Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Night of the Vampires / Cave of the Living Dead (Germany / Yugoslavia, 1964)

Warning: extreme verbosity ahead! 
Filmed as Der Fluch der grünen Augen ("The Curse of the Green Eyes"), the title was changed a slightly more logical Cave of the Living Dead for its UK release and, when Brit-born horror-film producer and financier Richard Gordon (31 Dec 1925 – 1 Nov 2011) brought it to the US, the equally appropriate Night of the Vampires. (In the States, Gordon released the movie as part of a double-bill with the unknown Antonio Boccaci's lone directorial effort, Tomb of Torture a.k.a. Metempsycho [1963 / trailer].)
Whence the German "Green Eyes" title is derived is a bit unfathomable when watching the English-speaking dub: firstly, the film is in B&W so nary a green eye is ever seen, and secondly, never once in any of the dubbed dialogue is there a reference to green eyes. (To black skin, yes; to green eyes, no.) Perhaps that is different in the original German version of the movie, which is what we would have preferred to view, but, unluckily, the only free-viewing version we could find online, at YouTube, was Cave of the Living Dead. (Having seen this film in English as a wee pre-peach fuzz lad, we thought we would give it another go.) 
Full film:
Somewhere out there on the web, there is a terse, krimi-appropriate plot description that misses half the point of the film: "The police inspector tracks down the killer responsible for the deaths of seven young girls." Yep, there's an inspector out to solve the mystery of who's killing the girls, but Cave of the Living Dead quickly turns into what the film's title implies: a vampire movie.
Oddly enough, for a long time vampires were not exactly a popular topic for German cinema. Oddly, we say, because when it comes to film history, the vampire genre seems to have first popped its fangs within the German-speaking world. The early pioneering film-makers Richard Oswald* (5 Nov 1880 – 11 Sept 1963) and Arthur Robison** (25 June 1883 – 20 Oct 1935), for example, made the lost silent Nächte des Grauens / A Night of Horror (1916), which allegedly*** was the first film to ever feature a vampire-like character. Six years later, the great and now skull-less F. W. Murnau (8 Dec 1888 – 11 March 1931) made the first true masterpiece of the vampire film, Nosferatu (1922 / faux trailer / full film). And just as the sound era was germinating, the Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer (3 Feb 1889 – 20 Mar 1968) made, as a German/French co-production, the beautifully surreal masterpiece Vampyr**** (1932 / trailer / full film). One would assume that with such an illustrious start of the genre in the German-speaking countries, the genre would see at least an occasional revival in them, but: Nope. After Vampyr, nothing for 32 full years, until the normally rather pedestrian Hungarian director and screenwriter Ákos Ráthonyi (26 Mar 1908 – 6 Jan 1969) — the noble "von" that he was apt to use was apparently an affection — made this odd B&W semi-krimi cum horror film here.*****
* Richard Oswald was the director of the seminal Anders als die Andern a.k.a. Different from the Others (1919 / scene / full surviving film) and other fun stuff like both versions of Unheimliche Geschichten, a.k.a. Uncanny Tales (1919 / full film) and The Living Dead (1932 / full film), Hoffmanns Erzählungen / Tales of Hoffmann (1916 / full film), Graf Cagliostro / Cagliostro (1929 / full film), the sci-fi eugenics drama Alraune (1930 / trailer / full film) and so much more. Like Dr. Bessels Verwandlung a.k.a The Transformation of Dr. Bessel (1927), which we mention only to have an excuse to embed below the absolutely fabulous poster from its original release.
** The filmography of Arthur Robison is not as long as that of Oswald, possibly due to his early death at the age of 52, but he did make the undisputed Expressionist masterpiece Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination a.k.a. Warning Shadows (1923 / full film), the first version of The Informer (1929 / clip), and the sound remake of The Student of Prague (1935 / full film). 
