Veil of Blood aka Vampire Ecstasy aka The Devil’s Plaything (1973)

Making his way back to home soil following the extended Scandinavian sojourn that yielded the landmark likes of IngaDaddy, Darling and Young Playthings, Joe Sarno got sidetracked into the Swiss alps by distributor Chris Nebe who had made a mint dubbing and distributing several of the director’s ’60s sexploitation efforts in German-speaking countries and was now looking to branch out into production.  For Sarno who was dragging his feet to return stateside anyway, knowing full well that he couldn’t keep escaping the looming ever larger specter of hardcore, especially now that Damiano’s breakout success with Deep Throat had rendered nothing left to the imagination sex cinema semi-respectable, this artistic alliance came as a godsend and another chance to bide his time doing what he did best in view of the inevitable.  Their association, which was to last the course of three films (Baby Love and Butterfly being the other two, in chronological order), got off to a not entirely fortuitous start with Veil of Blood which, although scripted by Sarno, clearly adhered more to Nebe’s notion of naughtiness, informed by Hammer’s sexy streak of lesbian vampire sagas with the Karnstein trilogy (The Vampire LoversLust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil) and his access to a 12th Century Munich mansion owned by his uncle, the Baron Malsen.  Foregoing flirtations with the fantastic in past endeavors, the slight science fiction slant of Young Playthings a happy exception, Sarno seemed out of his depth dealing with the Gothic trappings the genre demanded, resulting in one of his clunkiest carnal capers.  Fortunately, both follow-ups played much more to his great strengths as a filmmaker which were the psychology of sex and the often inadmissible motivations that drive a character’s attraction to another person.  As a matter of fact, Veil only really swings into gear when focused on the unhealthy if longtime unconsummated desire between brother and sister Peter and Julia Malenkow, brought to a head by innocent interloper Helga, played by the magnificent Marie Forsa making her dirty movie debut.

A proverbial wild child prowling the streets of Stockholm when they met, this Swedish siren served as Sarno’s true inspiration for the triumvirate in which she was to take center stage.  No shrinking violet, she shrewdly had it put in her contract that no explicit footage could be made public, regarding a legitimate career that never happened, no matter how far she decided to take matters with her co-stars, which was all the way by most accounts !  So even in the certifiably explicit endeavors she eventually took part like Mac Ahlberg’s Bel Ami, she had a body double to bear the brunt of the action although off-screen she performed pretty much same.  Her work for Sarno holds the additional interest for American audiences to hear her deliver her own dialog as by means of experiment to facilitate export these movies were shot with the predominantly German cast speaking English and then dubbed back into their native tongue for the domestic market.  This proves something of a drawback in the case of Veil however as its dense plot requires reams of plot exposition, most of it delivered with fluctuating intelligibility by Hungarian Nadja Henkowa as Frau Wanda Krock, the sinister housekeeper at Castle Varga, the ancestral home of an evil Baroness (Elisabeth Batory in all but name) burned at the stake four centuries ago.  Hot to trot Helga’s one of two remaining descendants come to roost, the other being uptight brunette for contrast Monika, the scrumptious Ulrike Butz, a veteran of the Schoolgirl Report series who sadly OD’d a few years later.  She’s fawned over by butch best friend Iris, frequently forgotten skin starlet Flavia Keyt, who had caused quite an uproar half a decade earlier sharing a bathtub with pneumatic Sybil Danning in Adrian Hoven’s (Dave Friedman acquired) The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried and attempts to recapture the momentum with Marie in the barn.  A peripheral personage in all but screen time, Helga’s the sexual focus though Forsa’s still feeling her way as an actress playing in a language not her own but massively improving with each movie.  In fact, Monika barely features in the film’s narrative until the fiery reincarnation finale, heavily signposted by her “uncanny resemblance” to the portrait of the dead Baroness.

