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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: who or what lurks within the darker bowels of the English countryside?

The 1970s were a decade of constant and grand innovation in horror and exploitation. No other subgenre went through greater evolution than the vampire movie. Hammer, the British film studio that once led the charge in revitalizing classic horror, found itself falling behind the times. Continental Europe and Latin America were pushing the envelope by infusing the old-fashioned gothic horror with a healthy dose of blood and boobs. The earliest example of the form probably being monochrome shockers as The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962), Emilio Vieyra’s Blood Of the Virgins (1967), and Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (1969). What really led to a veritable deluge of erotic vampire horrors were two little genre exercises from France and Spain, respectively. It were Jean Rollin's The Nude Vampire (1970) and Jesús Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971) that introduced some of the most enduring innovations to classic vampire lore. Their impact was so profound and immediate that it compelled Hammer to respond with the Karnstein trilogy of Vampire Lovers (1970) (with Polish bombshell Ingrid Pitt), Lust For A Vampire (1971) (with Danish ditz Yutte Stensgaard), and Twins Of Evil (1971) (with marvelous Maltese minxes and Playmate of the Month for October 1970 Mary and Madeleine Collinson). Rollin and Franco were fringe filmmakers who could appeal to an arthouse audience if they were so inclined. The Nude Vampire (1970) and Vampyros Lesbos (1971) not only were beautiful to look at, above all and before anything else they extolled the virtue of the female form, preferably disrobed and gyrating.

When he came to make Vampyres José Ramón Larraz had perfected his female-centric, sexually-charged formula to its most poignant form. While his debut Whirlpool (1970) and Deviation (1971) showed the occasional limitations in budget it was with Scream… and Die! (1973) and Symptoms (1974) where Larraz found his footing. Vampyres was hardly the first of its kind. It was preceded by Daughters Of Darkness (1971) and The Velvet Vampire (1971) (with Celeste Yarnall) on each side of the Atlantic and by Paul Naschy’s Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) and The Dracula Saga (1973). It was consummate horror enthusiast Amando de Ossorio who had truly kicked open all the doors with his delightfully old-fashioned Malenka, the Vampire’s Niece (1969). Vampyres was a culmination of everything that Larraz had done at that point and the added benefit of experience allowed him to execute his vision in the ways he desired. Vampyres deconstructed the vampire film as much as it innovated upon it. The anemic premise was more of an excuse to work around limitations in budget and locations. What it lacked in production value it made up with acres of skin and lesbian histrionics courtesy of professional nude models Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska. Larraz was as much of a provocateur as he was a businessman. He filmed where the money took him and what was fashionable on the market. In case of Vampyres the money took him to the pastoral, fog shrouded English countryside for an erotic vampire romp. Vampyres made no qualms about what it was and neither did Larraz for that matter. Against impossible odds Vampyres would become the quintessential Spanish vampire epic. In other words, Vampyres was, is, and forever will be, a stone-cold classic of European weird cinema and there was no immediate need (or want) to have it remade.

How often does a remake attain the level of the original? Practically never, a few rare examples notwithstanding. Regardless, Víctor Matellano has done just that and it conclusively proves that remakes, especially if they arrive some forty years after the fact, are as futile and pointless as these things usually tend to be. Which doesn't take away from the fact that Vampyres gets most of everything right. Perhaps the biggest difference is that this Vampyres opens with the quote, "she sprang from the bed with the force of a savage animal directly to my wound, sucking my life's blood with indescribable voluptuosity” from the short story La Morte Amoureuse (or The Dead Woman in Love) by Théophile Gautier. If nothing else it immediately sets the tone for what you’re going to get. Boasting two hot new stars, a swathe of young talent and half a dozen ancient Iberian horror icons Vampyres has its black heart in the right place and never is afraid to claw for that nostalgia itch. Regardless of one’s own feelings about the necessity of remakes of beloved classics the good thing is that Matellano obviously has a deep love and kind appreciation for the 1974 original. His well-intended and lovingly crafted remake of it is an enjoyable enough homage if you come to it with metered and measured expectations. While we hold the original as an untouchable and unsurpassed highpoint of nudity-laced Spanish fantaterror Matellano happens, by design or by happenstance, upon a few improvements by tweaking a few minor variables in his modern treatment. Is Víctor Matellano the Álex de la Iglesia or Alejandro Amenábar of the Instagram and Tiktok generation? Only time will tell.

Harriet (Verónica Polo, as Veronica P. Bacorn) and John (Anthony Rotsa) have travelled to the English countryside for a vacation and to shoot a documentary on local superstition concerning forest-dwelling witches. Harriet is the most pro-active in regards to the documentary while John just sees it as a convenient excuse for a little relaxing getaway. The young couple has brought along their mutual friend Nolan (Víctor Vidal) who hopes to make amends with his jilted ex-girlfriend Ann (Alina Nastase). In another part of town Ted (Christian Stamm) has checked in in his hotel, and decides to explore the environs. The receptionist (Lone Fleming) and hotelier (Caroline Munro) wax philosophically about what fate awaits him. Ted spots Fran (Marta Flich) wandering along the road, and offers to drive her to wherever she’s going. Fran directs him to a nearby mansion, offering him a drink to relax and immediately starts to seduce him. When he wakes up the following morning he has a nasty gash on his arm. Bewildered he stumbles into the tent of John and Harriet who take to looking after his injury. The following night he runs into Fran again, but this time she’s in company of her friend Miriam (Almudena León) and a man called Rupert (Luis Hacha) and his lady friend Linda (Remedios Darkin). When he wakes up the next morning Ted finds it odd to discover the lifeless and naked body of Rupert in what appears to be a car accident. This prompts him to investigate the darker bowels of the aristocratic mansion and somehow he manages to get himself locked in the cellar.

