Monday, June 17, 2019
THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA
The 1964 Italian production THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA forms a rough trilogy with THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA and THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE. All three films were made in Italy, all of them are black & white, and they all feature a group of young, beautiful women being preyed upon by an undead fiend.
Out of the three films THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA is the most underwhelming. Director and co-writer Renato Polselli also had the same chores on THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA, which is a much more imaginative film.
The head of a theatrical troupe (Marco Mariani) discovers a long-abandoned opera house, and believes that it will be the perfect setting for his latest production. The grouchy old caretaker of the place tries to warn the troupe to stay away, but (of course) they don't listen. The troupe's leading lady (Vittoria Prado) feels as if she has a connection to the opera house. Eventually a foreboding middle-aged man in white tie and tails (Giuseppe Addobbati) shows up, and yes, he's a vampire--apparently he's resided in the opera house for years, and the caretaker is under his power. The vampire, whose name is Stefano, believes that the leading lady is the reincarnation of the woman who cursed him into becoming a member of the undead in the first place, and he wants revenge.
THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA stars out very well, with a striking sequence involving the leading lady (clad in a nightgown) being chased by the vampire, who threatens her with a giant pitchfork. It turns out to be a nightmare, but it does wind up serving as a mini-trailer of what is to come. The rest of the film, though, doesn't live up to the beginning--there's more dance numbers than vampire attacks. As in THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA and THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, the young beauties in the story are given plenty of opportunity to bump and grind. Much of the story is taken up by the romantic dalliances of the theatrical troupe, who act like overgrown teenagers. Just about the entire film is set within the opera house, and while there are some atmospheric settings within it, director Polselli doesn't take full advantage of them.
Giuseppe Addobbati as Stefano makes a quite noticeable vampire, mainly because he spends a lot of time grimacing and showing off his large fangs. The sub-plot of how Stefano became a vampire is rather unusual for a movie of this time period (it wouldn't be until the 1970s that the long ago love affairs of the undead would be a major feature of vampire films). There's even a scene presenting Stefano before he became a vampire, seemingly set in the Middle Ages. Stefano keeps a number of nightgown wearing female vampires chained in a dungeon-like room, he prefers using that giant pitchfork, and his greatest fear is fire. These elements do give some visual interest to the tale, but Polselli doesn't use them enough.
One sequence that does stand out, whether for good or bad, is when Stefano seems to put the entire troupe in a trance and forces them to dance maniacally. At least that's how I understood it (some sources say that the troupe is dancing to ward off the vampire). For all of Stefano's power, he winds up being defeated rather easily.
The version of THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA that I viewed on YouTube was 80 minutes long, and it had the onscreen title of L'ORGIE DES VAMPIRES. The movie is also known as IL MOSTRO DELL'OPERA and IL VAMPIRO DELL'OPERA. The print was okay, nothing special.
Would I have liked THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA better if I had seen it uncut, and in a more exemplary format? Maybe. Too much of the story is taken up by backstage shenanigans, and the movie isn't nearly as exploitative as one would expect--there's no gore or nudity. At one point it's hinted at that some of the female dancers are attracted to each other, but this is never carried all the way through. I'm sure that if this film was produced in the 1970s, it would have been much more explicit...but would that have made it more enjoyable? If you've seen THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA and THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, you might as well check out THE VAMPIRE AND THE OPERA. In my opinion it's not as good as the other two, but it is perfect viewing for a late night when you can't get to sleep.