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Plot: French students unwittingly awaken age-old Countess from slumber

The box office success of The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) had abundantly proven that there was a legitmate domestic market for horror. Within the year a follow-up was produced with the Universal Monster/science fiction mash-up Assignment Terror (1969) with an aging Michael Rennie as the lead. The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970) was eventually released after a deeply troubled production period. For the fourth chapter in his El Hombre Lobo saga Naschy, the Spanish Lon Chaney, surrounded himself with professionals. The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman was produced to profit from the gothic horror revival of the early seventies and was written accordingly. In other words there’s plenty of skin and blood to satisfy anybody’s craving. A dashing leading lady and a swathe of ravishing supporting actresses ensured that The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman would become the highest grossing Waldemar Daninsky episode up to that point. Helmed by former Argentinian dentist Léon Klimovsky The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman made made horror into an industry in Spain – and as a throwback to the Universal Horror of the 1930s it is an highly atmospheric genre piece with more than plenty dream-like surrealism to draw in fanatics of the French fantastique.

When we catch up with Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy) he is lying on a medical slab awaiting to be autopsied somewhere in France by Dr. Hartwig (Julio Peña) and his assistent Muller (Barta Barri). Muller reminds Hartwig to be cautious as Daninsky is rumored to be a werewolf. “It’s a werewolf, right?" Hartwig sarcastically remarks, “According to the legend, if the bullet that killed him is extracted from his heart, he should come back to life.” Hartwig’s skepticism is immediately rewarded with a gash to the throat and Muller doesn’t fare any better despite heeding old folklore. Before the titlecard the wolven Daninsky has slashed a hapless traveling maiden (María Luisa Tovar), but not without ripping her shirt open first – because it’s that sort of production.

Meanwhile in a Parisian nightclub archeology student Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) fills her boyfriend inspector Marcel (Andrés Resino) in on the details on an excursion into the French countryside she and her friend and fellow student Genevieve Bennett (Barbara Capell, as Bárbara Capell) are embarking on in order to do research for their final thesis. As convention would have it the intrepid duo’s BMC ADO16 Sedan breaks down in the middle of nowhere in the rural French countryside. “Perhaps Count Dracula will appear,” Genevieve remarks jokingly in a line that foreshadows Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973), “and he will invite us to spend the night in his castle.” Mere moments later Waldemar Daninsky invites the stranded intrepid student duo to the comforts of his opulent mansion where he’s studying the history and architecture of gothic churches and has been grimly brooding over the lycanthropic affliction that seizes him whenever the moon is full. Over dinner the two girls inform Waldemar of the reason of their excursion into the farther regions of the French countryside. That night Elvira is assaulted and almost injured by Daninsky’s live-in mentally unstable sister Elisabeth (Yelena Samarina).

Elvira and Genevieve are searching for the tomb of 18th century aristocrat Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy, who is patterned after Hungarian countess Erzsébet Bathory, in the French coutryside. Daninsky spents the next day exploring the region with Elvira, scouting the location where he believes the tomb of the Countess is to be found. According to the girls the Countess is from the 11th century, even though the etchings on her gravestone put her in the 15th century. In a scene recreated wholesale from Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) Genevieve cuts herself while removing the lid from the unearthed sarcophagus, dripping copious amounts of blood on the Countess’ skeletal remains. Before long the maiden’s blood has resurrected Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard, as Paty Shepard). Soon Genevieve is seduced and vampirized by Wandesa and Waldemar struggles to protect Elvira from the Countess and Genevieve’s sanguine predilections as well as his own wolven inclinations. It wasn’t the first time the two had met. Daninsky crossed paths with Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy earlier in The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) when she called herself Wandessa Mikhelov and was played by Aurora de Alba. With the spate of murders that the Countess leaves in her wake it isn’t long before inspector Marcel hurries to rural France to rescue Elvira from two very different but equally grave threats…

