Sometimes a movie is only useful in illuminating what makes its better version so successful. Last December, I was so floored by the unexpected greatness of The Vampire and the Ballerina that I immediately sought out another title in its general vicinity in a desperate search for a similar gem. Both The Playgirls and the Vampire & The Vampire and the Ballerina are 1960 Italian horror erotica about a group of oversexed professional dancers being terrorized by vampires in an isolated, crypt-like castle. Only one of those films is at all entertaining or artfully constructed, though. The Playgirls and the Vampire is the exact kind of deflated trash I expected to watch when I was surprised by the startlingly artful The Vampire and the Ballerina. It’s a thoughtlessly tossed-off cheapie with all the naked skin & bloodshed of its superior contemporary, but none of the eroticism or sense of style.
I had high hopes for The Playgirls and the Vampire after its opening shot: a long, quiet pan over a drastically lit crypt that ends when a hand moved the lid to a coffin from within. This is more or less when the film’s interest in thoughtful cinematography ends. A bus load of exotic dancers are derailed on the way to their performance due to a storm. The master of the castle where they take refuge shows a peculiarly intense interest in one of the girls, who looks suspiciously like a painting of an ancient woman on one of the walls. Long vampire cliché short, this girl is converted into his vampire queen and her fellow dancers are hunted individually over the film’s short, slight runtime. Nothing in the plot matters nearly as much as finding excuses to show skin. Girls sleep corseted, there’s some leering shots of their stocking-clad gams, and when the playgirl vampire appears in the dark to drain her former manager’s blood there’s a brief glimpse of her bare breasts (which I guess was risque in 1960, even for European genre cinema). In that last scene, the vampire playgirl is lit interestingly to initially obscure her naked body and the film concludes with an amazing practical effect where the castle’s master ages Dorian Gray-style over an animated series of mat paintings. Everything else is forgettably bland, though, even when the girls are stripping to dance for the camera, and those two moments would be better served as .gifs than as parts of the larger, less interesting whole.
I wanted to find some kind of camp value in The Playgirls and the Vampire, but the film was stingy even with that potential mode of entertainment. I guess I was amused by the way the goofball manager’s English dub included such classic Italian phrases as “Wassa matter?” & “Wassa matter you?” and the way the dancers roamed the castle chasing kittens or unlocking secret doors by suggestively stroking axe handles could be occasionally amusing, but those moments weren’t nearly enough to turn me around on the film’s overall limp sense of style, humor, and sexuality. The only real value I found in The Playgirls and the Vampire was personal validation that The Vampire and the Ballerina really was that good and I wasn’t exaggerating its accomplishments. If anyone ever questions my love for that movie I now have a perfect point of contrast to show them how the exact same formula could be executed disastrously wrong.