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Plot: a troupe of showgirls is terrorized by a vampire in a distant castle

Italian gothic horror became something of an industry as a response to the success of Riccardo Freda’s and Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1957) and the Hammer production The Horror Of Dracula (1958). The Playgirls and the Vampire was part of a shortlived cycle that pitted ditzy showgirls against one or more vampires. The same cycle also included The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and The Monster of the Opera (1964). The Playgirls and the Vampire is the more pulpy half of the already very kitschy The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960). This time it aren’t ballerinas that are terrorized by the ancient undead but a troupe of brunette and blonde, firmly-bosomed playgirls, or burlesque dancers. Who better to write and direct such a romp than Piero Regnoli, the prolific scribe who would pen a number of Gloria Guida comedies a decade later? Released domestically as L’Ultima Preda del Vampiro (or The Last Prey of the Vampire) Regnoli’s bawdy romp was, rather unexpectedly at that, prescient of the erotic fantastique that would become commonplace in Mediterranean genre cinema in the following decade with the most defining and enduring works of French, Spanish and Italian directors as Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, Luigi Batzella and Renato Polselli.

The most recognizable name of the cast is Walter Brandi, who already delved into similar territory with The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and would do so again with The Monster of the Opera (1964) and 5 Graves For A Medium (1965). Lyla Rocco, who looks like a young Soledad Miranda, debuted in the Dino de Laurentiis produced melodrama Anna (1951) that had a young Sophia Loren in a bit part. Rocco appeared in over thirty productions, mostly French and Italian comedies and dramas, and The Playgirls and the Vampire arrived near the end of her career. Marisa Quattrini starred in both The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and The Playgirls and the Vampire. Here Quattrini was given the dignity of a name part and dialog. Corinne Fontaine debuted in The Playgirls and the Vampire and her biggest role was an uncredited part in the fumetti Barbarella (1968). Erika Dicenta largely exists by grace of her platinum blonde hair and bountiful bust. No wonder she was given a modest strip routine to make the most of her very limited appearance. Tilde Damiani was one of the Amazons (along with Giorgia Moll, Daniella Rocca and Mariangela Giordano) in the peplum Colossus and the Amazons (1960), a likely precursor to Terence Young’s breasts-and-games spectacular The Amazons (1973). In a blitz career that spanned a mere 4 years The Playgirls and the Vampire was the final movie for the leggy Maria Giovannini and it probably explains why Giovannini’s part is the only to require any nudity.

En route to their next engagement a bus carrying manager Lucas (Alfredo Rizzo), pianist Ferrenc (Leonardo Botta) and five comely burlesque dancers – Vera (Lyla Rocco), Katia (Maria Giovannini), Ilona (Marisa Quattrini), Magda (Corinne Fontaine) and Erika Dicenta (Erika di Centa, as Erika Di Centa) – find that the road has been blocked by a landslide. Not only is there the landslide blocking the road but a sudden storm forces them to seek shelter in the nearby Kernassy Castle after defaulting their hotel bill. For reasons she can’t explain Vera feels strangely familiar with her new surroundings. The mysterious castle is inhabited by world-wary nobleman Count Gabor Kernassy (Walter Brandi), his steel-faced housekeeper miss Balasz (Tilde Damiani) and groundskeeper Zoltan (Antoine Nicos, as Antonio Nicos). The Count extends his hospitality and agrees to let the troupe stay in his castle until they can continue their journey. There’s one caveat, under no circumstance is anybody, nor the girls or anybody else, to leave their chambers during the night.

That night Katia goes wandering about the castle and is attacked by an unseen assailant. The next day the group sees to it that Katia is given a proper burial. The group mourns the loss of one of their number, but Lucas ensures that the girls can focus on something else and has them practicing their dance routines. Vera’s fascination with the Count continues and she’s drawn to a portrait depicting one of his long dead ancestors, Margherita Karnessy. At this point Vera is bitten by the same shadowy figure that attacked Katia earlier. Katia herself returns as a vampire and in turn attacks Lucas. The remaining dancers come running to Lucas’ chambers, but the girls shrug if off as a figment of their manager’s apparently very vivid imagination. When the vampire (Walter Brandi) tries to claim Vera - who bears a striking resemblance to Margherita Karnessy who has been dead for two centuries and for whose return he has been pining - as his bride against the wishes of both the vampirized Katia and Count Gabor Kernassy, a man of science on the verge of discovering a cure for the affliction that has stricken his ancestor, a confrontation between the both parties of Kernassy bloodline is all but inevitable.

