B&W, 1960, 80 mins.

Directed by Piero Regnoli

Starring Walter Brandi, Lila Rocco, Alfredo Rizzo, Maria Giovannini, Leonard Botta, Tilde Damiani, Erika Dicenta, Corrinne Fontaine / Music by Aldo Piga / Cinematography by Aldo Greci

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $24.95)

The first installment in Image's promising EuroShock Collection, The Playgirls and the Vampire is actually a rare example of truth in advertising in the annals of cinematic exploitation. The plot involves, not surprisingly, a quintet of curvaceous nightclub performers and two male companions who take refuge in a dark, mysterious castle after being caught in a violent storm. Though penniless, the group is perfectly willing to accommodate their host, Count Gabor Kernassy (vampire movie staple Walter Brandi/Brandt), with plenty of sleazy stripteases to pass the night away. Kernassy notices a striking resemblance between one of the ingenues, Vera (Lila Rocco), and Margherita, the great love of Kernassy's 200 year ancestor... who, unfortunately, has gone vampire and still stalks the premises. After much wandering through corridors and surprisingly sleazy fang activity, Kernassy faces down his ancestor, resulting in a peculiar dual confrontation which, as virtually every viewer has noticed, owes more than a nod to 1958's Horror of Dracula.

Originally released in Italy as L'Ultima Preda del Vampiro (The Last Prey of the Vampire or The Vampire's Last Victim, depending on your source), this film isn't great art but definitely delivers the drive-in goods. Amazingly, this opened the same year as Mario Bava's Maschera del Demonio (Black Sunday) and Mill of the Stone Women, which just goes to show that the dichotomy in Italian horror cinema between art and sleaze was already well in place right from the beginning. The previous year had already seen Renato Polselli's eccentric Vampire and the Ballerina, and while Polselli later blew his private little fetishes into full-blown exhibitionism during the '70s, Playgirls' Regnoli only churned out five minor period films as a director before settling into a career as a screenwriter on zombie films like City of the Walking Dead and Burial Ground. He does a competent job here and probably could have been a notable player in the spooky-sexy European sweepstakes of the '60s and '70s had he chosen to pursue it. Anybody who could deliver naked girls with big fangs con gusto like this definitely deserved to have a longer career.

The Image DVD, taken from the archive print held by U.S. distributor Richard Gordon, looks better than the numerous bootleg and quasi-PD copies floating around for years, though a few flaws still exist in the source. While the DVD itself is fine with no noticeable compression flaws, some mild scratching and other signs of wear mar a few shots. One problem with the film in every U.S. version (and presumably in the Italian original as well) is the photography of some long shots, which has a tendency to blur and resembles ragged shooting with a zoom lens (but before that device really came into vogue). For example, the well-lit castle interiors look fine and razor sharp, as do the dancers' skimpy attire, but some of the darker hallway two-shots resemble an on-the-fly documentary. Regardless, the film itself doesn't really suffer, and this is probably as good as it's going to get. No noticeable image appears to be cropped from the full frame transfer, indicating this is either open matte or very slightly altered from a 1.66:1 master. The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack does a perfectly good job of rendering the throwaway grindhouse music and thunderous rumblings in the background; surprisingly, the audio elements seem to have held up better with time than the visuals. Running times for Playgirls and the Vampire range wildly from 66 minutes (the U.S. reissue print which removes most of the stripteases and the relatively mild nude scenes) to 85 minutes. Clocking in somewhere between, this print doesn't seem to be missing anything noteworthy, though the Italian original may have contained some dialogue or "exploring the castle" footage that wouldn't be missed. As always, Tim Lucas does an incisive and informative job with the lengthy liner notes, though he strangely implies that Regnoli actually directed 1980's Burial Ground, which was helmed by Andrea Bianchi. The DVD also includes the amusing first run U.S. trailer, and the menu screen should provoke a nice chuckle.

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