The genesis of any exploitation film seems to be fairly straightforward, doesn't it? A sort of "if you bare it, they will come (IYKWIM)" attitude permeates much of the grindhouse cinema of years past. Give a movie a few exposed nipples and a salaciously tasty tagline, and the raincoat brigade will fork over the necessary currency to get into the theatre. It's a refreshingly honest exchange, really!
Filmmaking logic like this leads to films such as Joe Sarno's "Veil of Blood" (re-released as "Vampire Ecstasy" for reasons I can only attribute to a realization that subtlety is lost on perverts). "Vampire Ecstasy" was conceived when American sexploitation director Sarno (guilty of Crimes Against Humanity for foisting "Deep Throat 2" on the world) teamed with producer Chris Nebe to film a movie set at Nebe's uncle's Bavarian chateau. Realizing that when life gives you an authentic Black Forest schloss, you make softcore porn, Sarno whipped up a script involving black magic, incest, vampiric resurrection, lesbianism, and general toplessness. With Swedish nymphette Marie Forsa in tow, Sarno went to Germany, hired a cast of unknowns native to the area, and over the next 22 days, "Vampire Ecstasy" just sort of happened, judging by the looks of the finished film. Frankly, I'm amazed that it took 22 days to shoot "Vampire Ecstasy"--unless, of course, that 22 day figure includes the time spent to procure the cast and teach them how to speak English. In which case, that's a not-insignificant accomplishment!
The story concerns two cousins--super-sexed-up Helga (played with great buxomness by Forsa) and her demure, lesbian foil Monika--who arrive at a castle to claim the inheritance of their deceased aunt. As eerie circumstance and lazy plotting would have it, folklorist Dr. Julia Malenko and her brother Peter appear at the castle after their car breaks down. Cue all sorts of sensual-ish pairings, murmurings about a resurrected vampire, and a lot of boobs. LOTS OF BOOBS. Fully forty-eight percent of the movie can be summarized in the following three screen grabs, portraying a bongo-fueled orgy of what looks like a topless Slave Leia convention:
I know what you're thinking--already, this is one of the greatest cinematic accomplishments of the Twentieth Century, right? But for the discerning trash fan, there's more beneath the flesh-tone, body-painted surface. Like the dialogue:
Peter Malenko: "Julia, you have looked very uneasy all morning."
Dr. Julia Malenko: "That is because I am uneasy, Peter."
I'm 75% convinced that this film is an incisive, brilliant satire of contemporary German social interactions. Sarno has made the unimpeachably fantastic decision to have his German and Swedish cast deliver all their lines in English--thickly-accented, sociopathically-reserved, icily-precise English. Bonus points for the fact that these folks appear to come from wherever Udo Kier's Dracula came from, with all their talk of wirgins, wampires, and unholy wengeance. I never knew there were that many words with the letter "V" in them in the English language!
Like any fine portrayal of the occult, "Vampire Ecstasy" develops its own mythology. Sure, it SEEMS like it's just bad plotting, but badness like this can't just happen in a vacuum--it requires a special breed of insanity. The sometimes-black-clad/oftentimes-topless-beloinclothed coven of witches that wander the castle awaiting the return of their vampire leader employ the loin-enflaming sounds of the bongo drum to lure their victims into their spooky thrall. Perplexingly, they initiate new witches into their group by making them hump a magically oversized dildo. Out comes the yellow-red-and-blue body paint, et voila, une nouvelle sorcière!
The performances range from robotically stiff to Germanically manic. Slutty Helga never lets us forget that she is Slutty Helga (I prefer to think of this as Commitment To The Role as opposed to a one-dimensional character portrayal) and Demure Lesbian Monika is always Demure Lesbian Monika (until, of course, she is Resurrected Vampire Monika). I'm going to sidebar for a moment and discuss her totally hott-tastic girlfriend who dons the most incredible femme menswear this side of Annie Lennox. I don't remember much about her performance, but by golly does her splendid array of neckties live in my memory...!
In terms of sheer acting chops (?), the dubious honor of Best In Show unequivocally belongs to Nadia Henkowa as Frau Wanda Krock, overseer of the chateau and extreme disrespector of Personal Space. Her array of eye-popping, lip-curling facial expressions had me in stitches to such a degree that I refuse to believe that Henkowa is not a comedienne possessed of a downright preternatural talent.
Aside from the breasts, this movie is a visual disaster. Sloppy, sloppy shot framing, super-dark lighting, and static cameras characterize the cinematography to a degree where it can't be unintentional. Shots are blocked in such a manner that characters are half-obscured by other characters' backs; cameras adjust for height while the film rolls; figures are disguised entirely behind burning braziers. The only reason there was no Boom Mic Cameo can only be due to the fact that there was no boom mic.
In summary: if you love girlkissing and bongos, THIS is your film. If you love vampires... well... it's significantly LESS your film. It's a funky oddity in Sarno's career, which has largely been marked by Unwatchable Junk--but as Unwatchable Junk goes, you could do an awful lot worse than devoting your 101 minutes to "Vampire Ecstasy."