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Plot: fair maiden is haunted by strange dreams and stranger occurrences.

There wouldn’t much of a global gothic horror industry, especially in continental Europe, if it weren’t for the British house of Hammer reimagining the old Universal horror monsters for the new times in the fifties and sixties. The Spanish language countries (Spain, México, the Philippines) as well as Italy took the gothic horror formula of Hammer Films and gave it a regional flavor all their own. Each country played up the genre to its cultural sensibilities/prejudices. While generally playing by the same rules and conventions there are distinct differences between continental European gothic horrors and their South/Latin American counterparts. Hammer’s influence was so strong that even Pakistan contributed to the genre in 1967 with Zinda Laash or Dracula In Pakistan (or alternatively The Living Corpse) as it became internationally. The Italian gothic horror ostensibly took after Riccardo Freda’s and Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1957) and the Hammer production The Horror Of Dracula (1958). However, the tides of change were washing over Mediterranean gothic horror by the mid-sixties and interest in them was waning. To accomodate the changing tastes Terror In the Crypt upstaged the old formula with a hefty dose of implied lesbianism and witchcraft.

La cripta e l'incubo (or The Crypt and the Nightmare, released internationally as simply Terror In the Crypt and alternatively as Crypt Of the Vampire in North America) is an interesting case for an international co-production. Helmed by an Italian director and crew the two name stars of the feature were Spanish exploitation pillar Adriana Ambesi as well Hammer Films icon Christopher Lee. Lee would complete his detour into Italian gothic horror with Castle Of the Living Dead (1964) the same year. With a screenplay from Tonino Valerii (as Robert Bohr), Ernesto Gastaldi (as Julian Berry) and José Luis Monter Terror In the Crypt is a distinctly Italian affair. Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla has long been an inspiration for the gothic horror genre and frequently served as a foundation for many productions. The earliest adaptation was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) and Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (1960). In the early seventies Hammer Films, then ailing and struggling to keep up with the changing times and tastes, used it for The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire (1971). Daughters Of Darkness (1971), The Velvet Vampire (1971) and The Blood Spattered Bride (1972) set the Carmilla story in then-contemporary times. Terror In the Crypt is distinct for being a more or less faithful adaptation of the famous 1872 LeFanu novel. While some of character names have been changed it covers most, if not all, major plotpoints and adds some Italian flair to it all. Filming at Castello Piccolomini in Balsorano, L'Aquila, Italy aided immensely too. As one of the country’s famous horror castles it would feature in Crimson Executioner (1965), Lady Frankenstein (1971), The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973), Black Magic Rites (1973) (or The Reincarnation Of Isabel as it’s more widely known), Sister Emanuelle (1977) and the infamous Andrea Bianchi romp Malabimba (1979). Half a decade before Adriana Ambesi steamed up the screen in Spain’s first vampire movie Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), she experienced Terror In the Crypt.

In a grand castle amid a great vast forest in Styria lives lovelorn and lonely Laura Karnstein (Adriana Ambesi, as Audry Amber) with her affluent father Count Ludwig Karnstein (Christopher Lee, as Cristopher Lee), an aristocratic Briton widower retired from service to the Austrian Empire, and his nubile trophy wife Annette (Véra Valmont, as Vera Valmont). Laura has been suffering recurring nightmares wherein she sees family members coming to a gruesome end. Her most recent nightmares see the slaying of her cousin Tilda (Angela Minervini) and the dreams have Laura sufficiently startled. Looking after Laura’s well-being are maid Rowena (Nela Conjiu, as Nela Conjiú) and butler Cedric (José Villasante). Fearing that Laura might be possessed by the witch Scirra of Karnstein, who centuries ago cursed the Karnstein bloodline, Count Ludwig calls upon the services of historian Friedrich Klauss (José Campos). Klauss is tasked with reconstructing Scirra’s life and finding a portrait of her deep within the castle’s time-worn vaults.

One day a carriage accident brings Lyuba (Pier Anna Quaglia, as Ursula Davis) and her mother (Carla Calò, as Cicely Clayton) into the Karnstein household. The two girls immediately recognize each other from a dream and a strong bond grows between the two. The two grow inseperatable and Lyuba suggests they visit the ruins of the village of Karnstein. In the meantime housekeeper Rowena is revealed to be a practitioner of the black arts but she is brutally murdered before her spells and imprecations can accomplish anything. Count Ludwig and Friedrich continue their search for Scirra’s portrait and her tomb. The two eventually find the hidden portrait and are startled that Scirra bears a very strong likeness to young Lyuba. The search for Scirra’s coffin leads them to the discovery that Franz Karnstein (John Karlsen), Tilda’s griefstruck father, had been hiding in the castle bowels all this time. The three pry open Scirra’s tomb only to find Lyuba lying within instead. The three drive a stake through Lyuba’s heart lifting the age-old Karnstein curse and making Lyuba’s black carriage disappear just as Laura was about to board.

