Monday, March 06, 2006

Blood of Dracula - review

Release Date: 1957

Director: Herbert L. Strock

Contains spoilers.

6 weeks ago Nancy Perkin’s (Sandra Harrison) mother died. Her father has remarried already and now intends to send his daughter to an all-girl boarding school.

Nancy is a ball of frustrated anger; anger at her father for abandoning the memory of her mother so soon, anger at his abandonment of her, angry because she is being separated from her friends and boyfriend. Yes, Nancy is an angry bunny! Indeed, so angry is she that she actually tries to crash her father’s car, by grabbing the steering wheel from the back seat of the car, as she would rather that her father, step-mother and she died than end up at the school.

She is sent to Sherwood Academy where she comes to the attention of Miss Branding (Louise Lewis), the chemistry teacher. Miss Branding has a plan, she intends to save mankind from the male domination of science, hurtling the planet towards the danger of the A-bomb. She will show that there is more destructive power within the human being than contained within the A-bomb.

She doesn’t use chemistry, as one might think, in fact my first reaction was that might be a Jekyll and Hyde type film. Instead she has purchased a Carpathian amulet and will hypnotize Nancy, unleashing her anger by making her a vampire.

This all sounds a little far-fetched, I know, but this is 50’s drive-in hokum. There is even a musical break in which a male gate-crasher of the girls’ initiation party sings Puppy Love.

Most fascinating is the use of hypnotism. Stoker uses hypnosis to great effect in “Dracula”. Van Helsing hypnotizes Lucy just before she dies, and this affects her undeath. Yet it is not the cause.

Hypnosis causing vampirism has been used elsewhere. If we look at “Chi O Suu Ningyoo”, released in the UK as “Legacy of Dracula”, we see that the return of Yuko as a vampire was caused by hypnosis. However Legacy was not until 1970, as far as I know “Blood of Dracula” was the earliest example where the vampire (and I mean a supernatural vampire and not someone convinced they are one) was created by hypnosis. This really spoke volumes to me as I watched the film, I’ve often wondered where the filmmakers of “Legacy of Dracula” gained their concept of using hypnosis to raise the vampire and, whilst there is no indication that “Blood of Dracula” was that inspiration, it is at least another example. Nancy may not be undead as such, but she is certainly transmogrified, into makeup that probably has more to do with the wolfman than a vampire.

It is clear, despite the hypnotism taping into Nancy’s anger, that the girl does not want to be the way she is. She confronts Miss Branding, despite the details of her activities being lost within the mists of trance, knowing that she suffers urges that are wrong and asks her to release her from whatever it is affecting her. After a refusal Nancy vamps out and attacks the teacher, a fight that leads to both their deaths. Strangely, however, Nancy’s demise involved a stake (albeit accidentally) being thrust through the heart – despite not being undead. There is no happy ending here, Miss Branding is stopped and killed, but Nancy is killed and the research of the evil chemistry teacher is lost too. It is definitely a dark ending. It is also worth mentioning that this is a female lead film, all male characters are virtually incidental.

As a piece of cinema I could only really give this film perhaps 2 out of 10, but in the grand scheme of vampire cinema – especially due to the hypnosis theory – I’d have to raise it up to 3 out of 10. Be warned, however, the sound on the DVD is not brilliant, however the version I have does have a really nice set of movie poster postcards (well small things...).

The IMDB page for the film is here.

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