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If death can take a holiday, then political correctness can certainly piss off for a while.

"I say, does it matter where the blood comes from?"

Now that we can all talk for a bit, let’s face it - the life of a vampire can be rather boring, mainly being confined to the hours of darkness with little time to really do the things you want or desire. Combined with how the legend of the noble monster has become fodder for countless movies, books and even profaned by the existence of a popular breakfast cereal, it’s no wonder that Count Dracula now prostitutes both his castle and his reputation out to the local Transylvanian tourist board.  The only thing which keeps him going is the quest to find a particularly rare blood-type which will bring his beloved wife Vampira back from the dead, and with a Playboy photo-shoot due to take place at the castle, the right ingredients might coming sooner than Dracula might have hoped…

…but things really aren’t that easy.  Sure, taking samples from all the guests at the castle has become tediously routine, but when one of the three Bunnies has the rare OOO-negative blood-type needed to bring Vampira out of her frosty state of suspended animation, the samples are accidentally cross-contaminated. When brought back, the genetic re-sequencing sees the bride of Dracula emerge with a new ebony-hued form, much to ol' Vlad's social horror.  Unable to trace which girl possesses the blood to enable a pure transfusion and make things all-white again, it’s off to London in search of both the missing model and a henchman to enslave to help - a swinging Playboy photographer will do nicely!  But it’s not long before the forces of good are out to curtail his bloodthirsty activities, and Dracula is forced to make a drastic choice!

When David Niven once confided that he would like to play Dracula, Are You Being Served writer Jeremy Lloyd concocted a story tailored to the suave raconteur’s every need, and Vampira was born.  It’s at this point that we should warn you that modern sensibility-filters should be locked firmly in the “off” position to enjoy the movie to the fullest, lest you end up revolving on the floor in circular motions whilst foaming at the mouth by the time the end credits roll.  SJWs might be doing the very same after the opening titles, as it's not long after that when the re-animation process of the aforementioned Vampira is contaminated by the blood of a black woman, and Dracula’s long-lost love comes back  - to paraphrase the tag-line of the movie Slaughter - “a hot piece of leather and well put together”.  Naturally, Drac is horrified that his wife from the Roaring Twenties is now straight outta’ Compton, and fights to have her put “right”.  You can practically hear the sound of letters being written to MPs...

"You dance better than Beryl Reid.  Smell better, too..."

Lets put outraged criticism aside long enough to say that things start out perfectly, as the gloomy, candle-lit quiet of an ancient castle is broken as a Drac's faithful servant Maltravers pipes up: “I’m pleased to inform the Count that I have managed to repair the fuse” and promptly switches on the lights!  The phoney tourist dinner is an hilarious affair, with a pipe-organ playing expectedly corny music, but with the traditional stops now turned into sound-effect buttons to unleash the atmospheric noises of thunder, lightening and anything else tourists associate with spooky castles of the undead.  The shattering of audience expectations and the knowing humour is quite wonderful, which serves as the Anal-Eze for the more controversial themes come later.

While the film goes out of its way to have Vampira in love with her ebony form, the good work and tolerance is often cancelled out by either a weary look from Niven or through some pretty blunt dialogue.  When his wife is lovingly admiring her new “beautiful” self, she opines: “Why can’t I stay this way?”  His face ashen with the thought of his beloved staying black as they live out eternity in Transylvania, he bluntly replies: “It’s a small town…people might talk…”.  Arguably the most offensive piece comes when Dracula is trying to work out how it all happened in the first place, with Maltravers conjecturing that the deep freezing process which preserved her over the decades was not working and, that she had “gone off”.

OK, it’s easy to argue that Vampira's love of her new self is enough to sweeten the sour taste of the central joke, that the transfusion has didn’t just alter her appearance but changed her whole personality is much more difficult to defend.  She becomes a swinging seventies black chick, along with the attitudes and (eventually) slang typically associated with the era, which suggests that the ethnic blood used on her somehow employed the theory of Genetic Memory and implanted personality into the host subject as well as physical characteristics.  Anyway, in a bid to embrace said new form, Vampiria hits the town to experience everything it means to be black in the seventies.  With that in mind, she takes in a screening of Black Gunn(out on DVD from Fabulous Films), practically drooling over star Jim Brown - much to the consternation and disapproval of Niven, unwaveringly uncomfortable with his wife in her current incarnation.

"Just had a coffin fit, old boy..."

