Italian horror godfather Mario Bava almost single-handedly ushered in a whole new genre with this moody mix of murder mystery and kinky horror. The prolific cinematographer made his (uncredited) directorial debut when Riccardo Freda stormed off the set with the picture only half finished, leaving Bava to rewrite the script and complete the picture in two days. It became the first Italian horror film since the silent era and a classic of the genre.
The vampire of the title is not a literal bloodsucker of Dracula’s lineage but a mad-scientist twist on the legend of Countess Bathory. In this modern take, the bodies of beautiful young women drained of blood leave the police baffled, while an ambitious journalist traces a chain of clues back to the familial castle of the aging Duchess Du Grand and her beautiful niece (the elegant and sultry Gianna Maria Canale). Set in Paris but shot in Rome, it’s a handsome little black-and-white picture that belies its 12-day schedule with gorgeous locations, shadowy lighting, a stylish elegance, and a couple of startlingly effective transformations executed with brilliant simplicity. In later films, such as Blood and Black Lace and Lisa and the Devil, Bava’s style would develop into an elaborately choreographed dance of death in black shadows and glowing color, but here he’s smooth and suggestive, a model of restraint that looks to his "official" debut, the striking Black Sunday.
The DVD features a clean, sharp B&W widescreen transfer, with a photo and poster gallery (including stills from the scenes added to the "Americanized" version of the film entitled The Devil’s Commandment) and a collection of Mario Bava trailers among the supplements. Extensive liner notes and a director biography are provided by Bava historian Tim Lucas. —Sean Axmaker
About I Vampiri (1957)
Starring: Ronny Holiday, Wandisa Guida, Paul Muller, Armando Annuale, Riccardo Freda, Joy Holliday, Emilio Petacci, Barbara Wohl, Gianna Maria Canale, Carlo D'Angelo, Dario Michaelis, Angelo Galassi, Renato Tontini, Charles Fawcett, Gisella Mancinotti, Miranda Campa, Antoine Balpêtré
Director: Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda