What fan of horror cinema does not like a good vampire story? Perhaps the most popular and oft-used figure in the history of the scary movie, the vampire, going back to Max Schreck’s rat-visaged monster in 1922’s Nosferatu and on to Bela Lugosi’s infamous count in 1931’s Dracula, has been a mainstay in tales of fright almost from the very beginning. And the cinema’s love affair with the bloodsucking creatures of the night seems to show no sign of abatement, as a latter-day series of sparkly pretty-boy vampires would seem to suggest. In today’s Shocktober column, I would like to focus on a quartet of vampiric films that, despite their high quality, seem to be little discussed today. Each one of these four films will assuredly provide the requisite shudders during this most appropriate viewing time of the year:


Lesson to be learned: If your girlfriend or fiancée happens to develop sudden listlessness after attending a séance conducted by a smooth-talking count from Bulgaria, or perhaps develops a yen for consuming dead house cats, you may want to heed the advice of your doctor friend when he tells you that the count in question may be nothing less than … a vampire! Anyway, that’s the setup in Bob Kelljan’s surprisingly shocking, intelligent and believable horror film from 1970, Count Yorga, Vampire. Several ingredients really help to lift this modern-day tale above the raft of similar competitors. It is extremely well acted by every cast member; Robert Quarry makes for an exceptionally sinister neck nosher indeed, and he is well matched by Roger Perry as Dr. Hayes. The film contains some truly startling moments (such as the count’s toothy grimace as seen through a van’s window), restrained but effective use of gore, a deliciously downbeat ending, and even a nice little shocker as a final capper. Perhaps best of all is the wholly credible reaction of the guys (Michael Murphy and Michael Macready, the latter also serving as producer, and whose father, hissable character actor George Macready, provides the wonderfully dreary intro narration to the film) to the horror that has entered their lives. First they are dismissive, then skeptical, and finally stunned and frightened when faced with the realization of what they must do to rescue their women. As I said, an entirely realistic series of responses that really aids the viewer in buying in to the story. And, oh … how could I forget to mention the count’s brides; possibly the scariest-looking, fastest-moving bunch you’ve ever seen! Yes, this little horror flick, despite an underlit fight scene with the count’s lupine manservant Brudah, is a pretty perfect outing. And from what I hear, the 1971 sequel, The Return of Count Yorga, is even better…


Eschewing the traditional vampire settings of old-world Europe and the modern-day big city, Stephanie Rothman’s 1971 film The Velvet Vampire instead has as its unusual backdrop the American desert Southwest, a milieu that works far better than might be expected. In the film, we meet a (seemingly) young woman named Diane Le Fanu (a distant relation of Sheridan and/or Carmilla, perhaps?), a beautiful brunette played by the late Celeste Yarnall, an actress who was more often seen as a blonde. Diane invites Susan and Lee Ritter to her house in the desert after meeting them in an art gallery, but what the Ritters don’t suspect, until too late, is that Diane is more than just a vamp … she’s a vampiress, and with quite an appetite, to boot! Though filmed on a very limited budget, and with nary a special visual effect to its name, this film still manages to impress. In the three leads, Celeste is by turns supremely sexy and not a little frightening; Michael Blodgett is certainly more sympathetic than he was in the previous year’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; and Sherry Miles, though no great shakes as a thespian, is certainly convincing as the dim-witted Susan, not to mention an accomplished screamer. The use of some surrealistic dream sequences, and the deliciously morbid soundtrack score by Roger Dollarhide and Clancy B. Grass III, consisting largely of weird sound effects and trippy acoustic guitar, are the two elements that really put this picture over, though. Indeed, they elevate the film above the level of the mere horror flick to something quite artful. Filled with unusual touches (that voyeur’s room, those raw chicken livers!) and culminating with a Greyhound bus ride from hell, The Velvet Vampire yet manages to ultimately disappoint, insofar as Diane’s undoing is concerned; perhaps the weakest and most unconvincing vampire death scene I’ve ever witnessed. Up until then, however, the picture is fairly riveting. The DVD that I recently watched, by the way, from an outfit known as Cheezy Flicks, looks a bit on the coarse and grainy side. A shame, really, that the picture quality isn’t as sharp as Diane Le Fanu’s teeth…


THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE The wet-blanket editors at Maltin’s Movie Guide have done it again. “Poorly done,” they sniff, giving a measly 1 ½ stars to Spanish director Vicente Aranda’s 1972 offering, The Blood-Spattered Bride. Countering this claim is the very laudatory review in DVD Delirium, which describes the picture with words such as “bizarre,” “visceral,” “sexy” and “dreamlike.” I concur. This film, I feel, presented in its uncensored form on the great-looking DVD from Blue Underground that I recently watched, should prove a godsend of sorts for all lovers of adult Eurohorror. In it, a new bride moves into the childhood home of her husband, and is soon plagued by stroboscopic and hideously, uh, heart-gripping dreams featuring a beautiful blonde woman. When her husband finds this dream gal buried naked at the beach, with only her snorkel protruding from the surface (one very strange scene, lemme tell you!), and brings her back home, that’s when the fun begins, as the woman, Carmilla (yes, this IS another variation of Sheridan Le Fanu‘s oft-filmed 1871 novella), turns out to be nothing less than a bloodsucking … but perhaps I’ve already said too much. Featuring uniformly fine acting by all (sexy Maribel Martin as the young bride, giallo favorite Simon Andreu as the perplexed husband, the ridiculously gorgeous Alexandra Bastedo as Carmilla, and Rosa Rodriguez as a pretty 12-year-old who, in perhaps the film’s strangest scene, drinks from a humongous cup of coffee); a subtle yet effective score by Antonio Perez Olea; beautiful outdoor photography of woodlands, seaside and moldering crypts; and some genuinely shocking bursts of gory carnage, this movie is my idea of an almost perfect horror package. Peppered with psychosexual allusions and concluding on a note both bleak and grisly, the film was a very pleasant surprise for me, and one that I do highly recommend. If you love the great Belgian-French film Daughters of Darkness (1971), you should certainly suck this one right up. Don’t trust Maltin here; trust me!


Vampyres is a British film directed by a Spaniard and is one of the best pictures in the lesbian vampire subgenre that I have ever seen. (Granted, I’ve always been a, um, sucker for this particular kind of film!) Here, sapphic lovers Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (May ’73 Playboy Playmate Anulka Dziubinska) are gunned down and murdered the first time we meet them. For some reason never explained, they return to the land of the living as atypical vampires, in that they first slice their victims with knives and glass slivers before chowing down. During the film, we see some typical days in their lives, posing as hitchhikers on lonely country roads and bringing men back to their crumbling manse for some sex play and bloodletting, whilst a young camping couple on their property observes them and grows increasingly suspicious. The film, all levity aside, strikes this viewer as a minor masterpiece of horror. It is genuinely erotic, disturbing, violent, often shocking, well acted down to the smallest parts, and quite merciless. The film is also deliberately paced, with not much in the way of story other than Fran and Miriam luring a series of men into their web, but Jose Ramon Larraz has directed his picture for maximum atmosphere, and that creepy atmosphere is just delicious. Indeed, the sight of our two caped gals walking through a churchyard cemetery on a misty morning is a thing of great and morbid beauty. And these gals may be the most voracious vampires ever shown on film, sucking their drink of choice from whatever lacerated gash is most convenient; they are like sharks or some other wild beast in their frenzy; truly a horror to behold, even though they are fangless. Kudos also to Murray Brown, playing a dude who stays at the gals’ house a few days too long (to the point of total anemia, I’d say!), as well as to James Clarke for his unmelodic, unobtrusive yet highly effective score. The DVD that I recently watched, by the way, from Blue Underground, looks just gorgeous, as do Marianne and Anulka 30+ years later in their very informative, modern-day interview extra. I wonder how they stayed so well preserved…

Anyway, FanLit viewer, if you, like myself, are a fan in any way of a good old-fashioned vampire movie, you will certainly find a lot to sink your teeth into here! Hold on to your crucifix and let the shudders commence!


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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