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Plot: American actress inherits time-worn castle in Transylvania.

Gebissen wird nur nachts - das Happening der Vampire (or Biting is Only Done at Night - the Happening of the Vampires, released in Italy as ½ Litro di Rosso per il Conto Dracula or ½ Liter of Red For Count Dracula and abbreviated for the international market to simply The Vampire Happening) is the most beautiful sort of trainwreck. Not the stillborn magnum opus of a tortured (and creatively stifled) genius or the mad vision of a misunderstood savant butchered by bovine and hare-brained studio execs. No, The Vampire Happening is something better. Something wild. A misguided vanity project willed into existence through sheer cynicism and nepotism by a delusional (and, allegedly, full-blown alcoholic) producer as a platform to consolidate the fledging career of his much younger trophy wife and to launch her to international superstardom. Alas, history would decide otherwise. For a supposed horror comedy it’s shorn of both scares and laughs. Thankfully there’s acres of skin. Before Nai Bonet’s Nocturna (1979) killed both disco and the 1970s vampire spoof there was The Vampire Happening.

To truly understand how The Vampire Happening came to be and went so disastrously wrong we need to look at who produced it and the sort of people he consorted with. The culprit? Pier Andrea Caminnecci. Caminnecci was an actor who in mainland Europe orbited around both Jesús Franco in Spain and Adrian Hoven in Germany. As an actor Caminnecci was in Franco’s Succubus (1968) as well as Hoven’s In the Castle of Bloody Lust (1968), both of which he also associate produced. During the production of Succubus (1968) Caminnecci had an affair with French model Janine Reynaud that probably goes a way into explaning why he associate produced the Red Lips duology Two Undercover Angels (1968) and Kiss Me Monster (1969). On the set of Kiss Me Monster (1969) Reynaud met actor Michel Lemoine, a year later the two were married and would remain so for the next 12 years. In 1969 fate would sent petite Swedish beauty Pia Degermark his way. The fact that Degermark managed to stumble into an acting career is just as unlikely as jetset figure Pier A. Caminnecci being considered a legitimate and respected film producer. Love is the strangest of drugs and before long the two were engaged in a stormy romance that resulted in their civic and legal union. What better way to celebrate putting a ring on Sweden’s hottest export than to envision her own movie feature and starring vehicle? And so it was that Caminnecci set up an international production and assembled a motley crew of British, German, and Spanish talent in front and behind the camera. Somehow, some way in 1970 cameras rolled and principal photography on The Vampire Happening commenced in Austria. All of which is as good a time as any to see who was involved.

Described as alternatively an “adult vampire film” and “a satyrical horror comedy” it was helmed by British cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis. During the previous decade Francis was associated with Amicus and Hammer for which he filmed, among others, The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), The Skull (1965), and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968). In 1970 Francis was recovering from Trog (1970) that had landed at cineplexes with a disappointing thud. Not only was it the swansong for Depression-era Hollywood leading lady Joan Crawford (who was drunk off her head all the way through, and who could blame her?) but also the one that Francis regrets directing. Following the unlikely box office success of Jean Rollin’s The Rape Of the Vampire (1968) and The Nude Vampire (1970) the sexy Euro-vamp craze was in full swing. Caminnecci had instructed writers August Rieger and Karl-Heinz Hummel to concoct something halfway funny in the vein of the Roman Polanski gothic horror spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Rieger had over a decade’s experience writing and producing. In that capacity he was responsible for penning lovably bovine brainfarts as the Franz Josef Gottlieb Schlager-Komödie Wenn die tollen Tanten kommen (1970), the Franz Antel comedy The Hostess Exceeds All Bounds (1970) (headlined by the always enjoyable Teri Tordai) and the slightly insane The Exorcist (1973) ripoff Magdalena, Possessed by the Devil (1974). None of which stopped Rieger from getting his Rollin on and including a subplot borrowed from Théophile Gautier’s La Morte Amoureuse.

