Not going to lie, picking a horror film for the WORLD CINEMA series wasn’t easy. There are too many great ones that I have already talked about, like Les Diaboliques (1955) or Nosferatu (1922), obvious classics that other bloggers, YouTubers and podcasters have already reviewed countless times, or I just couldn’t make up my mind regarding the remaining ones. Ultimately, I went with Italy’s first horror picture of the sound era, I Vampiri (1957, dir. Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava).
Set in Paris, despite being an Italian film, I Vampiri starts off quite abruptly, as the body of a young woman is found floating in the river. In the next scene, the coroner explains that she has been drained of all her blood, like the previous victims. We are dealing with a serial killer that the Parisian press has nicknamed ‘the Vampire’, one that journalist Pierre Lantin (Dario Michaelis) is obsessed with, despite being told repeatedly to drop the case. It is Lantin himself who guides us through I Vampiri, the most reliable character in this beautiful mess of a film.
It is probably safe to say that I Vampiri’s place in film history is more significant than its actual effectiveness as a horror film. That despite its sellable plot with an admittedly good twist, it is too busy being too many things at once for any of them to be explored thoroughly. It goes from Horror, to Gothic, to police procedural, to romantic drama involving Lantin and the alluring Gisele du Grand (Gianna Maria Canale), to family drama, back to horror, while trying to keep its elements in place. The behind-the-scenes antics, with then-cinematographer Mario Bava stepping in to complete the film after Freda realized he couldn’t make it in just a few days like he said he would, may have contributed to its shambolic nature, but this also may have been a case of ‘going all out’ knowing what was at stake – Italy had yet to produce a big horror sound picture.
Yet, despite its lack of sense of direction at times, it somehow manages to pull itself together in the end and, all in all, I Vampiri is a perfectly enjoyable film, with a good, if misused, plot, gorgeous cinematography and striking special effects – the climactic moments are rather fascinating to watch. An interesting study on what was to come, particularly with Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) as well the entire Italian horror genre, and a good one at that.