Along with fellow British expatriate Barbara Steele, Christopher Lee stayed employed in the fantastic – and horror cinema of continental Europe from the mid-to-late sixties. Steele famously became a royalty in Italian gothic horror. In her decade-long tenure Steele played in about a dozen of Italian productions, nine of which were horror. Lee, on the other hand, appeared only in about four. Also on hand is John Karlsen, later of Belgian arthouse vampire romp Daughters Of Darkness (1971). Adriana Ambesi was a regular in peplum, chorizo western and comedy. In her 14-year long career she ventured into horror a meager three times. Ambesi had crossed paths with Lee before in Giuseppe Veggezzi’s presumably-lost Katarsis (1963) and would do so again here. Towards the end of the decade she would play a supporting role in Amando de Ossorio’s gothic horror potboiler Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969) opposite of Anita Ekberg, Rosanna Yanni and Diana Lorys. Pier Anna Quaglia would star in that other Barbara Steele gothic An Angel For Satan (1966) as well as the jungle adventure Eve, the Wild Woman (1968), the comedy Alfredo Alfredo (1972) (with Dustin Hoffman and Stefania Sandrelli) and the giallo Reflections in Black (1975). Terror In the Crypt benefits tremendously from a portent, pompous score from Carlo Savina (as Herbert Buckman) who infuses it with copious amounts of theremin, clarinet, harp and ominous washes of organ. It’s something straight out of a fifties science fiction production. The “K” emblem from The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) can also been seen and there’s a witch trial similar to that of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960).

Compared to earlier gothic horrors of the sixties Terror In the Crypt is far more pronounced in its eroticism. Laura is initially paired up with Friedrich Klauss, but no chemistry to speak of develops between the two. It isn’t until Laura meets Lyuba that the obligatory romantic liaison with Klauss is discarded completely. It’s implied that Laura and Lyuba share a much deeper bond beyond that of an ordinary friendship. While bereft of any actual nudity Laura finds herself frequently sleepwalking and waking up topless in the castle chambers. Likewise does Lyuba sleep without a top on and although both Ambesi and Quaglia weren’t in the habit of flaunting their chests Terror In the Crypt is quite risqué for the time. A precedent with on-screen disrobing in Italian gothic horror was set with The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and Castle Of Blood (1964) that saw brief nude scenes from Maria Giovannini and Sylvia Sorrente, respectively.

In Terror In the Crypt Ambesi will always have her back to the camera and Quaglia is modestly covered by bedsheets which doesn’t change the fact that it is far more liberated in its portrayal of sexualty than Roberto Mauri’s The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1964). Where that movie hinged upon the bountiful decolettage of Graziella Granata here Ambesi and Quaglia each have a scene of implied nudity. Not only that, likewise it’s implied that Laura and Lyuba are engaged in a sapphic tryst. That Count Ludwig has a mistress young enoug to be his daughter with Annette almost a full decade before the pairing of Narciso Ibáñez Menta and Helga Liné in The Dracula Saga (1973) is at least prescient of where the genre was headed. It all sets the stage for the wicked and wild seventies when permissive attitudes allowed an increased focus on erotic tension between female characters and a greater amount of on-screen nudity.

Plot: mad scientist is making zombies out of natives on Caribbean island.

What is I Eat Your Skin if not gloriously lunkheaded and outrageously hilarious Florida drive-in hokum from the Sunshine State’s foremost specialist of such things, Del Tenney? Arriving too late to be of any importance in shaping the zombie mythology and harkening back to the halcyon days of Coleman Francis, Harold P. Warren, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Ed Wood I Eat Your Skin was a relic of a bygone era even back in 1964. Surpassed only in sheer incompetence by William Girdler and J.G. Patterson Jr., Del Tenney had made a name for himself with The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964) and The Horror of Party Beach (1964). I Eat Your Skin was his first feature before his acting as an associate producer on the epic Terence Young ensemble disasterpiece Poppies Are Also Flowers (1966), only for it to be released some five years later. I Eat Your Skin is a relic remembered for all the wrong reasons and loved for all the right ones. Even Mortician seems to acknowledge as much. Not that that is a good barometer for anything, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I Eat Your Skin was filmed in and around Florida (South Beach, Miami and Key Biscayne, to name the most prominent) over a three-week period in 1964 on an estimated budget of $120,000 under the working title of Caribbean Adventure to hide from investors that it was a horror feature. Tenney had brokered a distribution deal with Twentieth Century Fox who stipulated that he use a union production crew or otherwise the deal would not be honoured. Tenney was none too happy with the elongated production schedule (a week longer than his usual two) and he would end up describing the union crew as, "slow and uncooperative." Second unit direction was handled by that other veteran of Florida exploitation bilge, William Grefé. That Tenney insisted on black-and-white all but ensured that the deal with Fox would not go through. Endearing in its naivité but brazen enough to be exploitative I Eat Your Skin never lives up to the promise of its premise. By 1964 filmmakers across genres were boldly charging forward and pushing the envelope on any number of fronts. I Eat Your Skin does or has none of that. As for more recently, a drive-in theater sign for it can be briefly seen in the long-delayed Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind (which began production in 1970 but wouldn’t see release until 2018) advertizing it alongside I Drink Your Blood (1970). As is age-old tradition, it’s our solemn duty to report that there is no, and will not be any, skin-eating whatsoever in I Eat Your Skin.