Besides his wife Pia the cast was rounded out by American actor Thomas Hunter, German-British screen pillar Ferdy Mayne, and Spanish starlet Beba Novak. Hunter never had much of a career in America but was lucky to find steady employment in the German and Italian shlock circuit from 1966 onward. Mayne had starred in The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), the World War II epic Where Eagles Dare (1968) and Hammer’s glamour romp Vampire Lovers (1970). Novak was perhaps the greatest Eurobabe never to have a career worth mentioning. According to the late Paul Naschy she was slated to star in the unmade second (and largely believed to be fabricated) El Hombre Lobo episode The Nights of the Wolf Man (1968) and the thriller The Vertigo of Crime (1970). For the remainder of cast and crew he pooled talent and resources from Adrian Hoven and his Aquila Film Enterprises. The Vampire Happening derives most of its production value from Burg Kreuzenstein in Korneuburg and Burg Liechtenstein in Maria Enzersdorf in Lower Austria, both of which feature prominently. Also not unimportant is that Pia Degermark’s wardrobe was designed post-war German fashion icon Uli Richter. In one of life’s great ironies Degermark spents at least half the movie getting out of her clothes rather than showing them off and when she isn’t getting naked she’s fighting off bad special effects and even hokier dubbing. Res ipsa loquitur, The Vampire Happening had disaster written all over it and was destined for infamy. It premiered in Germany on June 4, 1971 and was subsequently laughed out of theatres by critics and audiences alike. Caminnecci never produced anything again.

American actress Betty Williams has returned to her ancestral home in Transylvania to finalize the details of her uncle's inheritance. She plans to sell off Rabenstein Castle once she has properly inspected the property. Williams is really Elisabeth von Rabenstein (Pia Degermark). Her administrator/butler Josef (Yvor Murillo, as Ivor Murillo) nearly scares himself half to death when he first lays eyes upon Elisabeth. Having regained his composure Josef informs her that she bears a striking resemblance to her long-dead great-grandmother Clarimonde Catani (Pia Degermark) who he once served and whose portrait (topless, of course) is the centerpiece of the royal suite. Clarimonde, Josef explains, was found dead (naked, of course) one night with two peculiar bite marks adorning her neck. The official explanation from authorities was that she was killed by a rabid fox but superstitious locals claim she was bitten by a vampire. You see, Josef’s confusion is understandable. Elisabeth is a dead ringer Clarimonde, except that she’s blonde and vivacious and Clarimonde was ravenhaired and pallid. That night Clarimonde visits Elisabeth in a dream and this awakens the voice of blood in Elisabeth and she feels destiny beckoning. She takes to seducing pious brother Martin (Joachim Kemmer) from the nearby seminary. The following night Elisabeth manages to draw Martin into the castle only to discover that her great-grandmother is in fact very much alive. Clarimonde, of course, feeds on poor Martin.

At Martin’s funeral strapping boarding schoolteacher Jens Larsen (Thomas Hunter) strikes her fancy. As Elisabeth drags Jens in between her sheets Josef takes to defending the castle from the undead scourge, specifically that of Clarimonde. Hijinks ensue when the undead Martin rises from the grave in search of warm blood. At the boardingschool students Gabrielle (Lyvia Bauer) and Kirsten (Daria Damar) enjoying nothing more than pulling practical jokes on their teacher fraulein Niessen (Ingrid van Bergen). Martin recognizes a snack when she sees one and vampirizes one of the girls while keeping the other one from breakfast. Confusion arises when Clarimonde dons a blonde wig and Elisabeth dons a black one and both head for the Ochsenstein ball organised by family partriarch Count Bernhard (Raoul Retzer) to which the younger von Rabenstein was invited. At the ball, or happening rather, esteemed and honored guest Count Dracula (Ferdy Mayne, as Ferdie Mayne) is expected to make his arrival by helicopter. In the costume department Elisabeth and Clarimonde agree to exchange costumes and trade their respective lives with the promise to live happily ever after. Shenanigans of just about every variety ensue and before long the masked ball is beset by a torch – and pitchfork-wielding mob of angry villagers tired of constant vampire attacks and the attendant mayhem. Josef, mistaking Clarimonde for Elisabeth, stuffs her in her Mercedes and sends her off to Hollywood. More hijinks ensue when Jens repeatedly fails to stake Clarimonde (who he still believes is Elisabeth). As the real Elisabeth runs towards them at their airport Jens and Josef realize they sent Clarimonde off to Hollywood.

