Monday, May 07, 2007

The Vampire’s Ghost – Review


Director: Lesley Selander

Release Date: 1945

Contains spoilers

The Vampire’s Ghost is a virtually lost little gem of a film that is said to be based on Polidori’s The Vampyre. Whilst the film does owe some of its lore to Polidori – and to Varney the Vampire to be honest - it is only loosely based on the story, after all The Vampyre was not set in Africa with a backdrop of voodoo. However this film does astounding things with vampire lore that should set a student of the genre aquiver with anticipation. It is also astounding just how much lore and story is crammed into just 59 minutes.

The film starts with jungle drums and there is mention through the film of voodoo. In fairness we see little of voodoo activity, except a few fetish dolls pinned to a door, but it is a wonderful back drop on which to base the story. We are in the port of Bakunda and the voice over is given by Webb Fallon (John Abbott), the vampire of the piece. The first victim awakensHe explains that he always seems to return to the lands of Africa and yet even there he can find no rest – there is no rest for Webb Fallon. We see a ringed hand open a door, a woman sleeps. She awakens, sees someone approach and screams. The first thing of interest comes in straight away, Fallon is weary. He goes on and on relentlessly and yet he also wearies of his eternal life.

Roy and JulieThe next day the body of the woman is removed from her home as drums sound through the village and surrounding jungle. Local missionary Father Gilchrist (Grant Withers) has returned, brought back because of the drums. Also there is Roy (Charles Gordon) who has been reunited with his sweetheart Julie (Peggy Stewart), daughter of plantation owner Tom Vance (Emmett Vogan). There have been several murders, the bodies pierced at the neck and drained of blood and the drums claim it to be the work of a vampire.

Grant Withers as Father GilchristThey discuss the natives’ fears and Julie gives us a description of a vampire: “A dead man denied Heaven because of his crimes. Doomed to remain on Earth in a hideous semblance of life, sustaining his body on the blood of the living.” The superstition is dismissed and Roy determines to go and see recent newcomer Fallon, who owns a seedy bar and seems to know all the comings and goings of the port.

Adele Mara as LisaIn the bar we pause to watch Lisa (Adele Mara) dance and, given when the film was shot, it is a particularly risqué dance, with midriff on show and flying skirt revealing panties. Today it would be nothing but, given when the film was made it is quite daring. Fallon is playing craps with Capt. Jim Barrett (Roy Barcroft) and takes all of his money and his share of his river boat. Fallon gives the money to another sailor.

Fallon uses eye mojoFallon and Roy talk and then Barrett returns, having decided that the dice were loaded. There is a bar room brawl, which Fallon ends by staring at the sailor and giving him some eye mojo. Now the filmmakers obviously decided that light over the eyes or eerie music was unnecessary, we know it is eye mojo by the strength of the stare and the reaction of the Captain – brilliant.

Fallon takes Roy to clean up and Roy notices there is no mirror in Fallon’s quarters. Fallon explains that he removed the mirror as sun glare is bad for his weak eyes. This vampire goes around in daylight and wears sunglasses to protect his eyes. Roy also finds a box that Fallon is defensive of. It was presented to Webb Fallon by Queen Elizabeth following the Spanish Armada – an ancestor explains Fallon. Roy invites the man to dinner. There is an aside regarding the sailor who was given the money having died, perhaps of a heart attack, this may be an indication that whom-so-ever the vampire touches is cursed also.

After the dinner, lore comes thick and fast (not that it hasn’t already). Gilchrist touches Fallon’s shoulder and he seems faint – a remnant of the Malaria he once suffered he explains no reflectionbut we know that the vampire reacts to things which are holy, including priests. A servant brings Fallon a drink and notices he has no reflection. Just look at the screenshot, however, to see how this was done. It is only the vampire that is invisible, his clothes can still be seen – inspired. Fallon looks to the mirror and it shatters. Fallon has translated the latest drums as saying that the evil may come from Molongo village – a place known for housing a witch cult. Roy determines to go there and Fallon goes with him.

the silvered spearDuring their trek Fallon pushes Roy as a gun trap goes off, saving the young man’s life. The native bearer, who was grazed in the arm by the bullet, realises that it should have hit Fallon. They check his shirt whilst he sleeps and the bullet passed straight through him. They know he is the vampire and fashion a spear tipped in molten silver. Before it can be used the camp is attacked. At the end of the attack the spear is thrown, hitting its mark, and the silver burns Fallon.

