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Image Entertainment presents
I Vampiri (1956)

"I will be able to fill my creations with this formula and make them live forever!"
- Dr. Du Grand (Antoine Balpetre)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: July 12, 2001

Stars: Gianna Maria Canale, Dario Michaelis, Carlo D'Angelo
Other Stars: Paul Muller
Director: Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some violence, violent images)
Run Time: 01h:17m:23s
Release Date: July 03, 2001
UPC: 014381848120
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-B- C+

DVD Review

The Gothic, Italian, horror film I Vampiri (which translates to "The Vampires") is often credited as the film from which much of Italy's horror movement was born. It is also the directorial debut of Mario Bava, the man who would go on to continually evolve and change the face of much of what Italian movie-making was all about. Usually, when a movie is known for such things, the movie itself isn't too good. You can see the beginning of a new style and how it influenced the future, but it isn't anything special. I Vampiri actually surprises and delivers an effective, suspenseful mystery on top of being revolutionary in many ways.

The story takes place in France, where a series of brutal murders is baffling police and the local media. The victims are young women, and each one has been completely drained of blood. Journalist Pierre Lantin thinks he can crack the case by a little digging around, so he tries desperately to uncover clues, but is largely unsuccessful. Whenever he makes headway, some strange occurrence puts his investigation back. His credibility starts to go down the tubes, but little does he know how close to the solution he is when the Duchess Du Grand makes romantic advances towards him. Meanwhile, one of Lantin's contacts, a teenage girl, goes missing, making the situation more personal and desperate.

Bava keeps I Vampiri simple, but by no means does this result in a cheap experience. The famous story behind the film is that original director, Riccardo Freda, left the picture when it was only partially complete. He wanted more time to complete the film, but the producers wanted to strictly adhere to a 12-day schedule. As a result, he left the picture, leaving cinematographer and cameraman Mario Bava with his own ideas. Bava managed to finish the film in the last two days of shooting, including script changes; no small feat in an age before digital post-production and super-fast processing. Bava managed to pad out the film by adding in stock footage for establishing shots (it's pretty obvious where these were used), and by using newspaper headline montages. Bava also simplified the story, by changing the meaning of scenes in subtle ways to make things easier to wrap up.

Despite all these behind-the-scenes problems, I Vampiri is easily one of the most atmospheric horror films of the time, and features some of Bava's most gorgeous black-and-white photography. Also filmed in CinemaScope widescreen, many of the scenes are bathed in clever composition and visual splendor. Italian film has always been imbued with excellent set design and costuming, and it pays off in a big way. While most of the film is set on the streets of Paris and in the bustle of Pierre Lanteri's newspaper office, later in the film there's a shift to more 'Gothic' locations like Duchess Du Grand's castle, and a strange, hidden laboratory in a mausoleum where a mysterious scientist experiments on the dead. It is obvious to me the amount that other Italian films borrow from this film, especially the sequences where girls are kidnapped and murdered by the enigmatic, black-gloved killer. A theme seen throughout the years, especially in the work of Dario Argento.

Despite the theme, the film is pretty low on violence (which was basically a requirement to get around Italian censorship) and could probably be watched even by the squeamish. The few special effects the film has are, as usual for Mario Bava, rather inventive and stylish, achieving surprising results with shoestring budgets. I Vampiri is definitely in the higher echelon of late 1950s horror films, building itself more on concept and crafting than anything else (rather than loads of gimmcks and gore), which earns it tremendous respect. This new DVD release also marks the first time that I Vampiri has been available in the Western world in its original cut. The initial U.S. release, The Devil's Commandment, largely altered key elements of the film as well as footage. Over the years, like many Italian films, it's been recut and mixed-up into all sorts of different versions with many different names. Now horror fans can finally see the original version in all its glory.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Viewers can expect an outstanding black-and-white transfer here, with a virtually pristine look and feel to it. While there's some fleeting moments of minor damage, the majority of the film is extremely well detailed and well rendered with a fine-grain source print and accurate balance between black and white levels. The only real problem areas are the few scenes composed of stock footage, which are of pretty bad quality, but they're only used to fill a few brief gaps.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Although there are a few pops and distortions, the single-channel mono mix is generally fine. Nothing sounds harsh or thinned out, and it does the job about as well as it can. I'm assuming the film was made in Italian then re-dubbed into Italian, but it's a little hard to tell because of some of the distracting 'lip-flap'. That aside, there are no complaints here.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Baron Blood, Twitch of the Death Nerve, The House of Exorcism, Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Riccardo Freda Filmography
  2. Mario Bava Filmography/Biography
  3. Photo gallery.
Extras Review: The disc's basic extras are a filmography for both Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda, along with a biography of Bava. Wisely, the Bava filmography tries to cover his major work, rather than attempting to credit every film he worked on, as he often went without being credited, which would make an authoritative filmography very difficult.

A short gallery of photo stills is presented, but there is unfortunately no way to pause them. Along with this, trailers from some of Bava's other films are included. This isn't really a major dose of supplements.
The keepcase insert contains an essay about the film written by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog, who also will be publishing a book about Mario Bava in the near future.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

I Vampiri is a satisfying thriller, oozing with atmosphere and high production values. It also marks the departure point for Mario Bava into the world of directing and managing his own film projects, and that alone makes it worth checking out.


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