If all of that sounds familiar, that’s because it does. Even by 1971 standards The Vampire Happening is a pastiche rife with clichés and painfully aware of the conventions of the genre it’s spoofing. If you condense and merge Amando de Ossorio‘s Malenka, the Vampire’s Niece (1969) and Mario Bava’s The Mask Of Satan (1960) into one this is what you’ll get. There’s the pretty funny castle tour segment that kind of recalls The Devil’s Nightmare (1971). The entire thing is enlivened by a dash of pretty innocuous Italian schoolgirl comedy that Silvia Dionisio wouldn’t be out of place in. The rest is lifted from The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). This one has it all: styrofoam boulders and rocks that would have looked questionable a decade earlier, skeletons on literal strings, a Dracula throwing the “devil” horns and car with the license plate “VM-1PR”. According to Radio Transylvania one Dr. Frankenstein works at the local bloodbank. Prescient of what direction gothic horror was going to take The Vampire Happening lays on the sexual innuendo and double entendres thick with things like boob-shaped pudding, peculiar moss growth on tree barks and rampant phallic imagery. Then there’s the fourth wall breaking glances at the camera. At one point a character says, “I’m getting completely mixed-up” before throwing an understanding glance at the viewer, continuing “I’ll bet you are, too.” The score from Jerry van Rooyen alternates between mock Bond and standard gothic horror fare. Some Bruno Nicolai or Nico Fidenco would have worked wonders here. This has bare-arsed monks, bare-breasted schoolgirls, and Edwige Fenech or Barbara Capell are nowhere to be seen. The tone is German, the style Italian, and the execution British. Thankfully 25-year-old Pia Degermark is naked. A lot.

This, of course, raises the question: who was Pia Degermark? In the grand scheme of things and even in the pantheon of Scandinavian starlets of the 1970s, she’s but a footnote. Pia Degermark was born in Stockholm on 24 August 1949 to affluent rural family that afforded her a privileged but sheltered upbringing among society’s higher echelons. Her grandfather Rudolf Degermark had made his fortune in wholesale and as a member of the Swedish jetset she attended Sigtunaskolan boarding school in Sigtuna, Stockholm. It wouldn’t be until 1980 when Sigtunaskolan merged with Sigtunastiftelsens Humanistiska Läroverk to become Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL). Notable SSHL alumni include former prime minister Olof Palme and current current King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf. Pia was discovered dancing with Swedish Crown Prince Carl Gustav at a society ball when a newspaper photograph fell on the desk of director Bo Widerberg. He instantly cast her in the title role of his Elvira Madigan (1967). Legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman heavily opposed Widerberg's choice describing Degermark as someone who could, "neither walk, neither stand nor speak."

That Bergman was accurate in his observation would be putting it very, very charitably. For her performance in Widerberg’s film she won a Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress and was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category Most Promising Newcomer – Female as well as a nomination at the British Academy Film Awards for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles. History would note that Degermark weighed but 28 kilograms when she came to pick her award in Cannes. Pia was beautiful. Pia was going places. There was no question about it but she was no Helga Liné, Candace Glendenning, or Soledad Miranda. She wasn’t even a Birte Tove, Yutte Stensgaard, or Leena Skoog. To say that she wasn’t up to scratch would be putting it very, very mildly. After graduating Degermark consolidated her early success with A Brief Station (1969) and The Looking Glass War (1970), the big screen adaptation of the John le Carré thriller. Pia suffered from anorexia since childhood and was battling with it still. In 1970 Pier Andrea Caminnecci cast Degermark and a romance between the two blossomed. By the time The Vampire Happening rolled into cinemas and grindhouses the two were married. What better way to show off your mid-twenties trophy wife than to have her cavort around naked in a horror comedy?

