by Jonathan Lewis

  CRYPT OF THE VAMPIRE. E.I. Associates Producers, Italy, 1964. Original title: La cripta e l’incubo. Christopher Lee, Audry Amber, Ursula Davis, José Campos, Vera Valmont, Angel Midlin. Based on the novel Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (uncredited). Director: Camillo Mastrocinque (as Thomas Miller).

   Fans of horror B-films from the early sixties, rejoice! This one’s got it all: a superbly Gothic atmosphere, witchcraft and Satanism, a family crypt, mysterious murders in the night, and lesbian vampirism.

   Inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire story, Carmilla, and directed by Thomas Miller (Camillo Mastrocinque), Crypt of the Vampire features Christopher Lee (billed with the Italian spelling of his name as Cristopher Lee) as a European nobleman living under the shadow of a family curse.

   Count Ludwig von Karnstein (Lee) is concerned that his lovely daughter is somehow cursed. These things happen when you’ve got a witch as an ancestor, I suppose. But the good Count’s problems seem to multiply. He’s having a dalliance with his chambermaid, further straining his relationship with his daughter. And after a mysterious young woman shows up at the castle, things get even stranger.

   Lee, who did many horror movies in his long and illustrious career, is great in this. His portrayal of the frightened nobleman is spot on, suggesting a man who wants to be in control, but is plunging out of his depth. The camera work, which gives the film an aura of deliberate disorientation, heightens the film’s otherworldly atmosphere.

   I watched a copy on DVD, a version from RetroMedia. Although the film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1:85:1 (and enhanced for 16 x 9), it isn’t always the clearest picture. This is a shame, for Crypt of the Vampire really is a supremely atmospheric Italian thriller, one worth viewing in the best possible format that could be rendered.