The Transylvania Chamber of Commerce just opened their second bottle of French cognac tonight. They’re celebrating because they’ve figured out a surefire way to drum up some cash-flow during the tourist season: BOOBS! Sure, there’s also a vampire in a pinstripe suit lurking around, but sex sells. And it is time to open the cash register.
Of course, this didn’t happen in real life — it happened Italy. The Italian L’ultima preda del vampiro (1960) was snatched up by British schlock producer Richard Gordon in 1962. After some post-dubbing, the film was released to the “adults only” market as The Playgirls and the Vampire. Thanks in part to the brilliantly exploitive title and ad campaign (“Raw, naked, terror!”), it was a box office hit. The hook? Sex ‘n’ ghouls! Playgirls was one of the first films in the world to deliver an eyeball-popping mix of erotic undertones and rampaging monsters. It’s a precursor to American trash like Peter Perry’s Kiss Me Quick! and the Spanish cool of Jess Franco’s The Diabolical Dr. Z.
Vera finds herself and the rest of her traveling burlesque show (four other girls, a manager, and a piano player) stranded in the middle of a thunderstorm. Luckily, they chance upon the castle grounds of Count Kernassy. The Count is outraged! He beckons them to leave, but changes his tune after noticing Vera’s striking resemblance to his long-dead love, Margherita. And her big boobs. The troupe is permitted to stay. Not-quite-nakedness ensues. Raven-haired Katia is murdered, but manager Lucas says, “As if we didn’t have enough headaches!” To mourn for their dead friend, the girls cue up a blues piano riff and perform a strip tease. Vampires? Bedside copies of Frolic magazine? Midnight strolls? A falling suit of armor? A twist ending? It’s all too awesome. Then, they throw in a vampire transformation scene that utilizes cardboard Halloween decorations.
Aside from the pedestrian plot (paving the way for literal rip-offs like The Bloody Pit of Horror) and an uneventful middle act, Playgirls rarely leaves a bad aftertaste. In fact, the tight direction from Piero Regnoli, coupled with Aldo Greci’s highly stylized photography, makes for a classy slice of timid sleaze. As a whole, it’s very similar to some of K. Gordon Murray’s exported Mexican horrors like The Vampire’s Coffin (disconnected dubbing, cheap-yet-effective atmosphere), just with a naked female vampire and plenty of cheesecake. Story-wise, the whiff of a yellowed, sixty-cent “adult” paperback hangs throughout. Most of the dialogue stinks and the characters are as thin as a dime. Thankfully, that only makes things better.
Groundbreaking and definitely curious, Playgirls makes for perfect midnight screenings. It straddles the line between monster innocence and adult spice, existing as a quaint reminder of ancient 20th century taboos.