As is so often the case things like these act as a harbinger of things to come. At least for some. Ferdy Mayne would turn up in Val Guest's amiable sex comedy Au Pair Girls (1972) (with Me Me Lai) and the Stanley Kubrick historical drama Barry Lyndon (1975) among many others. Director Freddie Francis would continue his career as a cinematographer working with the likes of David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and Edward Zwick on The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), Cape Fear (1991) and the UK version of All Saints 'Never Ever' music video. Pier Andrea Caminnecci no longer was the flamboyant playboy and his hard-drinking, philandering lifestyle started to catch up with him. When he failed to procure 900,000 kroner to pay Pia’s father for their villa is said to have led to their seperation. After two years the marriage was dissolved as Pia Degermark filed for divorce. Having failed in business and embarrassed the family Caminnecci could no longer lay claim on the considerable Siemens empire. Degermark remarried, became addicted to amphetamines, and fell into drug abuse eventually ending in fraud, litigation, and homelessness. Everything culminated when Degermark served 14 months in Färingsöanstalten state prison for a slew of charges including gross fraud, drug offenses, and violence against a public servant. She eventually recovered and wrote her autobiography Gud räknar kvinnors tårar (or God Counts Women’s Tears) in 2006 and was the subject of the Tanja Stern book She Only Played One Summer: The story of Pia Degermark in 2017. As the legend goes, Pia is alleged to have said, “Sooner or later someone will make a film of my life. My story is too good to be forgotten.” If you insist on seeing what Germany contributed to the gothic horror that year you’re far better off with The Horrible Sexy Vampire (1971).

Plot: mysterious femme fatale plots to take over the world. Debonair playboy intervenes.

Leave it to the Italians to produce a spoof of a spoof. Argoman, the Fantastic Superman spoofs the Superargo movies with Giovanni Cianfriglia, themselves sendups of the more popular Eurospy exercises of the day. In Italy it was released as Come rubare la corona d'Inghilterra (or How to Steal the Crown of England) and there it was subject of a nifty promotion campaign that passed it off as a traditional Eurospy adventure romp while promotion at a later date focused on the superhero and fantastical aspect. Argoman takes a lot after the peplum Revolt Of the Praetorians (1964) and the spaghetti western The Colt Is My Law (1965), both from master hack Alfonso Brescia, wherein a debonair character doubles as a masked avenger. There was a time and place for Argoman, the Fantastic Superman and that was in the late sixties. It is the sort of production that has to seen to be believed. It’s exactly as crazy as it looks – and it never makes any qualms about what it is. Fun is first and only objective that Argoman, the Fantastic Superman sets for itself and it succeeds with flying colors even when it falters in other aspects. At heart Argoman, the Fantastic Superman is a children’s movie but one clearly meant for more grown-up, adolescent audience. This is pure male wish fulfillment.

Like many of his contemporaries director Sergio Grieco was a journeyman who dabbled in every popular genre under the sun. Be it adventure, swashbuckler and sword and sandal epics to Eurospy and poliziottesco. In the mid-sixties Grieco directed a string of Eurospy romps with Agent 077 Mission Bloody Mary (1965), Agent 077 Operation Istanbul (1965) and Password: Kill Agent Gordon (1966). These led him directly into Argoman, the Fantastic Superman, a semi-comedic curiosity that crossed the Eurospy with the fumetti. In the 1970s Grieco would direct The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine (1974) and write the screenplay for action specialist Enzo G. Castellari’s World War II epic The Inglorious Bastards (1978), famously remade by Quentin Tarantino in 2009 with a slightly altered title. Before there was Supersonic Man (1979), before Infra Man (1975) – there was Argoman, the Fantastic Superman (just Argoman hereafter).

