Crypt of the Vampire (1962)
"It is across this threshold that the curse of my family begins."- Count Ludwig von Karnstein (Christopher Lee)
Stars: Christopher Lee, Adriana Ambesi, Ursula Davis
Other Stars: José Campos
Director: Camillo Mastrocinque
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (vampirism, mild violence, implied lesbianism)
Run Time: 01h:23m:38s
Release Date: 2006-09-12
DVD ReviewThe story Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu has over the years become second only to Dracula as a source material for vampire movies. It wasn't until Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses (1960)—frustratingly still unavailable on DVD— that the story received its first cinematic adaptation, however. The second version, Crypt of the Vampire (onscreen title Terror in the Crypt) followed shortly thereafter, to be succeeded by a horde of variations, many of them from the famed Hammer studio. This old-school Italian film stars Christopher Lee, giving it a faux-Hammer air.
Lee stars as Count Ludwig of Karnstein, who summons scholar Friedrich Klaus (José Campos) to his castle to try to reconstruct the face of an ancestor Sirra of Karnstein, who was crucified for practicing witchcraft. Klaus humors him, but soon realizes that Ludwig believes that his daughter Laura (Adrianna Ambesi) either has been possessed by Sirra, or is her reincarnation. She does have the irritating habit of dreaming of the death of relatives by vampirism shortly before they occur, and Satan-worshipping housekeeper Rowena decides to press the issue by taking Laura to Sirra's crypt. Meanwhile, a passing noblewoman states that her daughter, Lyuba (Ursula Davis) is too ill to continue their journey and asks if she can stay with the Karnsteins for a few days until her return. Lyuba and Laura quickly become fast friends, until Laura begins to dream of Lyuba's death too.
It's not the most faithful of adaptations by any means, but it does pick up a number of important themes from Le Fanu, particularly in the unspoken but clearly-communicated lesbianism lurking in the background. Lyuba quickly establishes a fascination over Laura, and father Ludwig is too taken with the maid Annette and his own obsessions to notice what is occurring before him. The tacked-on elements don't quite fit with the elements of the original, however. There seems to be an effort to include a frustrated romance on the part of Klaus as he half-heartedly pursues Laura, but it never really comes to a head nor is any dramatic use made of it.
That's the real weakness of this picture: there are plenty of promising elements but they never quite jell, and others prove to be anticlimactic. There are certainly some moments that give a chill in the last half hour however, such as a grim Hand of Glory and the discovery of exactly why a bell in a ruined church keeps tolling. Working against it are manufactured scares such as a cheap startle from a body emerging from a coffin and a whole lot of sitting around scraping paint off of portraits. The script also feels free to cheat on any number of counts, and various items that at first seem to be important end up both irrelevant and unexplained.
Lee is in firm command of the show, with not much notable out of the supporting cast. Davis is visually striking, but offers little beyond that to make her character either alluring or fascinating. Campos is by and large going through the motions of the standard-issue hero. The actress playing Rowena manages to be fairly creepy, however, and she manages to enliven some of the scenes that don't include Lee. The primary asset is a moody atmosphere that tends to be quite oppressive. Don't expect any gore, and there's bit of very brief nudity.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: While the source print is in reasonably good shape, it is a little on the dupey and soft side and suffers from excessively high contrast. I suspect this may have been sourced from a 16mm print since fine detail is rather lacking as well. Grain is fairly pronounced throughout, but it's watchable.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The English dub (which except for Lee, who voices himself, is rather incompetent) suffers from plenty of hiss and noise. The music score by Carlo Savina sounds reasonably good, although it is on occasion a little ridiculous with a radio soap opera style organ; at other times it anticipates Robert Cobert's scores for Dark Shadows and is highly effective. At any rate, dialogue is clear enough.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: As is typical for Retromedia issues, there are no extras. Chaptering is reasonably good.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsAn intermittently tedious and atmospheric adaptation of Carmilla that is passable at best. The source print is rather mediocre, and there are no extras.
Mark Zimmer 2006-11-02