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Director: Camillo Mastrocinque (as Thomas Miller)
Retromedia/Image Entertainment

Sheridan Le Fanu’s macabre and erotic novella Carmilla served as the adaptation source for a number of worldwide productions, including VAMPYR (1932), BLOOD AND ROSES (1960), THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) and THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE (1972). This Italian/Spanish-made effort, which benefits from the presence of genre stalwart Christopher Lee, was released straight to U.S. television as TERROR IN THE CRYPT, but played in U.K theaters as CRYPT OF HORROR. Although Retromedia’s DVD is presenting the film under its Euro moniker CRYPT OF THE VAMPIRE, the titles still read “Terror in the Crypt,” but regardless, this is culled from a genuine European print source and doesn’t have all the Anglicized names (including executive producers Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson) found at the end credits of the AIP-TV version.

Young Laura (Adriana Ambesi) suffers wicked nightmares about various relatives who end up dead with their blood drained. Her father, Count Ludwig von Karnstein (Lee) believes that a curse has been put upon the family after tarnished ancestor Sira von Karnstein was but to death as a witch centuries earlier. No image of Sira exists, so the Count brings in a genealogist (José Campos) to try and find some record of her appearance within the ancient Castle Karnstein’s walls. In the meantime, the Count’s odd housekeeper does more damage by conjuring up the spirit of Syra during a satanic ceremony involving the tormented-enough Laura. Then, Laura’s morale is lifted when an unexpected houseguest around her age, Lyuba (Ursula Davis, KING OF KONG ISLAND), whom she quickly becomes fixated on, arrives on a runaway carriage and is requested by her mother to stay there. With a stranger on the premises, more deceased vampire victims turn up, and it’s still unclear whether the allegedly cursed Laura is the culprit or not.

Brimming with atmosphere and shot in glorious black and white in and around authentic gothic ruins, CRYPT OF THE VAMPIRE has all the proper ingredients to affix it to the better movies made during the salad days of Italian horror. Although the film is sluggish at times, veteran director Mastrocinque (who later helmed the Barbara Steele vehicle, AN ANGEL FOR SATAN) instills some truly haunting and shadowy imagery, especially when Laura’s macabre fever dreams are in full swing. The lesbian angle of Le Fanu’s story, as seen through the relationship of Laura and Lyuba, is played out with gentle restraint, foreshadowing the more overt adaptations which would follow in the early 1970s (additionally, no fangs are on display, only victims with bite marks). One of the more whacked scenes has the body of a hunchbacked dwarf (with a slight resemblance to Marty Feldman) dangling from a noose with his hand severed, while his dog tugs at his foot – the hand is then used as a candelabra in one of the housemaid’s morbid rituals. The flashback sequence of Sira’s execution is almost directly lifted from Mario Bava’s archetypal BLACK SUNDAY, but CRYPT OF THE VAMPIRE also embraces the usual Euro goth ingredients (boisterous thunder and lightning, busty females romping about in low cut gowns, pasty individuals rising from their coffins, secret passageways, skulls and skeletons, etc.).

In a rather straight-laced role, Christopher Lee still makes for an undeniably strong figure. Although Lee was often cast as the heavy in these types of movies, when he’s the good guy, he’s very good, and here he brings a sense of authority and respectability to Count Karnstein. Karnstein is often seen parading in a smoking jacket with his latter initial sewn on it, prompting his blonde maid/mistress in her reasoning to get hitched to decalre, “Oh because it would be nice to have a great, fat, big ‘K’ embroidered on my robe.” During this period, Lee was of course a huge name in British fantasy films, but let’s not forget his string of intriguing Italian thrillers, including this one, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBURG and the Bava films THE WHIP AND THE BODY (aka WHAT!) and HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD.

Retromedia’s transfer presents the film under the title “Terror in the Crypt,” but as mentioned above, it’s still the European version without the elongated credits found at the end of the AIP-TV edition. The image looks pretty good, presenting the film in its original hard-matted 1.85:1 ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The widescreen transfer reveals important picture information previously missing from full frame bootleg versions, which were mostly of the AIP-TV print. The print source here is quite clean, and detail is very good, with deep blacks. White levels occasionally get overheated, but this is still an overall fine looking presentation of the film. The mono audio replicates the English dialog (including Lee’s own voice) very well, despite some background hiss. No extras here, but the back-cover notes are written by our friend Eric Hoffman. This disc is a must for anyone who enjoys Hammer films, Mario Bava films, or vintage genre efforts starring Christopher Lee. (George R. Reis)