The fumetti were Italian comic books for adult audiences and are generally considered the precursor to today’s graphic novels. In the late sixties and early seventies they served as the basis for a number of masked superhero productions. The fumetti craze led to memorable productions as Kriminal (1966), Barbarella (1968) with Jane Fonda, Diabolik (1968), Satanik (1968) and Sadistik (1968) (originally named Killing in Italy, but popularly known under its French name). Another prime example of the fumetti was the The Three Supermen (1967-1970) franchise. Argoman had the good fortune to capitalize on both the fumetti and the Eurospy craze in the wake of the early Bond movies with Sean Connery becoming a worldwide phenomenon. That it was released the same year as The Million Eyes Of Sumuru (1967) and pushed a similar message of women’s liberation and feminist empowerment is just another happy coincidence. That it is certifiably insane by any metric you choose to employ helps in no small part too.

When the Royal Crown of England is stolen in broad daylight from the Tower of London inspector Lawrence (Nino Dal Fabbro, as Richard Peters) from Scotland Yard is left to investigate a case he can’t possibly crack. He calls upon suave English playboy Sir Reginald Hoover (Roger Browne), a gentleman-criminal of considerable repute who lives in a opulent French villa on a remote island, to help locate a prime suspect in the case. In his palatial abode Hoover senses the presence of Regina Sullivan (Dominique Boschero) and guides her to her coastal bachelor pad through telekinesis. Hoover challenges Sullivan to target shooting contest. If she wins she’ll get a brand new Rolls-Royce and a box of precious stones. If he wins, he’ll get her for the remainder of the day. After consummating his relationship with Sullivan, Hoover confides in his turbaned butler Chandra (Eduardo Fajardo, as Edoardo Fajardo) that he loses his ESP abilities for 6 hours after each sexual encounter. Meanwhile the real thief of the Royal Crown, criminal mastermind Jenabell declares herself ‘the Queen of the World’ (Barbarella wouldn’t claim the title of Queen Of the Galaxy until a year later) and her henchmen led by her trusty enforcer Kurt (Mimmo Palmara, as Dick Palmer) returns the Crown of St. Edward to its rightful owner with the promise of a demonstration of her real power.

Said power comes from a prized diamond ("Muradoff A IV" is its technical designation) and with the diamond, through the sun’s energy, Jenabell and her legion of automatons (a slave race of humanoid robots) is able to dissolve steel and thus the French currency is under threat of devaluation. The second part of her scheme involves robbing the Bank of France with an army of her leatherclad henchmen in tow and littering the streets of Paris with francs and banknotes as a distraction. The crime leaves inspector Martini (Edoardo Toniolo, as Edward Douglas) puzzled. Hoover uses his glamorous girlfriend Samantha (Nadia Marlowa) to distract Jenabell’s forces and changes into Argoman as he takes on her goons. Argoman possesses sonar, telekinetic and magnetic powers of unknown origin that make him practically invincible – and his only known weakness seems to be beautiful women. Argoman allows himself to be abducted to Jenabell’s fabulous art-deco subterranean lair. Jenabell gives him the choice to either be her consort or her slave. After briefly being distracted by Jenabell’s constant costume changes (the attire includes a black widow, a snake bikini, a queen from outer space and a tinfoil fright wig) Argoman decides to save Samantha, who as per third act convention has been kidnapped, from the advances of a behemoth metallic robot and safeguard the world from Jenabell’s dominion of terror. The Queen of the World seeks to replace all men of power with identical clones doing her bidding. Fighting off goons and clones alike Argoman is able to stop Jenabell from escaping by destroying her plane.

