"La Cripta e l'incubo" (which does not really translate as "Crypt of the Vampire," the DVD title) is a 1964 Italian horror film that stars Christopher Lee and has a nice sense of atmosphere, but not much else to recommend it for horror fans. Things are not looking good when you find out that the film was released under the titles "La Maledizione dei Karnstein" in Italy and "La Maldicion de los Karnstein" in Spain (it was a joint Italian-Spanish production), and originally known as "Crypt of Horror" in the U.K. and "Terror in the Crypt" in the U.S. It was also shown under the names "Carmilla," "Catharsis," "Karnstein," "The Crypt and the Nightmare," "The Curse of the Karnsteins," "The Karnstein Curse," and "The Vampire's Crypt." But this atmospheric horror film does have its moments.
The whole deal starts way back when Carmilla, a vampire witch, is being executed and with her dying breath lays a curse on her family, the Karnsteins. Several generations later Count Ludwig Karnstein (Lee) has sent for a historian, Klaus (Jose Campos), to discover what Carmilla looked like. That is because Rowena, the old, nurse is convinced that the Count's daughter Laura (Audrey Amber, a.k.a. Adriana Ambesi) has been possessed by the spirit of her ancestor and the curse is supposed to go into affect the next time there is a Karnstein who looks like Carmilla. The other major character in the story is Lyuba (Ursula Davis), who becomes Laura's friend and companion after being injured in a carriage accident near the castle. But when Laura has a nightmare about killing Lyuba by biting her neck, she wakes up to find Lyuba is alive, but has two bite marks on her neck. The next thing we know there are a whole bunch of vampire murders, and even Laura is starting to believe that it is Carmilla who is forcing her to kill from beyond the crypt. What else could be the explanation?
The script is based on the 1872 vampire novella "Carmilla" by Joseph Sheridan La Fanu, a 19th century Irish writer of Gothic tales and mystery novels. "Carmilla" actually predates Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and is considered by some to have been an influence on the most famous vampire novel of them all. However, there are so many people who had a hand in the story and the script that it is not surprising things get a bit muddled here. Director Camillo Mastrocinque, known as "Thomas Miller" for this production, does achieve a nice sense of atmosphere, aided by the black & white cinematography of Julio Ortas, and there are attempts to make the gothic elements a bit more up to date for the thrills and chills. I think "La Cripta e l'incubo" would have been stronger if they had spent the money getting a better female lead instead of spending it to have Lee's face and name on the poster, because he is not really a central character here. But there are enough nice little moments to justify rounding up on this one.