American movie star Betty Williams (Pia Degermark) inherits a castle in Transylvania where, despite being blonde, she startles doddering old butler Josef (Yvor Murillo) with her uncanny resemblance to her raven-haired ancestor, Clarimonde (Pia Degermark again, in a black wig), an actual vampire countess who plagued the area centuries ago. While flirty Betty gets her jollies flashing her boobs at monks from the nearby monastery and seducing studly girls school teacher Larson (Thomas Hunter), Clarimonde rises from her crypt and resumes ravaging the locals, disguised as her dishy descendant. A vampire plague soon spreads throughout the region engulfing a haplessly horny monk (Joachim Kemmer), sexually frustrated Abbot (Oskar Wegrostek) and the already frisky mini-skirted students at the local girls’ school. Would-be hilarious complications ensue when Larson mistakes Clarimonde for Betty. He proves such a spectacular shag Clarimonde decides to save his and Betty’s lives at the vampire orgy where the guest of honour proves none other than Count Dracula (Ferdy Mayne).
This German vampire spoof obviously took its cue from Roman Polanski’s superior, subversive The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) right down to the casting of Ferdy Mayne as lead vampire. Having said that, screenwriters August Reiger and Karl-Heinz Hummel also adapted the sub-plot from “La Morte Amoureuse", a short story written by Théophile Gautier in 1832 about a priest in love with a beautiful woman named Clarimonde who turns out to be a vampire. Italian film producer and Siemens heir Pier Caminecci, who bankrolled Succubus, Kiss Me Monster and Sadisterotica (all 1967) for Jess Franco, mounted this slapdash horror comedy as a vehicle for his wife, Swedish sensation Pia Degermark.
Four years prior Degermark won a best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for the historical romance Elvira Madigan (1967) after which she was touted as “the next Ingrid Bergman.” Sadly thereafter her life entered a downward spiral owing to personal problems including anorexia (for which she established a support group for women) then later drug addiction and homelessness, climaxing with fraud and assault charges that saw her imprisoned in 1991. Gebissen wird nur nachts or The Vampire Happening proved not only Degermark’s final film but Caminecci’s last production as well. One imagines neither looks on the film with any great fondness and many certainly would not blame them. For while endearingly dopey with a few amusing ideas, the film’s sub-Dick Emery level humour is clumsy and hopelessly dated. Opening with Betty so enraptured watching one of her own rather seedy looking vehicles as an in-flight movie she injures the gay flight attendent, it is the kind of early Seventies Euro farce that falls back on limp wristed stereotypes, blood bank gags and dirty old men ogling nubile schoolgirls (that the English dub hilariously insists are over twenty-one!) for cheap laughs. Still, one admit to one guilty chuckle when the perverted abbot remarks of the stern lesbian schoolteacher (Ingrid van Bergen): “They ought to ship that dyke back to Holland."
It is another oddity in the filmography of Hammer veteran Freddie Francis, who evidently learned nothing from the experience given his later, even worse horror spoof Son of Dracula (1973). Snail-paced and overlong, The Vampire Happening does at least boast an off-kilter, dreamlike atmosphere although some of the imagery, such as when Betty imagines Joseph stretching a voluptuous naked girl on the rack or herself torturing that gay steward, sits at odds with the goofy tone. With Betty routinely disguising herself as Clarimonde for no good reason, everyone soon gets very confused (“I’m getting mixed up. I’ll bet you are too”, Josef tells the audience) though despite ample evidence the heroine repeatedly insists there are no such things as vampires because “this is the twentieth century.” While the film seems at times more ambivalent about Betty’s voracious sexual appetite than the vampire menace, with Larson exhausted by her insatiable demands, it takes the interesting approach of vampirism liberating the sexually repressed even though in one curious scene Dracula admonishes Clarimonde for indulging in sex. Of course he then jumps into bed with four nubile blondes so maybe that was another dig at middle-aged hypocrisy. Nevertheless the central conceit juxtaposing gothic clichés with Sixties decadence is pitched squarely towards a middle-aged swingers idea of hippie idealism, free love and liberated women climaxing with the titular orgy involving topless serving girls, a rock band whose members all look like Ozzy Osborne and Mayne’s Dracula arriving by helicopter to flip devil horns at the cheering crowd. Which is kind of funny in a very silly way.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).