THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING is a late-career travesty from Freddie Francis. It was pretty obviously going to be terrible post-synched nonsense from the off, but I kept watching, lured in by two strange, pataphysical coincidences. Firstly, the vampire lady is called Clarimonde, which is the name of the vampire in a film I made, also called CLARIMONDE. The name comes from the Hanns Heinz Ewers story I was adapting, and he got it from another story, La Morte Amoreuse, by Theophile Gautier. Having discovered that one, I pilfered a speech from it, using the beautiful translation provided by Lafcadio Hearn, thus involving three masters of the supernatural in one fourteen-minute film (or four masters if you count me. OK, four masters.)
The second coincidence occurs at the airport scene near the start of the film — European seventies horror movies are addicted to airport scenes — see also THE HORRIBLE SEXY VAMPIRE, BARON BLOOD, and especially LISA AND THE DEVIL. This is odd, since airports are the least supernatural or Gothic places in existence, although they are very seventies. Even today.
(I never thought of them as spooky until I found myself at Marco Polo Aeroport coming back from Pordenone, and it was entirely deserted. And after I had a nice chat with the man working the baggage x-ray (when they airport is quiet, these people are relaxed and fun to chat to) I was proceeding into the echoing depths of the empty air-mausoleum, and his voice boomed out of the tannoy wishing me a happy flight, by name. THAT was spooky.)
The weird coincidence though was a voice on the PA announcing the next flight to “Slabovia,” which is a fictional East European country, sort of an anti-Ruritania, invented by me for a Channel 4 education programme called The KNTV Show around thirty years after Francis made his film. So how did it end up being name-checked in THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING?
(Belatedly, I worked out that the name used was “Slobovia,” an obsolete abusive nickname for any Eastern European backwater which I’d inadvertently come very close to using myself. Al Capp seems to have invented it in Li’l Abner.)
This intrigued me. It seemed very much as if the universe wanted me to see this film. So I watched it. It was terrible. There was a torture chamber and some sexy trees. Bad jokes. Awful acting. It ended, and I seemed to hear the universe chuckling.
Tree porn: this is genuinely presented as if it’s meant to be sexy. The “legs” part with a creak in the breeze…
Still, photographically it’s often splendid, as you’d expect from Francis — the location is magnificent and he captures it in rich, deep, dark hues. The happening itself is chaotic and ugly, though — a handheld riot of fake fangs and fake tits. The script is embarrassing, with Ferdy Mayne repeating his count bit from THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS but with horrible material — you feel bad for him. I can’t quite work out FF’s attitude to the bucketloads of nudity he’s required to show: either he had contempt for it and just ladled it on with a weary, “You want flesh? Here you go!” approach, or else like Ken Russell he was uncritically keen on the female form and so didn’t exercise any quality control. Quantity over quality. This works in THE DEVILS — goes towards realism — but seems defective in a brainless exploitation flick.
Still, the flopping, goose-bumped nudies cavorting through Francis’s drafty castle are some kind of antidote to the cascade or airbrushed centrefolds who tumble headlong through THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, seeming strangers to body hair and even pores. Even a shit film can induce a kind of nostalgia for when sex objects were human.