*** To simply quote Filmsite: "Allegedly, the earliest significant vampire feature film (although a lost film) was director Arthur Robison's German silent film Nachte des Grauens (1916), aka Night of Terror, featuring a strange, vampire-like character. Some sources disagreed and described the vampire as a costumed ape-man ('Artist kills all rivals in his role as ape man')." 
**** And, to extent, a vanity project. Not Dreyer's vanity, but that of the French-born, gay Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg (12 Dec 1904 – 20 Feb 1981), who agreed to finance the film only if he could star in it. Vampyr is, in any event, one of the best and most beautiful horror movies ever made. Watch it now. 
***** We wouldn't bet an arm on it, but Der Fluch der grünen Augen might actually be only the third post-WW2 German horror film, possibly only preceded by the 1958 financial success and cult favorite, The Head a.k.a. Die Nackte und der Satan (trailer / full film) and the enjoyable disasterpiece that is Ein Töter Hing  im Netz (1960) a.k.a. Horrors of Spider Island (1962). Literally translated, BTW, the German title of The Head is "The Nude and the Devil" and, of Horrors of Spider Island, "A Corpse Hanging in the Web".
As a film-maker, going by his films we have seen, Ákos Ráthonyi was hardly the world's most creative director. Indeed, his singular Edgar Wallace krimi, 1961's The Devil's Daffodil (with Joachim Fuchsberger & Christopher Lee), is arguably one of the worst of the 32 Rialto Wallace krimis, albeit one of the most financially successful of the B&W Wallace films. (And, for the trivia-minded, it is the only B&W Rialto Wallace not to feature Eddi Arendt [5 May 1925 - 28 May 2013] in the cast.) Perhaps the financial success of that production is what led Ráthonyi to co-produce and co-author and direct Der Fluch der grünen Augen, the title of which not only very much in the style of the German krimi titles of the time but is, as already mentioned, an odd amalgamation of the krimi genre with the vampire film.
In a notable foreshadowing of where director Ráthonyi's directorial career was to go — namely, into the realm of German T&A sexploitation with St. Pauli Herbertstrasse (1965 / about Herbertstrasse), Jungfrau aus zweiter Hand not a.k.a. Second-hand Virgin (1967), Der nächste Herr, dieselbe Dame not a.k.a. The Next Man, the Same Woman (1968), and Zieh dich aus, Puppe a.k.a. Take Off Your Clothes, Doll (1968) — Der Fluch der grünen Augen includes an extremely gratuitous, if enjoyable, strip-for-bed scene by the film's shapely lead female character, the intelligent Maria (Karin Field*), who shows not only a lot of skin and some sexy black matching undergarments but extensive side-boobage. Later, during the final scenes of the movie, she even runs around with the front of her blouse ripped open displaying her black bra. Not exactly that common in "respectable" films of the time.
* It should perhaps be noted here that for some odd reason, most online [current, as on 15 Aug 2021] sources confuse the lead females and female characters of the movie. Karin Field does NOT play the character Karin Schumann; she plays Maria, the assistant to the Professor. Likewise, the actress Erika Remberg (15 Feb 1932 – 10 Nov 2017), who's also found in the Circus of Horrors (1960 / trailer) and Radley Metzger's The Lickerish Quartet (1970 / trailer), does NOT play Maria but, rather, Karin Schumann.
Here at a wasted life, we cannot help but wonder what happened to Karin Field, who made her film debut in this movie and went on to a litany of noteworthy sleaze and cult projects — e.g., Franco's The Demons (1973 / trailer) and Alone Against Terror (1983 / full film no subs, with Lina Romay); Web of the Spider (1971 / trailer), Antonio Margheriti's remake of his own earlier film, Castle of Blood (1964); the infamous Victor Bruno vehicle, The Mad Butcher (1971 / trailer); the fun Wallace krimi Der Bucklige von Soho aka The Hunchback of Soho (1966 / trailer); Rolf Olsen's exploitative Das Rasthaus der grausamen Puppen (1967 / trailer); the unknown Legend of Horror (1971 / trailer); the gag-inducing Heintje, Ein Herz geht auf Reisen (1969, with Heinz Reincke) Radley Metzger's The Alley Cats (1966 / trailer); Target Frankie (1967) with Joachim Fuchsberger, Schwarzer Markt der Liebe (1966 / trailer) and the cheesy Erotik im Beruf – Was jeder Personalchef gern verschweigt a.k.a. Sex in the Office (1971 / full film). Enquiring minds want to know: Whatever happened to Karin Field?
