Color, 1973, 84m.
Directed by Luigi Batzella
Starring Mark Damon, Rosalba Neri, Esmeralda Barros, Xiro Papas, Gengher Gatti
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Artus (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Shout Factory (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)
Few Italian horror films of the '70s have had the peculiar staying power of this gaudy throwback to the gothic castle horrors of the previous decade, spiced up here with healthy doses of Hammer-style bare breasts and lesbian titillation along with a few dollops of blood. Director Luigi Batzella was mainly known for westerns when he tackled this film, whose success led to even more outrageous subsequent shockers like Nude for Satan and the particularly foul The Beast in Heat.
Even the casting is a sort of melding of the two waves of Italian horror as Mark Damon, the star of The Fall of the House of Usher who trotted over to Italy to star in Black Sabbath and a slew of spaghetti westerns, is paired up with voluptuous Rosalba Neri (billed here as "Sara Bay"). Familiar from such outings as Amuck, Slaughter Hotel, and Lady Frankenstein, she's a force to be reckoned with here as a sort of Elizabeth Bathory figure who holds unholy ceremonies every five decades on the Night of the Virgin Moon (the source of the film's Italian title, Il plenilunio delle vergini), when a quintet of local, undefiled maidens convene for a demonic ritual.
Of course, that night is about to fall again when a scholar named Karl (Damon) arrives in Transylvania in search of the mythical Ring of the Nibelungen, only to cross paths with his more debauched twin brother, Franz (also Damon). While Karl commiserates with the pretty daughter (Barros) of the innkeeper, he and Franz are also lured by the wicked countess (Neri) who has a habit of slipping a creepy, glowing red ring on her partners' hands after bedding them at night. As it turns out, she wields the supernatural ring of Dracula, which bestows great satanic power as long as the appropriate sacrifices are kept in check.
Of course, the threadbare plot here is mainly an excuse to deliver lots of thunder, lightning, and bare flesh, with Neri stealing the show halfway through with an astonishing scene in which she rises from a stone tomb clad only in billowing fog and the virgin blood her servant has poured all over here. Damon doesn't get to show much range in either role, but it hardly matters as the film ladles on the exploitation like gravy complete with an aggressive music score by Vasili Kojucharov, workmanlike but sometimes moody cinematography by the one and only Joe D'Amato, and a bizarre turn by Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks' Xiro Papas as a sort of vampire zombie monstery thingy.
Apparently all these elements were enough to ensure drive-in immortality for this film, which played for what seemed like an eternity on drive-in double bills and, thanks to presumed public domain status, became both a home video and TV staple. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark gave it a go on her Movie Macabre show (with the nudity trimmed, obviously), and companies like Sinister Cinema and Wizard kept it circulating on VHS for years. A letterboxed Japanese VHS also became a favorite on the fan circuit well into the '90s, too, complete with a fleeting extra shot of errant, limb-chopping gore. On DVD, Shout Factory included it as part of their Elvira line in both its hosted and theatrical forms, while Alpha churned out a rotten bargain bin release best avoided entirely.
In 2014, a French-language release with no English options surfaced on French DVD, but you're far better off with the 2015 Blu-ray from Code Red. The new HD transfer looks quite nice overall with an authentic '70s grittiness to the textures, while black levels are nice and deep as they should be with those eye-popping shades of ruby red looking particularly nice. Two reels display a thin line of orange-colored damage popping in and out a few times, most egregiously around the 36-minute mark, but it's still the sharpest and most colorful transfer we've had on video to date. The English track, which works pretty well since that's what everyone spoke even if they were looped later, is presented in DTS-HD MA mono and sounds good as well. The film can be played in a "Katarina's Bucket List" mode with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters as both herself and her twin (of course), trying to find directions through the woods and taking possession of a really big ring before supplying the usual rundown of the major players in front of and behind the camera. She also has to deal with diabolical foodstuff, and that errant Japanese footage turns up tucked away at the end as well.