The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960)


Ragnoli’s film focuses on the travails of a group of five dance hall girls and their manager who, after defaulting on a hotel bill, find themselves bumping through unfamiliar countryside at night looking for late accommodation. Ignoring the warnings of a local, they continue along a side road to the castle of a mysterious Count Kernassy (Walter Brandi), where one of the girls, Vera experiences strong feelings of déjà vu. At first treated with coldness, it soon appears that the beautiful-yet-mopey Vera bears a startling resemblance to one of Count Kernassy’s ancestors, Margherita. Ominously, the Count has an infatuation with this long-dead beauty. As sudden storms wash out bridges behind them, the troupe are obliged to spend more than one night at the castle and, despite warnings, venture out of the their rooms at night…

A minor camp item with some historical interest today, The Playgirls And The Vampire first saw light of day on the continent as L’ultima preda del vampiro (trans: The Vampire’s Final Prey), an Italian attempt to capitalise on the vogue for the contemporary Hammer product with a suitably spiced-up Euro version. Adding lashings of female titillation in a way which was unthinkable to the Anglo Saxon market (the film includes a brief topless shot), director Piero Ragnoli made up a package which was both more lascivious than that produced by the studio at Bray, and one to which critical opinion has been less kind. Predictably, the heady cocktail was a commercial success at the time, and some commentators have since seen the results as anticipating the sexy vampire cinema of Jean Rollin a few years later, although the sheen of erotic sophistication brought by the French auteur is conspicuously missing here. American producer Richard Gordon, sensing money from the exploitation market, promptly picked up the English language rights to the original film, did a rush-dubbing job and re-titled it with an eye on maximum marquee appeal. (He also prepared a cut print for those areas in which censorship was more squeamish, under the title of Curse Of The Vampire – a version that by all accounts approached the incoherent).