Greenville, South Carolina actress Patty Shepard - one of the two daughters of retired United States Air Force general Leland C. Shepard Jr., who was stationed air force base in Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain at the time – was tipped as the new Barbara Steele, but she quickly faded into obscurity once interest in Spanish horror started to wane in the mid 1970s. At age 18 she moved to Spain to work as a model. Her modeling work led to her being cast in continental European exploitation movies. In a career that spanned two decades Shepard appeared in over fifty Spanish, Italian and French films from the 1960s to the 1980s. Shepard debuted in Jess Franco’s Dan Leyton Eurocrime caper Residence For Spies (1966) and soon moved up the industry ladder with the gialli My Dear Killer (1972) and The Killer Is One of Thirteen (1976). Among her more enduring efforts were the Bud Spencer-Terence Hill actioner Watch Out, We’re Mad (1974) and Slugs (1988) from Spanish pulpmeister Juan Piquer Simón at the tall end of her career. After retiring from acting Shepard had a boutique in the Plaza de España (whether in Sevilla or Madrid is unclear) that also went out of business eventually.

Barbara Capell was a German import that had been a fixture in raunchy domestic comedies and dramas from Franz Jozef Gottlieb and directors of similar ilk in the late 1960s. Gaby Fuchs was brought in from Austria and like Capell she too had done her share of sex comedies early in her career. Firmly establishing her name were the soft erotic Grimm retelling The New Adventures of Snow White (1969), the British-German Inquisition classic Mark Of the Devil (1970), and Around the World with Fanny Hill (1970) that had Christina Lindberg in a supporting role. Betsabé Ruiz was a few years away from a memorable bit part in Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1973), which made better use of her considerable talents, and Andrés Resino was yet to drive glorious Gloria Guida to the end of her wits in Monika (1974). María Luisa Tovar would encounter more vampires in Léon Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (1973), and Curse Of the Vampire (1974) as well as making an uncredited appearance in The Loreley’s Grasp (1973). Hungarian actor Barta Barri on the other hand was an experienced veteran having starred in diverse offerings as Ignacio F. Iquino’s Brigada Criminal (1950), Eugenio Martín’s swashbuckling epic Conqueror of Maracaibo (1961), the Jess Franco spy spoof Kiss Me, Monster (1969), and was yet to star in the highly atmospheric Horror Express (1972) and The Strange Love of the Vampires (1975).

As every Naschy production worth its salt The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman doesn’t shy away from blood, nudity and sapphic love. Moreso than The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) and The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970), The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman has Fuchs finding herself inexplicably drawn to the diminuitive Daninsky, while suggesting that Capell and Fuchs were lovers at one point or another during their university studies. The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman pushes Capell towards Shepard once Fuchs couples with Naschy and wastes absolutely no time whatsoever in getting to the point by having María Luisa Tovar getting her dress torn open when she is savaged by the wolven Daninsky. Later Capell gets her blouse ripped open by Daninsky’s deranged sister, and Fuchs appears topless in the obligatory love scene. Betsabé Ruiz on the other hand is terribly, and unforgivably, wasted on what amounts to nothing more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. She would be put to greater use in The Loreley’s Grasp (1972) and The Dracula Saga (1973). To add to the sleaze factor Daninsky’s creepy handyman Pierre (José Marco), who has a predilection towards kidnapping and raping attractive female tourists that come to town, is violently killed and mutilated during one of Daninsky’s multiple lycanthropic episodes, but only after he has sufficiently threatened life and limb of Gaby Fuchs’ Elvira. At least in the international English language version, whereas in the Spanish original he offhandedly fills Elvira in on some historical peculiarities of their surroundings.

Helmed by transplanted Argentinian Léon Klimovsky and assistant director Carlos Aured The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman makes full use of the mist-shrouded locales and foggy, candlelit interiors. The slow-motion vampire scenes greatly add to the unearthly, almost surreal atmosphere. As before the werewolf make-up was styled after Lon Chaney, Jr. and the entire production bathes in Boris Karloff stylings. The delightfully creaky score by Antón García Abril is in line with much of the earlier El Hombre Lobo installments, and Carlos Aured would helm his own feature with Curse Of the Devil (1972). One scene in particular probably served as an inspiration to Amando de Ossorio to write Tombs of the Blind Dead, which was made just a few months later in 1971. While at the ruined chapel where the Countess is buried, Elvira is accosted by a hooded zombified monk. The decomposed cleric bears more than a passing resemblance to de Ossorio’s own famous Templar Knights from the famed Blind Dead franchise. The English-language cut as Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman truncates several scenes, omitting some of the more gratuitous gore and excising a least part of the rampant nudity as well as having a different score and opening montage. In all it trims 8 minutes of footage compared from the original Spanish language version.

