Sunday, 22 November 2009

Gebissen wird nur nachts / Mezzo litro di rosso per il conte Dracula / The Vampire Happening

[Note that this review contains spoilers]

The Vampire Happening is, to all intents and purposes, a contemporary re-make / rip-off of Roman Polanski's Dance of the Vampires, with a modish late 1960s happening substituting for the vampire's annual ball.

The filmmakers freely acknowledge their inspiration through the casting of Ferdinand Mayne as the head vampire, here none other than Dracula himself, and a similar flip/cynical ending which sees vampirism able at last to move beyond its Transylvanian heartland – albeit via jet plane going to Hollywood rather than horse-drawn sledge.

Betsy Williams (AKA the Countess Von Ravenstein, AKA Pia Dagermark) in...

A film within the film, with Dance... inspired credits

This said, the film also contains echoes of other vampire films of the period, including Malenka AKA Fangs of the Living Dead, in the painting that reveals the uncanny likeness between our heroine and her undead ancestress; Lust for a Vampire, in the lesbian vampire in a girls' school motif and Jean Rollin's sexy vampire films, in general surrealistic weirdness if not obvious personal obsession.

The painting as double

The distinction on the last count is that the film was helmed by Hammer and Amicus regular Freddie Francis, a man whose films as a director are marked by what I'm tempted to call a professional detachment or indifference: He'd do what was needed, but rarely go that extra mile nor really identify with his material.

What we get are various comic and nudie-cutie type comic scenarios along with various sight gags and one-liners: A 20-something sexy school student remarks of her Dutch-lesbian teacher Miss Nielsen that “that dyke should go back to Holland”; Mayne's Dracula tells another vampire to “Call me Christopher. I'm sure he won't mind”; and a broadcast from Radio Transylvania warns that "the local blood bank is running low and requests donors report to Dr Frankenstein”...

One difference between The Vampire Happening and its model here is the sense of toleration: While Count von Krolock's homosexual son is undoubtedly a stereotype, as is Alfie Bass's Jewish inkeeper turned vampire (“Oy, you got the wrong vampire,” when the serving wench tries to scare him off with a crucifix) they are more affectionate than mocking. Here, by contrast, the camp airline steward is unnecessary while the lesbian vampire teacher is now doubly marginalised, her advances rejected by the same 20-something but now undead students.

Another of the film's targets is the Catholic church, with a monk and the abbot getting bitten; the abbot, a peeping tom in life, insisting that they maintain their old hierarchy.

That the film is of West German origin meanwhile explains why it could not follow its model here: Jewish vampire jokes have a different meaning when made by a filmmaker of Jewish origins than by Gentiles.

The sight of Betsy encourages one of the monks to see sexual symbolism everywhere he looks, with the woman-statue not out of place in the likes of Bunuel.

It's all very hit and miss and, at 102 minutes, undoubtedly has one or two characters, ideas and skits too many.

The Barbara Steele-esque confusion over the identity of Pia Degermond's 20th century US actress, Betsy Williams, and her great-great- Transylvanian ancestress Clarimdone is well played, however, while the fact that Degermond spends much of her time as Betsy not wearing much and the rest as Clarimonde wearing even less (other than a black wig) is an obvious attraction.

More impressive in itself than Bray studios?

The same might be said for Jerry Van Rooyen's very happening soundtrack (cuts from which are available on Crippled Dick's At 250 Miles Per Hour compilation), and the production design, with good use being made of an actual castle.

The Vampire Happening is available on a good but long OOP Anchor Bay DVD and a not so good Alpha one, neither unfortunately presenting it in the original German dub.


Hans A. said...

This is a spot-on review and it echoes many of the same sentiments that I have towards it. Great work, as usual.

© Deliria said...

Nice, this is the same castle that was used in BARON BLOOD. Here are a couple of more movie/location pics (the third one is from about the same angle as your pic) :

Elliot James said...

I remember this. It was agony to sit through but once you've bought the tickets, you're not going to get a refund.