To its credit at least Argoman realizes how silly it is. The costume alone makes Juan Piquer Simón’s Supersonic Man (1979) look as a paragon of good taste and restraint in comparison. The Argoman costume consists of a yellow body stocking, black mask with a red psychedelic spiral on it, a red cape with red velvet lining and flashlight visor eyes. In other words, Argoman looks suspiciously like a candy-colored, psychotronic version of Gort from the Robert Wise science-fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). True to his European standards Argoman is the designated nominal hero of the piece but that doesn’t stop him from killing without scruples, compulsively talking his way into bedding whatever woman strikes his fancy and/or stealing riches from whichever evildoers he’s been fighting. Argoman is often on the right side of the law but, true to anti-hero tradition, he isn’t afraid to bend or break the law if it involves personal gratification or - enrichment. Where Argoman’s sonar, telekinetic and magnetic powers come from is never explained nor why he loses said abilities after doing the horizontal mambo with any of the many women. Argoman was prescient where the commedia sexy all’italiana was headed was by having Nadia Marlowa stroll down a street in nothing but lingerie, stockings and boots. Almost ten years later Gloria Guida could be seen cavorting around in nearly identical attire in the so-so The Landlord (1976). The retro-future production design inspired by The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) is just icing on a cake already brimming with wall-to-wall insanity. As a bonus it lifts a pivotal plotpoint wholesale from the brilliant The Million Eyes Of Sumuru (1967).

The star of Argoman is Roger Browne, an American actor that lived in Rome from 1960 to 1980. Browne was a fixture in peplum and later seamlessly transitioned into the Eurospy genre. Like any working actor Browne appeared in many different productions, among them, Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter (1962) (with Bella Cortez), Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968) (with the delectable duo of Edwige Fenech and Femi Benussi), Emanuelle in America (1977), and Alfonso Brescia’s The War of the Robots (1978). Dominique Boschero is best described as a lesser Eurocult queen and Nadia Marlowa was a relative nobody. Boschero has credits dating back to 1956 and include such illustrious titles as Secret Agent Fireball (1965), the gialli The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971) from Riccardo Freda and All the Colors of the Dark (1972) (with Edwige Fenech), as well as the Laura Antonelli drama Venial Sin (1974). Mimmo Palmara was a peplum regular that appeared in Hercules (1958), Hercules Unchained (1959), The Trojan Horse (1961) and later in a supporting part in the Gloria Guida comedy That Malicious Age (1975). Eduardo Fajardo was a monument in Spanish cinema even at this point making his appearances in drek as Umberto Lenzi’s pandemic shocker Nightmare City (1980) and in the original Spanish version of Eurociné’s nigh on incoherent shambler Oasis of the Zombies (1982) all the more lamentable.

It seems almost unfathomable that Argoman didn’t in some major way have an impact on director Juan Piquer Simón’s gaudy pastel-colored vistas for Supersonic Man (1979) and the candy-colored excesses that were part and parcel in Luigi Cozzi's amiable StarCrash (1979), Hercules (1983) and The Adventures Of Hercules (1985). It’s the best kind of kitsch. It’s pure camp. Argoman never takes itself seriously (neither should you) and it pushes all the right buttons as a spoof of the Eurospy and superhero genre . Sometimes it’s able to overcome its limitations, budgetary and otherwise, and sometimes not. It goes by the old adage that anything goes as long as there are pretty girls to look at. Dominique Boschero is godly as Jenabell in her crazy costumes and Nadia Marlowa has one scene forever seared onto the retina of cult fans everywhere. Eduardo Fajardo provides the prerequisite comedic note whereas Roger Browne is as wooden as ever. Whatever the case Argoman, the Fantastic Superman is a 60s curiosity that works best as a pastiche of the two genres it pays homage to. It has no reason to work but it somehow does. Argoman is one part Batman (1966-1968) with Adam West and prescient of where Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) would take science-fiction in the following decade all while pushing camp to whole new levels and remaining strangely enjoyable through out. Too bad it was produced amidst the fumetti craze and remains somewhat of a forgotten gem.