Whilst there isn’t much nudity going on in Vampira, with only a brief flash of tatties in the entire movie, there is a moment of censorship which can be looked on as inflammatory.  When the titular Vampira is changing her clothes in front of her disapproving husband, she has her back to the camera and pulls her dress off, but a highly noticeable jump-cut takes place and removes all traces of her titulars.  Teresa Graves did a spectacular nude scene in That Man Bolt[/url] the previous year, and it’s unlikely that a much more tasteful shot was nixed by the actress herself, so it suggests that executives had a problem with black nudity in a movie where the Caucasian form is A-OK.

With such thoughts firmly in mind, the one thing which cannot be denied is that the film is a chock-full of seventies British crumpet, from the more obvious ones like Linda Hayden and Veronica Carlson, through genre stalwarts like Luan Peters, Nicola Austin and Penny Irving, to the ones beloved of enthusiasts, including the ill-fated Minah Bird.  For any social justice warrior-type choking on their loganberry juice right about now, keep in mind that these girls went into the industry to make money from their looks, exploiting themselves for the cash and attention it would bring them.  Both of the aforementioned Ms Irving and Ms Austin became two of the most popular Page 3 girls of all time, with Austin going on to be one of the UK’s most successful/wealthy women in the property business, and certainly no dumb blonde.

"Over 500 years old and all me own teeth!"

But what about the rest of the cast?  Well, whilst David Niven seems to be enjoying himself as the suave old Count, he doesn't bring the sort of relish you would expect from someone playing a part specifically written for him. He delivers the occasionally groan-inducing one-liners with his usual degree of refined aplomb, but often seems as though his mind is on other matters, such as what it would have been like if Peter Sellers hadn't have been as successful as Clouseau in the original Pink Panther.  Nobody else could have made the material work as well as it does, even when a certain loss of dignity is involved, such as Niven receiving a sharp knee to the bollocks when a young popise he’s trying to neck fights back, to which he squeaks: “That’s not the Queensbury rules…”.  It’s a genuinely funny moment, showing wit and poise when copping it in the knackers, the contrast providing the laughs.  Now, just put that against the rather pathetic sight of Niven awkwardly trying to take a picture of his cock in a Photo-Me booth in 1971‘s The Statue and you’ll see how much better this plays out.

Niven's co-star, Teresa Graves, is clearly having a ball; her degree of enthusiasm - once she comes out of the aforementioned Jim Brown film and starts conversing in black seventies parlance – is infectious and really helps the audience finally settle in and enjoy the film. It's a great pity that such an obvious talent as hers was short-lived, as the same year as Vampira, Ms Graves only appeared in one more film and a single season as the title character in TV‘s Get Christie Love! before retiring from acting to devote her life to the Jehovah's Witnesses cult and tragically died in house-fire at the age of only 54.

Chequerboard chicks!

Nicky Henson brings his usual degree of suave arrogance to the role of Marc, but injects a goofy sense of humour into things, especially when under Dracula's hypnotic influence, almost channelling a Looney Tunes-like sensibility to mind control. It's a fairly safe bet that Mr Henson looks upon Vampira more fondly than he does upon Psychomania – probably because he got the opportunity to work with such a cinematic legend as David Niven.  Speaking of which, nothing does the ol’ heart more good than the sight of Henson riding another cinematic motorbike, but there’s no going through brick walls this time, despite being immortal once again!  Oh and if you ever needed proof of just how much Henson‘s character had it going on - or that he was always fated to become a vampire - then just take a look at his classic seventies abode, which is the archetypal split-level pad to bring girls to, stick on some music before sticking it them - a fang or otherwise.  This is exactly the same kind of residence as owned by Johnny Alucard in Dracula AD 1972 only a mere two years earlier - maybe after a fatally messy bath, the place was back on the market...

Special mention must be made of dear old Bernie Bresslaw as the hapless Playboy manager in charge of the photo-shoot, clearly enjoying a role where he’s not playing either a moron or an ethnic stereotype.  It’s also odd to see Bernard Bresslaw much more animated than you usually find him in the Carry On movies - sure, his American accent seems to have baled out somewhere over the Atlantic, but he does shtick with aplomb and gets at least one dynamic line.  How about this: at the tacky dinner hosted at Dracula’s castle, party favours are handed out at the end of the meal in the shape of plastic fangs, to which Bresslaw opines: “You should have given us these before you served the beef…”

Something for fans of seventies British comedy is the rather lazy re-teaming of Patrick Newell & (The Lovely) Aimi MacDonald.  Most of you bothering to actually read this review might be wondering just who these individuals are, but we being hounds for the aforementioned genre, it came as a surprise to see the sweaty, middle-aged married Newell having an illicit affair with younger sex-pot MacDonald.  They have just one scene here, but they were an important part of the story in the same years’ big-screen adaptation of Man About The House, and even though Vampira was released two months earlier, it’s obvious that they were pinched after someone working on the Richard O'Sullivan movie saw how good they were together.

