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Plot: busload of migrant workers is terrorized by vampires in a remote village.

A good title can mean a great deal of things. It can make or break your movie, or function as a succint summary of its premise. Ostensibly the worse fate that can befall a horror feature is not living up to its title. La orgía nocturna de los vampiros (or The nightly orgy of the vampires, released internationally simply as The Vampires Night Orgy) is one such instances. It works wonderfully as a pastiche of gothic horror and the rest of the time it’s a veritable patchwork of well-worn clichés, conveniences, and contrivances. Worse however is that it never lives up to its sensationalist and porntastic title. Apparently it only has attained any sort of cinematic longevity on the back of its all-star Spanish cast. More Necrophagus (1971) or The Witches Mountain (1972) rather than any of Spain’s enduring fantaterror gems The Vampires Night Orgy is the sort of thing that should have been directed in Italy by legendary provocateurs and all-around madmen Renato Polselli or Luigi Batzella. If only it was as sleazy as its title would suggest or have you think.

It’s fair to say that León Klimovsky was off to a flying start when he filmed his first macaroni western in Spain in 1966. His alliance with domestic horror pioneer Paul Naschy was, of course, legendary for the mad creative synergy between the two and the forging of a veritable classic or two in the process. Having made Vengeance of the Zombies (1973) and The Dracula Saga (1973) fatigue was expected and bound to set in. For The Vampires Night Orgy Klimovsky’s direction was on autopilot and without much of his usual visual flair. Don’t come in expecting aristocratic decadence and opulent smoke-filled interiors of The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (1971) nor the macabre playfulness and amiable insanity of Doctor Jekyll and the Wolfman (1972). Thankfully by the following year’s The Devil’s Possessed (1974) León Klimovsky was in fine form again. Truth be told, everybody was kind of tired of the vampire shtick here. Yeah, even American import Jack Taylor, Dyanik Zurakowska, and perennial LWO favourite Helga Liné. Taylor had found steady employment in continental European shlock. Memorable roles of his around this time can be found in his brief tenure with Jesús Franco with Succubus (1968) (with Janine Reynaud), Count Dracula (1970) (with Soledad Miranda), Nightmares Come at Night (1970), and Female Vampire (1973) (where he had the chance to prod Lina Romay).

Dyanik Zurakowska was a veteran of macaroni western and Eurospy but is known around these parts for her role in the first Waldemar Daninsky El Hombre Lobo epic The Mark of the Wolfman (1968). Other notables include the Spanish giallo The Killer Is One of Thirteen (1973) and the gothic horror The Orgy of the Dead (1973). In 1973 Helga Liné was very much in-demand. In just 12 months she appeared in 9 (!!) movies, five of which were horror (or fantaterror adjacent). The Vampires Night Orgy was the last of those five and it showed. Helga looks visibly tired. After the brooding Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), the oneiric fantastique The Loreleys Grasp (1973), the swelteringly atmospheric The Dracula Saga (1973), and the campy Terence Young peplum breastacular The Amazons (1973) something had to give. That something was The Vampires Night Orgy. To say that The Vampires Night Orgy is not remotely on the same level as Horror Express (1972), Nightmare Castle (1965) or even The Blancheville Monster (1963) would be putting it mildly. Far from her worst Helga’s able to elevate material that is otherwise bland and below her usual level and elevate it above the mires of mediocrity. It might not rise to the glorious heights of the genre, but The Vampires Night Orgy is far from the worst Spanish gothic horror has to offer.

