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Plot: Italian model inherits Waldrick Castle in Germany, creepy relatives included

Malenka (released in English language territories as Fangs Of the Living Dead) was a Spanish-Italian co-production that was significant for being one of the first vampire films to emerge in Spain under the repressive regime of Generalísimo Francisco Franco. Allegedly inspired by The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) it was the first foray into horror for director Amando de Ossorio. De Ossorio was only preceded by Jacinto Molina Álvarez (Paul Naschy to the English-speaking world) and his The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) that proved that horror could be a viable genre in Spain. It's rather interesting that the Philippines, a Spanish colony, arrived at the vampire film earlier with Gerardo de Leon's The Blood Drinkers (1964) and Blood Of the Vampires (1966), both with Amalia Fuentes in the starring role. For the time Fangs Of the Living Dead at least attempted to push the envelope.

The primary selling point for Fangs Of the Living Dead is poorly dubbed Swedish star Anita Ekberg. Ekberg debuted in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), with her star rising thanks to appearances in War and Peace (1956), Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and Boccaccio ’70 (1962). However by 1968 her career had taken a steep turn for the worse, and Ekberg would be making a living appearing in mostly Mediterreanean (Italian and Spanish) exploitation productions of dubious merit. Fangs Of the Living Dead was the last cinematic exploit for spaghetti western regular Adriana Ambesi who also had a role in the big budget John Huston production The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966) just three years earlier.

The remainder of the cast were veterans of Paul Naschy and Jesús Franco productions. Rosanna Yanni and Julián Ugarte worked earlier with Naschy on The Mark of the Wolfman (1968), and Yanni would do so again in Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973). For Amando de Ossorio’s Fangs Of the Living Dead she not only acted as one of the principal characters, but also served as its producer together with Adriana Ambesi. Yanni would also appear in The Amazons (1973) from former Bond director Terence Young. In 1962 Diana Lorys appeared in the Jesús Franco thriller The Awful Dr. Orloff before starring in a string of spaghetti westerns. Lorys had worked earlier with de Ossorio on the spaghetti western The Three from Colorado (1965). During the 1970s Lorys turned up in the Franco productions The Bloody Judge (1970) with Christopher Lee, and Nightmares Come at Night (1972) with late Franco muse Soledad Miranda in a relatively minor part. Not helping matters either was that Ugarte was only two years senior to Ekberg.

As a peculiar retelling of the 1897 Bram Stoker novel Dracula, Fangs Of the Living Dead concerns itself with Sylvia Morel (Anita Ekberg), an Italian model that looks suspiciously Nordic, who inherits the old family homestead of Waldrick Castle, somewhere in a remote region of Germany. Two weeks away from getting married to her fiancé Dr. Piero Luciani (Giani Medici, as John Hamilton), Sylvia rushes to inspect her inheritance. At the local tavern she meets barmaids and siblings Freya Zemis (Rosanna Yanni, as Rossana Yanny), and Bertha (Diana Lorys), both wearing low-cut dirndl dresses, the latter of whom wastes no time in making a pass at her client. When she announces that she’s the new Countess barmaids and villagers alike act as if they’ve seen a ghost. Meeting Count Walbrook (Julián Ugarte) at the castle estate, Morel enthusiastically declares “what an incredibly handsome uncle I have!” before kissing him on the cheek and noticing his icy coldness. Vladis (Fernando Bilbao) Walbrook’s trusty coachman, houseservant, and guard at this juncture chooses to dispense information to Morel about her uncle’s nocturnal habits in the castle.

