Friday, August 04, 2006

Deathmaster - review

Director: Ray Danton

Release Date: 1972

Contains spoilers

The production of this movie came hot on the heals of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) and starred Robert Quarry as the vampire Khorda, following his portrayal as Yorga. The idea, it seems, was Quarry’s and was an attempt to cash in on the so called “Manson mania”. Quarry went to Europe for a play and when he returned was presented with the script for Deathmaster, which I’ll say now is a below par movie. The film was quickly shot, before “The Return of Count Yorga” (1971), but only received its limited release a year later.

The film begins with a hippy, we later discover to be Barbado (LaSene Hilton), climbing a cliff and opening a pack that contains occult like paraphernalia, he begins to play a flute and we see a coffin wash ashore. The coffin is found by a surfer who opens it, though we do not see the contents, and is strangled by Barbado for his trouble. Barbado then lugs the casket down the beach to his van. As the movie progresses it is clear that Barbado is a Renfield type character (though in this instance the stoically silent type).

The film then goes to a group of hippies as a gang of bikers end up in town. Now the film is filled with hippy music, clothing and slang, though it has to be said that this works a lot more than the embarrassing portrayal of youth culture in Dracula AD 1972. Now I’m not saying it works well generically, just better than in the Hammer portrayal. Two of the bikers, Monk (William Jordan) and his girl Esslin (Betty Ann Rees), get into an altercation with hippy stall holder Pop (John Fielder) and his young friends Pico (Bill Ewing) and Rona (Brenda Dickson-Weinberg). Pico takes him down with some languid kung fu and, after they hide from “the heat”, invites the bikers to dinner. What happens to the rest of the gang is unexplored and seems like a missed opportunity.

Pico and Rona live in a commune. As they are all sat around we meet, for the first time, Khorda (incidentally the DVD box says he is Count Khorda, but the title is never mentioned in the movie). His entrance is impressive, he controls the weather and creates a storm which blows the candles out in the commune. He then enters, as Barbado plays the flute, spurts some philosophy, makes lights come on, tells the hippies to clean the house and then walks away, vanishing before their eyes.

The general story from then on is that he takes over the hippies as a cultish leader. First turning Esslin and then killing Monk. Pico and Rona resist his charms and try to escape, but are captured. Pico eventually does escape. During all this we discover that Khorda dates back to ancient Babylon, that he casts no reflection, that he is fearful of the cross (calling it an abomination) and keeps leeches.

Pico’s escape is interesting. There is no indication that Barbado is a vampire and yet Pico manages to paralyse him by painting a cross, in blood, on his cheek. This is reminiscent of the blood cross used in Kiss of the Vampire (1962), the main difference being that the cross is painted upon the aggressor (I'm fairly sure Barbado was just a vampire servant). As such it is a nice twist on the motif.

Pico gets to Pops, but the old man doesn’t believe his tale of vampires, believing him to be tripping, even when his dog is found dead with fang wounds in the neck. The dog is killed in daylight and we begin to wonder about the effect of sunlight. Later we see two of the hippy girls in sunlight and discover one or two things more about the vampires in this film. Firstly, sunlight mustn’t burn, not straight away, as Khorda’s coffin is opened at the head of the film in the daytime. We then discover that novice vampires can wear druidic pendants that allow them to go out in the sun.

Anyway, Pico and Pop get the cops to go up to the house to check on the situation after finding Monk's body. Pico says that Rona is being held against her will but she appears and denies it (after some Khorda eye mojo). He tries to say that he was chained by Barbado (which he was) and show the wounds on his wrist but again some mojo from Khorda makes his wounds heal.

Pops and Pico leave but discover that vampire venom does not permanently turn the victim straight away, there is an undisclosed incubation period, and so head back to the house to try and save the hippies and Rona. There is a black mass taking place, in which Rona is to be initiated. Khorda carries a cat and I suspect that was deliberately done to make viewers think of the infamous cat scene in Count Yorga. After Rona is bitten Pico leaps in but, when he is attacked by hordes of hippy vampires, he seems to have forgotten his kung fu skills!

He gets into the catacombs below the house (incidentally, when he stumbled across these, the night before, he seemed really shocked that they were there, but he lived in the house. Why didn’t he know about them?) and kills Barbado by slamming a door into him with a knife tied to it (I’m guessing his hippy sensibilities wouldn’t allow a direct homicidal confrontation). He then makes a stake and goes to Khorda’s coffin, staking through the lid. Always a mistake, in this case Pop was in there. Khorda attacks but Pico throws the leeches into his face. The vampire pulls them away but his vision is blurred by the blood and he falls onto a stake.

When Pico gets upstairs all the hippy vampires have turned to dust and Rona is on the altar. He tries to wake her but she too crumbles to dust. The film ends as Pico screams his despair.

It is a great ending to a below average film. The shame is that it was a good idea let down by a poor script and below average actors. That said Quarry is excellent, really trying to make the most of poor dialogue and rising above the material.

There are some good ideas in here, but also some gaping leaps of faith to be jumped by the poor viewer and some really dopey looking hippy vampires (they look really quite silly at times).

3 out of 10

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

I never found Quarry quite believable as a vampire in the Yorga films. I might just have to watch this one as a comparison/contrast exercise.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

It has been a long time since I saw Yorga and I've never seen the sequel - but I ordered them both off ebay only yesterday so I should be rewatching/watching them myself very soon.

Gabriel said...

Hey Andy, I just watched this and you gave it a better score than me! This is my first 1/10 and I don't think even Quarry's presence really saved it. It was too Yorgaesque for me, which was a total tease considering he wasn't in it per se, just his twin brother :p

They should have put their efforts into a 3rd Yorga film instead...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabe, to be fair it was shot before the second Yorga film. I'm not going to comment further but instead read your review...