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Countdown to Halloween: "V" is for The Vampire & the Ballerina (1960)

The way that The Vampire & the Ballerina (1960) begins, you’d think we were going to experience a standard vampire tale. Brigida, a pretty young farm girl, is pursued by a shadowy figure as she returns from fetching water. A caped figure overcomes her and some men later find her lying in the woods, “the third victim this year, always on the full moon.”


The professor (Pier Ugo Gragnani) then tells the pretty young students of his dance school the legend of the vampire, full of familiar tropes. It can be killed by a stake in the heart; it can be repelled by the cross; and it turns to dust in the daylight. One of the girls comments on the sensuality with which a vampire presents itself, “Like a Prince Charming.” The professor replies, “No, it’s like an obsession.”


I’m not sure about the translation of the original Italian language for the English subtitles; the above interaction between the girl and the professor doesn’t quite make sense. Anyway, with the groundwork laid for a typical vampire story, The Vampire & the Ballerina turns out to go somewhere else with a strange variation of what we’d expect.


For example, there’s not just one vampire lurking in “the castle of the damned” which has been abandoned for many years. There are two, somehow entwined in a codependent relationship that ensures the survival of both of them. Also, the primary vampire wants to destroy his victims entirely rather than keep them as a source of food or create an army of the undead.


Again and again, this vampire states that only he is the master of his own world. Like I said, the story is strange and, pun intended, a little foreign. Supposedly made as a response to the success of Hammer’s Dracula in Italy, The Vampire & the Ballerina puts a Euro-horror spin on the proceedings and adds a layer of sex that coincidentally may have become an influence on Hammer in later years.


So, the plot is at least interesting, but the minutia is sometimes frustrating. When Francesca (Tina Gloriani) and Luisa (Helene Remy) are lost in the woods as a storm approaches, Luisa’s beau, Luca (Isarco Ravaioli) leads them to the castle of the damned to seek refuge. How smart is it to go to a place called “the castle of the damned” during a thunderstorm?


Yeah, the men and women in The Vampire & the Ballerina are easy on the eyes, but they ain’t too smart. The movie is a feast of both beefcake and cheesecake. Hunky instructor, Giorgio (Gino Turini) runs around shirtless a lot and the women participate in two extended dance sequences that devolve from classical ballet to modern dance with all kinds of suggestive moves.


Among the silliness are some extremely effective sequences that take full advantage of location shooting at the castle of Artena. Those are real (and real creepy) stone walls, steps, and caverns. The special effects of the finale are also pretty good. Using a special makeup designed for the movie, the vampires melt in the sunlight during a couple lingering shots that don’t restrain from showing them.


I quite liked The Vampire & the Ballerina as an original take on a familiar story. It’s uneven and sometimes confusing, but so is any number of early Euro-horror films. It was directed by Renato Polselli, who made a few other films, but the most familiar name in the credits is that of Ernesto Gastaldi, the prolific screenwriter about whom I learned quite a bit while exploring other Euro-horror and giallo films.


Written by Ernesto Gastaldi, Giuseppe Pellegrini, Renato Polselli

Directed by Renato Polselli

Starring Helene Remy, Tina Gloriani, Walter Brandi, Isarco Ravailoi, Gino Turini, Pier Ugo Gragnani RT 85 min.

Home Video Shout Factory (Blu-ray)


Part of the Countdown to Halloween. Click here for a list of all the blogs participating. Each offers its own distinctive month long celebration of the chilling holiday we all love.

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