On THE VAMPIRE’S NIGHT ORGY

Remembering the curious 1973 Spanish horror fever dream

Among the endless spate of Hammer-esque Gothic horror and exploitation product pumping out of Italy and Spain in the early 1970s, there’s one picture in particular that I’ve always been oddly attracted to. It’s a fascinating film really, a movie that has enough of a rudimentary, linear narrative drive to hook its audience and keep us engaged in the peculiar plight of its characters and immersed in its central mystery but it also comes armed with a delightfully confusing, unknowable mythology and shifts gears freely between grisly horror, ghost story, sex romp, black comedy and palpable tragedy. The film I’m speaking of is director Leon (Paul Naschy’s landmark Spanish shocker The Werewolf Vs. The Vampire Woman) Klimovsky’s bizarre and haunting 1973 opus The Vampire’s Night Orgy, a vampire picture like no other and a movie whose sensational, tawdry elements are tamed by kind of laid-back earthiness that rarely appears in fever-pitched films of this sort.

Following a similar set-up to Jean Brismee’s Belgian chiller The Devil’s Nightmare (aka The Devil Walks at Midnight, another personal favorite), The Vampire’s Night Orgy sees a gaggle of tourists (whose ranks include the great Jack Taylor (Female Vampire and dozens of other Jess Franco favorites, here in a rare, genuinely heroic role) traveling by bus through the Eastern European countryside, a trip derailed when the driver suffers a heart attack at the wheel. Low on fuel and seeking medical assistance, the troupe winds up in the uncharted village of of Tonia, a rustic, run-down but seemingly welcome place that indeed seems stuck in some sort of time warp. As the villagers accommodate our weary protagonists, they introduce the troupe to The Countess (the great Helga Line from Horror Express and Horror Rises from the Tomb), the big provolone of Tonia whose grace masks a streak of entitled, supernatural evil. See, as the title suggests, this Hamlet is simply crawling with the living dead and The Countess is their Queen, lording over their antics and demanding sacrifice.

My point of entry with this fascinating bit of continental fangwork came in the form of legendary VHS horror and cult film mail order company Sinister Cinema. In the mid ’80s Sinister Cinema was successful enough that they followed in the footsteps of Something Weird Video and had a domestic retail video release line which, I think, had its offices in Canada. In the now sadly long dead Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto, they had a room upstairs that was piled high with VHS and laserdiscs (the section was dubbed Sam the Video Man, if I recall). There, I purchased a wave of movies from Sinister Cinema (as many as my 12 year old self could afford) and among them was The Vampire’s Night Orgy, here released under the title Orgy of the Vampires. It was a cut version of the film but to be honest, save for a few shots of the Countess’s bare breasts, the movie is fairly non-explicit in any cut, this despite a title that promises a blood-spattered bacchanal.

No, The Vampire’s Night Orgy doesn’t rely on sex or cheapjack gore to get under its audiences skin. Instead it simply trades in wanton weirdness. Dreamy, inexplicable abstractions that thankfully refuses to fully explain themselves. For example, the village sort of appears and vanishes at will (shades of H.G. Lewis’ 2000 Maniacs). The villagers aren’t just a gaggle of predators luring their prey either, they have a sort of hierarchy, with The Countess at the top and an array of henchmen and tradesmen under her. There’s a tavern. A chef. A blacksmith. All manner of folks who work hard at keeping the facade of a micro-society going. In an oft repeated gag, The Countess’ personal drone keeps hacking off some of the horrified working class undead stiffs’ limbs so they can use the meat to feed their mortal guests. It’s just all so bizarre and arch and wonderfully daft.

But there’s also a dose of eerie poetry coursing through the film. In the opening sequence, we see a funeral procession of vampires dropping a coffin and running scared while Klimovsky zooms into the face of a maggoty corpse. Why are the ghouls alarmed by this? Do they fear death? Who knows. Or how about the nighttime attack on the bus, where a pair of do-gooders are done-in by a sect of elderly vampires who don’t have fangs but are simply missing teeth. In another bit, a little boy vamp simply wants to play with a little human girl and accidentally suffocates her while hiding her from yet another funeral gathering and then buries her and her doll crudely. And the ending is mysterious and gently disturbing and without resolution of any kind.

The aforementioned Paul Naschy worked under Klimovsky plenty and has noted that the director tended to rush through his work. You admittedly feel that here. But that “first draft” feeling is precisely why The Vampire’s Night Orgy is so affecting. It feels sort-of made up as it goes along, like some sort of satanic jazz riff. Much like the histrionic lounge score that blares all over the movie, causing extreme disorientation, an element that has won some scorn from select corners of Eurohorror fandom. But the movie is charmingly all over the place and it’s certainly got an energy all its own. Seek it out and share your thoughts…

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