Atom Age Vampire (1960)
The first thing to get out of the way is the title. Atom Age Vampire is the English title of this 1960 Italian horror picture, while the original Italian title is Seddok, l’erede di Satana. That translates into Seddok, Heir of Satan, which is only slightly more applicable and understandable than Atom Age Vampire. Both titles make sense and are referenced in the English dub of the picture, but neither title really does the movie justice.
Now, Atom Age Vampire (or whatever you want to call it) is an interesting film. It lays out a compelling premise, but fumbles in execution an awful lot. Part of that may be due to the terrible English dub job, but part of it may be due to the movie itself. Apparently the original Italian version is longer than the North American release, so that may account for some of the weirdness.
The film opens with Jeanette (Susanne Loret), a beautiful blonde dancer/singer/stripper breaking up with her boyfriend Pierre (Sergio Fantoni). He isn’t happy with the fact that she takes off her clothes in front of strange men, which lends credence to the theory that she’s a stripper. Distraught, she drives off and gets into a fiery crash. Jeanette is horribly disfigured as a result.
Enter Dr. Alberto Levin (Alberto Lupo), a somewhat mad professor. He has a treatment that he believes will cure her horrible scarring and restore her to her elegant self. It involves a chemical formula that he developed after studying radiation in Hiroshima. Jeanette takes the treatment and the professor falls in love with her, determined to do anything to keep her within reach.
This is a sordid tale of obsession and madness, with Dr. Levin going to extreme lengths to ensure that Jeanette stays with him. She doesn’t want to, of course, and still pines for Pierre. This leads to some interesting complications when the good doctor takes a serum to turn himself into an unfeeling, grotesque mutant. He has to seek out victims to get their glands to make more of the serum that keeps Jeanette looking pretty, so it helps that he doesn’t feel remorse.
The situation presents an interesting juxtaposition: the professor is making himself into a monster to keep the blonde hottie looking pretty. He feels that he is owed something for his sacrifice, while she’s just plain terrified. The doctor believes that “the bad justifies the good” and tells his assistant Monique (Franca Parisi) that he’d kill a thousand people in order to keep Jeanette in his clutches.
Director Anton Giulio Majano puts forth some interesting concepts with Atom Age Vampire, but the sheer silliness of some sequences undercuts the overall vision. This is, as mentioned, partly the fault of the English voiceovers. In some scenes, the emotion put forth by the voice actors far exceeds the facial expressions and body language of the Italian actors.
Yet other moments, like the conversations between Dr. Levin and the wily police commissioner (Ivo Garrani) contain a certain genius as they venture through topics of morality and scientific responsibility. The police commissioner questions the professor carefully, revealing certain clues as he goes along that press to the bigger moral issues at hand.
At the same time, Atom Age Vampire veers down some melodramatic roads and into truly hammy territory. The actors come off like Italian soap stars at times and there are some inexplicable sequences, like Levin’s digging of a tunnel before he needed to dig a tunnel, that suggest either a messy editing process or a sloppy approach to storytelling.
As scary movies go, you could do a lot worse than Majano’s Atom Age Vampire. It’s not a classic by any means, but there are some nice ethical discussions to be had about the nature of science and beauty. Levin’s obsession is frightening in its boundless ambition and Loret is quite the looker, scars and all.