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Plot: twin brothers fall under the spell of a mysterious countess.

The Devil’s Wedding Night (released domestically as Il Plenilunio delle Vergini or Full Moon of the Virgins) was another cheapie bankrolled to capitalize on the gothic horror revival craze in the marquee year of 1973. Directed by spaghetti western specialist Luigi Batzella, with second unit direction from Aristide Massaccesi, The Devil’s Wedding Night is the logical continuation of everything (and frequently more) that kitschy fare as The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960), The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), and The Monster Of the Opera (1964) only dared hint at. Batzella himself had starred in The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) and he seemed hellbent on making sure that The Devil’s Wedding Night was to the wicked and wild seventies what The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) and Emilio Vieyra's Blood Of the Virgins (1967) were to the sixties. As such this is a veritable phantasmagoria of gothic horror atmosphere, sweltering Mediterranean erotica, with a framing in ancient mythology.

In the 1970s Rosalba Neri was everywhere. She had been a regular in spaghetti western and peplum through out the sixties - and as tastes shifted Neri too felt she had to go with the times. Her first step into that new mindset came by starring in a trio of Jesús Franco productions with the likes of Luciana Paluzzi, Maria Rohm, and Christopher Lee, but more importantly her partaking in the subtextually rich offshore giallo Top Sensation (1969) with fellow starlet Edwige Fenech (who was in the process of reinventing herself after a stint in German sex comedy). Just two years prior Neri had starred in Lady Frankenstein (1971) and a number of gialli including, but not limited to, The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971), Amuck (1972), The French Sex Murders (1972), and Girl In Room 2A (1974). Neri and Mark Damon had worked together earlier on the spaghetti western The Mighty Anselmo and His Squire (1972) from director Bruno Corbucci.

The early-to-mid seventies saw the European gothic horror boom in full swing with France, Italy, and Spain contributing alongside the glamour years of the then-ailing Hammer. Around this time Jean Rollin released his most enduring work and Jesús Franco helmed Vampyros Lesbos (1971), arguably single-handedly kicking off the vampire craze in Europe. In a five-year blitz Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay (1971), The Wolfman Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), Necrophagus (1971), Daughters Of Darkness (1971), Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), The Dracula Saga (1973), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), The Loreleys Grasp (1973), Bell From Hell (1973), A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973), and Vampyres (1974) were released. Seven Women For Satan (1976) was comparatively late, but not any less important. Even America got in on the craze with The Velvet Vampire (1971), decades later inspiring The Love Witch (2016).

Karl Schiller (Mark Damon), a 19th century scholar and archeologist, concludes after extensive research that the mythical Ring des Nibelungen lies hidden somewhere in the Carpathians. Feeling that the artefact belongs in the Karnstein Museum of Archeology, he sets out to finding the Ring at Castle Dracula, under the pretense of architectural inspection. Meanwhile his twin brother Franz (Mark Damon), a libertine and gambler, quoting the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Raven, encourages him not to undertake the long and arduous journey to Transylvania. When that doesn’t work Franz steals his brother's Egyptian amulet as he prepares, and takes off into the Carpathians. Before long both brothers have fallen for Countess Dolingen de Vries (Rosalba Neri, as Sara Bay) with Franz taking an interest in Tanya (Enza Sbordone, as Francesca Romana Davila), the innkeeper’s daughter.

De Vries’ majestic castle is inhabited not only by the Countess, but also her loyal servant Lara (Esmeralda Barros), a Mysterious Man (Gengher Gatti, as Alexander Getty), and the monstrous Vampire Monster (Xiro Papas, as Ciro Papas). While still pursuing Tanya, libertine Franz falls for the considerable charms of Countess de Vries, who every five decades, on the Night Of the Virgin Moon uses her Wagnerian magic ring to summon virgins to her castle. In Bathory fashion she bathes in their blood to retain her youth and immortality in a pact forged with the dark lord himself. De Vries seduces Franz and eventually turns him into a vampire. In a black mass wedding meant to “consecrate their union” Karl, who has followed his brother to the Carpathian moutains, must now face the horror of his malefic undead brother, the fang-bearing Countess, and her legion of evil servants.

The majority of The Devil’s Wedding Night was directed by Luigi Batzella, who was primarily known for his work in spaghetti westerns and the Django! franchise. Batzella would gain infamy for his nunsploitation vehicle Secret Confessions Of a Cloistered Convent (1972), that also featured Neri and Damon in lead parts, his batshit insane gothic horror throwback Nude For Satan (1974), and a pair of il sadiconazista offerings including, but not limited to, The Beast In Heat (1977). Principal photography took place at Piccolomini Castle in Balsorano in the south central region of Abruzzo in the province of L'Aquila, Italy. Second unit director Aristide Massaccesi (under his English nom de plume Joe D’Amato) shot the opening chase sequence, and Neri’s bloodbathing scene, the latter of which is bristlingly erotic thanks to Neri’s curvaceous figure and luscious writhing as she is doused by Esmeralda Barros. Several different versions exist, most notably a standard 90 minute version with small variations, and a definitive 130 minute cut. The screenplay, written by Ralph Zucker and Mark Damon (under the pseudonym Alan M. Harris), was based on the story “The Brides of Countess Dracula” by Ian Danby.

