Lust of the Vampire / I vampiri (1956)

4.5 out of 5

Aside from being the first Italian horror film since the 1920s, I vampiri is also notable as the first work in the genre by director Riccardo Freda and the directorial debut of Mario Bava. Cinematographer Bava picked up the clapperboard from Freda when the latter walked off the project, after ten days, when the financial plug was pulled, and had to rethink the main thrust of the story to finish the film in two days with no money.

The result is a slightly muddled narrative that contains no ‘actual’ vampires but instead a riff on the Bathory legend with the striking Gianna Maria Carnale and her scientist lackeys kidnapping young girls and draining them of blood to return her to her youthful glory. Carnale’s ‘Duchess Du Grand’ is conveniently besotted with the reporter on the case of the ‘Vampire’, Dario Michaelis, because of a past relationship with his father.

Despite some story shortcomings and overly talky sections, I vampiri remains a wonderful film, with pleasing performances and a lush feel which belies its resources. With a great gothic ambiance, particularly in the scenes set within the beautifully designed castle interiors, Bava’s flawless cinematography ensures that the film looks utterly gorgeous throughout.

It goes without saying that anyone with the slightest interest in Bava, Freda, or indeed the history of fantastic cinema needs to see this. A commercial failure in its native country, the film was released in the US four years later, in a bowdlerised form, going by the name of The Devil’s Commandment and including American-made inserts starring Al ‘Grandpa Munster’ Lewis.

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics