Sunday, November 15, 2009

Renato Polselli's The Vampire and The Ballerina (1960)

After milking the cows, a young maiden goes wandering to encounter a sinister vampire! She's bitten and taken to a villa which houses a troupe of ballerinas. The local farmer who brought the young milk maiden says there's a vampire on the loose, but the Professor (Pier Ugo Gragnani) believes otherwise: vampires exist only in superstitions and legends. The ballerinas are curious and a little frightened, but there is choreography and dancing to do. Young and handsome Luca (Isarco Ravaioli) arrives to see Francesca (Tina Gloriani). Luca, Francesca, and Luisa (Hélène Rémy) take a leisurely stroll that day, only to get caught in the forest with nightfall approaching. Luca suggests that they take refuge in the old abandoned castle on the hill. Inside, the trio is welcomed by Countess Ogda (María Luisa Rolando). Her attire is dated by about a hundred years, and the ladies remark upon this. The Countess reveals that she has no desire to connect to the world outside of the castle walls. She invites the three for tea. The Countess's manservant, (also named) Luca (Walter Brandi) summons the Countess away momentarily, and Luisa takes the opportunity to wander in the castle. She receives the vampire's kiss, and the trio leave, a little confused and a little scared. The Countess says to Luca, before the three exit, "I must see you again."Renato Polselli's The Vampire and The Ballerina is an Italian film released in 1960. Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava were making the true Gothic horror in Italy around that time, for example, with Freda's (with Bava's collaboration) I vampiri (1956), Bava's Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963), before his highly influential Blood and Black Lace (1964). The English Hammer Studios were conquering Gothic atmospheric horror with a litany of flicks, such as Terence Fisher's Horror of Dracula (1958). More modern horror was also on the horizon, such as in France with Georges Franju's masterful Eyes Without a Face (1960); while a little-known director of the time would unleash a film that would change the face of modern horror forever entitled Psycho (1960) by Alfred Hitchcock. Polselli's film isn't really kin to any of these films. The Vampire and The Ballerina is more aligned with campy fun flicks from across the pond like those made in the U.S. and Mexico, like Alfonso Corona Blake's Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro (1962).

While the title of the film is simply The Vampire and The Ballerina, there is less emphasis on "vampire" and more on "ballerina." Specifically, a heavy emphasis on Polselli's part on emphasizing his young actresses with a fondness for longing camera looks into their eyes, medium shots above their cleavage, and obsessive captures of these ladies' legs. The teasing in this film is enough to send most of the young gents into a tingling frenzy, rushing home after the cinema without consulting any magazines that evening. Polselli takes the time to break his narrative in the film, like in an El Santo film with a wrestling match, to treat the viewer to two dancing sequences. The first is a fun upbeat song and dance, with the ladies in their leotards, with Polselli's camera near the floor. The second dance is both campy and sexy: the choreographer gets the idea of integrating vampire lore into the productions. He begins to play a tune and the ladies begin interpretive dance: sexy, sensuous moves with lots of shots of long legs, cigarette smoke, and quite a bit of gyrating. A vampire is included in the narrative, as I was apt to forget from time to time, and Polselli adds some interesting touches. For example, after the young maiden is bitten from the initial scene, she later dies and is buried. The vampire arrives at the cemetery and digs up her corpse. She rises as one of the undead, only to be staked by the vampire who made her and driving her back into the grave. This vampire is an egotistical one: the Countess (what a shock) is also a vampire who is tortured by this grim soul. She's not allowed to leave the castle and feeds only when the vampire allows her. He threatens the Countess by using the weaknesses they both share against her, like banishing her to sunlight if she disobeys.
The vampire portion of the narrative is traditional, cheesy, and fun, yet the true charm of The Vampire and the Ballerina is its leisurely pace and scenes with Gloriani's Francesca and Remy's Luisa. Two fantastic performances, as the two characters go from close friends to near adversaries. Young and handsome Luca and the Countess have a terrific scene together, as the Countess attempts to seduce Luca in order for him to free her from the castle. The meandering pacing of the film is fun, because the performances are so good. When the narrative is close to ending, it's awkwardly wrapped up. I didn't find this aspect disconcerting. Of all the participants in this production, the most notable is co-writer and assistant director, Ernesto Gastaldi, with one of his earliest credits. Gastaldi is a legendary Italian screenwriter who wrote some of my all-time favorite genre films, such as Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), Torso (1973), and Umberto Lenzi's Almost Human (1974). He has numerous credits, and his screenplays are often smartly-written and creative.
Practically forgotten or overshadowed by other genre films of the period, The Vampire and The Ballerina is true campy fun and is waiting to be uncovered by the curious.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Large review, Hans. I saw the sequel to this movie: Mr. Large Package and the Ballerinas. It wasn't a commercial success, but it had some great scenes. And that is large and in charge.