A group of seven weary passengers – Ernesto (Gaspar 'Indio' González, as Indio González), Godó (Luis Ciges), César (David Aller) and Alma (Dyanik Zurakowska, as Dianik Zurakowska) as well as a family consisting of Raquel (Charo Soriano), Marcos (Manuel de Blas) and their eight-year-old daughter Violeta (Sarita Gil) – en route to an aristocratic family in Bojoni in the Carpathian mountains in Hungary (and not Romania where Transylvania actually is) where they have been contracted for employment. The passengers find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere after their bus driver (L. Villena) suddenly collapses from a heart attack and dies momentarily after. As a man of action Ernesto takes the wheel and opines that the best solution is to travel to the nearby village of Tolnai, a mere 10 kilometres away. After some much-needed food and rest they can then continue their journey to Bojoni, 110 kilometres from their current whereabouts, and still be on time to commence working. In the mysteriously abandoned Tolnai the group takes refuge in the local tavern. There they run into American tourist Luis (Jack Taylor) who’s also mystified by the complete absence of any inhabitants in the village of Tolnai, a ghost town by all accounts. As everybody retreats to their lodgings for the night, Ernesto decides to stay on guard.

The following morning the group is treated to a veritable feast of a breakfast with more fresh food and coffee than they’ll ever be able to consume. The villagers have also returned and the travelers are welcomed by village mayor Bruno (José Guardiola). Before embarking on their voyage to Bojoni the mayor is gracious enough to invite the group to the village’s famous roast, an offer they gladly take him up on. Marcos explains that they don’t have means to compensate the expenses of such hospitality. All expenses will be paid for by The Countess (Helga Liné), a beloved member of local nobility who has the entire village enthralled – but will never be named, her only wish that the group stay in Tolnai a little while longer. The Countess sends out her hulking servant (Fernando Bilbao) to gather the meat for the promised roast, by any means necessary. As you would expect neither the bus, nor Luis’ car, have any intention of starting and the group has no choice but to remain in the village until further notice or until reparations can be made. Whichever comes first. Either way they will be staying in the village longer than they had anticipated. César immediately catches the eye of The Countess and she invites him to her luxurious abode under the pretense of reciting to her the works of Shakespeare, Browning, and O'Neill. Violeta meanwhile has made friends with a local boy named Niño (Fernando E. Romero, as Fernando Romero). As one by one members of the group disappear under mysterious circumstances Luis and Alma conclude that something is very wrong in Tolnai… When they do finally escape and are able to contact authorities in Bojoni, law enforcement officials can’t seem to find Tolnai on the map and dismiss it as a figment of their fevered imaginations.

The plot is a recombination of several classic pulp vampire movies. The bus breaking down is straight out of The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960). The characters looking for petrol and repairs in a desolate village was liberally borrowed from Hammer’s The Kiss of the Vampire (1973), the town being inhabited by cripples was an element from Klimovsky’s earlier The Dracula Saga (1973) and Helga Liné pretty much mirrors Erika Blanc in The Devil’s Nightmare (1971) or Delphine Seyrig in Daughters Of Darkness (1971) as the undead sanguine seductress. The abandoned village is something straight out of The Witches Mountain (1972). What truly makes The Vampires Night Orgy interesting as a gothic horror genre piece is that it, at least in part, is the earliest Spanish zombie movie predating Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) by a single year. While the shambling villagers technically aren’t zombies in the George Romero sense, they do act as such and serve the same sentinel function as the non-carnivorous zombies of the pre-The Night Of the Living Dead (1968) variety. Having the third act play out as a zombie movie was a genius decision on Klimovsky’s part. Liné’s involvement is only peripheral amounting to that of a “special guest star” and that is either to the movie’s advantage or to its biggest detriment. Dyanik Zurakowska isn’t given much to do either – and it’s more than puzzling that the two biggest stars are so little overall narrative importance. Perhaps Cristina Galbó, who was just starting her giallo tenure, would’ve been a better fit instead of Dyanik Zurakowska. Derivation worked to the advantage of The Dracula Saga (1973), but it didn’t here. The schizophrenic score from José María San Mateo - a strange and uneven mix of funky soul/jazz, rustic folk rock, choral and orchestral segments and electronics – is overly cheery one moment and oppressively dark the next. To say that it barely fits a production of this kind is putting it very mildly.

