Playgirls and the Vampire: My Gateway Drug to Forgotten Horror

Now here’s a classic film, we should see more of: 1960’s The Playgirls and the Vampire, is an early Italian exploitation/horror gem that is notable mainly for showing several attractive young Italian women running in terror through a castle in their see-through nighties. Blogger B2 claims it was the first Italian horror film to mix horror and nudity. More was definitely to come! Maybe bold for its time a half-century ago, its formula has been aped ad nauseum ever since:

You can watch the whole thing here, courtesy of AMC.

Not much to say about the film itself that has not already been said: it’s not a good film, it plods along at a dull pace, and but is interesting nevertheless for being an early horror film, and if you can get into it; it can be a lot of fun for its short run time of 76 minutes.  What I find most interesting here is its context.

Playgirls is an interesting example of a trend mentioned by Danny Shipka–of why early Italian horror films were (arguably) slow to develop:

The Italian population, still reeling from the atrocities of World War II, were unprepared to be taken [back to a] place of horror and despair in their exploitation films.

Here's your Velvet Elvis of Playgirl Maria Giovannini. No, I didn't create this.

Here’s your Velvet Elvis of Playgirl Maria Giovannini. No, I didn’t create this, but there’s more here.

Indeed, looking over the bios of the entire cast, crew, and producers of this film shows–if IMDB is complete, a bigger if for foreign films of this vintage and obscurity–that only one actor was active in the Italian film industry during the war (Alfredo Rizzo, would have been in his late 30s when the war started, and he only made two films during the war). Others–if they were old enough at the time to be employed, only became active in the film industry after the war. Obviously, the war displaced most of the Italian economy and social life, including its famous film industry, and we might assume that the cast and crew of Playgirls were doing other things–like surviving–during the war.

Given the ages of most cast members, it’s reasonable to assume that the war was a childhood experience and memory for most of the them–the “Playgirls” for which we have birth year information (Maria Giovannini, later a well known star of Italian soaps in the late-1950s, and Lyla Rocco) were between 2 and 6 years old at the outbreak of the war.

Lyla Rocco, c. 1953. She later married popular Italian actor Alberto Lupo, and helped him recover from a stroke in 1976 for him to return to television in 1978.

Lyla Rocco, c. 1953. She later married popular Italian actor Alberto Lupo, and helped him recover from a stroke in 1976 for him to return to television in 1978.

Playgirls was directed by the late Piero Regnoli–who was 21 at the start of World War II, and who only passed away in 2001. Regnoli was better known as a screenwriter, who wrote more than 100 screenplays between the 1950s and the early 1990s, the most notable of which were I, Vampiri (1956), directed by Mario Bava–whose centenary is this year–and the Lucio Fulci classic Demonia (1990).

Fun fact: Regnoli’s daughter is the world-class skiing champion, Daniela Ceccarelli,  who earned a gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Lastly, looking at the filmographies of the cast and crew, we see that subsets of the Playgirls cast also are seen in the following films:

The two leading men of Playgirls–vampire Walter Brandi, and the aforementioned Alfredo Rizzo–also appeared together in Bloody Pit of Horror (1965) and Terror, Creature from the Grave (with Barbara Steele), also from ’65:

hawk-of-the-caribbean-movie-poster-1963-1020360989Regnoli wrote and directed the financially troubled Caribbean Hawk (1963), which featured Brandi as a pirate; while Brandi and Marisa Quattrini were both in the better known 1960 Italian horror film featuring a group of dancers entering a vampire’s castle, The Vampire and the Ballerina:

So, in sum, spend some time with Playgirls, and then jump off from there to other work this cast and crew of done–together or separately–since, which is what I’ll be researching and writing about here for the foreseeable future!

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