Thursday, 10 June 2010
I Vampiri (Freda, 1956)
And so we begin....
Mario Bava's career started out as a cinematographer and special effects designer through the pre and post years of WW2. After which Mario established himself as a leading and sought after member of the Italian film industry. This leads us to I Vampiri in which originally was directed by Riccardo Freda.
Basically the story of the production pans out something like this. Freda and Bava's partnership began with Freda placing a bet with 2 producers he was friendly with that he could film a horror picture in 12 days. The Italian film industry at that time had not produced a horror film since the silent era, but due to Freda's insistence and knowing Bava's mastery in special effects and more importantly his quickness, Freda was able to come up with a basic story the next day and convinced the producers it could be done.
So in a matter of weeks, Bava and Freda began production. However, after 10 days Freda had changed his mind and demanded more time to finish the film. The producers refused and Freda left the film, leaving Bava the opportunity to complete the film in a whole 2 days, which he did. This would bode well for Bava establishing himself as a reliable and quick member of the industry and so Bava's directorial career began.
Its easy to see the influence the film has on Bava's preceding films. The mood is Gothic and expressionist, much like Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963)which shares similar aesthetic and tone. But it would also be an early influence on the Giallo with the use of the black gloved 'killer' in the film, particularly the way Bava chose to film him. This to me is probably the defining film in Bava's early career that established the aesthetic he would later embrace.
As for the plot....
The film is set in 1950s Paris, France (Freda used this setting to keep the plot far enough away from Italy for the producers to accept his proposal). A mad scientist is employed by a Duchess with the task to keep her forever young. Of course, this is without its consequences, as the mad scientist uses a doped up maniac to find young women to drain their blood to transfer it to the Duchess (hence the title). A young reporter is assigned to investigate the murders happening around Paris and thus leads him to the Duchess.
The use of expressionist camera, lighting techniques and the special effects is what stands out in this film. The plot is a bit blase - but really what do you expect from a film produced on a bet??? Whats interesting is that this film was released a full year before Hammer embraced this aesthetic with their release of Cushing and Lee's Frankenstein and Dracula films. This is not to say that this film is a direct influence on them, because these are obviously influenced by the early German Expressionist films in the early part of the century as well as the Universal monster movies released in the 1930s out of the States.
Overall this film is rather enjoyable, but more for its techniques than the plot and what have you. But if you love Bava as much as i do then its worth watching as its not a bad film at all, just not one of his best. Here's a link to a little 3 min clip of Bava explaining the way he used a technique in the film. Its in Italian and subtitled in French, but you can still get the jist. I would add a trailer, but there isn't one, so this'll have to do.