At the end of the ‘50s there were many things the British liked to think we were world-beaters at: winning wars, creating the NHS, conquering unconquerable mountains, designing jet engines, inventing hovercraft, losing empires, being humiliated over Egyptian canals... Oh well, maybe not. But at least there was one thing that made us the envy of the world. Thanks to the mighty Hammer Studios, we did horror flicks like no one else. Hammers were popular all over and nowhere more so than Italy. So did those stylish-yet-saucy Italians have a go themselves? Of course, and they became something of an erotically horrifying genre in their own right, but there was a brief period when they were a bit more faithful to the Hammer model.
The Playgirls and the Vampire actually starts out more like Scooby Doo than Hammer with a troop of dancers dodging a hotel bill and being forced by the inclement weather to stay at that castle everyone just told them to avoid. Even the occupants tell them to clear off until a low budget bridge gives way (so low budget we never see it) and they’re stuck. But why does Vera (Rocco) think she’s been here before? Why does the resident Count (Brandi) look so startled to see her? We can’t possibly imagine. Well, it’ll all be OK as long as they stay in their rooms, which they don’t. They wander about in their babydoll nighties (although Vera’s is a bit longer as she’s the romantic lead). Next thing we know, one is dead and there are mysterious goings-on afoot. Well it is supposed to be a horror movie.
Actually, that’s the one thing that is wrong with Playgirls. While it has aspirations to be creepy (nice castle etc.), it just isn’t. Director Piero Regnoli looks like he simply wasn’t trying hard enough on that front. Nice opening shot of a coffin and that’s about it. Mind you, he probably wasn’t paid very well as this is micro-budget stuff. It’s a good natured film and there’s much hilarity to be had from the fact none of the dancers can actually dance (that scene is brilliant) and that when Vera sees the painting of “Margherita Kernassy: 1746-1782” who looks (not very much) like her, the Count says: “She lived here and died in 1785”. We actually rewound to check. Curiously, in the subtitled version he says “a hundred years ago” which is even further adrift. But to be fair there’s a nice twist and the climax even riffs on Hammer’s Dracula (1958). Anything particularly Italian about it? Not really. These were early days and there’s none of the style, sex and horror we get from later Italian offerings, unless you count a lot of nighties, an incongruous and ineffective striptease and the fact that the dead woman comes back to life and spends the rest of the film naked but tastefully lit.
So not a terrible movie but not what you might expect. Mario Bava it isn’t.
Special Features: Kim Newman interview / 8mm version of Last Fling of the Vampire / trailer / extra scene from French version
THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (1960) / DIRECTOR: PIERO REGNOLI / SCREENPLAY: PIERO REGNOLI / STARRING: LYLA ROCCO, WALTER BRANDI, MARIA GIOVANNINI, ALFREDO RIZZO, MARISA QUATTRINI, LEONARDO BOTTA / RELEASED: 2ND MAY