I Vampiri, released in 1956, can claim to be one of the most influential horror moves ever made. It was the first of the long series of Italian gothic horror films, but it also contained within it hints of the other major strand of Italian horror, the giallo. It marked the beginnings of eurohorror. It also launched the career of one of the greats of horror cinema, Mario Bava. When director Riccardo Freda walked out of the project when filming was almost complete Bava, who had been director of photography, finished the picture. Controversy still rages as to whether it should be regarded as a Freda film or a Bava film.
It has much of what you expect in gothic horror – vampires, crypts, crumbling castles, and a general air of decadence and decay but combines these elements with a contemporary urban setting, with police investigations, nosy journalists and a series of murders, as in a giallo. The story also involves mad scientists, so it’s as if every possible horror ingredient was thrown into the mix. The plot is a bit clunky, and both Freda and Bava would go on to do much better things, but I Vampiri was where it started.
It lacks the spectacular visual brilliance of later Bava efforts but it still achieves a reasonably effective atmosphere and it’s entertaining. Just don’t expect something in the same league as Bava’s Black Sunday or Freda’s The Horrible Dr Hichcock.
I Vampiri actually pre-dates the first of the Hammer gothic cycle as well, appearing a year before The Curse of Frankenstein, so it’s arguable that the whole of modern gothic horror begins with this movie.