Orgy of the Vampires / Vampire’s Night Orgy / Grave Desires / La Orgia Nocturna de los Vampiros (1973/1975) -***½
What we’re dealing with here is a good idea gone wonderfully wrong. Has it ever struck you as odd that in all those old vampire movies on the Dracula model, there’s generally only one unfathomably ancient vampire ruling over a village of terrorized and consequently distrustful humans? Shouldn’t a centuries-old vampire have made a little more headway in bringing his peasants into the undead fold after all that time? Well, in Orgy of the Vampires, the hapless protagonists fall into precisely the situation one would logically predict as the eventual outcome of the traditional vampire scenario— an entire community of bloodsuckers with not a single living person in sight. If this had been a Hammer film from a couple years earlier, it would undoubtedly have been one of the few truly brilliant gothics of the 1970’s, but instead, it was made in Spain by sometime Paul Naschy collaborator Leon Klimowski. Aficionados of Spanish horror will need little additional prodding to imagine just how far short of brilliance Orgy of the Vampires falls.
The first big difference between Orgy of the Vampires as it is and the movie that it probably ought to have been is that it isn’t strictly speaking a gothic at all. We may be way out in the countryside in an out-of-the-way pocket of Europe, but that raggedy-ass bus trundling down the road places us squarely in the modern era. Aboard the vehicle in question are four men and two women who have all been hired as domestic help at some nobleman’s estate, together with Violet (Sarita Gil), the older of the two women’s nine-ish daughter. Knowing that this is a vampire movie, it seems there are two likely ways that this could go: either their aristocratic new boss is nosferatu, or their bus is going to break down near some dinky, forgotten village and it’ll be all downhill from there. What really happens, though, is a bit more imaginative— albeit also rather stupid. Our heroes have to stop short of their destination, alright, but it’s not because the motorcoach breaks down. Rather, the driver keels over dead right in his seat, without warning and for no readily apparent reason! Ernest (Indio Gonzalez, from Night of the Howling Beast and Kilma, Queen of the Jungle), the man who takes the wheel after he and Godo (Luis Ciges, of Deadly Sanctuary and Kilma, Queen of the Amazons) bring the bus under control, initially plans on driving it straight on through to the chateau, but when he spots a road sign identifying a little village less than a third of the distance away, he convinces his companions to stop over there instead so as to deal with the dead driver. Ernest might have thought twice about sticking around to do anything in the immediate vicinity, however, if he had noticed what Violet got up to while he and the other adults were securing the driver’s corpse in the back of the bus. The girl wandered off for a few minutes, at which point she met up with a boy about her age (Clockwork Terror’s Fernando E. Romero), who vanished mysteriously when she turned her back on him for just a moment.
This is where the weirdness begins. When the bus and its passengers arrive a couple of hours before sunset, the village is totally deserted, but the condition of the buildings, fixtures, and furniture is much too good for the place to be a ghost town. At the suggestion of Marcus (Manuel De Blas, from Assignment Terror and Horror of the Zombies), who rapidly emerges as the group’s unofficial leader, they let themselves into the village tavern— at which point Ernest and Godo also let themselves into the bottles lined up behind the bar. Conversation naturally centers on the question of where all the villagers could be, and Alma (Dyanik Zurakowska, of Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror and Beyond the Living Dead) and Raquel (Charo Soriano) eventually propose the plausible theory that they’ve all gone to church. No sooner have they raised that possibility, though, than a stranger (Jack Taylor, from Pieces and Count Dracula) appears at the front door and tells the perplexed travelers that there isn’t a single church to be found anywhere within the village. The stranger’s name is Luis, and he was on a driving tour of the countryside when he encountered car trouble— the village was the first place he came to, and he’s been poking around in fruitless search of the natives for some hours. In the end, everybody decides that they may as well just turn in for the night and worry about it in the morning.
But Ernest stays up so that there will be someone to explain the situation to the missing innkeepers in the event that they should come back during the night, and thus it is that he becomes the first to meet the inhabitants of the village. Long after everyone else is asleep, Ernest hears sounds of movement coming from the street outside. When he goes to investigate, he is set upon by a slow-moving but implacable mob, who drag him to the ground and begin biting him on every patch of exposed skin that they can reach.
