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Director: Roberto Mauri
Dark Sky Films/MPI

In the late 1950s, Hammer Films’ HORROR OF DRACULA triggered a new era of gothic horror that influenced Italian-made genre films. Vampire movies were soon churned out one after the other, with Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY receiving the most acclaim and public acceptance. Lesser known -- but with plenty of aficionados -- are a trio of early 1960s sexy Italian bloodsucker pics, all which starred actor Walter Brandi: L’ AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO (USA: THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA), L' ULTIMA PREDA DEL VAMPIRO (USA: THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE) and L' STRAGE DEI VAMPIRI (USA: SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES). Although better known and shown on U.S. television as SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES, the film was not released here theatrically until 1969 when it was retitled CURSE OF THE BLOOD-GHOULS and thrown on the bottom of a double bill with the Peter Cushing vehicle, THE VAMPIRE BEAST CRAVES BLOOD (aka THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR).

During an impressive pre-credit sequence, villagers pursue a caped vampire and his mate -- she is caught and stabbed to death with farm tools, but he escapes. The vampire (Dieter Eppler) then hides out in the wine cellar of a castle inhabited by wealthy nobleman Wolfgang (Walter Brandi) and his wife Louise (stunning Graziella Granata). He arrives unexpectedly at the couple’s fancy party and he instantly sets eyes on the beautiful Louise. The vampire dances with her, put her under his spell, and later that night, enters her bedroom and seductively bites her. Afterwards, Louise grows sicker and weaker, and on the advice of the family physician, Wolgang travels to Vienna and returns with Dr. Nietzche (Luigi Batzella aka Poalo Solvay), who knows a thing or two about her malady. But when Dr. Nietzche discovers the bite marks on Louise’s neck, it’s time to turn into a fearless vampire killer.

SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES is an engaging gothic tale from the golden age of Italian horror. Filled with romantic melodrama, exceptional period costumes and exquisite locations, the film is less silly than the previous vampire films Brandi starred in, and quite frankly, more entertaining. The score by Aldo Piga is haunting and romantic, resembling a great piece from a classic composer (Piga also did similar scores for THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA and THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE). Cinematographer Ugo Brunelli makes great use of the black and white photography, making the film look lush beyond its limited budget. Director Roberto Mauri spent his career doing spaghetti westerns, violent crime pictures and low rent corn like KING OF KONG ISLAND, but SLAUGHTER remains one of his more memorable efforts by far, even if its pacing is draggy in spots.

German actor Dieter Eppler plays the vampire, and with his very theatrical-looking make-up and perplexed expressions, it’s hard to take him too seriously, especially when holding a bunch of flowers and trying to be romantic, or swaying a room full of gawking bachelorettes. Eppler is more camp than anything, but he’s at least fun to watch. The real star of the film is Graziella Granata. With her raven hair, exotic features and incredible curves, she makes one of the sexiest screen vampires of all time! Seeing her get chased in a low cut gown contains about as much bouncing and jiggling that 1962 would allow! Anyone who follows Italian exploitation will immediately recognize short, bald character actor Alfredo Rizzo. Usually the comic relief in any horror film he’s in, he also appeared in PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE, BLOODY PIT OF HORROR, and many others. Rizzo was also a director of films such as THE BLOODSUCKER LEADS THE DANCE (1975).

Dark Sky Films presents SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES (actual onscreen title: “The Slaughter of the Vampires”) in a 1.85:1 letterboxed anamorphic transfer which reveals more picture information on the sides then in previously seen video incarnations. The left side still looks tight in some shots, but the overall compositions look very good. The black and white transfer looks excellent, with crisp detail (the backgrounds are so easy to make out now) and deep blacks, and print blemishes are minimal. The 2.0 mono English-dubbed track is extremely clear, with dialogue and sound effects all brought out nicely. The running time is a little over 78 minutes, which is longer than most of the various versions seen on TV and on home video before. Optional English subtitles are included.

Extras include a great featurette entitled “Dieter Eppler: Interview with the Vampire,” which is a 12-minute interview with the now 80-year-old actor. Speaking in his native German tongue and accompanied by English subtitles, Dieter discusses how much fun he had making the film, despite never getting the money promised to him by the Italian producer. He also touches upon being compared to Christopher Lee’s Dracula, as well as working for Constantin Film in Germany. Also included is a still gallery (featuring pages from an Italian photo magazine for the film) and the fun U.S. trailer (under the title CURSE OF THE BLOOD-GHOULS). (George R. Reis)