That night Sylvia is woken up by Blinka (Adriana Ambesi, as Audrey Ambert) who wears an incredibly revealing funeral dress, describes herself as one of her uncle’s former mistresses, and prefers to talk about herself in the third person. Not having properly rubbed the sleep from her eyes Sylvia is overcome by Blinka, who doesn’t hesitate to make a pass on her. Moments later Walbrook storms in, forcefully removing Blinka from Morel’s room, and whipping her into subservience in one of the adjacent chambers in a scene that must have been provocative and daring for the time. At this point Walbrook shows Sylvia an ancestral portrait which is said to be her maligned great-grandmother Malenka, “a brilliant biochemist!” and alchemist that dabbled in black magic, and experiments in necro-biology. Transgressions for which she was burned “at the stake in the town square” by a pitchfork-and-torches brandishing mob of mortally terrified - or “a murderous, ignorant crowd” as Walbrook describes them - villagers. Having put Sylvia under his spell the Count tries to turn her in a blood ritual that doesn’t follow typical vampire lore. As a last resort he coerces her to call off her engagement, to follow the voice of blood and join him in the halls of eternity. Sylvia is, of course, none too sure about any of it...

Piero Luciani and his comic relief buddy Max (César Benet, as Guy Roberts) travel to the castle but are denied admittance by Vladis. In the town they seek the assistance of Dr. Horbinger (Carlos Casaravilla), the disgraced and now continually inebriated town physician that believes in the vampire myth. Luciani shrugs it off as “nonsense” and before long the trio are headed off to Waldrick Castle to put end to Count Walbrook’s unholy reign of terror. Will they be able to free Sylvia? Is Walbrook truly a vampire as he suggests? Fangs Of the Living Dead exists in several different versions. First there's a 75-80 min. US print with producer-mandated alternate ending that de Ossorio reluctantly filmed, then there's a 96-98 min. European print, probably of Dutch origin, that includes additional science exposition, and dialog scenes but omits the alternate ending. Finally there is the original Spanish Malenka print with the ending as envisioned and intended by its director.

The ancient undead already played a prominent part in Naschy's The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) and they were the focal point of de Leon's The Blood Drinkers (1964) and Blood Of the Vampires (1966). Fangs Of the Living Dead pilfers both of de Leon's vampire exercises in terms of plot. The vampire craze would reach a climax in 1973 with the release of Count Dracula’s Great Love, León Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (which all but steals the plot of Fangs Of the Living Dead), Joe Sarno's low-key Vampire Ecstasy and Luigi Batzella’s The Devil’s Wedding Night. Compared to these later outings Fangs Of the Living Dead is rather demure and prudish as was expected under Franco's military dictatorship. For a late 60s continental European production it at least tries to be provocative with its scenes of punitive whipping, implied sapphic liaisons and by putting the major female cast members (Lorys, Yanni and Ambesi) in very flattering low-cut dresses.

Fangs Of the Living Dead might not be the most stimulating of the form, but it benefits tremendously from its location. Waldrick Castle, or the chateau standing in for it, is filled with darkened hallways, candle- and torchlit mausoleums; shadowy, cobwebbed crypts, and opulent chambers. As a gothic horror piece Fangs Of the Living Dead eschews from both blood and nudity, but as Hammer Horror before it each of the actresses is put in skimpy dresses that allow as much bare skin as possible. The more voluptuous Rosanna Yanni and Adriana Ambesi regularly struggle to keep their assets contained in their dresses. What it lacks in technical polish it compensates with a sweltering sense of Mediterranean darkness and a melancholic organ, violin and harmonium score from Carlo Savina. The English language dub is atrocious even by 1960s exploitation standards. Amando de Ossorio would truly come into his own with his much lauded second horror feature Tombs Of the Blind Dead (1972), which spawned two sequels of its own, and with the amiable The Loreleys Grasp (1973) with Helga Liné and Silvia Tortosa.

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Plot: all-girl boarding school in Germany is beset by monstrous assailant

Before Spanish director Amando de Ossorio cemented his cinematic immortality with the lauded Blind Dead franchise, a series of highly atmospheric zombie movies, he was responsible for a number of respectable genre offerings. In 1969 he directed Malenka (released internationally as Fangs Of the Living Dead) and in 1974, just before the directing the final installment of his flagship franchise, he wrote and directed The Loreleys Grasp. Las Garras de Lorelei is an overlooked and little known entry into the director’s modest filmography, and whose other body of work is often ignored in favor of his more known Blind Dead franchise.

Las Garras de Lorelei was distributed internationally, somewhat haphazardly, as The Loreleys Grasp while the Claws of the Loreley is closer to the original Spanish title. In The Loreleys Grasp every fullmoon night Lorelei transforms into her scaly, reptile form, tearing out the hearts of victims, female and male alike. The movie is a delicate balancing act between fast-paced bloody kill scenes and slow-burning, tension building atmospheric sections. It was released in the US as the nonsensically titled When the Screaming Stops that insultingly tried to pass it off as, of all things, a slasher movie. Rising above budgetary limitations and stilted dialog is the likeable cast of Tony Kendall, the delectable duo Helga Liné, and Silvia Tortosa, along with exploitation regulars Luis Barboo, Luis Induni, and Betsabé Ruiz.

Leading man Tony Kendall had starred in a number of Eurocrime, spaghetti westerns and horror movies before appearing in The Loreleys Grasp. Prior to starring in The Loreleys Grasp, Helga Liné was an experienced horror veteran at this point, having starred in Nightmare Castle (1965), Horror Express (1972), León Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (1973), and Terence Young’s campy peplum The Amazons (1973). Silvia Tortosa had done mostly TV work before her appearance in Horror Express (1972). Helga Liné, who has the same seductive pale complexion here as she had in the delirious The Dracula Saga, spents much of her screentime in the skimpiest of outfits. Betsabé Ruiz, appearing only in a pre-title cameo as a bride, was in The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971), Return Of the Blind Dead (1973), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), and The Dracula Saga (1973). Many of the shocks, if there are any to be had, come from the economic and efficient practical effects. The scaly monster suit - which bears some resemblance to the Gill-Man from the classic Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) - is obviously rubbery, but sufficiently scary when obscured in shadow. The head, despite being cloaked, is unintentionally funny-looking and less than monstrous no matter from which angle it is shot. At its core The Loreleys Grasp is more of a tragically romantic love story than a horror, all overlaid with a Germanic folkloric concept.

The Loreleys Grasp is set in an unspecified German town near the Rhine where everybody inexplicably speaks English. Sigurd (Tony Kendall), a hunter described as a man who has “a great deal of experience!”, is set on the case when a young bride-to-be (Betsabé Ruiz) is bloodily killed. In a nearby tavern the Mayor (Luis Induni) tries to keep the story under wraps, while a blind Hungarian violinist (Francisco Nieto) will tell the legend of Lorelei to anybody willing to listen, including the tavern patrons. As these things tend to go none of the murders instigate a police investigation. Nor does the Mayor want any kind of attention from authorities despite the inexplicable nature of the slayings. Teacher Elke Ackerman (Silvia Tortosa), who boarding school director (Josefina Jartin) insists on calling “elle-key” instead of Elke, instructs the ruggedly handsome Sigurd, much to the delight of the assorted students (each a racial stereotype of themselves), to guard the premises.

Sigurd spents much of his time skulking around the boarding school, visibly having a great time at the faculty as he’s flirting with the student body (all of whom have delectable bodies), making a pass on head mistress Elke Ackerman, and throwing longing looks at the enigmatic Lorelei. He, of course, fails to connect the dots when Lorelei mysteriously turns up near bodies of water, and bodies of recently-slaughtered victims. Lorelei, true to her folkloric origins, is a Siren. When he runs into Lorelei again he follows her to a derelict building. There, lying down in a mildly suggestive manner that emphasizes her curves while wearing minimal of fabric, she practically admits, mostly through deflecting answering his questions directly, that she’s the Loreley of legend. Sigurd is either too distracted by her lovely curves, or not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and fails to connect the dots. In the meantime Sigurd has apprehended Professor Von Lander (Ángel Menéndez) who fills him in on the origins and possible ways to defeat the mythological monstrous adversary. Interestingly, Lorelei doesn’t get a name until after claiming her fourth victim.