Whereas The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (1971) and The Dracula Saga (1973) were both highly atmospheric in their predilection towards aristrocratic decadence and sweltering Mediterranean eroticism, The Vampires Night Orgy on the other hand goes for a completely different kind of atmosphere. The very opposite of what Klimovsky’s earlier entries in the vampire genre had aimed for. The Vampires Night Orgy isn’t pretty to look at – and that’s exactly the point. Everything here is decidedly colorless and decrepit looking. The entire production bathes in shades of black, grey and brown and is thoroughly pervaded by a sense of muck and earthtiness the way only Spanish productions tend to be. The presence of both Helga Liné and Dyanik Zurakowska notwithstanding The Vampires Night Orgy is, despite its international English language title, deeply and decidedly unerotic. So unerotic that even the obligatory foreign market nude scenes feel needlessly tacky and tacked on. Clearly the psychotronica/psychedelia of Vampyros Lesbos (1971) was a thing of the past and leagues better than plotless brainfarts as Female Vampire (1973). Klimovsky on a bad day is still better than Jesús Franco at his best. The Vampires Night Orgy works because it defies expectations and conventions. It’s a vampire film that plays out as an old-fashioned zombie movie. That it’s generally closer to The Fury of the Wolfman (1970) than to The Dracula Saga (1973) only works to its advantage. The Vampires Night Orgy is only moderately animated and nowhere near the best Iberian horror.

The Vampires Night Orgy is a decidedly ugly looking affair. The eye-bleeding color and verdant landscapes that usually are rampant in Spanish horror is notably absent here. This lack of sprawling colors encompasses every aspect of the production. The entire feature is kind of drab and not even the pairing of Liné and Zurakowska, neither of which are shy about baring skin and putting out, can liven up this quaint little genre exercise. The most interesting aspect of the feature are the vampires themselves. When they are initially introduced they seem to abide by the classic conventions, but once the plot progresses it becomes increasingly evident that they aren’t your typical bloodsucker. While they do sprout fangs they can withstand the light of the sun and move in herd-like packs in the way the cinematic living dead tend to do. The premise in itself is interesting enough as often with vampire movies there’s always a nearby hamlet where superstition reigns and who will warn travelers of the ominous undead threat. In The Vampires Night Orgy that nearby sleepy farming village, frozen in time somewhere around around 1490, has been vampirized in its entirety. Instead of the undead, often (but not always) members of nobility and the upper class, having to ensnare their desired victims here the entire town bends to The Countess’ will.

Klimovsky would return to the nebulous world of the undead with the vastly superior Strange Love of the Vampires (1975) (with Emma Cohen) lighting up the screen. In The Vampires Night Orgy the twilight world of the undead isn’t the usual decadent, gaudy feast of sweltering eroticism and sanguine appetites – but instead it is rather drab, colorless and dank looking. It pretty much is Spanish horror without its usual vitality and phantasmagoria of bright color and the reddest of blood. Which doesn’t make any less enjoyable or entertaining. Nor Dyanik Zurakowska nor Helga Liné raise the temperature despite baring an equal and gratuitous amount of flesh and Jack Taylor, his usual suave self and the obligatory American star, was in far better movies both before and after. The Vampires Night Orgy isn’t your typical Meditterranean potboiler but it isn’t some overlooked classic either. It isn’t even a sub-classic. It’s closest counterpart is the ill-fated Paul Naschy El Hombre Lobo feature The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970), a potentially good concept marred by a suboptimal production design and direction. Klimovsky, ever the professional, wasn’t able to liven up what charitably could be called a serviceable but otherwise uneventful gothic horror throwback. Spain has offered the world far better gothic horror revivals than this rather daft looking romp.

Plot: laborer falls in love with a beautiful girl who might, or might not, be human.