With a typically bopping krimi soundtrack playing in the background — composed by the forgotten German film composer Herbert Jarczyk (10 Feb 1913 – 21 Oct 1968) — Insp. Frank Doran (Adrian Hoven*), a compulsive flirt with an eye for women, arrives at the distant, backwaters village where the gals are a-dying. No sooner there than does he promptly meets the attractive Molly (Karen Field), the assistant to the mysterious Professor von Adelsberg (Wolfgang Preiss** [27 Feb 1910 – 27 Nov 2002]) and books a room in an inn where, that same night, Gal #7 (Erika Remberg) dies. Frank promptly runs into idiot local cops, stone-walling villagers, stone-walling red herrings like the village doctor (Carl Möhner [11 Aug 1921 – 14 Jan 2005] of Rififi [1955/ trailer],  She Devils of the SS [1973 / trailer],  Swinging Wives [1971 / trailer],  Don Sharp's Callan [1974], Radley Metzger's  Carmen, Baby [1967 / trailer], and the Jerry Cotton flick Death and Diamonds [1968 / full film]) and the mute Thomas (Emmerich Schrenk [2 Nov 1915 - 2 Oct 1988] of They're Too Much [1965 w/ Walter Giller]), not to mention the less obvious red herring of John (John Kitzmiller [4 Dec 1913 – 3 Feb 1965], see Uncle Tom's Cabin at Babe of Yesteryear Marilyn Joi, Part III or RIP Herbert Lom), the Black servant of the Professor. Throughout the film John has to deal with a lot of overt and semi-overt racism,*** and if he initially appears to be a possible tool of evil, he quickly reveals himself to be a somewhat simple, hapless person and trusted ally who is willing to overcome his own fears to lend a helping hand. (If you want to see some truly unbelievable overt and semi-overt racism as expressed in German genre films of the time, dare we suggest the non-Rialto Wallace krimi The Avenger [1960]?) It is a bit of a shame, however, that for all the importance Kitzmiller's character ends up having — he saves Frank at one point, and even stops an attacking female vampire later — his persona, for most of the film, is very much a Mantan Moreland (3 Sept 1902 – 28 Sept 1973) homage.
* For some odd reason, as manly as his character is supposed to be in the movie, Adrian Hoven (18 May 1922 – 28 April 1981) set off our gaydar alarm in this movie, but seeing that in real life he was married three times it would seem our 'dar is not as reliable as it used to be. Hoven, an Austrian actor, producer and film director, had his fingers in the pie of many an interesting slice of Eurotrash, including: Mark of the Devil (1970, with Herbert Lom) & Mark of the Devil Part II (1973); Franco's Succubus (1968), Two Undercover Angels (1969) & Kiss Me Monster (1969), all with Janine Reynaud; The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried (1971), co-directed by David FriedmanCastle of the Creeping Flesh (1968, with Janine Reynaud), the boobs in the jungle flick, Liane: Die Weisse Sklavin a.k.a. Nature Girl and the Slaver (1961 / full film); the hilariously awful Die Insel der Amazonen a.k.a. Seven Daring Girls (1960 / 8 minutes);  the wanna-be Wallace krimi with Schlagermusik, Das Rätsel der grünen Spinne a.k.a. The Mystery of the Green Spider (1960 / title track); the Wallace krimi Secret of the Red Orchid (1960 / trailer) and so much more.... 
