Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Devil’s Wedding Night / Il plenilunio delle vergini (1973)

For me, The Devil’s Wedding Night is kind of like a Dracula movie but with Rosalba Neri playing Dracula, which is just a prepossessing idea. However, that’s not quite what it is, as it plays more like a spinoff, fanfic, or sequel to Dracula, where Count Dracula is the stuff of legend, with his power being the focus of archeological research. It’s interesting that in the film’s story Edgar Allan Poe seems to be an upcoming new sensation, which sets it around the first half of the 19th century, making it predate the events in Bram Stoker’s novel that occur around the 1890s. So, The Devil’s Wedding Night could actually be a prequel to Dracula. I mean, who was that mysterious smirking man in the woods, at the tavern, and on the castle grounds we kept seeing? The mysterious man is a nice touch who’s most likely a servant to the ring, but there’s nothing ruling out that he could have been Dracula the whole time, perhaps a powerless Dracula who needs the black mass wedding ceremony to be reborn.


Farfetched theories aside, The Devil’s Wedding Night is not a perfect film, but it makes for a perfect gothic horror experience. Just about every kind of gothic hallmark fans expect and revere are here, and they are executed exquisitely, but it is likely that the biggest reason most seek out this film is because of Rosalba Neri as the erotic La Contessa Dolingen de Vries. She does not disappoint here. The countess holding up her red light emitting ring to the moon atop the castle has always been the primary image that comes to mind when I think of this film.


This is one of Rosalba Neri’s most celebrated roles who, alongside Mark Damon, really arrests herself to the part. I would say that Mark and Rosalba have chemistry, but the show stealing chemistry is really between Mark Damon and Mark Damon. That’s right, Damon has an amusing dual role, playing two brothers Karl and Franz Schiller. One is just a little more goth and mischievous than the other. The two scenes where both brothers interact are entertaining, especially when Damon really hams it up as the less virtuous, Poe quoting brother, Franz.



The opening grabber is a shot of a woman in one of those big white night gowns running in the woods, being chased by something off camera. It’s quick and feels detached from the rest of the movie, almost interchangeable, like it could be attached to the beginning of almost any horror movie twenty years before or after this one. Probably because it reminds me of the opening flashback from Ernest Scared Stupid (1991), I kind of like the way the person holding the camera is also running behind the fleeing woman, working like a shaky POV cam shot from the pursuer.


The following credit sequence kicks off with an exciting, epic theme by Vasili Kojucharov set to visuals of the great Castle Piccolomini in Balsorano, color filtered lesbian orgies, ritual sacrifices, and that tunneling camera effect, which I still don’t understand. I’m not sure if this is the first time the tunneling camera was used, but it did become trendy in the 1990s, being used in Stargate (1994), Spawn (1997) as well as the ending to Final Fantasy 7 (1997) to name a few, although quite impressive for being pre-CG in The Devil’s Wedding Night.



The movie is supposed to be based on an original story (a book?) called “The Brides of Countess Dracula” by Ralph Zucker and Ian Darby. Judging by that title, it kind of makes sense why this feels a little like Dracula fanfic with Rosalba Neri in the role of Dracula, or at least substituting the Dracula figure.

Karl Schiller (played by Mark Damon, an actor who eventually became a producer with an impressive range of production credits, such as The Never-Ending Story (1984) and The Lost Boys (1987)) is an archeologist researching a mystical ring that was responsible for Dracula’s powers. The ring actually has an intriguing history, as it was passed between different powerful figures, such as Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun. It is known as the Ring of the Nibelungen, which is supposed to date back much further than Wagner.



What’s also charming is the cozy little gothic library/study set that I find to be inspirational. When I find myself stuck with a lot of work to do, I like to pretend I am Karl Schiller in his library surrounded by encyclopedias and mystical tomes.