Fallon is healed by moonlightFallon explains what he is to Roy. Four hundred years earlier Fallon caused the death of a woman and was cursed. He uses eye mojo on Roy and puts him in thrall. He then has Roy take him and his box (which contains the earth of his grave) to a mountain top and put him in the light of the moon. This method of healing, and the general premise of this part of the story, is lifted from The Vampyre but is also similar to how the vampire heals in Varney the Vampire, we are talking pre-Stoker lore here. Roy is commanded that he must never speak of what he knows and Fallon sets his sights on Julie.

There is plenty more lore within the film, it is packed with the stuff. The other lore I’m going to mention includes how a vampire can be killed. A cross may ward and silver may burn but the only way they can be destroyed is to be burned to ashes and scattered. That said, Fallon might be weary of life but he has no desire to die making him a fascinating character. Also I should mention that Fallon states that a vampire does not bring death, rather, those he kills receive new life. We do not see the risen victims he refers to thus Fallon is the only vampire we see.

Abbott is fantastic as Fallon, stealing the show. The character is complex, much more so than the two dimensional embodiments of evil we often get and he has an arrogance, exemplified when he mocks the ensorcelled Roy with knowledge the tortured mortal is unable to use. about to bite JulieThe rest of the cast all give solid performances. We do not see a bite, unfortunately, just a near miss but given when the film was made this should come as no surprise. The film does end up with a very pro-Christian message, suggesting that it is only through the church that a man can become master of his own will – though I guess they did need a way to free poor old Roy.

Some might miss the standard gothic back drop but the placing of the film in Africa replaces the Gothic with the exotic. It also, perhaps, gives the film a bit of a feel of a Boys Own Adventure, which actually is no bad thing. As I said, a little gem of a film that is not to easy to get to see but which I’d urge you to seek out – now if only a kindly DVD company would release a well restored version… 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Mark said...

Wow, I never even heard of this movie until today, but now I've got to have it!

Thanks for the review (though I admit, I only loosely skimmed it, as I want to watch it on my own someday.)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

hey Mark, good to hear from you.

To be honest, I thought it'd be one that would tweek your interest. Unfortunately it is difficult to get hold of. I found it on e-bay, a 'movie convention' edition. I believe there may be VHSs flying around if your lucky. Definitely worth tracking though

JaredMithrandir said...

This is the only Vampire Film ever to draw on the Ruthvne tradition, whihc make sit interesting.

I clearly draws I feel on the Plays too, not just the original story. And there is earlier precedent for changing the Ruthven character's name, like Alan Raby in latter English Language plays.

The basic premise being that the protagonist knows about the Vampire but for some reason can't do anything about it as the Vampire target either his Sister or Girlfriend, or both. In this case the latter.

It does show some post Stoker-Nosferatu-Lugosi influence, in making him him Sensitive to the Sun, but it doesn't kill him or even burn him.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

to be fair, influence of the sun was pre-Stoker in things like Carmilla (who felt off in the sun) but the destructive power of the sun was certainly Nosferatu (not even Stoker, who just had the daytime stealing the supernatural powers).

Re a film version of Polidori, this is almost the only version... there was a short done based on the Polidori which you can read about here.

JaredMithrandir said...

Carmilla was NOT effected by the Sun in anyway. Her "Languid" state is 24/7 and it's in fact clearly night the first time Laura uses the word to describe her. I see people try to Interpret that it that way allot but ti always annoys me.

The only Pre-Stoker precedent of the Sun at all is in Lord Ruthven Begins.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Jared... it’s not clear, certainly, and languidness is mentioned in the evening but there is room for interpretation.

Take the paragraph: "I shall have to ask your opinion upon another patient, whose symptoms slightly resemble those of my daughter, that have just been detailed to you very much milder in degree, but I believe quite of the same sort. She is a young lady our guest; but as you say you will be passing this way again this evening, you can't do better than take your supper here, and you can then see her. She does not come down till the afternoon."