Moreso than The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) takes The Playgirls and the Vampire the opportunity to ogle its assorted cast of young women. After an atmospheric opening scene that recreated a shot from Todd Browning’s Dracula (1931) the first thing we see is Maria Giovannini pulling up her skirt and adjusting her suspenders and stockings. It’s the sort of shot that tells exactly what sort of production The Playgirls and the Vampire is going to be. The production capitalizes heavily on its attractive cast and there's many a scene of the playgirls in translucent sleeping gowns, lingerie, or corsets. When Giovannini makes her return she’s not only a vampire, but completely naked to boot. Director of photography Aldo Greci keeps her form wrapped in shadow but when she advances to exsanguinate Lucas there’s a brief glimpse of her exposed breasts. Quite possibly Maria Giovannini was one of the earliest actresses to do nudity in a continental European gothic horror production, pre-dating Sylvia Sorrente in Castle Of Blood (1965), Barbara Steele in 5 Graves For A Medium (1965) and Soledad Miranda in Vampyros Lesbos (1971). Eroticism had always been a staple of gothic horror, no one better to embody that than cleavage-wielding María Luisa Rolando in The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and the positively bra-busting Graziella Granata in The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962).

Despite no shortage of belles The Playgirls and the Vampire has a few rather glaring shortcomings. For starters is Regnoli’s direction professional but without much in the way of individual style or any kind of visual flair. Walter Brandi’s two roles as both the world-wary Count and his undead ancestor is a double-edged sword. His portrayal of the vampire isn’t exactly threatening or imposing in any shape or form. His turn in the principal dual role is important enough, as it precedes Barbara Steele’s many dual roles in the same decade, as well as Mark Damon in The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) and Paul Naschy in Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973). The screenplay is kind of shaky. Once the love triangle involving Vera, Gabor, and the vampire is established the remainder of the dance troupe as well as their male aides are relegated to the background and pretty much forgotten about. The lone effects shot in the entire production is an endearingly cheap piece of time-lapse photography of a pencil drawing that has to be seen to be believed. It easily equals the pencil drawings in Ib Melchior’s skid row science fiction epic The Angry Red Planet (1959) from the year before. To make matters worse The Playgirls and the Vampire is cursed with one of the most laughably terrible English language dubs this side of a Filipino post-nuke or Thai action movie.

If it weren’t for the interior scenes shot at Palazzo Borghese in Rome and the selection of bodacious belles this piece of gothic horror pulp would’ve been long forgotten. Piero Regnoli wasn’t too shabby a director but his passion clearly lie in writing. For that reason The Playgirls and the Vampire is but a footnote in Italian gothic horror history. In the wild and eccentric seventies there would be a minor gothic horror revival with increased levels of blood and nudity. The Playgirls and the Vampire is much of a precursor to that although you’re hardpressed to remember it for anything else. It’s not exactly scary, the screenplay capitalizes heavily on the humor and the English dub is knee-slappingly juvenile, not to mention flat out terrible, with its choice of dialog. For a majority of its duration The Playgirls and the Vampire is stunningly mediocre and there were far better Filipino and Mexican gothic horrors than this Italian romp. Not all Italian early gothic horror was created equal – and this is a good example just why.