Plot: newly wed couple fall under the spell of vampire in remote castle

If Roberto Mauri’s The Slaughter Of the Vampires is famous for anything, it’s for making the Italian gothic horror profitable. Riccardo Freda’s and Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1957) established the horror genre domestically and Renato Polselli’s The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) acted as the catalyst for the first wave of Italian gothic horrors. It was however The Slaughter Of the Vampire that did for the gothic horror what Pietro Francisci’s The Labors Of Hercules (1958) had done for the peplum at the end of the prior decade. Not only is The Slaughter Of the Vampires a beautifully photographed and atmospheric gothic horror feature, it also is graced by the presence of the elegant and patrician Graziella Granata. Granata is frequently bursting at the seams and she’s the standard to which all feature female vampires will be measured.

Granata debuted in The Pirate and the Slave Girl (1959) opposite of Lex Barker and Chelo Alonso. From that point onward she became a regular in comedy (Fernandel and otherwise), swashbucklers and peplum with the occassional venture into other genres. The Slaughter Of the Vampires is the only horror in ravenhaired Granata’s body of work and memorable for no other reason that she gets to wear very flattering dresses and corsets and that she goes from the obligatory damsel-in-distress to the fang-sprouting antagonist in a matter of a few scenes. Also at hand are prolific actor Walter Brandi – who was a vampire himself in The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) – and future pulp directors Alfredo Rizzo and Luigi Batzella. Batzella would find fame by helming the delirious erotic gothic horror throwbacks The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973), The Reincarnation Of Isabel (1973) and Nude For Satan (1974). Rizzo on the other hand directed nothing of peculiar interest outside of providing stock footage for two very dubious Eurociné features in the next two decades.

In Vienna, Austria in the 19th century newlywed marquis Wolfgang (Walter Brandi, as Walter Brandy) and his marchioness Louise (Graziella Granata) acquire a spacious castle. Unbeknownst to them lying in wait interred in one of the coffins deep within the castle’s wine-cellar is a vampire (Dieter Eppler). In their new abode the couple is looked after by maid Corinne (Gena Gimmy) as well as two housekeepers (Alfredo Rizzo and Edda Ferronao) living on the estate with their young daughter Resy (Maretta Procaccini). To commemorate the occasion of having come in possession of such luxurious estate the couple decide to throw a house-warming party. At the party Louise performs a piano piece she has written for the christening of the castle. She and her friend Teresa (Carla Foscari) ostensibly attract everybody’s attention until a mysterious stranger, unknown to hosts and guests alike, makes his entrance and asks Louise to dance. The mysterious stranger is in fact the vampire hidden in the wine-cellar and who has found his sole purpose in making Louise his living companion, regardless of the cost. As Louise and Corinne both fall under the vampire’s spell Wolfgang sees no other solution than to call on the services of expert in the occult and part-time vampire hunter Dr. Nietzsche (Luigi Batzella, as Paolo Solvay) to exterminate the supreme vampyric evil.