In the hallowed year of 1973 - a banner year for gothic, erotic, and vampire horror, if there ever was one – the European vampire film hit its apex. France, Spain, and Italy churned out some of their most memorable works. While the movement itself had started some three years earlier it didn’t reach critical mass until three years in. East-Europe was never very present in the popular conscious but their contributions to the development of horror aren’t any less important. Russia released the endlessly atmospheric special effects extravaganza Spirit Of Evil (1967), in Czechoslovakia (present-day Czech Republic) director Jaromil Jireš was the man behind the genre-bending coming of age fairytale Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), and in Serbia Đorđe Kadijević directed Лептирица (or The Butterfly, released in the English-speaking world as The She-Butterfly) produced by Radiotelevizija Beograd for TV Belgrade, which premiered on April 15, 1973 to wide consternation and shock. Teachers encouraged their students, young and old, to watch it. When it originally premiered in Skopje, Macedonia one person allegedly expired from sheer fright with all the expected controversy and moral outrage following. Pearl-clutchers of the day accused Kadijević of having made a “terrorist film” while literary critics claimed he had “desecrated” the classic After Ninety Years from Milovan Glišić on which it was based. Hardly the worst legacy for a little Balkan television movie about an hour long.

Đorđe Kadijević was born in 1933 and as a young boy he would see the horrors of World War II firsthand. He lost his father, his home and wandered around Serbia unhoused meeting Partisans and Chetniks along the way. He would grow up to be an art historian and art critic and his experiences during the Second World War would inform his screenwriting and most enduring cinematic works. Kadijević made comedies, period pieces, social realist dramas and everything in between. His film even catched the attention of Josip Broz Tito. He never had any real interest in horror as a genre as he deemed it too commercial. It’s not without a sense of irony then that it was in horror where he ended up contributing the most. He made the first Serbian horror film with The Gifts of My Cousin Mary (1969) and in the English-speaking world he’s forever associated with The Butterfly. Even if he took some artistic liberty with the Milovan Glišić story by changing the ending to something more ambiguous. For his television series Wolf Karadžić (1987-1988) he received the Order of the White Angel for honorably portraying the Orthodox Church during the Serbian Revolution of 1804-1812. Not only that the series was protected as European Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, on the suggestion of Umberto Eco. He also directed A Holy Place (1990), a Yugoslavian remake of Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov classic Soviet horror Spirit Of Evil (1963) that saw Branka Pujić taking over Natalya Varley’s iconic role as the titular witch. Kadijević was awarded the the Sretenje Order by the Republic of Serbia for his contributions to the development of Serbian art and culture. In 2016 he was the first laureate of the Bela Lugosi award at the Dead Lake festival in Palić, Subotica. Most recently, his work in cinema was celebrated at the Odraz Strava film festival on December 16-17 2022 at Hall of the Cultural Center of Belgrade.

After Ninety Years from Milovan Glišić tells the story of Sava Savanović, widely considered to be the first vampire in Serbian folklore. The legend of Savanović was probably inspired by the real-life case of peasant Petar Blagojević who died in 1725 and was believed to be responsible for nine mysterious deaths in the town of Kisiljevo. The crime was chronicled by Austrian administration official Imperial Provisor Ernst Frombald who witnessed his staking, took statements from villagers and called him Peter Plogojowitz in his reports. In Balkan folklore Blagojević was one of the earliest and most sensationalist examples of vampire hysteria. After Ninety Years was first published in 1880 preceding Bram Stoker’s Dracula (who’s main subject was inspired by 15th-century Wallachian voivode Vlad Drăculea or Vlad the Impaler) by some 17 years. Savanović also turned up in Fear and His Servant from Mirjana Novaković. Suffice to say, Sava Savanović is deeply engrained in Balkan popular culture. When The Butterfly premiered in 1973 it appeared more than ninety years after After Ninety Years first saw publication. Interestingly, in 2010 a feud of sorts broke out between two cities on opposing sides of the Povlen mountain when Zarožje and Valjevo claimed it as their own. Valjevo wanted to use it as their touristic mascot whereas Zarožje considered it theirs because of their connection to Milovan Glišić.