Now, Karl manages to get a lot of useful information from one of those “McGuffin” books, most particularly on where to go to find the ring, the most obvious of places, Castle Dracula in Transylvania. His brother Franz crashes his research session, almost belittling him for his superstitious fancies but still lends an ear to Karl’s predictions and learns of his “plant and payoff” protective amulet of Pazuzu



Karl makes known his intention to journey to a castle in Transylvania to find the ring, which does end up feeling like a counterpart to Jonathan Harker’s diary.

Now what got me more than once in this movie is that despite Karl planning on making the journey to Dracula’s castle, without warning Franz takes the protective amulet and starts off instead. Franz did allude to having gambling debts, so perhaps he cleverly let his brother only think he didn’t believe him only to leave early to get to the ring before his brother. It was unexpected, and I had to rewind it a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t confused.


I do love the Transylvanian setting in this movie that was actually filmed in L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. There’s a certain magic to the Castle Piccolomini. Around the same time, Renato Polselli was filming one of my favorite films at the same castle, The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973). A couple other great films made there were The Lickerish Quartet (1970) and The Bloody Pit of Horror (1965).


Franz stops at the village inn and manages to take the Innkeeper’s daughter’s virginity, supposedly exempting her from a curse involving virgins vanishing in the castle every 50 years. (The moral of the story: don’t be a virgin on the night of the virgin moon). 

After he arrives to the castle he meets with the countess’s beautiful servant Lara (Esmeralda Barros), who’s in a lethargic almost hypnotic state. She’s a zombie and her slow languid talking is most peculiar. Also, the castle interior is suitably colorful, with plenty of lit candles in the foreground and background.


As to be expected, since it is daytime when Franz arrives, the Countess is nowhere to be found until night. It works as a nice buildup to when the film finally reveals its main attraction, Rosalba Neri. Franz finds her at the piano (that sounds like an organ synth), a beautiful and subtle way of introducing her. They connect over a splendid gothic dinner setup where the countess speaks some great lines. One of them feels like a poetic ode to introversion.

"The peace and quiet, this marvelous sense of solitude and eternal tranquility, which permeates everything around here. It makes me feel more alive." The Countess / Rosalba Neri 

The Countess and Franz make love before she turns into a bat and imprisons him. Karl eventually shows up, and knowing his missing brother was there before him, he begins his own investigation. 

The movie falls off its rocker at about the halfway part, and it is freaking fantastic. Shit gets real during the delirious laughing part, an inebriating segment of hyperactive editing and nightmare visuals.

That memorable scene when Rosalba Neri rises nude and bloody among smoke/fog from her coffin is what it’s all about. If there’s any one moment I’d pick to represent Eurocult, this is it. The “be-all and end-all."


The narrative builds up to an exploitative occult ritual with multiple crimson executioners in what is a kind of black mass wedding where things get sleazy and bloody. During the ritual, Rosalba Neri on the throne emits a sense of power and majesty – a queen of Eurocult presiding over the exploitation black mass. Being a fashion accessory kind of person, I have to say that I love her crown and black attire here.



The closeout isn’t anything too memorable, but it could almost work as sequel bait, would a sequel had happened. Considering my previous theory on the mysterious man in the woods, perhaps Dracula could be thought of as the sequel. 

If you’re looking to get your Rosalba Neri and Italian Gothic Horror fix, you really can’t do wrong with The Devil’s Wedding Night. It took years for me to come back to it, but it is worth rewatching and should be considered a cult classic. It was directed by Luigi Batzella and an uncredited Joe D’Amato – which means that Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973) isn’t the only time D’Amato went Gothic, as I formerly thought. 

Something about this movie always makes me want to listen to Mercyful Fate’s Come to the Sabbath, or maybe even Black Masses, but that song has some real fucked up lyrics. 

© At the Mansion of Madness




Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Help for a Friend in Need

A dear friend of mine has fallen on to hard times and is in danger of losing her job now that her car has broken down. It’s looking to be a costly clutch repair. I’ve never asked for any money in the past for my work here, but please, if anyone has appreciated anything I’ve written on this site, the best tip to me would be to help my friend with a GoFundMe donation by clicking HERE or on the image above.

Thanks,
Gio
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