During these cold dark winter nights, I’ve been catching up on some those still-to-be-read literary classics like Biggles Flies Undone, Where’s Dildo? and improving my vocabulary by watching reruns of Deadwood. In between such high-brow pursuits, my time has been thinly spread like Jell-o enjoying way too many bad European horror movies. My current favorite (and by favorite I mean: “Film so bad I have to share it with people I don’t know”) is The Vampire Happening or Gebissen wird nur nachts, to give its proper title in German which translates as Bitten at Night.
This (weak) comedy-horror from 1971 was directed by the legendary director/cameraman Freddie Francis, who helmed quite a few classic horror films like The Skull, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt, The Creeping Flesh, and Legend of the Werewolf. He also won an Oscar for his cinematography on Jack Cardiff’s Sons and Lovers and worked as a cinematographer with the likes of David Lynch (The Elephant Man, Dune) and Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear). Francis had the credentials but he didn’t always make the right choices especially if he had to make a buck. Like The Vampire Happening which Francis signed-up to direct after a deal to make a big-budget American movie fell through. It was perhaps an odd choice, as the movie was a kind of vanity project by producer Pier A. Caminnecci for his then-wife actress Pia Degermark to star in.
Degermark also had some good credentials. She was best known for her critically-acclaimed and award-winning performance in Elvira Madigan in 1967, but not much interesting work had followed, other than say, The Looking Glass War sourced from John Le Carre’s novel. In 1971, Francis was given the task of directing Degermark in a hybrid comedy-horror featuring considerable nudity, lewd innuendo, and vague allusions to classical literature—the scriptwriters freely “adapted” some plot lines from Théophile Gautier‘s short story “La Morte Amoureuse.” Yet, such lofty ambitions were quickly leveled by the quality of the script which reaches a height of wit with the following repartee:
“Human sex,” enquires Count Dracula (Ferdy Mayne), “what do you say about that?” “Well,” comes the reply from Betty Williams (Pia Degermark), “It’s a helluva lot better than blood-sucking…”
One of the reviews for The Vampire Happening described the film as something Francis produced while channeling Ken Russell—which is unfair on Russell—though it does capture some of the more wacky and surreal imagery contained in the film. The story concerns a young actress Betty Williams (Pia Degermark) who inherits an old family castle in Transylvania unaware the place is still home to her vampire ancestor Baroness Catali (also played by Degermark). It sounds like a good idea. But add in a horny monk (who makes a few some nods to Jenny Agutter eroticizing trees in Nic Roeg’s Walkabout), an incompetent beau, a confused faithful retainer, a kind of swinging sixties “happening” and some truly atrocious dubbing, then all intentions towards making something smart are left way behind.
That said, it’s still a diverting 100 minutes with a groovy soundtrack by Jerry van Rooyen. So, if you’re in the mood for eating a lot of popcorn then you can watch the whole movie (after a selection of lobby cards and the trailer to whet your appetite…).
Watch ‘The Vampire Happening,’ after the jump…