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Plot: will the old De Blancheville family curse claim another victim?

The Blancheville Monster isn’t a direct Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, instead it weaves together plot elements from Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, A Tale Of Ragged Mountains, Some Words With A Mummy while thematically borrowing from The Premature Burial. The Blancheville Monster isn’t a gothic horror classic as  infinitely superior genre pieces as the Barbara Steele monochrome chillers Castle Of Blood (1964) or Nightmare Castle (1965). Instead it is something of a glacially paced portentous potboiler that is redeemed by its thick cobwebbed, decayed atmosphere. Doomed to be a footnote in the annals of gothic horror history were it not that the principal players of The Blancheville Monster are Gérard Tichy and Helga Liné in her first major role. If one were to look at the beginning of kitschy gothic horror pulp The Blancheville Monster is a good place to begin, although the dynamic duo of Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), both with Walter Brandi as the bloodsucker, truly started it all.

In late 19th century Brittanny, in northern France, comely blonde Emilie De Blancheville (Ombretta Colli, as Joan Hills), evidently the scion of an unspecified aristocracy, returns to her ancestral home a week before her 21st birthday. Coming along are her best friend Alice Taylor (Irán Eory), whom she met while in college in America, and her brother John (Vanni Materassi, as Richard Davis). In the interim while Emilie was away in college her father died in a fire and since then the day-to-day business of the castle has been handled by her brother Rodéric De Blancheville (Gérard Tichy). Rodéric has replaced all of the house staff with new servants. Emilie is almost immediately creeped out by stern and icy-looking housekeeper Miss Eleonore (Helga Liné) and butler Alistair (Paco Morán, as Frank Moran). The family physician, who has loyally treated three generations of De Blancheville, has been replaced by strapping young practitioner Dr. LaRouche (Leo Anchóriz).

During dinner the guests are intrigued by strange noises emitting through the castle. Rodéric assures the visitors that it are merely the guard dogs. Later that night Alice awakes from sleep and strolls through the castle bowels only to stumble upon Miss Eleonore whipping and syringing a wailing, disfigured “monster”. Overcome by the horror she witnessed Alice passes out, only to awaken back in her bed and is told that everything she saw was a mere dream. The incident forces Rodéric to gather his houseguests and to come clean about the strange things happening in the castle. As it turns out their father wasn’t killed in a fire, but he was severely burnt and disfigured – an affliction that turned him into a grotesque maniac in constant need of heavy sedation. The old De Blancheville patriarch escaped into the nearby woods since Alice’s nocturnal interruption and now The Blancheville Monster is said to be prowling the castle surroundings.

On the family tomb a prophecy is carved. According to the carvings the De Blancheville bloodline will end this generation, when its latest female descendant reaches the age of 21. Her father, now reduced to a grotesque madman, believes the prophecy will be fulfilled. A search party is mounted but the extended search of the woods proves futile. That night The Blancheville Monster pays Emilie a bedroom visit leading her to the family tomb while under hypnosis. Both Alistair and Dr. LaRouche saw Emilie leave the castle and decide to follow her to the family crypt, all of which is enough to scare The Blancheville Monster back into hiding. The next day Emilie wakes up in a muddy nightgown, disoriented and with no recollection of the previous night, which quickly results into fainting spells and her eventual spiral into depression. Believed to have expired the family inters Emilie in one of the family crypts. Alice and her brother John have their doubts about Emilie’s passing and decide to conduct their own investigation into the mysteries that hide in the castle’s towers, the blackcaped shadow that stalks the abandoned hallways and how much of the De Blancheville curse is actually true.

