Some things truly never die but just disappear for a while. Lately, teen-angst and romance have been fuelling the recent popular trend, but they've seemingly always been around in pop culture and, especially, cinema. Yes, that's right, vampires. In the early 70s, at least in Europe, vampire cinema was still making the rounds: England's Hammer Studios, even in its waning days, was still sticking to its guns and producing Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in Alan Gibson's The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973); while also producing fresher and more interesting takes on vampire lore, like Robert Young's Vampire Circus (1972) and Brian Clemens's Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter (1974). Also in England, Spanish film maker, Jose Larraz would make his sick and sexy Vampyres (1974), while in his native country, Paul Naschy was making his own Gothic brand of horror, usually involving his reluctant werewolf character, Waldemar Daninsky, with an appearance as a vampire in Javier Aguirre's Count Dracula's Great Love (1972). Fellow Spaniard Jess Franco was releasing Dracula Against Frankenstein (1972), Daughter of Dracula (1972), and Female Vampire (1973). In France, Jean Rollin began his career with bloodsuckers, for example, directing Requiem for a Vampire and Shiver of the Vampires, both in 1971. Other vampire films were being produced around the continent; however, they were almost unheard of coming from Italy during this period. Interestingly, one that I pleasantly stumbled upon doesn't really take fangs as its focus but rather sex and Satanism in Luigi Batzella's The Devil's Wedding Night (1973). The Devil's Wedding Night opens with the camera chasing a young female through the forest at night. After taking a couple of twists and turns, she's toast for the unknown assailant. After a psychedelic credit sequence, the camera reveals bookish scholar, Karl Schiller (Mark Damon) in a Poe-esque pose behind his desk, reading about ancient lore. His twin brother, Franz (also Damon) enters his study and pours himself a drink. The rakish Franz has just lost again while gambling and he is interested in what his brother has gotten into. Karl is about to begin a journey, believing that he has learned the location of the "long lost ring of the of the Nibiloni (?)" What's that? It's a ring whose bearer holds power over all mankind and its previous holders were Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan and the like. So where's this groovy ring? "In north Transylvania, the Carpathian Mountains, specifically, Castle Dracula." Franz doesn't bat an eye and responds to his brother, "But that's vampire country. You have heard of those blood-sucking creatures, haven't you?" After Damon's delivery of this line, I'm hooked. It gets better. Vampires aren't a problem for Karl: during a previous expedition, he discovered an amulet which protects its wearer from all supernatural evils. "Vampires should be covered, then."The next sequence shows one of the Schillers on horseback, racing through the mountains. At a local inn in Transylvania, Franz arrives and requests a room. He asks about Castle Dracula and receives strange and quiet looks from the locals. The innkeeper's daughter shows Franz his room for the evening. As she is turning over his linens, she tells Franz that tomorrow night is the Night of the Virgin Moon. What's that? Every fifty years, after midsummer, five virgins are called to Castle Dracula. Franz shows the innkeeper's daughter his protective amulet and tells her not worry. Franz is such a kind fellow, he'll offer her some additional protection by taking care of her virginity for her. The following morning, Franz arrives at Castle Dracula and is greeted by the zombish Lara (Esmeralda Barros), the maidservant to Countess Dracula. Using the ruse that he is studying local architectural designs, Franz gains entry into the castle. Where's the Countess? She will be arriving, much later.
When Countess Dracula does appear in the film, the real jewel of The Devil's Wedding Night is revealed: Italian actress, Rosalba Neri. Gorgeous Neri was a staple of 60s and 70s genre cinema, and her popularity has never faded. She has developed quite a cult following for her sensuous demeanor and steamy sex scenes. Some of my favorite Neri performances are in the Fernando di Leo-scripted, Romolo Guerreri's Johnny Yuma (1966), also alongside Damon, Jess Franco's 99 Women (1969), Ottavio Alessi's The Seducers (1969), and Fernando di Leo's Slaughter Hotel (1971). Even fully-clothed and in the most innocuous scenes, charismatic Neri is always the focus and she doesn't disappoint in The Devil's Wedding Night. Neri is so elegant that she is able to credibly deliver in this exchange with Damon's Franz:
Countess Dracula: No, thank you. All this wine, I'm afraid, is making my head spin.
Franz: My head is spinning also...but not from the wine.
Countess Dracula: Oh, Schiller. You do have a way about you. I imagine women find you quite irresistible. Do they?
Franz: Do you?
Countess Dracula: Quite. But perhaps not in the same way as the others.
Franz: Oh? In what way then?
Countess Dracula: Differently.
Franz: Oh my dear Countess, all of the other women in my life are like so many ladies of the night compared to you. .
Countess Dracula: Oh...but I am in my own fashion also a lady of the night.
The sex scene that follows this exchange is one the true precious moments of Italian genre cinema. Either Damon's Franz is revealed to not be such the sophisticated ladies' man or Damon, the actor, is in awe: he has the look on his face that his world is about to get rocked by Neri, even in this simulated love-making scene. She absolutely dazzles. What was I talking about?
Oh, The Devil's Wedding Night goes on for the final two-thirds to be extremely predictable but also fun. Damon's Karl realizes that Franz has stole the amulet and comes to rescue him. Franz left the amulet at the inn, so he is totally vulnerable to the Countess's powers within the castle. The set-up with the legendary ring and the story of the five virgins on the Night of the Virgin Moon come to fruition. The Devil's Wedding Night's director, Luigi Batzella, is one of the true madmen of Italian genre cinema, alongside his cinematic brothers Rino di Silvestro (Red Light Girls (1974); Werewolf Woman (1976); and Hanna D (1984)) and Cesare Canevari (Mátalo (1970); The Nude Princess (1976); Gestapo's Last Orgy (1977); and Killing of the Flesh (1983)). Subsequent to The Devil's Wedding Night, Batzella would helm Blackmail (1974), a bizarre kidnapping tale about a hippie, played by Brigitte Skay, and, possibly his most well-known film, Nude for Satan (1974), before delivering his nasty, shower-inducing The Beast in Heat (1977). Batzella loves to fill his films with psychedelic and dream-like images, and Nude for Satan is representative and full of this type of imagery. Batzella also doesn't mind getting a little down and dirty. In The Devil's Wedding Night, Neri's the focus of a couple of dreamy sequences: in one she has the obligatory lesbian scene with Lara, who bathes her in blood, a la Bathory. In another with Karl, one sip of wine leads to uncontrollable laughter and the most bizarre audio and accompanying images. Needless to say, the Satanic finale is over the top and indulgent. Finally, Mark Damon is a wonderful old-school American actor, who went abroad to work in Italy, like many others during the period. I first saw him in Roger Corman's The House of Usher (1960), alongside Vincent Price. He would appear as the titular character in the excellent western, Johnny Yuma, and give an over-the-top performance in Carlo Lizzani's Kill and Pray (1967). Today, Damon is a very successful Hollywood producer. Damon gives a terrific and campy performance alongside Neri.The Devil's Wedding Night is the very definition of a guilty pleasure and it's a fun one to revisit every now and again. If anyone gets the chance to see it, forget it's about vampires and dive in and enjoy the mad silliness.