The Vampire Happening (1971)

This film is a German-led European co-production, shot in Lower Austria. It had a British director in Freddie Francis, who had worked for both Hammer and Amicus, and it was produced by wealthy German-Italian producer Pier A. Caminnecci. This film, which reportedly bears the full German title Gebissen wird nur nachts – das Happening der Vampire, was intended to be a vehicle to showcase the talents of Swedish model Pia Degermark, whose career had slumped after a promising start with the acclaimed Elvira Madigan.

 

This film has an international cast. Pia Degermark plays a double role as both Betty Williams and her ancestor Clarimonde Catani. The main male love interest, Jens, is played by Thomas Hunter, a US-actor who seems to have made a living by appearing in European productions. And there is a supporting performance by British character actor Ferdy Mayne, earning another pay-cheque on the back of his appearance in The Fearless Vampire Killers. While I could not find any information on the nationality of Yvor Murillo (playing the main supporting character of Josef), the rest of the cast (supporting roles and extras) consists of German and Austrian actors, including a prominent supporting performance by Joachim Kemmer, and smaller roles for Ingrid van Bergen and Austrian character actor Oskar Wegrostek in one of his last on-screen appearances.

The premise is rather simple: Young Elisabeth von Rabenstein (Degermark) has made a career in Hollywood under the name Betty Williams, seemingly playing young lovers and femmes fatales in slightly risqué productions. But now she travels to Transylvania in order to check out the castle she inherited when her uncle died 15 years ago. Her plan is to sell it, but she falls in love with the building and its unique legends and so she decides to stay for a while. Her uncanny resemblance to a long-dead black sheep of the family, a rumoured vampire by the name of Clarimonde Catani, leads to a number of misunderstandings and scenes of switched identities.

 

While this premise may sound promising, the result is rather atrocious. I’ll try to keep this short, as there is no reason why anyone should see this film. This production tries to combine the horror-comedy style of the time with the type of sex farce that was beginning to become prevalent in West Germany in those years. The amount of gratuitous (and mostly entirely unerotic) female nudity in this film is mind-boggling. Most of it comes courtesy of a girls’ boarding school, and in order to put censors and audiences at ease, we are told that the girls in question are so lazy and thick that they are “over 20” and still at school.

 

One could try to ignore the clumsy attempts to justify the gratuitous nudity as a cultural element of the times; but this film has nothing else to fall back on. The plot is ill thought through ( – reminding me, in its helplessness, of Uncle was a Vampire – ), the script is bad and the dialogue is even worse. The humour in this film is in itself tonally inconsistent (as is the film), and 95% of it does not work. Slapstick, bedroom farce, comedy of errors, and a satire about celibacy – all is thrown in here, and none of it works.

 

The castle’s doddering old caretaker Josef should be exactly the kind of character I enjoy in exactly the situation I enjoy. But the filmmakers were not able to extract a single funny moment out of this character, and it seems unbelievable that they were unable to pass even this low of a threshold.

When Count Dracula (Mayne) is addressed with his title, he replies “Call me ‘Christoper’! I’m sure he won’t mind.” The fact that this is the funniest line in the entire film should tell you a lot.

The only other humour I enjoyed at times was provided by veteran German actor Joachim Kemmer in the role of a horny but conflicted monk – it is mainly his mimics and his gestures that work well (as the dialogue is, as I said before, really bad), and I am inclined to credit the actor for this, not the director. Later in the film, Kemmer hams it up considerably, but at least he still shows commitment to his role.

That is a praise that could go to a lot of the actors. While many of them seem to know how weak the lines are that are given, and only care as much as they have to, none of them are really phoning it in.

 

As I said, it is not only the humour that fails, but also the rest of the writing. The dialogue is bland and seems to consist of a lot of lines that either sounded good on paper but did not work on screen, or of lines that were put into the script as an afterthought, not really fitting (or connecting to) the preceding or following dialogue. Beyond the bare premise, the plot is paper-thin and almost non-existent. Characters do or say things apparently without motivations and things happen or not how ever it seems convenient. On many occasions, characters make things considerably more difficult and complicated than they really are so that the story can go on for a bit longer in the absence of a real plot.

 

As much as I – justly, I believe – damn the writers, it might be possible that a significant part of the blame for the erratic and fragmented story should go to the editor Alfred Srp. While Srp was an experienced editor, there are a number of moments that make you think that certain connections or explanations may have been left on the floor of the editing room.

 

Just to make this clear: this is not one of those “dated” films that one might watch in order to laugh at its cheesyness. This is simply a bad film – do not watch!

Rating: 1.0 to 1.5 out of 10

 

 

 

PS – A note on the language:

German Wikipedia tells me that this film was shot in English (this is how I watched it), while the English Wikipedia tells me that this film was shot in German. At any rate, I am not sure if this international cast spoke the same language during the takes, or if each spoke in the language they were most comfortable with and were dubbed later.

With the two people having writing credits for this film on imdb being either German or Austrian, I have no idea where the English dialogue originated. The man credited with the story, Karl-Heinz Hummel, has no other writing credits on imdb. While the man responsible for the screenplay, August Rieger, has no credits that would indicate that he had any experience writing in English. If the screenplay was written in German, and some actors spoke English during the takes, then it might be possible that the director and other crew-members translated the screenplay during pre-production, or on-the-fly, which would go a long way to explain the poor dialogue.

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