Outside of Helga Liné - a German former model and contortionist that debuted in 1941 and played her first role of note here - there aren’t a lot of familiar faces. Ombretta Colli was a fixture in peplum and science fiction. Like so many starlets of the day Colli became a singer after her tenure in cinema had ended. She eventually graduated into politics. In 1999 Colli was elected president of the Centre-Right Forza Italia party in the province of Milano. Irán Eory, who is of Iranian descent, won a beauty pageant in Monaco before picking up acting in continental Europe and Mexico. Upon emigrating to Mexico Eory became a singer and later theater producer. Earlier in the decade Gérard Tichy was in respectable productions as King of Kings (1961), El Cid (1961) and Doctor Zhivago (1965) but his presence here is already indicative of where his career was heading. Leo Anchóriz was a regular in peplum, swashbuckling and spaghetti westerns.

The reason to see The Blancheville Monster is, of course, Helga Liné. Liné would play a similar role in Mario Caiano’s atmospheric chiller Nightmare Castle (1965), a part that solidified her position as one of the new pillars of continental European exploitation. In the seventies Liné made appearances in atmospheric genre pieces as Horror Express (1972) and Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley's Grasp (1974) as well as collaborating with with Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy on Horror Rises From The Tomb (1973) and The Mummy's Revenge (1975). Likewise she appeared in various productions from Argentinian transplant León Klimovsky with The Dracula Saga (1973) as an absolute highpoint as well the similar The Vampires Night Orgy (1973). Liné was among the star-studded ensemble cast in Terence Young’s peplum sendup The Amazons (1973). Late in her career Liné had roles in mainstream movies from Pedro Almodóvar as Labyrinth of Passion (1982) and Law of Desire (1987) where she played the mother of Antonio Banderas’ character. Even though she was fifty at the time Liné appeared in nudity-heavy exploitation titles as José Ramón Larraz’ Madame Olga’s Pupils (1981), Black Candles (1982), and the Harry Alan Towers and Playboy Channel co-producrion Black Venus (1983). Today Liné is involved with her grand-daughter’s lucrative career in gymnastics.

Suffice to say there are enough scenes of thunderstorms, lightning, shadowy corridors, mysterious figures stalkings the candlelit hallways, frightened maidens in tight-fitting lowcut transparent dresses brandishing candlelabras, eerie family portraits, dream sequences and basement-bargain Vincent Price equivalents ominously playing church organs and a book by Franz Anton Mesmer serving as a plot point. In other words The Blancheville Monster leaves no stone unturned in its slavish adherence to gothic horror convention. Ombretta Colli and Irán Eory both are serviceable enough in their respective parts, but never were big names for a reason. Gérard Tichy is given ample opportunity to do a skid row Vincent Price impression. The locations for The Blancheville Monster include the Monasterio del Cercón in Madrid that was later used in Paul Naschy’s The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and Amando de Ossorio’s Templar Knight zombie epic The Tombs Of the Blind Dead (1972). The exterior and coach scenes were shot at Castle Coracera in Madrid, Spain. Despite having all that going for it compared to the far better produced Barbara Steele gothics of the period The Blancheville Monster is torturously slow-moving and on the wrong side of cheap.

That doesn’t make The Blancheville Monster any less effective when it fires on all cylinders. Like its Filipino forebear The Blood Drinkers (1964), The Blancheville Monster is both highly atmospheric and campy in equal measure. Ombretta Colli and Irán Eory don’t leave much of an impression and the brunt of the movie is carried by Gérard Tichy, Vanni Materassi and Leo Anchóriz. It’s more than obvious that The Blancheville Monster was bankrolled to capitalize on the success of the Barbara Steele gothics of the period – and in comparison to those it is rather elegiac and slow-moving, even for 1960s standards. What little there is of story takes far too long to book any meaningful progression and when the long-awaited conclusion finally arrives it is steeped in cliché. The Blancheville Monster is nothing if not reliable when it comes to adhering to genre conventions. It is professionally directed and even custodian to a few scattered artsy shots here and there, but the indefensibly bland writing and no-name cast tend to make it rather underwhelming on the whole. You know a movie is in deep trouble when the various romantic entanglements are more interesting than the main plot. The Blancheville Monster is perfectly serviceable for what it intents to do, but it is far from mandatory viewing for fans of European gothic horror and/or Edgar Allan Poe.

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.