Playgirls and the Vampire, The (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: May 28, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Playgirls and the Vampire, The (Blu-ray Review)


Piero Regnoli

Release Date(s)

1960 (March 26, 2024)


Nord Film Italiana (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B+

The Playgirls and the Vampire (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Among the very first DVDs this reviewer ever purchased was The Playgirls and the Vampire (L’ultima preda del vampiro, or “The Vampire’s Last Prey,” 1960), an Image Entertainment release from August 1999. I only had a vague awareness of the film but, of course, that was the part of the appeal of the new DVD format: the availability of obscure movies, particularly those of European origin. Going in with low expectations, the film was a pleasant surprise. Yes, it’s a cheap horror-sexploitation hybrid—among the first of its kind—but it was unexpectedly atmospheric in places, and its scantily-clad showgirls angle, Hot Stuff back in 1960, nearly 40 years later had become charmingly tame.

Now, a quarter-century later, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray of The Playgirls and the Vampire revisits that release, but with a new 4K scan of a 35mm fine grain master and, for the first time, presents both the English-dubbed version and the original Italian, with newly-translated subtitles, along with some good extra features.

Not to be confused with the similarly-titled and -plotted The Vampire and the Ballerina, released in Italy a few months prior, Playgirls opens with a second-rate troupe of five exotic dancers, their manager, Lucas (Alfredo Rizzo), and bus driver, Frank/Ferrenc (Leonardo Botta), caught in a ferocious storm. They can’t go back to their hotel, as cheapskate Lucas ran out without paying the bill. Instead, they stumble upon the castle of Count Gabor Kernassy (Walter Brandi), who lives there with stern housekeeper Miss Balasz (Tilde Damiani) and spooky caretaker Zoltan (Antoine Nicos). They are none-too-keen to invite these pushy guests inside, but then Gabor notices a striking resemblance between one of the dancers, Vera (Lyla Rocco), and 18th century ancestor Margherita Kernassy.

Gabor thus allows the gate crashers to spend the night at the castle, but warns them not to leave their rooms until daybreak, a rule which, of course, one of the dancers, Katia (Maria Giovannini), instantly ignores. She wanders about the castle, eventually encountering what appears to be Count Gabor, pasty-faced and looking more like a zombie than a vampire. The next morning Katia is found dead, she apparently having fallen from the castle tower. The bridged washed out in the storm, they have little choice but to bury her body there, which then mysteriously is exhumed and vanishes.

Made fast and cheap, The Playgirls and the Vampire nevertheless has flashes here and there of impressive Gothic horror atmosphere, such the film’s prologue, a beautifully lit panning shot from a crypt window at daybreak to a tomb which slides open from within, a handing poking out as the opening titles begin. My guess is this and other horror scenes were shot by an assistant or second unit director given that all the primary footage with the actors is mostly flatly staged and photographed with minimal imagination.

For instance, there’s one crucial scene mostly played out in a wide angle that’s alarmingly out-of-focus for about half a minute; the producers were too cheap to go back and redo it. A real castle was used for exteriors and some interiors, but at least 60% of the interiors were done at Inter Studios in Italy, some of the sets laughably terrible, with what look like hand-painted stone “blocks.” At one point, Gabor points to a ludicrously cheap “family crest,” that particularly flimsy and undetailed set looking like something one would find on an early 1950s live television anthology.

This was one of the first—maybe the first—horror movie to feature nudity. The showgirls, especially Rocco’s Vera, unashamedly wear sheer nighties through which their impressive bosoms are quite visible and Giovannini’s Katia, resurrected, is briefly, even tastefully, glimpsed fully nude. By today’s standards it’s almost sweetly innocent; with not much more than a few seconds of trimming, the film could be shown to children.

Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray of The Playgirls and the Vampire is a pleasure to watch, the black-and-white, 1.66:1 widescreen presentation exhibiting strong blacks and a sharp image (out-of-focus shots aside). I started out watching the film with the original Italian track (amused to discover that the On Top of Old Smokey sing-a-long on the bus in the English version was not some absurd replacement; they sing an Italian version of the same song on the Italian track). However, the heavy, fast dialogue matches the English track for the most part, and I wanted to focus on the visual aspects of the film instead of the fast and furious subtitles at the bottom of the frame, so I switched over about a third of the way through. Both are DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. The disc is Region-Free.

Supplements include Striptease Gothic, a 26-minute conversation with Mark Thompson-Ashworth. He knows his stuff, and the featurette is quite informative, though he’s shot at a very peculiar angle, Thompson-Ashworth staring off in one corner, apparently reading notes from a computer screen. Also included is a trailer for the U.S. release version, a good still gallery, and alternate opening titles in French and alternate U.S. variants.

The Playgirls and the Vampire is unpretentious fun. Some of the horror elements are at least as good as the better Euro-horror films of its era, and the film has a beguiling innocence—there’s even a happy ending, rare for such films—that make it far more enjoyable than one might have expected. Recommended.

- Stuart Galbraith IV