Now paragraphs like this, I believe, is where the source of the Carmilla "active" pattern comes in. If we note that she is missing from her room late at night it might indicate that her pattern (out of the grave as it were) was midday to midnight as in some folklore.

Further it is reported by the general that "Millarca complained of extreme languor the weakness that remained after her late illness and she never emerged from her room till the afternoon was pretty far advanced."

Indeed the interpretation of her being less than 100% during the day comes from another paragraph that indicates her late rising: "She used to come down very late, generally not till one o'clock, she would then take a cup of chocolate, but eat nothing; we then went out for a walk, which was a mere saunter, and she seemed, almost immediately, exhausted, and either returned to the schloss or sat on one of the benches that were placed, here and there, among the trees. This was a bodily languor in which her mind did not sympathise. She was always an animated talker, and very intelligent."

Conversely whilst she has languid moments in the evening they seem to pass (after an hour or so). Admittedly there is room for interpretation and I accept that your interpretation of the lore that it was 24/7 is valid. However Le Fanu does make, as shown, specific points about the morning being avoided (was she in the grave?) and being languid in the afternoon and so I believe such an interpretation to be valid also.

Also, (Carmilla aside, as noted above) I have to say, that Lord Ruthven begins was not the only Pre-Stoker precedent with regards daytime and the sun. In Pierre-Alexis Ponsin du Terrail’s 1852 book (released by Blackcoat Press as) The Vampire and the Devil’s Son we can note that the vampire may be fake but the lore is extant and we get the following: “A beam of light suddenly slid over the summit of a neighbouring rock, and the opposite extremity of the valley reflected the first rays of the Sun. The dead woman released a cry, ran precipitately into the cemetery, fled to a small grove of fir-trees, into which she disappeared momentarily, then immediately reappeared, draped from head to toe in a white shroud – her own, doubtless, which she carefully hid every evening before going to the castle.” When she reaches her grave she becomes immobile as though dead unmoved, even, when pricked at the breast by a sword.

JaredMithrandir said...

She's Nocturnal because she needs to attack her Prey as they Sleep.. Languidness is exactly the expected side effect of a normal person being up all night and getting what little sleep they can during the day.

Laura also notes how the Sunlight does not diminish her beauty at all.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I say the following for pure debate(as I am enjoying our debate and I hope you are too) but that is, of course, if she is actually nocturnal... after all if she is in her coffin from midnight to midday (hence missing when they enter her room late at night - and the assumption by the general that she sleepwalked - with the fact that she does not emerged from the locked room until at least 1PM, ie time to get from coffin back to the house)then she is in some form of death/stasis rather than up and about.

That is, of course, all supposition. :)

A counter argument could also be made that if she is languid during the day because she is nocturnal (due to her feeding habits) then the point that she is "off" during the daytime is accurate.

You are correct to say that Laura sees no diminishment of beauty in daylight but, to be fair, I never suggested there would be.

I should also say that my original statement "felt off in the sun" was sloppy, of course I meant more daytime (rather than a direct effect of the sun as such).

That said I have also taken the opportunity to remind myself of some other pre-Stoker work where sunlight/daytime/nocturnal habits is/are mentioned. I think notably there is Wake Not the Dead - which I will take to be by Ernst Benjamin Salomo Raupach and published in 1823 rather than by Johann Ludwig Tieck in 1800 – in which Brunhilda is Brunhilda is a creature of the night, “This being done, she cried; ‘Haste, let us away ere the dawn breaks, for my eye is yet too weak to endure the light of day.’”

Also in 1867, William Gilbert wrote The Last Lords of the Gardonal there was a ghostly apparition of the murdered Teresa “as daylight advanced the figure appeared less distinct and ere they had reached their horses it seemed to have melted away.” Now, I did say it was a ghostly apparition and it is later in the story that a wizard reanimates her as a vampire – so perhaps that one is a bit of a cheat.

JaredMithrandir said...

Yes I enjoy them.

One Interpretation of Carmilla is that she is never really out of her Grave at all, Laura was only interacting with an Astro Projection.