Saturday, February 10, 2007

Vamp or Not? Blood of the Vampire

DVD cover

This 1958 movie directed by Henry Cass was released in the same year as Hammer released their opus Horror of Dracula and did, in look at the very least, a passable job at replicating the Hammer films of the period. This was probably helped by the fact that the screenplay was written by Jimmy Sangster, who also penned Horror of Dracula. I caught this movie, just last night, on the satellite channel “Movies 4 Men 2”.

You might be forgiven for wondering why a film, titled as this is, should receive the ‘Vamp or Not?’ treatment and, given the first few minutes of the film that question seems even more pertinent. The film begins in Transylvania in 1874 and a legend on screen tells us:

“The most loathsome scourge ever to afflict this earth was that of the vampire.

“Nourishing itself on warm living blood, the only known method of ending a vampire’s reign of terror was to drive a wooden stake through the heart.”

big stake and hammerWe see a funeral, of sorts, a corpse, in a sheet rather than a coffin, is thrown into an open grave and then a man with the biggest stake and hammer (though for the world it looked like a metal rather than a wooden stake) stakes the corpse. When the funeral party has left, leaving the gravedigger to finish his task, a deformed, mute hunchback, we later discover to be named Carl (Victor Maddern), approaches with dagger drawn.

All the elements are there, we’ve been told about vampires, we’ve seen a staking and, in the grand tradition of early horror films, we have a deformed hunchback. Hurrah! Things, of course, are never that simple.

early transplants!Carl goes to a tavern and retrieves a drunken doctor (Cameron Hall) and takes him to a windmill. Inside is the retrieved corpse, stake removed but still, for all intents and purposes, dead. Carl also reveals some equipment hooked to a beating heart. The Doctor is to transplant the heart. Following the procedure the Doctor tries to blackmail more money for his services and gets Carl’s dagger for his trouble.

Vincent Ball as John PierreSix years latter and Dr John Pierre (Vincent Ball) is in the dock for malpractice leading to murder. He tried a revolutionary treatment on a dying patient, who subsequently died anyway. He asks the court to contact one Professor Meinster (Henri Vidon) who will vouch his technique but the letter received from the Professor denies knowledge of Pierre and recommends the court deal with him. Pierre is found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on an island prison.

In gaol, after his fiancée Madeleine (Barbara Shelley) has been to see him and Victor Maddern as Carlgiven him a locket with her portrait, he is suddenly transferred to another prison, one for the criminally insane. It was worth noting here a brief appearance by a young Bernard Bresslaw of ‘Carry On’ fame as a prisoner. At the prison, filled with sadistic guards and patrolled by vicious dogs, Pierre has the locket taken away by the warden. Carl is in the prison, not as a prisoner, and steals the locket – he is quite taken by Madeleine’s portrait.

Donald Wolfit as CallistratusThe prisoners are terrified. On his first day Carl, along with cellmate Kurt (William Devlin) and several others, are detailed to dig a grave – though no one has died... yet. The Prison Governor is revealed to be one Callistratus (Donald Wolfit), the corpse we saw staked – so he has returned from the dead. He has requested that Pierre is transferred in order to help him with his research.

Pierre is placed in a lab and we discover that his ill-fated procedure was a blood transfusion. The problem was that Pierre did not know of blood types and thus his patient died. CallistratusBarbara Shelley as Madeleine starts him off with the task of typing blood. There is a lower lab, that Pierre cannot enter, and in here the real mad science goes on. As things progress we discover that Callistratus had the supposed letter from Meinster forged and, when Pierre’s case is reviewed and he is found innocent, tells Pierre that his sentence stands and then makes out to the Prison Commission that Pierre died in a prison break. It is down to Madeleine to pose as a house keeper and try to discover what happened to her love.

We still need to investigate, however, just how Callistratus returned from the dead. This is tied in to Pierre’s tasks. Callistratus details a rare blood condition that breaks down vampirism by transfussionliving blood cells and creates a whole knew type of cell and he is looking for a cure. As things transpire we find out that he was a Doctor in Transylvania, researching blood, and was accused of vampirism. He developed a culture that could preserve him through death, pending his heart transplant, but the culture has created the condition and he must now regularly transfuse himself with blood to stay alive.

He is looking for a combination of blood types that would allow a whole body transfusion to replace his diseased blood without the transfused cells being destroyed. In other words he, through (mad) science, cheated death, made himself a vampire of sorts and is now looking for a cure. Of course, how many die, both to sustain him and in his mad experiments that include deep freezing a prisoner to see if he can be resuscitated, is not a concern.

This might be a man-made form of vampirism but vampirism it is and it is an interesting mix of mad scientist and vampire genre. There is occassionaly a make-up problem, mainly round Carl. example of poor eye make-upHis deformed eye never looks too real, but sometimes it looks obviously like a makeup piece, standing out from his face probably due to a failure to blend the skin tones properly. Carl is key to Madeleine and Pierre's escape as he falls in love with the woman via her portrait - a device that Hammer would use themselves with Klove, Dracula's servant, in Scars of Dracula.

Unfortunately the film itself is also a little slow, failing to capture the tension that Hammer might have injected the movie with. Never-the-less it deserves to be classed as part of the vampire genre.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Movies4Men 2... I'll be looking out for this. :-)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Not a great channel but has occasional rare gems on it

Edna Sweetlove said...

They should have called it HAM OF THE VAMPIRE.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I can't disagree - much of the acting was hammy, and yet it was still fairly dull.

RoseOfTransylvania said...

I really like this film! Rich old colors, lush interiors and mattepaintings of snowtopped mountains and night skies ... it looks gorgeous and atmospheric and, yes, cozy(!), redhead Barbara Shelley was great in those gorgeous period costumes and despite supersleazy themes - abuse of mentally ill, "respectable" citizens turning blind eye to torture of "crazies", the Nazi-like experiments - this was Gothic melodrama instead of Ilsa in Transylvania. scrialin

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Rose. Asthetically I can see where you are coming from. I did find it a bit dull myself - story and pace wise - and there was some real ham acting.

However said ham acting adds to the melodrama and, given the asthetics I can understand why you'd like the film as the look and melodrama add up to a genuinely period gothic piece.