When police find the body of a young woman floating in the river Seine, journalist Pierre Lantin (Michaelis) embarks on a personal crusade, aiming to solve the mystery of the so-called 'Vampire Murders.' The latest in a series of blood-drained corpses leads our intrepid newshound to a castle owned by the Duchess du Grand, whose neice, Gisele (Canale), adds further to a troubled history shared by the Lantin family and her own flesh and blood.
Often referred to as the first Italian horror film, I Vampiri started life as a bet between Riccardo Freda and two Italian film producers who wagered that Freda would not be able to shoot his proposed feature inside 12 days. The rest, as they say, is history. With 2 days left and only 50% of the script translated into film, Freda asked for an extension and was duly turned down. Freda walked, Mario Bava stepped in and managed to complete the film, courtesy of major script changes, the inclusion of stock footage and some truly inspired photography. The end result may occasionally reflect the rather bizarre production deal, but it's still a fascinating and visually impressive film which is strong enough to carry the weight of two great directors.
Freda's love of the macabre is well to the fore here, rubbing shoulders with Bava's already considerable talents to deliver suspense and shock in equal measure. As Bava's grand design unveils eerie candlelit tombs, hidden passageways leading to corpse-ridden rooms and, best of all, a remarkable transformation scene, the excellent cast grow in stature: Micahelis, promoted by Bava from supporting actor to major player; Canale, impossibly gorgeous as the cold-hearted beauty harbouring a dark secret; Antoine Balpetri's harrassed scientist, who is in just as much of a hurry as his director - in this case to produce results for a less-than model patient - and Paul Muller as a drug addict who exists on a supply-and-supply basis. Although Muller's character suffers from the directorial switch (the ligature marks on his neck are, literally, from another film entirely), this should not detract too much from a stylish study in terror which thoroughly deserved its promotion to DVD. While Image's disc presentation looks way too bright and washed-out in places, it generally provides a sharp, stable picture with bags of detail in those wonderfully spooky castle interiors. B+ for the transfer and the same for the film which marked the formative steps of a golden age.
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.