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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: high-class escort Sarah Asproon moonlights as a novelist researching a new book

Let it be known that Joe D’Amato can never be accused of not completely milking an idea while it was still profitable. A year after Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987) old Joe returned to New Orleans for Top Model (1988), a sequel of sorts to his earlier Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) knockoff. Back again is ravishing Luciana Ottaviani and in what would be her swansong in the franchise she's given every chance to show off that impressive body of hers. With a screenplay from Rossella Drudi and Sheila Goldberg (as Gloria Miles) Top Model does have an unexpected romantic undercurrent. Which still doesn’t make it anything more than a bog-standard inexpensive soft erotic potboiler for late night cable. At least a Joe D’Amato soft erotic feature isn’t as heinous and painful as some of his infamous horror movies.

The success of a soft erotic movie is relative to the willingness of its star to shed clothes and cavort around naked. Ottaviani, to her everlasting credit, doesn’t shy away from either – even though she’s hardly what you'd call an actress. Ottaviani is exactly what Laura Gemser was in the 1970s. Gemser, three years away from announcing her retirement in 1991, will not be shedding any garments but she still looks rather dashing at 38. The cast is nothing but unknowns. James Sutterfield and Lin Gathright were in Killing Birds (1987), one of the many unofficial sequels to Lucio Fulci’s often imitated Zombie (1979). Gathright would resurface in the series American Horror Story (2014). Jason Saucier had guest roles in Dawson’s Creek (1999) and One Tree Hill (2004). Top Model was Laura Gemser’s first venture as a costume designer and unfortunately she never transcended beyond D’Amato and his ilk. There's something inherently ironic about Gemser, famous for getting out of her clothes for a living, making sure that other actors stay in theirs.

After having engaged in a brief but steamy affair with a dopey construction engineer the year before alleged novelist and present high-end escort Sarah Asproon (Luciana Ottaviani, as Jessica Moore) is working on a new book about high-class prostitution. To legitimize her efforts Asproon and her publisher Dorothy Tipton (Laura Gemser) set up a call-girl agency. Tipton adopts the alias Eva North while Asproon calls herself Gloria. To maximize efficiency and to keep track of customer information and appointments receptionist Sharon (Lin Gathright) and shy programmer Cliff Evans (James Sutterfield) are hired. One of Sarah’s clients Peter McLaris (Ale Dugas) threatens to expose Asproon to the police, which would ruin her career as a novelist. Despite the threats Sarah continues to work and finds herself falling in love with Evans, who initially remains reserved towards her advances. Jason (Jason Saucier), Cliff’s apparently homosexual friend, competes for Sarah’s affection after she properly rode him. Spurring Jason’s advances and foiling McLaris’ blackmailing Sarah and Cliff choose each other. Asproon bids her life of prostitution farewell and focuses on her new career as a novelist. The two move to another city to start anew.

The dreary, humid New Orleans locales ooze with all the depravity and sleaze you’d expect of a Joe D’Amato movie. The men that circle Asproon come from both ends of the spectrum. Cliff and James are regular guys confused why a sensual vixen like Sarah would take an active interest in them, let alone a sexual one. Peter the blackmailing toy factory owner is a sleazebag of the highest order that it makes you wonder why he wasn’t played by Gabrielle Tinti or David Hess. Asproon’s clients are the usual variety of reptilian abusers, including an exploitative photographer, a profusely sweating toned African-American that should have been Fred Williamson, and the client that books Sarah for himself and requests that her friend Eva North rides him like a bull. An entire subplot is dedicated to the sexual dynamic between Cliff and James, who are obviously attracted to each other, sensual Sarah cures both men of their confusion by mounting and riding them, seperately. In fact Sarah rides James to such an extent that he becomes straight. Cliff, feeling merely sexually inadequate in Sarah’s presence, is mounted creatively into self-confidence.

It’s hard to believe that Top Model was helmed by the director that gave the world Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), the gothic horror-slasher hybrid Buio Omega (1979), and the splatter classic Anthropophagus (1980). There's an inherent sweetness to the entire thing that you'd earlier find in Bitto Albertini's erotic potboilers. Luciana Ottaviani wasn’t much of an actress, and she was cast in movies mostly to take her clothes off, but she never deserved to dwell in the muck that she did. Ottaviani had a body similar to Serena Grandi, Donatella Damiani, and Debora Caprioglio, and it’s nothing short of puzzling that she never appeared in a Tinto Brass production. Ottaviani had junk in the trunk and Brass loves a baby that got back as much as Sir Mix-A-Lot. That she somehow never entered the sphere of Jess Franco is a miracle in itself. It stands to reason that luscious Luciana was tainted by her exploitation beginnings, and she would never ascend to the A-list erotica of, say, Bernardo Bertolucci. Not that she would be able to carry such a movie by herself, mind. Top Model is curiously low on dialogue for a reason and that the plot is moved forward by every other character that isn’t Sarah Asproon should clue anybody in exactly how much of an actress Ottaviani really was.

After Top Model Ottaviani moved on from the franchise and D’Amato continued with new lead Kristine Rose, who prior to acting appeared in Playboy (August 1991, February and April 1993 – never making it to the cover). Rose starred in a further third sequel confusingly titled Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2 (1990). Like in much of his 1980s output Laura Gemser has only a supporting role, and unlike in The Alcove (1985) she refrains from shedding fabric. A year later Moore would be starring opposite of Pamela Prati, Loredana Romito, Laura Gemser, and Gabrielle Tinti in the erotic potboiler Reflections Of Light (1988). That one did give her a chance to act. After her tenure with D’Amato Rose made appearances in the actioner Total Exposure (1991), the Charles Band production Demonic Toys (1992) and the Zach Galligan-Corey Feldman comedy Roundtrip to Heaven (1992). Rose has filmography so depressing that she played second fiddle to latter-day Andy Sidaris regulars Julie Strain, and Teri Weigel. Not exactly something to be very proud of, or at all.

That Joe D’Amato’s voluminous softcore output is far more enjoyable (and often technically superior) to the many and maddeningly wild exploitation – and horror movies that made him famous was a foregone conclusion. What is also evident is that D’Amato’s direction is technically solid, workmanlike, and indifferently professional, even when Ottaviani is naked and in the frame. D'Amato doesn't exude any kind of the artistry, individuality, or thematic follow-through that made Tinto Brass such a revered household name. Luciana Ottaviani is given enough flattering angles whenever possible and D'Amato will let his camera glide across her curvaceous canvas every chance he gets, but isn’t nearly enough to make Top Model anything more than a bog-standard erotic potboiler marginally better than late night skinflicks headlined by the likes of Shannon Tweed, Julie Strain, Lisa Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, or Tanya Roberts. Joe D'Amato was infamous for a reason, yet Top Model isn’t nearly as grime and sleazy as you’d expect. In fact it's stoically demure and unrepentantly utilitarian. Everything works and everything is where it should be, yet if this was meant to be Luciana's star-making vehicle, it missed the mark.

As part of his prolific 1980s period, a decade wherein D’Amato concentrated almost exclusively on soft- and hardcore pornography, Top Model is an unassuming and ultimately forgettable exercise in softcore tedium were it not for the illuminating and arousing presence of Luciana Ottaviani, the embodiment of curly 1980s sassiness. The score consists of pulsating electronic music from Piero Montanari, René de Versailles, and Jacob Wheeler. This should have been the Black Emanuelle series for the eighties. Ottaviani's premature departure deflated the franchise before it could begin, and that was very unfortunate indeed. Eleven Days, Eleven Nights never recovered from the exit of its original and biggest star, and the numerous in-name-only sequels only made that more obvious.