead Lake festival in Palić, Subotica. Most recently, his work in cinema was celebrated at the Odraz Strava film festival on December 16-17 2022 at Hall of the Cultural Center of Belgrade.

After Ninety Years from Milovan Glišić tells the story of Sava Savanović, widely considered to be the first vampire in Serbian folklore. The legend of Savanović was probably inspired by the real-life case of peasant Petar Blagojević who died in 1725 and was believed to be responsible for nine mysterious deaths in the town of Kisiljevo. The crime was chronicled by Austrian administration official Imperial Provisor Ernst Frombald who witnessed his staking, took statements from villagers and called him Peter Plogojowitz in his reports. In Balkan folklore Blagojević was one of the earliest and most sensationalist examples of vampire hysteria. After Ninety Years was first published in 1880 preceding Bram Stoker’s Dracula (who’s main subject was inspired by 15th-century Wallachian voivode Vlad Drăculea or Vlad the Impaler) by some 17 years. Savanović also turned up in Fear and His Servant from Mirjana Novaković. Suffice to say, Sava Savanović is deeply engrained in Balkan popular culture. When The Butterfly premiered in 1973 it appeared more than ninety years after After Ninety Years first saw publication. Interestingly, in 2010 a feud of sorts broke out between two cities on opposing sides of the Povlen mountain when Zarožje and Valjevo claimed it as their own. Valjevo wanted to use it as their touristic mascot whereas Zarožje considered it theirs because of their connection to Milovan Glišić.

Serbia, the 19th century. Zarožje is a village on the slopes of the Povlen mountain in the valley of the Rogačica river in the municipality of Bajina Bašta. The village is set up as a zadruga (a family-based agricultural cooperative) where everybody lives in close harmony with nature and by the laws ordained by Protestant doctrine. The commune is governed by an assembly of elders and the local presbyterian priest (Tanasaije Uzunović). One morning the exsanguinated body of reclusive flour miller Vule (Toma Kuruzović) is found by geriatric peasant Ćebo (Bogoljub Petrović, as Boban Petrović). It is said that the mill is haunted by Sava Savanović and he kills whoever stays the night there. While Ćebo attributes the murder to the folkloric vampire village elder Villein (Branko Petković) fears that the unfortunate incident is the harbinger for an imminent famine. The entire town is beguiled by the ravishing beauty and elegance of ginger shepherdess Radojka (Mirjana Nikolić). Young farmhand Strahinja (Petar Božović) is madly in love with the ginger wonder (not surprising as her name means “well-disposed, happy, joyful, glad”) and in the meadows he declares his love for her. Strahinja wants them to be together and ask her hand in marriage.

Radojka has been raised by cranky landowner and farmer Živan (Slobodan Perović). Živan wants nothing more than Strahinja to leave Radojka alone – and he rebukes his request. The two young lovers are desperate to be together and if he can’t have Radojka than he’ll travel to Posavina to find employment and start anew. While the constantly drunk councilmen argue among each other about the veracity of the Savanović legend they all agree that first order of business is finding a new miller. They figure that installing Strahinja at the mill will solve two immediate problems: the famine will be staved off and they’ll retain Živan as an ally. They travel to the neighbouring village where they seek an audience with Mirjana Mirjanić who’s as deaf as a door post and half senile but also old enough to remember where Sava was buried. The councilmen dig up the grave and stake the contents of the coffin. Strahinja survives his night at the mill and is deemed the savior of the village. The villagers celebrate by throwing a rescue party to steal Radojka from Živan’s farm and prepare the couple’s wedding. That night Strahinja sneaks into Radojka’s dwelling and when he undresses her he comes to a deeply shocking discovery about the girl’s real parentage.

If anything The Butterfly made a star out of Mirjana Nikolić as well as its iconic watermill. Mirjana Nikolić had debuted in Whole Life Within A Year (1967) and was a rising star due to her role in the romantic comedy Father by Force (1969). While she had worked with Đorđe Kadijević the year before on the historic drama The Colonel’s Wife (1972) history would remember The Butterfly as her breakout role to an international career. That international career didn’t seem to extend beyond the British co-produced wartime drama England Made Me (1973) from the 1953 Graham Greene novel of the same name. For the most of her career Nikolić would remain in Serbia. Filming for The Butterfly happened on location in the village of Zelinje (in the province of Zvornik, in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the watermill (“the mill of fear” the locals affectionately call it, supposedly) remains at its original location some 3 km (1.9 mi) from the Bajina Bašta-Valjevo road in the valley of the Rogačica river. It has since become something of a tourist attraction. The mill collapsed in 2012, but was reconstructed by December 2018. Four years later, in December 2022, it was completely renovated and while its doors remain open, it isn’t presently operational. No doubt The Butterfly brought in decades’ worth of tourism to Zelinje and Serbia.

East-European horror has an atmosphere that really can’t be felt anywhere else. It’s rustic, glacially paced and has the pastoral environs and that thick dream atmosphere usually associated with France, it’s also very primal in the way Spanish horror is, and strangely religious like something you’d expect out of Latin America. Spirit Of Evil (1967), Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), and this are some prime examples of the form. The Butterfly is historic for being one of the finest vampire horror films to come from the former Yugoslavia. It’s historical importance and cultural significance can’t possibly be understated. Moreso, in 2019 Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) digitally restored and remastered it premiering (whether this was on their main channel RTS1 or their more cultural/educational RTS2 is unclear) it for an entire new generation. On a sidenote, it’s also interesting is that it arrived in 1973, the absolute nexus of gothic horror in Europe. For most Western viewers it wouldn’t be until Polish gothic The Wolf (1983) before East-Europe would rise to horror prominence again. Even half a century later The Butterfly remains an undiluted classic and an incredible achievement from the unlikeliest of places.