The next night Fran and Miriam bring in another victim to exsanguinate. When they are done with him they discover Ted locked in the cellar, and their weakened guest doesn’t mind the prospect of a potential threesome, even if the two women end up draining him of more than just his seed. After they’re finished with him and he’s in a dazed and confused state of phlebotomized stupor, Fran and Miriam feast on each other. Harriet has experienced going-ons at the mansion, mostly in the form of a mysterious scythe-wielding man (Antonio Mayans) skulking the environs, and decides to investigate. Her curiosity leads to her to mausoleum beneath the mansion, and the crypts wherein Fran and Miriam reside during the day. John returns from his morning excursion to find Harriet investigating the mansion, and leads her back to their tent moments before she’s bound to find the captive Ted. Fran and Miriam surmise that Harriet and John are posing too much of a threat and zone in on them. It might just be enough for Ted to plan his escape. The morning after his escape Ted is woken up by a real estate agent (Hilda Fuchs) and a senior couple (Conrado San Martín and May Heatherly) and learns that the mansion has been abandoned for decades.

In what turns out to be a very respectable remake this new incarnation follows the story faithfully and loving re-creates all the signature scenes and moments. Perhaps it's faint praise but by changing a few variables around and slightly altering the lead character dynamic somehow has managed to improve on the Larraz original. The most important change here is that this Vampyres focuses on the kids first and only then introduces the motorist as a more abstract secondary viewpoint character. It also helps that the kids are actual young adults and not grown-ups like in the original. Less original is perhaps the reason why these kids are on their little excursion. They are out camping on a quest to document a tale of witches in local superstition in what can only be described as the umpteenth retread of The Blair Witch Project (1999). Reflecting the drastically lower budget the camper has been downgraded to a simple tent. And then there are the two incredible leads, Marta Flich and Almudena León. If you want to nitpick, Matellano has not kept the blonde-redhead duo intact. Perhaps there’s a point to be made that the supposedly aristocratic homestead isn’t sufficiently palatial and time-worn enough. What considerably bogs down Matellano’s homage is that it’s shorn of that vivid color palette and warmth of old-fashioned 35mm with hard/soft lighting and in its stead is that desaturated color scheme and washed out grey cinematography of digital video. It’s surprising how much this looks like the median Rene Perez indie or Arrowstorm Entertainment feature but these are truly minor criticisms.

Marta Flich and Almudena León throw themselves into the roles made legendary by Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska and do so convincingly and completely. Whereas Morris and Dziubinska were professional nude models that allowed Larraz to use their bodies – contorted, exposed and otherwise - as canvas, Flich and León are acting professionals up for a challenge. To their everlasting credit (and like their predecessors some forty years earlier) they are absolutely not shy about baring their skin and getting covered in blood. Also not unimportant is that Matellano was wise enough to change the age brackets of the vampires around. Marta Flich is the youngest of the two and her seduction of the motorist makes more sense in that regard in contemporary times. When Almudena León finally joins in the whole thing becomes ever so more potent. Vampyres also gives Eurocult fans something to chew on with a host of familiar faces from Mediterranean pulp cinema. Caroline Munro, Lone Fleming, Antonio Mayans, Conrado San Martín, Hilda Fuchs, and May Heatherly represent several decades’ worth of some of the finest Spanish exploitation. It’s great seeing beloved old screen veterans paid respect to with major or minor supporting roles.

The prominence of La Morte Amoureuse (or The Dead Woman in Love) gives Vampyres a beautifully poetic undertone rendering it broadly French, narrowly fantastique, and specifically, Jean Rollin with its hazy oneiric atmosphere and very minimalist premise. As far as remakes go Vampyres is one of the better examples of why such an exercise occasionally yields worthwhile results. For one, it gets the tone right and stays very close to the original with only minor deviations here and there. Marta Flich and Almudena León have some obvious chemistry on-screen and are separately (and together) as beautiful as actresses like them come. Yet how hard they might throw themselves into their respective roles and the filth and the sleaze they get to partake in they never quite attain the same sizzling sensuality as the original duo of Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska. Is this remake perfect? No, obviously not. It would be folly to expect such a thing. Something like this was never going to be able to capture that impossible to explain sweltering atmosphere of dread and sleaze that the 1970s as a decade so perfectly encapsulated. Yet the last thing Vampyres can be accused of is not trying to channel the spirit of the original. While it may not quite get there exactly it’s never for a lack of trying.