I Vampiri (Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava – 1956)

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When a young girl’s body is fished out of the Seine drained of blood, it’s up to the trench-coated reporter Lantin to discover the secret of the modern-day vampires, all the while resisting the advances of the melancholy Countess du Grand.

Cinematographer-turned-director Mario Bava flexes his creative muscles while performing a last-minute job of stitching together a poorly-plotted Riccardo Freda quickie. The meandering tale (co-scipted by the ultra-prolific Piero Regnoli) is a hodgepodge of kidnappings, mad scientists and family curses (with the inevitable dead relative’s portrait hung in a cobwebbed chamber) interspersed with deadly dull police procedural scenes. Moments of genuine tension are regrettably brief and I Vampiri is only marginally watchable thanks to some elegant crane shots and arresting interplay of light and shadow.

While there is no denying the sumptuousness of the well-composed shots, it’s unjust to call I Vampiri an atmospheric film, for it takes more than a fog machine and some fake skulls to weave macabre cinematic poetry. I Vampiri dedicates more running time to nondescript ballroom scenes and irrelevant police procedural scenes then to depiction of the mad doctor’s macabre experiments or the kidnappings which give start t the story. Freda directs skillfully yet indifferently, never reaching out to the audience. Concepts of emotional involvement and catharsis seem alien to the veteran director who must have been too exhausted hustling backers for money to breathe life into a potentially exciting film. Pacing is leaden with most actors appearing uncomfortable inside the spacious Cinemascope shots, plastered over with Roman Vlad’s generic score.

VAMPIRI Collage

Leading man Dario Michaelis’ acting amounts to little more than standing around looking skeptical with his hairdo perfect and trench-coat buttoned up; Antoine Balpetré’s crazed scientist easily elicits more sympathy than this perpetually scowling failure of a protagonist. Apart from the always dependable Paul Muller in a supporting role and some cleverly conceived and flawlessly executed visual trickery courtesy of Mario Bava, I Vampiri has little to offer. Renato Polselli would achieve livelier results four years later with his grotesque and entertaining L’Amante del Vampiro/The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), written by Ernesto Gastaldi.

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