They're fucking at it again!  Or is that at it fucking again?

One thing we can’t go without mentioning is how remarkably poor the night-time location work in London is, with footage hastily-grabbed using a hand-held camera combined with lighting which swings like a pendulum between non-existent and being lit using a floodlight from a WW2 prisoner-of-war camp. It's a fairly safe bet that producer Jack Weiner didn't think that such trivialities as filming permits needed to be obtained and just sent out the actors, cameraman, director, soundman and lighting guy in a car and got them to jump out and shoot when the streets were clear of any law enforcement officers. If there HAD been any trouble with the police, it's a pretty safe bet that the resulting footage would have born a remarkable resemblance to the final scene of Monty Python & the Holy Grail.

In spite of such negative things, Vampiria is a film full of little delights to offset the inflammatory premise, and one of the coolest those has to be the sequence during a trip from Transylvania to the UK, realised as a terrifically atmospheric vampire attack on a plane during a storm.  A vapid American tourist (Freddie Jones!) is trying to make conversation with the delightful Mrs Dracula, only to annoy her husband and put him on the menu, as the vampires just wait for the right point during the raging tempest to get to work.  Anyone stuck in a plane during bad weather will appreciate it, as well as those plonked next to a dickhead during a long-haul flight, and everyone else will just think it’s pretty bloody great.  That it prefigured such stuff from legendary eighties actioner Commando should also be commended!  Speaking of the flight, some will take amusement when the action turns to London Airport, where in horrible seventies signage it goes under the snazzy updated name it would come to be known as by millions of travellers a year: “The Heathrow”.

There’s also a nice piece where Niven comes to the aid of a sports-car driving gal about to be raped, deftly taking care of the attacker and saving the night.  Revealed not be as gallant as he seems, Drac naturally plans to the bite her afterwards, but the breaking dawn changes things and he retains his reputation as a hero in her eyes.  Possibly the of the most head-spinning of pieces comes when Niven has to kill off the vampiric Linda Hayden, all done with the aid of a crossbow and a steady hand.  Sure this is nothing new - with The Lost Boys and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn being just two examples - but here they turn it into a spoof of the then incredibly popular TV show The Golden Shot, with Niven directing the shooter on where to aim the bolt!

Freddie Jones thinks she's hotter than a freshly-fucked firefox in a forest-fire.

Dubious politics aside, there’s no doubt that UK films around this era are always a goldmine for movie fans when their characters take to the streets of the West End, showing just how films were marketed whilst proving their popularity at the time, and Vampira has some great stuff.  Here we are afforded a look at cinemas showing that mega-smash which made butter-fuelled anal acceptable to the masses, Last Tango in Paris - who should be allowed to forget the incredible low-slung dongers of the late Maria Schneider?  Of even greater interest is the showing of incredibly controversial documentary The Porn Brokers, which was miraculous that it ever got screened back then, and has even less chance of seeing the light of day again - merely to see it is to understand why!  Another shot in this cinematic time-capsule sees Niven going past the London branch of the Whisky-A-Go-Go, which existed right up until 1981 when it became the Wag Club.

Those hooked on British smut will instantly recognise David Whittaker’s work on the brassy score, coming across as a version of “The Stripper” filtered through New Orleans sensibilities.  We love his efforts on The Playbirds and Queen of the Blues, and his work here has the same magic, but offers a little more!  Indeed, some of the music found in Vampira is reminiscent of Giallo-era Morricone, with little sprinkling of Bird with the Crystal Plumage punctuating the horn sections, and all to very nice effect.  The opening credits, with a revolving bat set to a variant of Little Brown Jug are damn-near hypnotic!

Being fans of movies from across the channel, there were times where we experienced a warm glow when Vampira took on the appearance of a European genre movie, not only in aesthetics, but mainly when the aforementioned crumpet are gathered together in a single scene and are all obviously dubbed!  Even better is an appearance by Ben Aris in the final scene, who would go on to play villainous Trampas B. Hildebrand a mere two years later in the archetypal 70s sex comedy I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight.   Star Trek fans should keep an eye out for The Search For Spock’s Valkris as one of the lovely Playboy ladies!  She's the one who gets them out, btw...