Once Sigurd has become romantically entangled with both Elke Ackerman and daytime Lorelei, he is motivated to do that what he was actually contracted for. A submarine investigation of a nearby lake leads to the discovery of Loreley’s underground lair. Loreley lives in a well-lit and ornately designed grotto, complete with bikini-clad servants, her trusty man-servant/bodyguard Alberic (Luis Barboo) and an opulent throne room. A nearby chamber holds the Rhinegold, vast treasure from Loreley’s father Wotan. When Sigurd emerges at the grotto’s entrance Alberic intones, “my lady awaits you!”. Three bikini-clad servant girls emerge from shadows closely behind, representing the Rhinemaidens protecting the gold. In the throne room Loreley informs Sigurd of her origins, and tries to sway him with her very skimpy bikini, or by hypnotizing him with a luminescent magic crystal. The intruder is brought deeper into the grotto's bowels, and chained to a wall by Alberic. Once bound Loreley’s three bikini-clad servants fight over who likes Sigurd the most. Their quarreling allows Sigurd ample time to figure out an escape.

Of the two leading ladies Elke Ackerman starts out as a bun-haired, suit-wearing uptight headmistress but as the movie progresses she, quite literally, lets her hair down, as she longingly looks from her bedroom window at Sigurd and starts wandering aimlessly around outside in her nightgown. Ackerman, who in the third act addresses Sigurd as “Sirgurd” for some reason, becomes the requisite damsel-in-distress archetype when she’s abducted by Loreley. Not until it is too late does Sigurd realize that the bodacious Lorelei is the Loreley of folkloric legend. Things get murkier for Sigurd when he discovers that the object of his affection is the very same monstrous threat is he hired to kill. Sigurd is torn between his affection for day-time Loreley, and headmistress Elke Ackerman. Always the pragmatist, Sigurd rescues Elke from Loreley with Professor Von Lander’s dagger. This causes Lorelei to lose her nocturnal monster form. As her spirit form imposes, “we shall meet again in Valhalla! Sigurd, I’ll be waiting!” her corpse dissolves to smoldering remains soon after. With Lorelei waiting for him in the eternal halls of Valhalla, and Elke Ackerman as his present paramour, Sigurd reaps the most benefits of the situation.

Central to The Loreleys Grasp is the Germanic folklore tale Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter by Clemens Brentano. In 1824 the tale was reworked as the poem Die Lorelei by Heinrich Heine. It also is influenced by the four-part Richard Wagner opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. Filmed on location in El Carcán, Torrelodones, the river Alberche in Madrid, Spain and in Rhine, Germany The Loreleys Grasp offers atmosphere and spectacle in equal measure. For the time The Loreleys Grasp was suggestive and risqué (it never lowers itself to the sort of tactless smut that comprises much of output from Jesús Franco and Joe D'Amato alike) in its depiction of nudity and violence. Much of the nudity is implied rather than flat-out shown. When nudity does occur directly, it is part of a grotesquely violent and overly bloody kill scene. Like the Blind Dead movies before it The Loreleys Grasp is at strongest when its atmosphere is at its thickest.

Among Spain’s horror directors the work of Amando de Ossorio isn’t quite as unhinged and haphazardly written as some offerings from stalwarts Paul Naschy, or León Klimovsky. Infusing a part of his filmography with mythical properties de Ossorio’s work for the most part tends to be high on atmosphere. What The Loreleys Grasp lacks in practical effects prowess is complemented by its lovely cast, and the somewhat tragic love story at its center. Both leading ladies excel at the parts they are given. Silvia Tortosa was magnificently cast as the initially uptight and demure Elke Ackerman. Helga Liné, in her dual role as the titular character, isn’t given a lot to do early on. Her introduction is only in brief glimpses, and completely bereft of dialog. Once the plot is set up Liné occupies herself by cavorting around lakeside marshes in the skimpiest of bikinis. The Loreleys Grasp is a movie that calls for a certain level of class of its leading man. Tony Kendall, a typical rugged and fearless 1970s man, was cut for the part – as he exudes the same kind of aristocratic sophistication as Ángel del Pozo, Miguel de la Riva, or Bill Curran. There truly is no better place to start exploring the world of Amando de Ossorio than The Loreleys Grasp. It has plenty of atmosphere, a monster, and a lovely cast.