The strength of The Devil’s Wedding Night lies not merely in that it pushes the envelope in terms of eroticism and on-screen grue, it plainly is more atmospheric and involving than Javier Aguirre’s glacially paced, and rather stuffy Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), or Amando de Ossorio’s conservative Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969). The Devil’s Wedding Night positions itself closer to León Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (1973) as far as atmosphere and production design is concerned. Rosalba Neri exudes the same kind of nobility and timeless charm that Narciso Ibáñez Menta had in the Klimovsky movie, and that Paul Naschy and Julián Ugarte missed in theirs. On the whole The Devil’s Wedding Night is a lot more lively than the stuffier entries in the gothic horror genre from this period. The presence of Rosalba Neri and Enza Sbordone make the plot contrivances and Damon’s virtually indistinguishable double role slightly more tolerable.

Plot: ballerinas are stalked by vampire in an old opera house.

The Monster Of the Opera is the last in a very loose ballerina trilogy and was preceded by the kitschy The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960). It was initially conceived as a sequel to the latter with filming beginning in 1961. However as filming progressed and the production ran into budget problems it was made into a stand-alone feature, and only completed several years later. While just as kitschy as the prior two episodes The Monster Of the Opera does occasionally manage to line up an artful shot or two and the Aldo Piga score is sufficiently creaky and brooding when it needs to be. The only real difference (if it can be called that) is that The Monster Of the Opera is a pretty straightforward recombination of both The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) but is enlivened with a light sprinkling of surface elements borrowed from the 1909 Gaston Leroux novel The Phantom of the Opera. It’s not exactly the second coming of The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962), but there’s something resembling a pulse, at least.

Renato Polselli was a psychology graduate who filmed the usual melodramas and comedies in the fifties before veering towards gothic horror. As someone with his background Polselli’s aim was to constantly push the envelope as far as he could. Horror was his genre of choice, even if that meant having to deal with smaller budgets and casts of secondary players. Polselli sought to confront taboos and to be as transgressive as the medium would allow. He first did so with The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), an erotically-charged potboiler that positioned María Luisa Rolando as a skid row alternative to Barbara Steele. Gothic horror wouldn’t explode into an orgy of blood and boobs until Emilio Vieyra's The Blood Of the Virgins (1967) and the early fantastiques of Jean Rollin. Like several others Polselli brazenly charged forwards during the gothic horror revival of the early 1970s. The Truth According to Satan (1970), Delirium (1972), and Black Magic Rites (1973) all followed on the groundwork that The Monster Of the Opera had lain. Just like Lady Frankenstein (1971) and The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) they too pushed the erotica and psychotronic excesses as far as they could. No longer restricted by crippling regulations from the censors Polselli found a handful of actresses, and reveled in shooting them from every angle he could. After Mania (1974) he made a few thrillers and a poliziottesco before inevitably descending into the world of hardcore pornography at the dawn of the 1980s.

Centuries ago the vampire Stefano (Giuseppe Addobbati, as John McDouglas) was betrayed by a mortal woman he loved, the medium Laura (Barbara Hawards, as Barbara Howard). Condemned to an eternity of darkness he sought refuge in the underground, and on top of his lair a grand theater was constructed. As the years pass women mysteriously disappear within the whispering walls of the Aquarius Theater. As the theater falls into disrepair and becomes affordable it attracts the attention of young director Sandro (Marco Mariani, as Marc Marian) who chooses it as a rehearsal space for his dance troupe as they prepare for the new show he’s working on. The old caretaker Achille (Alberto Archetti, as Albert Archet) tries to warn him not to go through with his plans as the Aquarius Theater is cursed, but Sandro brushes it off as mere superstition. Giulia (Barbara Hawards, as Barbara Howard), leading lady and Sandro’s fiancée, can’t shake the feeling that someone’s watching her and that she’s somehow been there before. When Stefano lays eyes upon Giulia he believes her to be the Laura reincarnated, and vows to kill her.

With rehearsals progressing Carlotta (Milena Vukotic) grows envious of the preferential treatment that Giulia gets, and wants nothing more than to replace her in the show. Aldo (Aldo Nicodemi, as Boris Notarenko) is in love with Rossana (Vittoria Prada) but she’s in no hurry to return his affections. Yvette (Jody Excell) has a love unspoken for Aurora (Carla Cavalli) who wants nothing but to return it, but neither of them seem in any haste to act on their romantic impulses. Lightman Tony (Renato Montalbano), actor Filippo (Fidel Gonzáles, as Fidelio Gonzales), and soundman Giorgio (Walter Brandi) are just happy to be working with a bunch of nubile women. It is learned that Achille is not just a caretaker, but very much Stefano’s prisoner. When Giulia is drawn to Stefano’s cavernous lair she finds not only the vampire, but also a dungeon full of chained earlier victims. As paralyzing hysterics quickly seize the ballerinas, it’s up to brave Sandro to vanquish the evil Stefano once and for all.