** Wolfgang Preiss is, of course, familiar from films such as The Boys from Brazil [1978 / trailer], the Bryan Edgar Wallace flick The Mad Executioners [1963 / trailer], the cult fave Mill of Stone Women / Drops of Blood [1960 / full movie]), but the regular role that perhaps has kept his face most familiar to the folks that watch the type of movies that we here at a wasted life do is the titular role of the evil genius in Fritz Lang's The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960 / trailer) and all the subsequent sequels, The Return of Dr. Mabuse (1961 / full movie), The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962 / scenes), The Terror of Doctor Mabuse (1962) and Dr. Mabuse vs. Scotland Yard (1963 / trailer). In that sense, his penultimate feature-film appearance in Chabrol's miserable Dr. M [1990] is very much an homage to his most famous role.
Like so many krimis, the criminologist aspects of the movie are a joke. Evidence is treated cavalierly or dropped from the plot (e.g., the tube of poison blood that is so hard to get but then is tossed onto a table and never looked at again), logical behavior is lacking (e.g., the local police's acceptance of Frank's position simply from a letter he gives them, the thoughtlessness with which he leaves valuable equipment overnight in an unlocked car, and Frank's boss's total refusal to send assistance because it'll wake up the media), women are there primarily to flirt with in the most unsubtle manner, and very little actual detecting is done. (And for being a confirmed urbanite, Frank sure accepts the concept of vampires easily. Must have been the babes dancing in the cooking fire of the local witch [Vida Juvan (17 Jun 1905 – 4 Oct 1998)].) Likewise, the behavior of Molly is less than believable: she likes to take nighttime walks alone despite the deaths of six local girls, she displays remarkable aplomb when confronted with the Professor's lack of reflection and his ability to open locked doors, and is even willing to go wandering deep in the cavernous catacombs at his request despite knowing he ain't kosher.
And let's not forget the vampires. Although there are photos out there showing a line of coffins each occupied by a female vampire in black, in the version we saw that particular image never shows up. The main vampire presence throughout the movie, after the appearance of the first masked vamp, is the undead Karin Schumann. Once, she is accompanied by a second vampirette, but in theory there must be a grand total of seven floating around looking for lunch — so why don't any of them feed? Up until Molly gets attacked, they display a remarkable restraint and only ever go after one other person, Frank (and fail). And while they, like normal, fall into a comatose-like sleep during the day, in a rare exception to the current lore (admittedly as established by the film Nosferatu and not literature), the vampires appear impervious to sunlight: when they retrieve the undead Karen sleeping at the bottom of a dry well, nothing happens when they carry her through the sun-lit street to the morgue.
Considering how many Euro-vampire flicks had already hit the market by the time this movie got released — Hammer Films, anyone? — Cave of the Living Dead is pretty retro even for 1964. It eschews color and gore for little more than two dots on the neck and B&W shadows and contrasts. To the advantage of the film, it must be said, for the at times almost silent-film-like appearance of the movie gives it an added appeal that helps to glide over the movie's numerous continuity, narrative and logical flaws. The first attack of the vampire, a foreboding of which already arises when Karen loses her crucifix, is truly effective: the looming shadow against the house, the clawed hands rising to the window, the way the attacker seems to simply float into the room — there are "good" horror films out there that don't have a sequence as effective as this. An interesting, almost imperceptible aspect of the film is how everyone in the film who is alive almost always has clouds of moisture appear in front of their mouths when they speak due to the coldness of the setting; this condensation is never seen by the Professor or the undead. And while Molly does eventually take on the role as the damsel in distress, both before and later she displays an independent streak and bravery that is an enjoyable change from the milquetoast madchen typical of most horror films of the day and before.
All in all, Cave of the Living Dead is far more an enjoyable film than it is a good one. It will surely appeal to the child within you, if not to the adult fan of somewhat tacky Eurotrash films that you are now. Give it a go — hell, you can watch it for free on YouTube, so why not?
Lastly, an appeal to the masses: Anyone know the name of the artist that did the illustrations (example above) used for the opening credit sequence?

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