Plot: restoration artist takes in long-lost daughter. Drama and hilarity ensue…

Gloria Guida - Miss Teen Italy, 1974

Even though Blue Jeans is one of the earlier entries in Gloria Guida’s extensive, and often lowbrow, tour of duty as one of the prime Lolitas - together with Lilli Carati, and Jenny Tamburi – in the Golden Age of commedia sexy all’italiana genre it is not a typical example of the form. Guida carved out a respectable carrière thanks to her fantastic derrière. Former Miss Teen Italy, 1974 Gloria Guida was the star of a series of raunchy comedies, she wouldn't truly establish herself until her turn in Fernando di Leo’s To Be Twenty (1978). The year before la Guida played her soon-to-be signature liceale, or the Catholic school girl, in Silvio Amadio's La Minorenne (1974). 1975's La Liceale (1975) (released in North America as The Teasers) set Guida on the way to commedia sexy all’italiana superstardom and her liceale would figure into three sequels over the two-year period of 1978/79. Blue Jeans is cut from a different cloth and resembles her That Malicious Age (1975) more than anything else. That Malicious Age (1975) put glorious Gloria in advanced state of undress opposite of Nino Castelnuovo, Anita Sanders and peplum stars Andrea Aureli and Mimmo Palmara.

Like many of Guida's comedies Blue Jeans tends to be more on the melodramatic side than the outright comedic, although that does occasionally happen too. No matter what the circumstance what Guida's comedies did tend to feature was plenty of incidental - and situational nudity - and Blue Jeans is no different. Blue Jeans reunites slender-bodied Guida with Monika (1974) (released domestically as La Ragazzina) director Mario Imperoli, and co-stars Paolo Carlini, and Gian Luigi Chirizzi. Just like Monika is Blue Jeans at its best when it combines melodrama and comedy with the often very naked hijinks of Gloria Guida. As Il Resto del Carlin film critic Vittorio Spiga accurately observed Blue Jeans is "an adult comic book that flows into a real exaltation of the remarkable ass of Gloria Guida".

Wasting not a moment on illustrating exactly why the movie is called Blue Jeans the viewer is treated to a credit montage of the camera following and hovering around a pair of very lowcut Blue Jeans. At least Imperoli got his money’s worth out of Gloria Guida who the pair of jeans, and the glorious richly-formed posterior in them, belongs to. Blue Jeans is the kind of girl that gets catcalled, felt up in public places, and that makes drivers stare uncontrollably causing road collisions on a daily basis. Busted on a prostitution charge for soliciting a middle-aged client (Marco Tulli) Blue Jeans reveals that her name is Daniela Anselmi (Gloria Guida), and that she’s the illegitimate daughter of Latina, Lazio artist, Dr. Carlo Anselmi (Paolo Carlini). The authorities are willing to drop the charge if Carlo is prepared act as Daniela’s legal guardian until she reaches majority. Carlo dutifully agrees to his newfound parental duties, much to the chagrin of his live-in girlfriend Marisa (Annie Carol Edel, as Annie Karol Edel), jealous of the attention the young girl is getting. As Carlo attempts to teach Blue Jeans some culture, modesty, and, well, manners; her hormonally-charged pranks, and proclivity to run around naked, cause Carlo to grow affectionate of the stray. That is until Daniela’s squalid boyfriend Sergio Prandi (Gian Luigi Chirizzi) shows up, and things take a turn for the fatal. At least British comedy Venus (2006) with the late Peter O'Toole and Jodie Whittaker was so kind to lift most of its plot from an old Italian melodrama-comedy that few remember.

The eleventh hour introduction of Daniela’s lecherous boyfriend Sergio Prandi (Gian Luigi Chirizzi) is one of the screenplay's weaker moments. His presence disturbs the growing bond between Daniela and her estranged father. Chirizzi is a typical Italian prettyboy, and he’s obviously no David Hess, nor a Giovanni Lombardo Radice. While the role aims for a sociopathic loner, Chirizzi is only able to make Leo mildly annoying at worst. Prandi is about as threatening, or non-threatening rather, as the teen boys Daniela pulls a prank on during a socialite party at the opulent castle Moroni is restoring. A great source of comedy - outside of Guida’s tendency to turn up naked at the most inopportune moments - are the house servants that help Moroni in the day-to-day operations of the restoration. One of the servants is so smitten with Moroni that she follows his orders to the letter, even the scolding, slightly demeaning ones that Carlo throws her way in an offhand manner when he’s agitated. Other times they ensure that Carlo always has his orange juice.