Graced by both breathtaking photography and lush location shooting in and around tenth century Castle d’Aquino in Monte San Giovanni Campano in Lazio The Slaughter Of the Vampires certainly looks better than its kitschy plot would suggest. What it also has in the positively bra-busting Graziella Granata is a gainly leading lady, and later vampire bride, that few have been able to match since. Indeed, Granata exudes a sense of sophistication and aristocracy that could measure itself with the finest of Hammer Films ladies. Graziella owns, despite being dubbed in the international English version, every scene she in – and oozes with sensuality long before she sprouts fangs. The Slaughter Of the Vampire sizzles with eroticism, whether it is in the form of bared shoulders or heaving bosoms in tightly-fitting bodices and dresses. Coming from a more innocent time The Slaughter Of the Vampires is completely bereft of nudity and blood, even though both The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and Castle Of Blood (1964) would have some of its female cast briefly shed clothing. Dieter Eppler’s concrete coiffed vampire, who for hitherto unexplained reasons will remain unnamed, on the other hand looks somewhat as a mix of Ed Wood stock actor Criswell and Paul Naschy.

Graziella Granata is perhaps responsible for this movie’s enduring legacy. The Slaughter Of the Vampires, as kitschy and pulpy as it often ends up becoming, is a paean to Granata. Graziella is initially introduced as the virginal ingénue but the prerequisite damsel-in-distress soon turns into a comely seductress that stalks the darkened bowels of the castle to satiate her sanguine hunger. The restrictive and restricting limitations of the genre notwithstanding it’s puzzling that The Slaughter Of the Vampires is Granata’s only horror title. Graziella does so much with so little. An exposed shoulder in a tight-fitting dress, a bit of leg, décolletage so ample and abundant that it makes the average red-blooded male dizzy, and more than enough longing, sultry looks abound. Without shedding even a single article of clothing Graziella manages to steam up whatever scene she appears in. Even when she’s reborn as a vampire cinematographer Ugo Brunelli takes every opportunity to photograph her full feminine form in a dazzling play of light and shadow. In a last desperate bid to thwart the dwellers of the dark Dr. Nietzsche finds Louise fast asleep in her coffin and drives a stake right between her breasts. It’s the sort of production that makes one wonder why Sylvia Sorrente wasn’t cast. Compared to the equally top-heavy María Luisa Rolando, Graziella Granata actually exuded a sense of nobility in spite of her thoroughly Italian corn-fed allure and charm.

The first Golden Age of Italian horror was initially imitative of Hammer Films’ rejuvenation of the horror genre with The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) from director Terence Fisher. Hammer in the fifties modeled itself after the 1930s Universal horror canon and before long Italy would be carving out its own distinct niche in horror. Sweltering with Mediterranean romanticism and bearing enough of a semblance to Bram Stoker’s classic novel The Slaughter Of the Vampires is gothic horror kitsch at its best. It does in shadowy black-and-white cinematography what Gerardo de Leon would do with Blood Of the Vampires (1966) and what Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) and The Dracula Saga (1973) would do a decade later in lurid, bleeding color. It makes the best of what little resources it has by having characters walk endless in and around the castle. Granata and Carla Foscari are memorable thanks to the dresses that are barely able to contain their bountiful bosoms. There are dusty hallways, candlelabras, shadowlit corridors, coffins buried by time and dust and the heart of the production is a tragic doomed love triangle. Granata makes a most formidable vampire bride and the conclusion is not nearly as laughably inept as that of The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960).

The Slaughter Of the Vampires is Hammer Horror all’Italiana and through its rustic charm and perhaps old-fashioned sense of style it beautifully sets the stage for later, more delirious exercises of the genre to come. It sports two directors one who would become famous for his absolutely batshit insane gothic horror throwbacks with Rosalba Neri and Rita Calderoni. Alfredo Rizzo, the less innately talented half of the duo, directed his own addition to the gothic horror pantheon with the well-intended The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (1975), but the only thing Rizzo is remotely remembered for is his loveably dopey Eurowar debacle Heroes Without Glory (1971), graciously plundered for footage by Eurociné for their cut-and-paste feature East Of Berlin (1978) and the proxy-Jess Franco exercise in tedium Oasis Of the Zombies (1982) almost a decade later. Ah, Rizzo always was a better actor than he was a director. The Slaughter Of the Vampires comes from a more innocent and much simpler time when everything was classier. It’s might be a bit strong to call Roberto Mauri’s The Slaughter Of the Vampires an overlooked classic of the genre, but it certainly pushes all the right buttons and has atmosphere in spades.