What do you get when you combine gothic settings, devil worshippers, black mass rituals, fake blood, and lots and lots of gratuitous nudity? Well, if it’s the early 1970s, you get any number of horror films being shown on drive-in and theater screens all over the world (If it’s the new millennium, you get the same sort of features, only the “gothic” setting is usually Van Nuys or Burbank and the films go straight to Blockbuster and Hollywood Video!). Of all of the movie-producing countries around the world who followed the lead of England’s Hammer Films in that decade, none was more prolific than Italy, cranking out flesh-and-blood fright flicks at an almost alarming rate. 1973’s IL PLENILUNIO DELLE VERGINI, known in the English-speaking world as THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT, was one such effort, and is all set to hit video stores in September, as part of Shout! Factory’s ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE DVD line.
The film tells the story of two twin brothers who travel to the fictional town of Ladracu (Word Jumble enthusiasts take note!) in the Carpathian Mountains and fall under the spell of a beautiful Countess who has taken up residence in the infamous Castle Dracula. The first brother, Franz, comes to the castle in search of the mythical Ring of the Nibelung. The second, Karl, arrives in search of his sibling, only to discover that his brother is in the process of having his body taken over by Dracula himself. As it turns out, the Countess is the bride of the legendary vampire, and just happens to be in the market for a virile young mortal to take the place of her departed lover. The very piece of jewelry which brought Franz to the region in the first place turns out to be the primary source of her terrible power, while an amulet linked to the demon god Pazuzu might be the only thing that can foil her sinister plot.
Though the synopsis may promise equal measures of horror and adventure, this picture is primarily an exercise in lavish, softcore erotica. Rosalba Neri (billed in the English print as “Sara Bay”) is the conniving vamp, a nubile bloodsucker that spends much of the film in an advanced state of undress, seducing everyone from the visiting twins to her Sapphic servant girl. In one memorable scene, the Countess writhes around in a coffin in the pink while the faithful maid slowly pours a pitcher of fresh virgin blood over her naked body. In the last reel, a group of local nymphs are lured to the castle to take part in a satanic ritual which, of course, requires all of the female participants to be stripped to the skin. When the poster for a film called THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT features a leering Lucifer looming over numerous shapely females and the tagline reads “Satan Is Coming!” one should expect a certain amount of lasciviousness in the narrative. This movie, however, goes well above and beyond the call of duty in that regard. There are elements intended to frighten, including a hulking, bald hunchback vampire, and the Countess’ disturbing penchant for changing into a giant bat during moments of passion. Ultimately, though, it’s the sex that’s meant to sell it.
To be fair, the lush cinematography and solid performances lend the movie a degree of respectability usually absent from such nudie horror shows. Director Luigi Batzella positions his camera at odd angles throughout, giving much of the action an atmospheric, disorienting quality. Mark Damon is quite good as the brothers, varying his look and characterization just enough that an unknowing viewer might easily believe the casting director found real twins. Neri is certainly equal to the task of playing a libidinous, undead seductress, slinking unabashedly into Ingrid Pitt territory and appearing right at home there. The edited print of this film which originally aired on MOVIE MACABRE must have been pretty short with all of the hanky panky and birthday suits excised, but the overall quality of the production probably made the PG version a watchable if unremarkable diversion.
The print which appears on the upcoming Shout! Factory release (and in a two-pack with LEGACY OF BLOOD) is uncut, though it’s scratched to hell and doesn’t really do the excellent set design or Joe D’Amato’s beautiful photography justice. On the plus side, it is a letterboxed print, a rarity for an inexpensive home video release of this type. As always, it can be viewed with or without humorous interludes with Cassandra Peterson’s busty hostess, Elvira. And, as always, Peterson looks absolutely mouth-watering in her vampish get-up and runs rather hot and cold in the levity department. Her potshots at the film are a bit too smarmy (and, at times, obvious) to achieve the kind of knowing rapport with the audience enjoyed in later years by the boys on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, but when she pokes fun of herself and her sexpot persona, she is remarkably endearing. Honestly, though, a movie as hormonally-charged as THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT should always come equipped with a voluptuous sex kitten hostess. It just kind of makes sense.
Its carnal intentions understood, there are still a few flaws that keep WEDDING NIGHT from realizing its full potential, beginning with the somewhat confusing and ludicrous plot. The odds of Wagner’s (pronounced “wag-ner”, not “vog-ner”, in the dubbed print) legendary ring landing in Castle Dracula seem pretty far-fetched, even for the most accepting horror fan. It is never quite clear why Karl suddenly decides he has to go looking for his brother, nor do we understand why Franz opts not to return to a nearby inn to retrieve the protective amulet he left there – especially in light of the extra hospitality showed to him during his first visit by the innkeeper’s sexy daughter. Shortly after Karl’s arrival, the movie shifts abruptly from a straightforward narrative to a bizarre, dreamlike parade of images, and stays in this disjointed mode long enough to lose just about everyone in the audience. There are also several mysterious characters whose presence is never fully explained, including a creepy Norman Fell look-alike manservant who keeps peering right into the camera, a move eerily reminiscent of Mr. Roper grinning at the studio audience when he’s hit his nagging wife with a clever zinger. Though Damon is dashing and imposing enough in vampiric form, we are never sure whether he is possessed by Dracula, has actually become the legendary Count, or is simply keeping his shapely wife warm for his return at the end of the climactic Black Mass. The closing moments include a few neat twists, but offer as many questions as answers.
If you are a fan of Hammer’s Carmilla series, THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT is right up your alley. It’s well-staged, beautifully shot and loaded with naked, lesbian vampires and curvy villager babes. Unlike films of this type made for today’s video market, it also takes its horror elements rather seriously and manages to have some fun along the way. It’s hard to dislike any movie in which one of the male leads seduces a peasant girl out of her knickers by slyly reminding her that Count Dracula is only interested in the blood of virgins. Though hardly a classic, it’s not bad, and it certainly delivers on the promises of its lurid U.S. ad campaign. Lovers of late night horror host shows and 70s “drive-in gothic” should seek this disc out. Just make sure the kids are tucked safely in bed before you pop it in the DVD player!