Fly in the ointment is Dr. Julia Malenkow (Anke Syring, shouldering the heaviest thespian burden not altogether convincingly, familiar from the impressive line-up of pulchritude offered by Franz Antel’s Sexy Susan Sins Again supplementing the ranks of Terry Torday, Edwige Fenech and Femi Benussi), an expert in the occult whose car has conveniently broken down in the vicinity.  Brother Peter (bland hunk Nico Wolferstetter, an occasional hardcore performer in Lasse Braun’s landmark Sensations and Heiko Hagemann’s Sigrun Theil showcase Laura’s Desires) in tow, she’s dead set on getting to the bottom of the strange goings on at Castle Varga, starting with that infernal bongo beat rising from the basement every night as the bare nekkid Wanda leads her band of boob and butt shaking Baroness worshippers in a rudimentary introduction to belly dancing and bouts of feverish penis-shaped candle fondling, a spectacle even Sarno couldn’t save from ridicule.  Still worse is the lady doc’s bat attack done on the cheap, Syring wildly waving her arms at unseen assailants as amplified bat squeaking fills the soundtrack and subsequently mauled by a pair of unconvincing hand puppets !  Far more effective is the character’s tortured soul searching as she finds her brother’s taken for granted affection alienated by Helga, the resulting triangle (amazingly never acted upon by both women, given genre and Sarno’s interests) fuels what modest dramatic tension the story manages to develop.  Even the vaunted vampire aspect alluded to in all of the movie’s many titles is almost casually discarded with only the Malenkows clutching their “garlic crosses” a clear reference to bloodsucker lore, as sure a sign as any Sarno was definitely operating outside his comfort zone.  Equally clueless appears the cinematography by his regular contributor Steve Silverman, a master of mood on All the Sins of Sodom who can’t muster much more than murky here, scoring zilch on atmosphere and squandering a superb location.

The lasses letting it all hang out merit attention however.  Tragic Claudia Fielers portrays Wanda’s right hand wench Samana whose lascivious finger-licking after fondling Forsa “down there” leaves an indelible lustful impression, more genuinely erotic than much of the textbook heavy breathing.  One of Swiss dirty movie mogul Erwin C. Dietrich’s Self Service Girls, she’s sadly remembered most for being the subject of Andrzej Kostenko’s supremely tasteless The Evolution of Snuff incorporating the actress’s real life suicide at age 28.  Robust blonde Heidrun Hankammer was a sex education mainstay in Oswalt Kolle and Van De Velde offerings and co-starred in Dietrich’s original 1968 adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s Die Nichten der Frau Oberst.  While Sarno resumed residence on the other side of the Atlantic for one of his most fruitful filmmaking periods with the Rebecca Brooke cycle, kicking off with 1974’s Confessions of a Young American Housewife, Nebe’s association with adult proved short-lived.  Taking a page perhaps from the book of respected ex-pat Yugoslavian documentary director Marijan Vajda, who acted as production manager on Veil while his same-named son handled second unit (and was to helm the Nebe-produced creepy cult horror Bloodlust), he turned to documentaries with considerable success later in life.

Directed & written by Joseph W. Sarno. Produced by Chris D. Nebe for Monarex & Sture Sjöstedt for Saga Film. Photographed by Steve Silverman. Music by Rolf-Hans Müller. Edited by K.H. Fugunt & Dietmar Preuss. Starring Marie Forsa (Helga), Nadja Henkowa (Wanda Krock), Anke Syring (Dr. Julia Malenkow), Ulrike Butz (Monika), Nico Wolferstetter (as Nico Wolf) (Peter Malenkow), Flavia Keyt (Iris), Claudia Fielers (as Irina Kant) (Samana), Heidrun Hankammer, Christa Jaeger, Natasha Michnowa & Alon D’Armand (Coven Members). Running time : 103 minutes.

Peek-a-boo : Swedish Siren Marie Forsa makes her entrance into erotic cinema

By Dries Vermeulen

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