Consequently, we have a rather different understanding of the circumstances when the folks from the bus awaken to find the tavern absolutely crawling with people. Boris the mayor (Jose Guardiola, from The Man Who Lived Twice and Graveyard of Horror) explains that his people were all out at the cemetery the night before, paying their respects to a prominent citizen who died just recently, but I personally am thinking they might have had some other sort of business out at the boneyard, you know? I also have a hard time believing that it’s just a coincidence when Ernest wanders in acting dazed and woozy to tell his companions that the bus has joined Luis’s car in refusing to start. Then Boris tells his stranded guests that his landlady, the countess, will be happy to extend to them her hospitality. Countess, eh? That clinches it— these folks may as well just get themselves fitted for shrouds and coffins right now.
Well, at least one of them gets to die in a reasonably good mood. When the countess (Helga Liné, of Horror Rises from the Tomb and War Goddess) meets her guests in person, she takes a liking to Cesar (David Aller), and invites him to stay the night with her in the villa. That’s the last we’ll be seeing of him, of course. That sort of thing goes on each night for several at a stretch, until nobody is left but Luis, Alma, Raquel, and Violet. Alone among the survivors, Luis has some idea what they’re up against in the village, and he tries his best to get the women to safety. But since Violet has been spending most of her time with the vanishing boy and Raquel has just discovered the sarcophagus where the countess gets her beauty sleep during the day (the vampire lore here is a bit inconsistent), it doesn’t look like anybody but Alma will be in much of a position to join him once he decides the time is ripe for making an escape.
So what does it mean for the vampire village premise that the Spaniards got there first? To begin with, it means Jack Taylor as the leading man, and that’s never a good idea. (At least we don’t have to watch him shaving this time around…) Taylor is just a sleazy, skeezy guy, and since our first chance to study Luis up close and personal comes while he’s spying on Alma’s preparations for bed through a knothole in the wall that divides their rooms, you end up wanting to take her and Raquel aside and say, “Ladies, seriously— you’re better off with the goddamned vampires.” It also means Helga Liné as the main villainess, and while we’re on firmer ground here than we are with Taylor, it seems to have been that particular actress’s curse never to appear in a movie that gave her nearly enough to do.
Then there are all the recurring features that have led so many informed observers to think of the Spanish horror film as the desperate and dim-witted doppelganger of its Italian counterpart. Orgy of the Vampires is very much like a tacky and stupid Italian vampire movie, except that it manages to be even tackier and even more stupid. It has Italianate plot-holes like the little boy, who while obviously one of the vampires, inexplicably hides in terror from the adult bloodsuckers when they come for Violet in the graveyard— where the boy himself trapped her just minutes before! It has an exuberantly gross subplot in which it is revealed that the countess is supplying the meat her guests are eating at the tavern (which is obviously not something a vampire would generally have on hand) by sending her gigantic, bearded sidekick (Fernando Bilbao, from The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein and Fangs of the Living Dead) around the village to chop arms and legs off of her own subjects. This plot thread reaches its climax when the blacksmith’s finger turns up intact in Alma’s dinner one night! Then there’s the Jesus Franco-like festive jazz score, which ranges from not quite right to hilariously inapt in its relationship to the action onscreen. Taken together, it’s madness, but of the most delightful sort.
Finally, if the only version of Orgy of the Vampires you can find is the old gray-market edition VHS from Sinister Cinema, you’ll be treated to a truly terrible print that somehow makes the film even more entertaining. Sinister’s current print (sold under the title Vampires’ Night Orgy) is much better, but the one they offered previously is among the blotchiest, most discolored, most heavily speckled I’ve ever seen, with the result that it looks as though the doomed travelers spend their entire sojourn in the village enduring a miraculous, steady downpour of shit. What’s more, though the Sinister print appears letterboxed at first glace, what’s really going on is that some jackass has laid black mattes across the top and bottom edges of the picture to create the illusion of letterboxing. Between the parts of the picture that were cropped from the sides and the parts that were covered up by the mattes, there are some shots in which literally nothing is actually in the frame! Finally, the soundtrack has seen every bit as much abuse as the video elements, and is frequently nowhere near in synch with the picture. There’s at least one moment in the Sinister print at which this defect gives rise to the amazing spectacle of Jack Taylor speaking with a woman’s voice, as Alma’s half of the conversation briefly synchs up with Luis’s mouth movements. Although, on the whole, I’m extremely grateful that the current home video market has responded to the demand that even the lousiest and most disreputable movies be treated more respectfully than this, a part of me misses the surreal fuck-ups that would sometimes result when foreign exploitation flicks were routinely distributed by people who just didn’t care.