At the Fontainebleau resort in South Beach, Miami pulp novelist Tom Harris (William Joyce) is about to engage in his umpteenth poolside affair with a willing bikinied socialite (George-Ann Williamson). Just before Harris can put the moves on her and her irate husband can put hands on him Tom’s escorted away by his publicist Duncan Fairchild (Dan Stapleton) and his golddigger wife Coral (Betty Hyatt Linton). He's to embark on what’s to be an expedition to Voodoo Island in the Caribbean. There Harris is to research the native customs for his next best seller on the estate of European nobleman Lord Carrington. Having landed on the island Tom is attacked by a bug-eyed zombie but manages to escape intact thanks to an intervention by Charles Bentley (Walter Coy), the man in charge of overseeing the estate of the absent heir, and his armed posse. That evening Harris makes his acquaintance with Jeannie Biladeau (Heather Hewitt), the virginal daughter of scientist Dr. Auguste Biladeau (Robert Stanton). Biladeau informs him that the locals partake in rituals involving a plant-based narcotic that puts them in a zombie-like state. Plus, they descend from an earlier tribe who engaged in human sacrifice to appease their god, Papa Neybo. Apropos of nothing, Biladeau has been working in the jungle on a possible cure for cancer based upon snake venom. When Jeannie is kidnapped by the natives for a blood sacrifice to their god the question arises of who’s the graver threat: the superstitious savages and their tribal customs or the god-fearing man of science?

Make no mistake, this is the umpteenth 50s safari adventure enlivened slightly by golem-like zombies and mod-fabulous curvaceous bikini babes. Sporting a breezy soundtrack that is equal parts calypso as it is jazz I Eat Your Skin is about as schizophrenic as its score. Alternately obnoxious and exploitative it never quite manages to settle on a tone. While the suave playboy shtick was timely with the ascension of James Bond in popular culture the Fontainebleau opening feels like one of those bikini comedies with John Agar from a decade earlier. Not that it gets any better once the action moves to the Caribbean. Once there it becomes evident just how much of a relic of a bygone time I Eat Your Skin truly is. The Voodoo Island second half oozes Liane, Jungle Goddess (1956) from its every colonialist imperialist pore. Square-jawed males, mad science, racial stereotypes, and damsels-in-distress abound in cheapo fifties horror tradition. The zombie make-up is schintzy at best but not any worse than, say, Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies (1966). I Eat Your Skin is not well remembered, and to the extent that it’s remembered at all is that it probably went on to inspire the much crazier Filipino, Spanish, and Italian variations of the form. For one, it’s a shlocky drive-in precursor to The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island (1968). The voodoo aspect would be further explored in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), and most of the plot would be kindly recycled in Zombie Holocaust (1980) and Jess Franco’s Devil Hunter (1980).

By the time it was finally released theatrically in 1971 I Eat Your Skin had been outdone in every respect by George A. Romero’s gritty Night of the Living Dead (1968) on the horror side of things. On the other hand by the time the Sexual Revolution of 1968 and the Summer Of Love rolled around it was a completely different time. A year later Top Sensation (1969) and Zeta One (1969) both capitalized on said newfound freedoms. The dawning of the seventies heralded the decade of free love and German, French, and Italian sex comedies were racier than I Eat Your Skin could ever hope to be. It was hopelessly chaste and charmingly old-fashioned by the de facto standard of the day - or even by the standards of 1964. That it was filmed in economic black-and-white probably didn’t help its case either. That it was paired with I Drink Your Blood (1970) (one of the most violent drive-in hits prior to the marquee year of 1972) by Jerry Gross (who paid Tenney $40,000 for the rights) for his Cinemation Industries’ infamous “Two Great Blood-Horrors to Rip-Out Your Guts!” drive-in double feature must have led to some interesting reactions. In the end I Eat Your Skin is barely remembered for anything other than its larger-than-life publicity campaign. Or that it was sampled by Mortician. You decide what’s more important…