As can be surmised from the above synopsis The Monster Of the Opera combines half of The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) with half of The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) with some superficial Gaston Leroux touches for good measure. The Stefano-Lauro opening gambit echoes The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) more than anything else. More importantly, however, on more than a few occasions similarities with Pete Walker’s knickers and knockers classic The Flesh and Blood Show (1973) can be drawn. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that Walker borrowed, nay stole, all his ideas from this litte Italian gothic, but the similarities between the two are too striking to be mere coincidence. First, there are the characters and setting: there’s the abandoned theater that holds a terrifying secret, the ambitious young director, and the senior citizen that issues a grave warning. Second, the various romantic couplings (same sex and otherwise) are nearly identical and third, both push farther in terms of eroticism following earlier examples. The Monster Of the Opera leans in hard on the implied lesbian histrionics following Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (1960). The Flesh and Blood Show (1973) adhered to the giallo template of omnivorous hyper-sexuality very much as in Top Sensation (1969) and perfected by Mario Bava, Sergio Martino, and Luciano Ercoli. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Ernesto Gastaldi would become one of the more prolific screenwriters in the giallo boom of the early 1970s. Here he understandably plays second fiddle to Polselli whose vision and voice dominates.

On a more interesting note it has several earlier iterations of character types that Polselli would explore in his eclectic 70s oeuvre with Rita Calderoni. This wouldn’t be a Polselli joint if old Renato didn’t push the envelope as far as he possibly could. In The Monster Of the Opera that manifests itself mostly in one scene of very strong implied lesbianism. First there’s the way Yvette is initially introduced (“born in the city of Lesbo, province of Sappho”) and later Aurora talks about the bonds of friendship between women before sharing a few longing looks with Manuela on a staircase. Then Carlotta descends the stairs and the three fall in a suggestive embrace while breaking out in laughter. Finally, Yvette enters the staircase, sternly sending the two other packing, claims Aurora for her own and the two almost share a kiss. However since it was only 1964 said kiss never materializes, and suggestion is as far as things go. What really drives most dialogues between the couples is the play with consent. Early on Rosanna tells Aldo, “you may kiss me, but don’t take advantage!”. Then later, a dance montage apart from the earlier Rosanna-Aldo exchange, Giulia reverses what Rosanna said and asks Sandro “why don’t you take advantage? Kiss me.” Quite playful and more than a progressive stance in those repressed days before the Summer of Love and Sexual Revolution.

Even on a lesser production composer Aldo Piga and director of photography Ugo Brunelli can be relied upon to deliver something of merit. Barbara Hawards is no María Luisa Rolando, Graziella Granata, or Soledad Miranda – but she does cut a nice figure and Brunelli captures her from her best side every chance he gets. Milena Vukotic and Carla Cavalli probably get the most lines out of the other ballerinas. Vukotic is still acting to this day while the rest never acted anywhere else. Giuseppe Addobbati was a support player for the most part, and it’s good having him as the lead for a change. Addobbati is most remembered around these parts for his role in the Barbara Steele monochrome gothic horror classic Nightmare Castle (1965). Walter Brandi and Dieter Eppler made more threatening vampires but Addobbati does the best with what little he’s given. The rest of the ballerinas act well enough, but their purpose is mainly decorative. The Gaston Leroux elements are superficial at best, and easily ignored since this is a pretty straightforward vampire flick with little actual story. The Monster Of the Opera is very much a product of its time – it’s kitschy, silly, and loaded with babes.

That The Monster Of the Opera is somehow considered the lesser of The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) is a bit puzzling. Polselli’s direction possesses far more flair than Piero Regnoli’s kind of daft The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960). It overflows with the kind of subdued sensuality that the better gothics from the Latin countries (in both Europe and South America) specialized in around this time. Barbara Hawards was a decent enough actress, and she certainly looked the part – but it’s evident that there was no María Luisa Rolando in congress this time around. That Renato Polselli would shoot the giallo Delirium (1972) about a decade later shouldn’t surprise anyone, and that The Monster Of the Opera was co-written by future giallo specialist Ernesto Gastaldi was one of those unavoidable instances of serendipity in Italian exploitation with several talents working in close proximity from each other. Compared to his most remembered work a decade in the future Renato Polselli elegantly pushes the envelope as far as the censors would allow. It would however be in the wild and exuberant 70s when he would indulge his worst excesses.