It’s not exactly the sort of thing you’d expect of writer Piero Regnoli, a prolific scribe who started in the business in 1952 and who caught his first big break with Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1957). Regnoli was the go-to man for commedia sexy all’italiana, sceneggiata, poliziotteschi, spaghetti westerns, and post-apocalyptic actioners, but he also signed off on some of the most horrid screenplays this side of Rossella Drudi and Claudio Fragasso when the Italian horror industry all but collapsed in the late 80s. For the most part the screenplay is a reworking of Imperoli’s earlier Monika (1974) and Regnoli might, or might not, be responsible for its third act murder scheme. The sudden and jarring shift in tone, and Daniela’s 180° behavioral change that results from it when Prandi appears, are the only strikes against the otherwise lighthearted Blue Jeans. What makes the tonal shift so damning is that prior to Prandi’s entrance Daniela had been a sexually promiscuous exhibitionist and her turning docile and submissive in the face of her socially non-adapted lover doesn’t quite gel with anything and everything prior. Her precociousness, lust for life and Mediterranean temperament are completely negated once Prandi makes his entrance as Moroni’s supposedly-but-not-really mute apprentice.

Returning from Monika (1974) are Paolo Carlini, Gian Luigi Chirizzi, and in a much smaller role, Mario di Girolamo. Annie Carol Edel had been a reliable supporting actress in comedies, peplum, and dramas of various stripe. Blue Jeans arrived towards her fin de carrière. Before and after Blue Jeans Edel was in films from Antonio Margheriti, Bitto Albertini, and Umberto Lenzi, but also in productions from legendary hacks as Bruno Mattei, Joe D’Amato, and Alfonso Brescia. Edel partially redeemed herself with Salomè (1986), an art house adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play chronicling the Biblical tale of King Herod and Princess Salomé. Paolo Carlini and Gloria Guida appear to be the primary draw as far as cast is concerned. Guida for being the pretty new girl, and Carlini was a respected character actor.

The obvious reason to see Blue Jeans is Blue Jeans herself, Gloria Guida. Imperoli gets a lot of mileage out of Guida, who was completely comfortable shedding clothes whenever the script required, and he shoots her from every flattering angle. Whether it are the bookends where Imperoli’s camera focuses on Guida’s ample behind, the pranks Blue Jeans pulls at a socialite party in her new home, or the tricks she pulls on the dim-witted housekeeping staff at the castle – all of it usually involves the loss of clothing. A big draw for Blue Jeans is the extensive nudity on account of Gloria Guida. Guida, who compensates her lack in chest by her long legs and ample behind, was never the greatest, or most gifted, of the Lolita comedy actresses – but her lack of acting talent didn’t impede on her apparent ability to build an extensive career around taking her clothes off on a semi-regular basis. None of the nudity in Blue Jeans is crass and/or debasing as Mario Imperoli was a craftsman, first and foremost, and not an ordinary smut peddler as certain other Italian directors of dubious merit. Blue Jeans is rife with images of Gloria Guida in the buff, but none of it is ever vulgar as it would have been in lesser hands.

Proving that a modest budget and a simple premise - or more likely the constant presence of Gloria Guida’s fantastic ass - put more butts in seats than her acting talent Blue Jeans grossed a total of around 310 million lire at the Italian box office. None too shabby for an unassuming little genre exercise low on plot and who’s entire raison d'être seemed to be Gloria Guida in various stages of undress. What probably also helped was that Mario Imperoli knew that it took more than pointing the camera at a beautiful girl in, or preferably out, of whatever little fabric she was wearing. Imperoli’s direction is workmanlike, and just like Gloria Guida still manifested no discernable acting talent beyond taking her clothes off, Imperoli compensated in competence what he lacked in individual style. All of which doesn’t stop Blue Jeans from being a very enjoyable romp, especially prior to the clumsy third act revelations and hasty conclusion. It wouldn’t be until Fernando di Leo’s subtextual tour de force To Be Twenty (1978) that Gloria Guida showed some depth in her acting, probably due to the presence of fellow Lolita Lilli Carati.