Veteran director Clive Donner gives the movie a brisk pace and enough punch to enliven the modest script by Jeremy Lloyd (which - happily - avoided the awful “big splash” gag from Are You Being Served) but we expect nothing less of the man who directed the 1984 TV movie version of A Christmas Carol, which we watch every 24th of December.  It’s a shame that he almost solely concentrated to TV movies after Vampira, with only The Nude Bomb (itself an adaptation of Get Smart) and the fucking dreadful Charlie Chan & the Curse of the Dragon Queen troubling the inside of cinemas thereafter.  

Now we’ve established that the movie is a lot of fun, let’s get to the bit which has been troubling us…

"Vald, baby, I'm thinking Oreo sandwich..."

Video:


In spite of the politically incorrect theme of the movie, we now arrive at the aforementioned thorny part of reviewing Vampira.  When watching Fabulous Films’ Blu-ray disc, we thought that it might have been derived from a rather worn print as opposed to any kind original materials, as there is a pattern of polluted black levels running in bands across the screen throughout.  Compared to other copies we’ve watched, the contrast on the 1.77:1 image is rather curious, as it looks like it’s been boosted to try and keep it in usable shape by slightly hiding other image gremlins, with the whites being a little high.

Let’s put it in perspective here: it’s a bloody miracle that Vampira is actually out on Blu-ray, as only Fabulous Films had the inclination and - most importantly - the balls to release it in times like these.  What they have here is probably going to be the best the film will ever look whilst representing the state of the original negatives, which FF scanned from - to generate HD materials from dupes will inherently be missing something.  OK, it looks less than we hoped, given the lovely copy of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid they put out recently, but FF were at the mercy of that which survives, and it’s still a perfectly watchable experience, almost as though experiencing it at one of hallowed Eurofests from the nineties, and - to us - it’s a good thing.

BTW, the images you see here are not from the disc.

Audio:


Nothing bad to report here, as apart from a little hiss inherent with the era and budget, it's a pretty smooth sonic experience.  Screams are pretty piercing, as originally conceived, and David Whittaker's amusing score is represented in fine fashion.  No monkeying around has been performed on the original mix, and the LPCM mono track sounds as it should.

Extras:


Nothing.  Sans sausage.  Not even the trailer, which is particularly disappointing, as it's easily viewable on YouTube.

"Just take the bloody picture..."

Overall


When Vampira was unleashed upon an unsuspecting America, it was given the rather humiliating title of “Old Dracula”, in an attempt to cash in on the immense popularity of Young Frankenstein, sharing many a double-bill together.   Whilst some might read this as insulting to the work of Mel Brooks, it left Vampira firmly in the shadow of his greatest creation, and whilst such creatures of the night actually enjoy the shade, it had a detrimental effect on its legacy.  Sure, the main theme is indefensibly racist, and the final gag is genuinely horrible, but there is a lot to enjoy amongst the outrage.  Niven is a lot of fun, Graves is utterly charming, Henson’s at his coolest and special mention should be made of Peter Bayliss, as faithful servant Maltravers, who gets the best lines and makes the most of them.  It’s a fun movie which cleanses the palate after a decade of gloomy, achingly-serious vampire media, and proof that the sixties had such horrible hair & makeup that the lovely Jenny Linden was rendered unattractive in Doctor Who & the Daleks, when she’s delightful here - see above!

As for Fabulous Films’ Blu-ray edition, it’s the best they could do with the state of the deeply neglected negatives, but it adds to the seedy quality of the movie, as though watching it from the pits of a Soho “cinema club”.  Those buying will be very happy to have an HD copy of Vampira, even if it doesn’t quite look like Gravity or Schindler’s List, but it’s important to keep in mind that this is a movie with David Niven as Dracula trying to turn his black wife white again with Playboy models!  This is way you probably NEED it to look!!!

Political incorrectness be damned.  We had fun revisiting Vampira after so many years, and suspect that many others will also,  if for their own reasons.   Vampira has been resurrected in the modern age, and it's great that movies like this aren't being lost to time.  Pair it with Young Frankenstein for the perfect night in at the home-cinema drive-in!


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Media Copyright Acknowledgement (Fair Use) Thinking of stealing parts of it? You can go...[Norman Collier-like noises]...with a razor-edged dildo.