Serbia, the 19th century. Zarožje is a village on the slopes of the Povlen mountain in the valley of the Rogačica river in the municipality of Bajina Bašta. The village is set up as a zadruga (a family-based agricultural cooperative) where everybody lives in close harmony with nature and by the laws ordained by Protestant doctrine. The commune is governed by an assembly of elders and the local presbyterian priest (Tanasaije Uzunović). One morning the exsanguinated body of reclusive flour miller Vule (Toma Kuruzović) is found by geriatric peasant Ćebo (Bogoljub Petrović, as Boban Petrović). It is said that the mill is haunted by Sava Savanović and he kills whoever stays the night there. While Ćebo attributes the murder to the folkloric vampire village elder Villein (Branko Petković) fears that the unfortunate incident is the harbinger for an imminent famine. The entire town is beguiled by the ravishing beauty and elegance of ginger shepherdess Radojka (Mirjana Nikolić). Young farmhand Strahinja (Petar Božović) is madly in love with the ginger wonder (not surprising as her name means “well-disposed, happy, joyful, glad”) and in the meadows he declares his love for her. Strahinja wants them to be together and ask her hand in marriage.

Radojka has been raised by cranky landowner and farmer Živan (Slobodan Perović). Živan wants nothing more than Strahinja to leave Radojka alone – and he rebukes his request. The two young lovers are desperate to be together and if he can’t have Radojka than he’ll travel to Posavina to find employment and start anew. While the constantly drunk councilmen argue among each other about the veracity of the Savanović legend they all agree that first order of business is finding a new miller. They figure that installing Strahinja at the mill will solve two immediate problems: the famine will be staved off and they’ll retain Živan as an ally. They travel to the neighbouring village where they seek an audience with Mirjana Mirjanić who’s as deaf as a door post and half senile but also old enough to remember where Sava was buried. The councilmen dig up the grave and stake the contents of the coffin. Strahinja survives his night at the mill and is deemed the savior of the village. The villagers celebrate by throwing a rescue party to steal Radojka from Živan’s farm and prepare the couple’s wedding. That night Strahinja sneaks into Radojka’s dwelling and when he undresses her he comes to a deeply shocking discovery about the girl’s real parentage.

If anything The Butterfly made a star out of Mirjana Nikolić as well as its iconic watermill. Mirjana Nikolić had debuted in Whole Life Within A Year (1967) and was a rising star due to her role in the romantic comedy Father by Force (1969). While she had worked with Đorđe Kadijević the year before on the historic drama The Colonel’s Wife (1972) history would remember The Butterfly as her breakout role to an international career. That international career didn’t seem to extend beyond the British co-produced wartime drama England Made Me (1973) from the 1953 Graham Greene novel of the same name. For the most of her career Nikolić would remain in Serbia. Filming for The Butterfly happened on location in the village of Zelinje (in the province of Zvornik, in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the watermill (“the mill of fear” the locals affectionately call it, supposedly) remains at its original location some 3 km (1.9 mi) from the Bajina Bašta-Valjevo road in the valley of the Rogačica river. It has since become something of a tourist attraction. The mill collapsed in 2012, but was reconstructed by December 2018. Four years later, in December 2022, it was completely renovated and while its doors remain open, it isn’t presently operational. No doubt The Butterfly brought in decades’ worth of tourism to Zelinje and Serbia.

East-European horror has an atmosphere that really can’t be felt anywhere else. It’s rustic, glacially paced and has the pastoral environs and that thick dream atmosphere usually associated with France, it’s also very primal in the way Spanish horror is, and strangely religious like something you’d expect out of Latin America. Spirit Of Evil (1967), Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), and this are some prime examples of the form. The Butterfly is historic for being one of the finest vampire horror films to come from the former Yugoslavia. It’s historical importance and cultural significance can’t possibly be understated. Moreso, in 2019 Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) digitally restored and remastered it premiering (whether this was on their main channel RTS1 or their more cultural/educational RTS2 is unclear) it for an entire new generation. On a sidenote, it’s also interesting is that it arrived in 1973, the absolute nexus of gothic horror in Europe. For most Western viewers it wouldn’t be until Polish gothic The Wolf (1983) before East-Europe would rise to horror prominence again. Even half a century later The Butterfly remains an undiluted classic and an incredible achievement from the unlikeliest of places.